Nock’s devastating critique, Our Enemy, the State, first published in 1935, has long enjoyed the status of an underground classic in the field of political theory. There is perhaps no other single volume ever produced that presents so sweeping and cohesive an indictment of the institution we think of as “government” Modern advocates of Anarchy (see Emma Goldman for a definition) would find Nock’s views highly congenial. The reader should be forewarned that Nock was a man of letters, and this slender and volume is a scholarly work—written in the most sumptuously elegant, 24-carat prose. There are exhaustive references to—and quotes from—eminent historians, economists, statesmen, and philosophers. For anyone wishing to plunge into a program of serious reading, the writings referenced in Our Enemy, the State direct the reader to an embarrassment of riches.In this book, Nock is not intent on condemning some particular “form of government”, but instead takes aim at the institution as a whole, which he calls “the State”—an institution Nock is careful to distinguish from “government.” This distinction is central to Nock’s discussion. “Government,” as Nock defines it, “implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go.” Citing several examples of “government,” according to this definition, he draws from the writings of Jefferson, Schoolcraft, and Spencer: Thomas Jefferson described the Indian tribes, with which he was so familiar, as being “without government.” Herbert Spencer described several primitive tribes and concluded that they had no “definite” government. Schoolcraft says that the Chippewas had no “regular” government. Yet all these peoples had a highly organized and admirable social order.“If the language of the Declaration amounts to anything,” Nock states, “all these peoples had government; and all these reporters make it appear as a government quite competent to its purpose….This type of government has always existed and still exists, answering perfectly to Paine’s formulas and the Declaration’s formulas; though it is a type which we also, most of us, have seldom had the chance to observe….This type, however, even though documented by the Declaration, is fundamentally so different from the type that has always prevailed in history, and is still prevailing in the world at the moment, that for the sake of clearness the two types should be set apart by name, as they are by nature.”Nock’s point is that the prevailing forms of political organization have nothing to do with “government,” but are, instead, examples of “the State,” a type of political organization which is in no way concerned with the common desire of society for freedom and security. The State is a type of political organization whose aim is “the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others.” While “government,” as described by those who have been fortunate enough to observe examples of it, originated in this common desire for freedom and security, the State originated in conquest and confiscation, and its purposes were in direct opposition to freedom and security.
“Government,” Nock tells us, “may quite conceivably have originated as Paine thought it did, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Rousseau; whereas the State no only never did originate in any of those ways, but never could have done so.”Nock’s mkes his case with such faultless clarity that his words elude paraphrase: “It is the positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner….It has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origins. Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution ‘forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors….This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group.’” Nock continues by saying, quoting Gumplowicz, that, “’Everywhere we see a militant group of fierce men forcing the frontier of some more peaceable people, settling down upon them and establishing the State, with themselves as an aristocracy.’….Everywhere we find the political organization proceeding from the same origin, and presenting the same mark of intention, namely: the economic exploitation of a defeated group by a conquering group.”Government, Nock explains, is social in its origin and purpose; the State is purely anti-social. To this observation, Nock appends the hard words: “The order of interest that it reflected was not social, but purely anti-social; and those who administered it, judged by the common standard of ethics, or even the common standard of law as applied to private persons, were indistinguishable from a professional-criminal class.”From this premise, Nock goes on to elaborate on the history and techniques of the State, to describe the history and progress of the State in America, to prognosticate—with amazing accuracy—its future development, and prophecy its ultimate end.