The legendary investor, Victor Niederhoffer (good article about him here), and the benefactor of the remarks I recently delivered in Manhattan, quoted extensively from Albert Jay Nock while addressing the gathered crowd prior to my speech. (Chris Tucker reviewed my speech, here.)
Once back at home, I grabbed my copy of Nock’s “Our Enemy the State,” and reviewed the margin notes I had made when reading it for the first time. I tend to write notes in books that I find jaw-dropping, books that successfully challenge and crush some pre-conceived notion or assumption I have made. “Our Enemy the State” was such a book. From page 24:
“There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.” Later on the same page:
“The State, then,….is the organization of the political means. Now since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can-exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economics means.”
Acquainting myself once again with this book made me realize that these writings represented the beginning of my current view of the state. While prior to reading Nock, I was intrigued and focused on the enemies within the state apparatus, afterwards, I came to see the enemy, just as Nock did, as the state itself, no different than any other criminal organization, the purpose of which was to loot most of us for the benefit of the few. The enemies within the state change from time to time, but the state apparatus remains, always and irresistibly representing a looting machine for the new players.
Reviewing the book also helped me to recall that this book (and a few others) represented a change in how I greeted information that forced me to challenge my assumptions, even information that led me to believe that I had been dead wrong. Nock excoriates those who would emotionalize such challenges, rather than see these challenges as opportunities to clean up inconsistencies in our thinking.
My point in writing this blog is this: If you are having difficulty seeing the actions of the state (including but not limited to the Unaffordable Care Act) as other than benefitting those who are underwriting these actions; if you still believe that laws are passed to benefit the poor and the sick; if you believe that it is beneath state rulers to increase their power on the back of a crisis, even to provoke crises to strengthen their grip, then Nock might be for you. I say might, because the assumptions he challenges in this work (written in 1935) are basic and hard to accept without some emotional reaction.
I owe a debt to Albert Jay Nock and to Victor Niederhoffer for reminding me of Nock’s important place amongst thinkers and writers who have labored to help us all see the state apparatus for what it truly is.
G. Keith Smith, M.D.