As a liberal — in the classical sense of the word meaning one who believes in liberty — I have special respect for Albert Jay Nock (1870 – 1945), the American libertarian who was a radical anti-statist.
It’s astonishing to me how much our views match. Perhaps I am one of Nock’s reincarnations. (I should write about reincarnation one of these days.) Like him, I am a philosophical anarchist: I hold the state in contempt and believe that it lacks moral legitimacy but I am also against the use of violence to overthrow the state. Like him, I am opposed to centralization, regulation, the income tax, state welfare, majoritarian democracy and state mandated education.
Most significantly, I am opposed to the state because I am opposed to war. The state is implicated in every war. It’s the greatest destructive force in the world. The most powerful nation in the world, the US, has the most powerful state and it through its war machine is the greatest enemy of the world.
Nock was opposed to war and to the US government’s foreign policy. Just like me. His book Our Enemy, the State is what I believe in. He was opposed to communism and other collectivist ideologies.
As an economist, I understand that there is only one way to produce wealth: through effort and ingenuity. But there are two ways of acquiring wealth: one through the production of wealth, and the other by taking others’ wealth through force. Theft and robbery by individuals and groups are criminal. The state prohibits and punishes crimes not because it is opposed to them but because it wants to monopolize crime. It has to monopolize crime so that it can acquire wealth through the taking of wealth by force.
It isn’t even the robbing of wealth by the state the worst part of it. It’s what the state does with that stolen wealth — it wages wars that destroy lives and wealth.
How can the state do such evil, destructive things and how can the people allow it? That’s because the people are brainwashed by the state to believe that the state is carrying out their will. This is done through state mandated education, which does not educate and instead is a means of training people to be obedient to the state.
Here are some quotes from Nock. The more power the state grabs, the less power the people have:
All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power…The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner.
The background story to the following quote is heartbreaking. The quote is from “To abolish crime or to monopolize it”:
Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one’s conscience.
Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it — the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers — felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men.
The idea came to me then, vaguely but unmistakably, that if the primary intention of government was not to abolish crime but merely to monopolize crime, no better device could be found for doing it than the inculcation of precisely this frame of mind in the officials and in the public; for the effect of this was to exempt both from any allegiance to those sanctions of humanity or decency which anyone of either class, acting as an individual, would have felt himself bound to respect — nay, would have wished to respect. This idea was vague at the moment, as I say, and I did not work it out for some years, but I think I never quite lost track of it from that time.
And finally a quote from an autobiographical sketch:
I may mention one or two characteristic traits as having no virtue whatever, because they are mine by birth, not by acquisition. I have always been singularly free of envy, jealousy, covetousness; I but vaguely understand them. Having no ambition, I have always preferred the success of others to my own, and had more pleasure in it. I never had the least desire for place or prominence, least of all for power; and this was fortunate for me because the true individualist must regard power over others as preeminently something to be loathed and shunned.
I confess that unlike Nock, I was not born free of envy, jealousy and covetousness but have steadily progressed in that direction. I don’t envy people’s wealth (indeed I celebrate most people’s wealth). I envy people’s intellects and their character. I wish I had their intelligence and their wisdom.
On the covetousness dimension: I am almost 80 percent free. I would like to be like one of my heroes, Diogenes of Sinope.
However I am a true individualist like Nock and therefore do not seek power over others. I like what Abraham Lincoln said, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” I don’t want others to have power over me, and therefore I don’t seek to have power over others. That’s the rule — don’t do to others what you would not want done to you.
That’s why I am anarchist — a person who believes that the state is evil. I would like to live free of the state, and in a society that lives in peace through cooperation and voluntary exchange.