A Dissenting View on Albert Jay Nock
[Reprinted from Fragments, April-June, 1982]
Albert Jay Nock is admired by some who admire Nock who do not admire
[Henry] George; and I'll have to be put down as one who admires George
but does not admire Nock.
Nock wrote a book-length essay on Henry George on the centenary of
the latter's birth in 1939. Though in his preface he acknowledges
George as "one of the first half-dozen of the world's creative
geniuses in social philosophy," by the end of the book one
The one thing with which George identified himself most closely - the
Single Tax - is the one thing Nock considers a mistake. Nock also
thinks George made a mistake by running for mayor in 1886 and again in
1897. Apparently he erred, too, in writing against Herbert Spencer who
recanted his earlier views on the land question. And it was also
presumptuous of him to write an open letter to Pope Leo XIII on the
occasion of his encyclical Rerum Novarum. And George should
have behaved more politely toward the academic world and not debated
with professors. George was mistaken in having confidence in "the
people"; he should have cultivated "the elite."
What is left? According to Nock, "the quality of simple human
goodness." George was "innocent, sincere, steadfast,"
and, Nock hoped, "the elite of mankind" (whoever they are)
would come to appreciate that.
Really now, I think Henry George and the Georgist movement can
dispense with such left-handed compliments. The Georgist movement has
an aim, a thrust, a direction. It looks forward to influencing public
opinion toward the philosophy and reforms proposed by George, and to
the progressive adoption of land value taxation - and yes, eventually,
hopefully - the Single Tax.
Far from alienating scholars, Henry George's political activities
interest many of them to this day, especially the 1886 campaign, and
they frequently research this event. George was not the only one who
deplored Spencer's recantation - many others did - and George's book
on the subject, A Perplexed Philosopher, contains important
clarifications that are still useful. George worked carefully on his
open letter to the Pope, The Condition of Labor, and it is
probably his best statement on the ethics of his philosophy and
As for George's faith in the people, there has been better success in
gaining acceptance of Georgism by "the man in the street"
than among most of the learned economists who are so immersed in
hogwash that they cannot recognize straight facts or see simple
What in the world can we do with Nock's Henry George except put him
up on an unwanted pedestal, reject what he stood for - and lapse into