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Albert Nock

Albert Jay Nock — Henry George: Unorthodox American - Will Lissner's bio of Nock, appended to Nock's article on George

Back in the dark days of 1932, when a despairing world and its culture were being torn asunder by a major catastrophe, the worst economic depression ever known, a man who is foremost among America's few living exponents of belles-lettres wrote in his diary under the date of Oct. 27; "Now that Roosevelt has dug up W. G. Sumner and the Yale Press shows signs of life, enough to republish his writings; I should think someone might soon be rediscovering Henry George. If so, he will find that George was one of the first half-dozen minds of the nineteenth century, in all the world."

The man who set that down in his characteristically small, fine hand, an essayist and historian who is one of the chief catalyzers of the intellectual ferments of our time, was noting no passing fancy. The idea returned to him and on Oct. 31 he recorded: "I have been looking over the biography of Henry George, by his son Harry, a pains-taking sort of book. The best one can say for it is that it is competent. There should be a better one, for George was undeniably a great man."

Not only was Albert Jay Nock, the chronicler just quoted, thinking of these things. In New York the editors of Scribner's Magazine had the same notion and they commissioned Mr. Nock to do the job. The essayist went abroad the following February and through the Spring lived in his beloved low countries, breaking his stay at last for a junket through France and Spain into Portugal. With his papers full of commissions, some of which he would not do, some he might do and a few he would do if time, and the business of living fully, permitted, the assignment from Scribner's caused him no preoccupation. But the personality of George kept popping up: at Port Cros, watching a schooner put off ten tons of coal on March 31, he mused: "All by hand labor, with the help of one donkey. I wonder whether most of our labor-saving devices have really saved anything worth saving ... Henry George attacked this problem, in 'Progress and Poverty', and solved it, but his solution, being valid, will not be accepted in a hurry."

Through his friends he was keeping in close touch with hectic America. Henry L. Mencken wrote him, after the fiasco of the World Economic Conference: "'The republic proceeds towards hell at a rapidly accelerating tempo." Nock was not profoundly stirred; he spent the next day at the Lisbon Museum. But the idea of re-creating Henry George was still rankling him. On June 9 he wrote in the diary: "Overnight at Porto, on the way to Vidago, where I hope to find a pleasant place to stop awhile and write 'an overdue paper for Scribner's on Henry George."

Soon he was in Vidago where "one sees miserable dwellings, occupied by people absolutely lost in poverty and filth, built of magnificent huge granite blocks after the Roman fashion"; in Vidago among a Portuguese people whom he found, nevertheless "without a single exception, the kindest people I have ever seen." On June 15 he noted. "Working steadily at quite high pressure on my article for Scribner's on Henry George, so the days pass very quickly. I hope it will call attention to him, though I suppose nothing will do so effectively as long as Americans are what they are" or until tremendous hardship puts an end to their being drugged and doped by nostrums dealt out to them by demagogues and scoundrels." In his idyllic refuge --"what a superb climate and what grand scenery" he remarked of Vidago -- America became remote to him; "one can hardly convince oneself while here, that it exists." But George, along of all his environment, persisted and on June 26, Mr. Nock recorded: "I am done with Henry George, and shall leave here tomorrow. What a great man he was, and how well he managed to get himself misjudged and forgotten! I suppose, Scribner's, people will pull a long face over getting a really serious piece of work -- I often think of that dreadful person, Bok, writing to Lyman Abbott for 'a short, snappy life of Christ.'" The aftermath was typical of the man; on July 29 he noted: "ScrIbner's people seem satisfied with my piece on Henry George, and say it will come out in November, so I suppose all the single-taxers in the country will curse me afresh."

That is how "Henry George, Unorthodox American" came to be written, as anyone can see for himself in Mr. Nock's "A Journal of These Days: June 1932-December 1933" (Morrow, 1934.) But to understand how this tabloid biography came to be the unique study it is, even when one compares it with the admirable similar studies by Broadus Mitchell and Rexford G. Tugwell, one must recall Mr. Nock's career. He took his bachelor's degreeat St. Stephen's College, where he steeped hirnse1f in the classical languages and their literatures. With Francis Neilson he wrote "How Diplomats Make War" (1915; 2d Ed., 1916). From 1920 to 1924, he edited the old Freeman in company with Neilson, Suzanne Lafollette and others equal1y notable, setting unexcelled standards in periodical journalism. During that period he wrote "The Myth of a Guilty Nation" under the pseudonym of Historicus (1922) and edited "The Selected Works of Charles F. Browne (Artemus Ward)" (1924), in the latter work establishing the native humorist as the social satirist he was.

A scholar's life-time job found fruit in his "Jefferson" (1926 ). He followed this with a collection, "On Doing the Right Thing and Other Essays" (1928). Then, with Catherine Rose Wilson, he wrote "Francis Rabelais, the Man and His Work" (1929), first fruit of another lifetime interest. With Miss Wilson, he edited the Urquhart-Le Matteaux translation of the works of "Francis Rabelais" (2 vols., 1931), concluding a monumental work of scholarship with his book, "A Journey Into Rabelais's France" (1934). Meanwhile he had served as visiting professor of American history and government at Saint Stephen's and had published, under the pseudonym of Journeyman, "The Book of Journeyman" (1932) together with a noteworthy structure on an institution close to him, "The Theory of Education" (1932).

The contradiction between state and society, in which Ludwig Gumplowicz and Franz Oppenheimer had interested him long before, resulted in a work as significant in a social sense as "Rabelais" and "Jefferson" had been in literary and historical senses, "Our Enemy the State" (1935). He followed this with "Free Speech and Plain Language" (1937). Throughout all these dates a stream of essays on contemporary themes poured from his pen, to find critical and keenly appreciative hearings among the readers of The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Mercury and similar literary papers.

What we have, then, in "Henry George, Unorthodox American," is a living portrait of one unusual citizen of the world by another.



Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?

The English free-trader Cobden remarked that "you who free the land will do more for the people than we who have freed trade." Indeed, how can anyone speak of free trade when the trader has to pay tribute to some favored land-entitlement holder in order to do business?
This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour -- nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times...People began to say, if this is what State abstention comes to, let us have some State intervention.

But the state had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly--the landlord's monopoly of economic rent--thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labor market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus. [Emphasis Nock's] --Albert J. Nock, "The Gods' Lookout" February 1934 ...

The red, red herring
Royal libertarians are fond of confusing the classical liberal concept of common land ownership, particularly as espoused by land value tax advocate Henry George, with socialism. Yet socialists have always been contemptuous of George and of the distinction between land monopoly and capital monopolies. However, Frank Chodorov and Albert J. Nock (the original editors of s) were both advocates of George's economic remedies as well as lovers of individual liberty.

The only reformer abroad in the world in my time who interested me in the least was Henry George, because his project did not contemplate prescription, but, on the contrary, would reduce it to almost zero. He was the only one of the lot who believed in freedom, or (as far as I could see) had any approximation to an intelligent idea of what freedom is, and of the economic prerequisites to attaining it....One is immensely tickled to see how things are coming out nowadays with reference to his doctrine, for George was in fact the best friend the capitalist ever had. He built up the most complete and most impregnable defense of the rights of capital that was ever constructed, and if the capitalists of his day had had sense enough to dig in behind it, their successors would not now be squirming under the merciless exactions which collectivism is laying on them, and which George would have no scruples whatever about describing as sheer highwaymanry. --Albert J. Nock "Thoughts on Utopia"... Read the whole piece


Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent

Several prominent libertarians have recognized land value or rent as the source of public finance most compatible with liberty. Albert Jay Nock, for example, distinguished between the improper political means of obtaining wealth, such as from arbitrary taxation, and the proper economic means, from enterprise. He regarded public revenue from land rent as within the economic means, since the “monopoly of economic rent, on the other hand, gives exclusive rights to values accruing from the desire of other persons to possess that property; values which take their rise irrespective of any exercise of the economic means on the part of the holder.”25 (He used the term “monopoly” in its classical meaning, in which a new entrant cannot increase the supply, hence together, the landowners have a monopoly.) ... read the whole document



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Wealth and Want
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