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Albert Jay Nock on a Program to Restore Liberty


Let us ignore for a moment the bombastic boorishness of Donald Trump and his child-like name-calling about the tantrum-throwing hereditary boy-king in the totalitarian hermit prison called North Korea.

And, instead, look at the bankrupt disaster called the Republican Party in Congress. What is left of this political party that has claimed to be the banner-holder of traditional “Americanism” and its principles of individual liberty, free enterprise and constitutionally limited government? It is an ideologically empty and aimless band of politicians who stand for nothing and cower in terror of taking a legislative stand on anything for the fear that it will lose the only thing they care about – staying in power in Washington, D.C.

Adrift like a boat in stormy seas with a broken rudder and a useless compass, the Republicans get buffeted around by the daily political waves between the infantile tweets of an intellectually ignorant president and the power-lusting accusations and sound bites of Democrats hoping to regain control for their own plunder-privileging ways in the Capital Building.

Alas, this is nothing new. Watching the Republicans act just as cowardly and aimlessly in the 1930s, the great libertarian social critic and political analyst, Albert Jay Nock, lamented this situation in an article about, ‘What the Republicans Won’t Do,’ which appeared in the January 1938 issue of the “American Mercury.”

But Nock also wistfully explained what he wished a Republican Party of principle would do, if they ever came into power in Washington, and actually implemented an agenda meant to restore liberty in America – in spite of the fact that Nock was the very opposite of a political activist.

The following excepts from this article is Albert Jay Nock’s political program of principle, if there ever could be one, but which he had no confidence the Republicans would ever have the understanding and backbone to try:

“Speculation being free to all, it is interesting to speculate on what would happen if the voters showed sense enough to elect an administration that would take its stand on the principle laid down by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, that a country which is least governed is best governed.

“In the present state of the Union, such an administration would do nothing for four years but act as a wrecking-crew. Its first move would be to state that under no circumstances would the President or any member of Congress accept a second term; and its second move would be to post every public building in Washington with large signs reading, LOBBYISTS NOT ADMITTED. N O VACANCIES. N O JOB- SEEKERS NEED APPLY.

“Then it would settle down for a steady go at the greatest job of repealing, revising, department-shattering, bureau-busting, cost-reducing, and general decentralization that the world has seen since the days of Lycurgus. The steam shovel would take the place of the steamroller, and in three months’ time there would be more office-space vacant in Washington than there is now in New York City.

“Nothing but what is necessary— actually necessary, not politically necessary — would be left of the whole federal structure. Everything else would be off-loaded on the smaller political units, and if they did not choose to shoulder the burden, why, it would be just too bad . . .

“The States and municipalities might look after their own wastrels as they saw fit, or let them ‘go dry,’ as far as Uncle Sam was concerned. The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, and the Interior would be folded up. The Treasury would be admonished, in the words of Mr. Jefferson, that ‘the accounts of the United States ought to be, and may be, made as simple as those of a common farmer, and capable of being understood by common farmers’.

“Budget balancing would . . . aim at Mr. Madison’s expense-account of the year 1810, and probably would balance at about the figure set by Mr. Van Buren, if not a little better . . .

“Wholesale repeal and revision would give the Department of Justice about one-tenth of its present volume of business, at about one-tenth of its present payroll. The Post Office Department would be farmed out to private enterprise, as a former Postmaster-General, Mr. Wanamaker, once suggested it should be, for even now private enterprise carries the mail; all the Post Office does is to collect and distribute it.

“The State Department would lose that hoary anachronism, the diplomatic establishment, which was so useless even as far back as Mr. Jefferson’s time that he was all for getting rid of it and letting the consular service take over . . .

“While this was going on, privilege-seekers— rich or poor, bankers or labor-leaders, enterprisers or up-lifters — would be halted at sight and thrown out on their heads. As for those who wanted something to be done in a general way to ‘help business’, the Administration would make it clear that government has no proper concern with business except to punish fraud and enforce the obligations of contract, and that the State and local governments can do this much better than the Federal Government can.

“The Administration would take its stand firmly on the great and true saying of Thoreau, that government never helped any enterprise except by the alacrity with which it got out of the way; and that would be that.

“At the end of its four-year term, the Administration’s parting advice to the people would be, ‘don’t lean on government. When you want your pinafores buttoned or your noses wiped, don’t run to Washington about it. Don’t run to your State or local governments about it. Don’t run to anybody about it. Do it yourselves. Government has its legitimate job. Its job is to safeguard your freedom and security; nothing more. Don’t try to make it do anything more. Above all, don’t let it get on your backs. We have put in four hard years here, merely prying it off your backs. Don’t let it climb on again’.”

Unfortunately, Albert Jay Nock concluded, “Yet I somehow feel that it would not interest our Republican friends.” Nothing has changed over the almost 80 years since Nock wrote these words.

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    Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).