Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State (1935) is the prize taker for the founding book of the modern liberty movement. Nock was the editor of the original The Freeman magazine. He was a famous and admired intellectual figure all through the interwar period. He was an influential critic and a well-read author. And certainly, this book is his most famous of many that he produced through his long career.
It goes way beyond opposing the New Deal, though the New Deal serves as his template for the shape of statism in the 20th century. It is a corporate state that curries favor with private power while narrowing the range of influence of the private sector generally. It tends toward regimentation, confiscation, and war making. It circumscribes economic opportunity for all. It panders to the lowest and basest of human moral failings. It crowds out the development and cultivation of private society.
All of these points are argued thoroughly here, but Nock goes further. It’s his conviction that the whole of civilization extends from individual action and is built by voluntary human action is the prevailing motif of this text. This book includes a surprisingly revisionist account of the Founding Fathers, perhaps one of the first written in the 20th century. It includes warnings against warfare and welfare. It ends with a plea to the remnant to retain as much liberty and learning as possible in the darkest of times.
Nock writes here as a fully formed as an intellectual with the clearest possible view of the world. He gives us a model for understanding how the state drains the rest of society of money, energy, and power. Indeed, everything written in the libertarian tradition after could be consider a follow-up to this wonderful text. And of course, the book has a title that is unbeatably clear.
This is a classic, which, in our times, sadly means that many people don’t feel that they need to read it. This is a grave error because the book contains powerful insight on every page. Its wisdom has yet to be absorbed into any sector of public life today, including the libertarian sector. Nock’s style, clarity of expression, aristocratic air, and even temperament can serve as a model for us all.
Stefan Molyneux has written the new introduction. The result is the most accessible edition of this essential book in the history of ideas ever published. Nock spoke for the ages, very powerfully in his and even more so in ours. It is always and everywhere true that there is a trade-off that we face in the decision to expand the state. It always comes at the expense of the social forces that make life wonderful, prosperous, and worth living. May we look to Nock as a model for how to argue and think as we continue to build liberty in our times despite all odds.