Two Libertarian Classics


Our Enemy the State, by Albert J. Nock, New York: Free Life Editions, 1973, 118 pp., $2.95.

As We Go Marching, by John T. Flynn, New York: Free Life Editions, 1973, 272 pp., $3.45.

Sympathizers with libertarianism are often unfamiliar with two very different strands within the tradition: what might be called the "radical" and the "conservative" libertarian. The better-known conservative libertarian (e.g., Milton Friedman) regards the State as a bumbling, generally inefficient instrument of society. As such, the conservative libertarian generally opposes State action and intervention; but his analysis is cool, relatively dispassionate, and concentrates on the social inefficiency of governmental measures. Furthermore, every so often, the conservative libertarian cranks his data into his "cost-benefit" computer and grinds out the conclusion that, on this particular issue or other, the State should intervene. Areas of accommodation to government differ from one c-l to the next, but range from massive military spending, to voucher plans for government payments to education, to municipal parks.

The first thing one notices when turning from conservative to radical libertarian works is the different "feel," or tone of the writing. Often equally scholarly, the radical libertarian sets forth with an air of determined hostility to the entire State apparatus, to the government and all its works. It is not just that the radical libertarian consistently opposes all government intervention whatever, so that one need not wait for the cost-benefit computer to come up with his political position on each particular issue. There is more to it than that—for the radical libertarian has a totally different viewpoint of the nature of the State itself. Instead of a bumbling and inefficient tool of society, the radical sees the State itself, in its very nature, as coercive, exploitative, parasitic, and hence profoundly antisocial. The State is, and always has been, the great single enemy of the human race, its liberty, happiness, and progress.


Nowhere has the "radical libertarian" position been presented with more insight, clarity, brilliance, and stylistic beauty than in the works of Albert Jay Nock, and in particular his little gem, OUR ENEMY THE STATE. Long out of print, this work has now been reprinted in a beautifully bound paperback edition by the new Free Life publishers. Here is the book to turn to for a superbly written understanding of the radical libertarian viewpoint. The most systematic of Nock's works, ENEMY, published in the 1930's under the impact of the Hoover-Roosevelt New Deals, focuses on applying the radical libertarian ideology to American history. In the course of the work, Nock makes clear how and why the State is the enemy, how State Power has always been the crippler and poisoner of Social Power (Nock's happy term for all the voluntary arrangements and interactions, economic, cultural, and social, that individual people have created.) All history then becomes a race and a contest between the felicitous creations of Social Power—the peace, prosperity, and harmony fostered by voluntary arrangements—and the blight, destruction, and impoverishment brought on by coercive State power, in taxing, controlling, and regulating individuals and their voluntary interrelations.

Nock, in short, saw clearly that the State is organized predation and looting, and therefore that the State apparatus and its minions constitute an organized criminal band of predators and looters. (We are already in a very different world from that seen by Milton Friedman!) Furthermore, through their power of taxing, regulating, and spending, the State and its rulers constitute an organized exploiting group or class, in effect a "ruling class"; while the rest of us ruled and exploited by the State constitute a class of the ruled. The great libertarian tradition of ruling class theory far antedated and is much sounder than the Marxian tradition; but it has unfortunately been virtually forgotten, so that the mere mention of such words as "ruling class," "imperialism," etc. seems to the reader or listener to be Marxian and hence an indictment of Big Business per se. Read OUR ENEMY THE STATE, and among other benefits, you will find what the very different, libertarian tradition of ruling class theory is all about. It is, for one thing, a ruling class that only comes about through its achievement of power in the State, and never arises through business or voluntary activities on the free market.

Nock's OUR ENEMY THE STATE is, in short, a superb book—perhaps the most important single book for learning about the radical libertarian position. It is greatly enhanced in this edition by an introduction by Professor Walter Grinder, as well as by a brilliant annotated bibliography of libertarian writings by Grinder that constitutes the best libertarian bibliography available anywhere. The bibliography alone is worth the price of admission.

Nowadays, we think we know what "rightwing" foreign policy is. Made familiar to us by the Buckleys, NATIONAL REVIEW, Senator Goldwater, and numerous other conservatives, the policy is essentially one of battling Communism and national revolutions all over the globe. Conservatives have long been in the forefront of pursuing and trying to heat up the Cold War, and of trying to suppress Communist or revolutionary movements in Southeast Asia, or any other parts of the world. As a corollary, conservatives, while presumably urging decreased government intervention at home, can be counted on to be enthusiastic about any and all spending demands by the Pentagon or increasing the power of the military.

It was not always thus. Thirty years ago, the right-wing, what we might call "the Old Right," propounded a blistering critique of burgeoning foreign intervention, warmongering, and American militarism that today would generally be hailed or denounced as "left-wing." Yet it was the Old Right which saw unerringly the growth of Big Government, in both foreign and domestic policy, as the major threat to our freedom, and no false pleas of superpatriotism prevented them from denouncing these trends. For the consistent and militant isolationists, American interventionism and foreign war were to be condemned as both murderous and counterproductive whether it be World War I, World War II, or the Cold War in the spotlight.


Of all the Old Right "isolationist" attacks on the war policies of the New Deal, none was more trenchant, more incisive, and more brilliantly written than John T. Flynn's AS WE GO MARCHING. Flynn saw what the current right-wing has so tragically missed: that Big Government is just as evil, just as much a threat to our liberty in foreign affairs as it is in domestic; in fact, that war and threats of war have always been the major weapon by which the State and its allies fasten their oppression over the general public. Written with high courage in the midst of the war hysteria of World War II, and therefore promptly forgotten, AS WE GO MARCHING, with keen political and historical insight, first describes and analyzes the fascism of Germany and Italy, and then turns to the New Deal, and points out that the New Deal, in its corporatist and interventionist policies at home and abroad, was in the process of bringing the essence of fascism to once-free America. The essence of fascism, Flynn warned, is not brown shirts or pogroms, but the political economy of statism: Big Government dominating and planning the economy at home, the Leader (or President) virtually all-powerful within the government, and a foreign policy of perpetual war and intervention to establish hegemony over the globe. With brilliant insight, Flynn condemned the New Deal system as not only fascist, but also as imperialist; like his fellow Old Rightist Garet Garrett, Flynn realized that the Wilson-FDR policy of global intervention was a virulent form of American imperialism, a policy under which both the subject American and foreign populations are bound to suffer.

It is unfortunate that now when we hear charges of "imperialism," we automatically condemn the speaker as Marxist—not realizing that the original anti-imperialists of the nineteenth century, the Cobdens and Brights and Sumners, were libertarian laissez-faire thinkers who saw deeply and correctly that war and militarism would be the death not simply of free markets and a free society but of the classical liberal movement itself. Flynn's AS WE GO MARCHING applies these antimilitarist and antiimperialist insights to the New Deal, and by clear implication, to the entire postwar American System (Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon) that followed—and that continued explicitly and implicitly in the Wilson-FDR tradition. It is a brilliant book, and must reading for libertarians still wedded to the interventionist foreign policy under which they were brought up.


Professor Ronald Radosh contributes an excellent preface to this handsomely bound reprint, placing Flynn and his contribution in its historical context, and demonstrating that, after the book was written, Flynn continued to oppose interventionism in the form of the Cold War and American imperial adventures in Asia. He also points to the symbolic changing of the guard, when NATIONAL REVIEW came on the scene in 1955 to lead the right-wing from isolationism to the global anti-Communist crusade. Flynn contributed an article to NATIONAL REVIEW in the fall of 1956, attacking militarism and military spending as a socialistic "racket." Characteristically, Buckley refused to publish the piece; the reason was that Flynn had failed to succumb to the bogey of the "Soviet threat" in the same way that he had rejected the bogey of the "Nazi threat" a decade and more earlier. Previously it was the liberals who denounced Flynn and now it was the conservatives. As Radosh concludes, "In both cases, Flynn remained true to the analysis put forth most clearly in AS WE GO MARCHING. The threat was not abroad; it was internal. It was not Soviet Communism that menaced America—it was the Statism at home and the growth of domestic fascist trends…the militarism and fascism within ourselves." Any who are inclined to dismiss this as left-wing propaganda especially owe it to themselves to read John T. Flynn, and to find out what the Old Right was all about.

Murray N. Rothbard is Professor of Economics at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a contributing editor of REASON. He is the author of numerous books and articles on economics and history, and is editor of THE LIBERTARIAIAN FORUM. He and historian Leonard Liggio were interviewed in the February 1973 issue of REASON ("The New Isolationism"), and Rothbard's most recent book, FOR A NEW LIBERTY, was reviewed in REASON's September 1973 issue.