Friday, January 12, 2007

Jewel of Wisdom

From The Daily Eudemon on Tuesday;

"I finished Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State last month. I’ve been meaning to write something about it, but the holidays sucked the oxygen out of my time.
I think this minor classic boils down to a handful of points:
1. State power comes at the price of social power. If the state will take care of something, then people won’t. As social power collapses, so does society. This is Nock’s best insight, and upon two minutes’ reflection, is so obviously true that I’m kind of embarrassed I’d never articulated the thought before. For years I’ve lamented that the welfare state kills charity, but I never reached the larger point: an increasing state gradually kills all social endeavors. (You ever wonder why the social fabric of Russia is in complete tatters?)"


Ive been thinking about this all week. My degree is in political science, and this was something that was on the tips of our tongues, but never spoken. My profs would never let us within a hundred miles of a book like Nock's.

This connects to Chesterton in a deeper way than merely restating principles of distributism and subsidiarity. The history of Church and State in Britain is permeated by the implications of Nock's statements. The silent cataclysm that took place under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I writes these words in blood.

One of the most telling conversations Ive ever had in my life took place while I was in Bosnia with the Army in 2000. My team and I were in the office of a local official of the SDA, the Islamic political party in Bosnia. This man's words have stuck with me ever since. Through our translator, he lamented what happened to his countrymen under communism. He was not speaking of this as a tragedy of poor philosophy, or bad economics, but rather the moral decay of the people, and the social breakdown of family and villiage life. He noted that communism made people lazy, greedy, and corrupt.

Taking Nock's words into account, we see that ideas, especially ideas about the state begin and end in our bathroom mirror. We project our moral selves on the state, and likewise the state's power and values create a moral atmosphere.

Chesterton wasn't just elucidating a particular system with distributism, but as Dale Alquist so often says, he was acting as a complete thinker. Chesterton's thoughts regarding economics, the arts, religion, and society all draw from and contribute to a full robust philosophy of the human person.

Much like CS Lewis' Abolition of Man, where Lewis talks about the Tao as a type of natural law. Nock and Chesterton remind us of universal themes which transcend even Western culture. Confucian ethics are grounded in the idea that moral rectitude backed by social convention are far superior to any action of the state. As Eric said, these are such obvious ideas, it is amazing that it takes thought and study to draw them to our minds.

1 comment:

Don Kenner said...

Well said.

Nock's words are worth pondering as we witness the collapse of this administration under its own arrogance, hubris, and general incompetence.

Nock's insight should be the foundation of any renewed Republican party. Assuming such a thing is possible.