MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Anarchist’s Progress | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on January 6, 2022

When I came upon the saying of Lincoln, that the way of the politician is “a long step removed from common honesty,” it set a problem for me. I wondered just why this should be generally true, if it were true.

https://mises.org/library/anarchists-progress-0

Albert Jay Nock

When I was seven years old, playing in front of our house on the outskirts of Brooklyn one morning, a policeman stopped and chatted with me for a few moments. He was a kindly man, of a Scandinavian blonde type with pleasant blue eyes, and I took to him at once. He sealed our acquaintance permanently by telling me a story that I thought was immensely funny; I laughed over it at intervals all day. I do not remember what it was, but it had to do with the antics of a drove of geese in our neighborhood. He impressed me as the most entertaining and delightful person that I had seen in a long time, and I spoke of him to my parents with great pride.

At this time I did not know what policemen were. No doubt I had seen them, but not to notice them. Now, naturally, after meeting this highly prepossessing specimen, I wished to find out all I could about them, so I took the matter up with our old colored cook. I learned from her that my fine new friend represented something that was called the law; that the law was very good and great, and that everyone should obey and respect it. This was reasonable; if it were so, then my admirable friend just fitted his place, and was even more highly to be thought of, if possible.

I asked where the law came from, and it was explained to me that men all over the country got together on what was called election day, and chose certain persons to make the law and others to see that it was carried out; and that the sum total of all this mechanism was called our government. This again was as it should be; the men I knew, such as my father, my uncle George, and Messrs. So-and-so among the neighbors (running them over rapidly in my mind), could do this sort of thing handsomely, and there was probably a good deal in the idea. But what was it all for! Why did we have law and government, anyway! Then I learned that there were persons called criminals; some of them stole, some hurt or killed people or set fire to houses; and it was the duty of men like my friend the policeman to protect us from them. If he saw any he would catch them and lock them up, and they would be punished according to the law.

A year or so later we moved to another house in the same neighborhood, only a short distance away. On the corner of the block—rather a long block—behind our house stood a large one-story wooden building, very dirty and shabby, called the Wigwam. While getting the lie of my new surroundings, I considered this structure and remarked with disfavor the kind of people who seemed to be making themselves at home there. Someone told me it was a “political headquarters,” but I did not know what that meant, and therefore did not connect it with my recent researches into law and government. I had little curiosity about the Wigwam. My parents never forbade my going there, but my mother once casually told me that it was a pretty good place to keep away from, and I agreed with her.

Two months later I heard someone say that election day was shortly coming on, and I sparked up at once; this, then, was the day when the lawmakers were to be chosen. There had been great doings at the Wigwam lately; in the evenings, too, I had seen noisy processions of drunken loafers passing our house, carrying transparencies and tin torches that sent up clouds of kerosene smoke. When I had asked what these meant, I was answered in one word, “politics,” uttered in a disparaging tone, but this signified nothing to me. The fact is that my attention had been attracted by a steam calliope that went along with one of the first of these processions, and I took it to mean that there was a circus going on; and when I found that there was no circus, I was disappointed and did not care what else might be taking place.

On hearing of election day, however, the light broke in on me. I was really witnessing the august performances that I had heard of from our cook. All these processions of yelling hoodlums who sweat and stank in the parboiling humidity of the Indian-summer evenings—all the squalid goings on in the Wigwam—all these, it seemed, were part and parcel of an election. I noticed that the men whom I knew in the neighborhood were not prominent in this election; my uncle George voted, I remember, and when he dropped in at our house that evening, I overheard him say that going to the polls was a filthy business. I could not make it out. Nothing could be clearer than that the leading spirits in the whole affair were most dreadful swine; and I wondered by what kind of magic they could bring forth anything so majestic, good, and venerable as the law. But I kept my questionings to myself for some reason, though, as a rule, I was quite a hand for pestering older people about matters that seemed anomalous. Finally, I gave it up as hopeless, and thought no more about the subject for three years.

An incident of that election night, however, stuck in my memory. Some devoted brother, very far gone in whisky, fell by the wayside in a vacant lot just back of our house, on his way to the Wigwam to await the returns. He lay there all night, mostly in a comatose state. At intervals of something like half an hour he roused himself up in the darkness, apparently aware that he was not doing his duty by the occasion, and tried to sing the chorus of “Marching Through Georgia,” but he could never get quite through three measures of the first bar before relapsing into somnolence. It was very funny; he always began so bravely and earnestly, and always petered out so lamentably. I often think of him. His general sense of political duty, I must say, still seems to me as intelligent and as competent as that of any man I have met in the many, many years that have gone by since then, and his mode of expressing it still seems about as effective as any I could suggest.

II. Reformers, Noble and Absurd

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Albert Jay Nock

Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870–August 19, 1945) was an influential American libertarian author, educational theorist, and social critic of the early and middle twentieth century. Murray Rothbard was deeply influenced by him, and so was the whole generation of free market thinkers of the 1950s.

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