February 23, 2018


A Stroll With Albert Jay Nock (Robert Thornton, 2/23/18, Imaginative Conservative)

A civilized society, wrote Albert Jay Nock, is one which "organizes a full collective expression of mankind's five fundamental social instincts: the instincts of workmanship, of intellect and knowledge, of religion and morals, of beauty and poetry, of social life and manners." When societies have gone on the rocks, "it was invariably the collective overstress on one or more of these fundamental instincts that wrecked them." American society, he wrote from Brussels in 1931, is trying to force the whole current of our being through the narrow channel set by one instinct only: the instinct of acquisition and expansion. A society that gives play to only this instinct "must inevitably be characterized by a low type of intellect, a grotesque type of religion, a fictitious type of morals, an imperfect type of beauty, and an imperfect type of social life and manners. In a word, it is uncivilized."

The trouble with our civilization, Nock declared, is that it makes exceedingly limited demands on the human spirit and the qualities that are distinctly and properly humane. We have been trying to live by mechanics alone, the mechanics of pedagogy, politics, industry, commerce. Instead of experiencing a change of heart, we bend our wits so as to devise changes in mechanics. But, continued Nock, "a nation's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that it possesseth; that it is the spirit and manners of a people, and not the bewildering multiplicity of its social mechanisms that determine the quality of its civilization."

The sort of people he admired were those he found himself among many years ago in New England. Writing in 1930, he observed that New Englanders "like to work, and they are prosperous but they refuse to be dominated by their business" and "resent an over-big rush of trade as keenly as the rest of America grabs for it, and cajoles and lies and grovels for it." Nock felt privileged "to sojourn among such people" and had "enormous admiration for their independence, self-respect and insight into the real values of life."

Posted by at February 23, 2018 3:35 AM