Posted tagged ‘Victor Navasky’

Nockians Left and Right

May 25, 2008

From Victor Navasky’s NYT review of two books by or about William F. Buckley (thanks to Scott Lahti for an early link to the piece):

It is probably no accident, as the old-left journals used to say, that both Buckley and Carey McWilliams, The Nation’s longtime editor, were fans of Albert Jay Nock, who after briefly working at The Nation in the 1920s went on to found his own libertarian magazine called The Freeman (the rights to which Buckley sought unsuccessfully to buy when he began National Review). Nock started out as a left-wing anarchist and bohemian, but he metamorphosed into an anti-egalitarian who believed that journals of opinion were aimed at what he called the Remnant, the enlightened few who would influence the many.

“Bohemian” is a better description of Nock’s one-time American Magazine colleague John Reed; Nock was more of an anti-institutionalist than a party animal, and he remained one to the end (just look at the passages on marriage and organized religion in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man). “Left-wing anarchist” is misleading as well: Nock was an individualist anarchist heavily influenced by Henry George. He was far from being an anarcho-syndicalist, which is what “left-wing anarchist” might be taken to mean. Navasky probably doesn’t mean to suggest that, but the contrast he wants to draw between the the early and the late Nock is not accurate. The sharp contrast is between the Tolstoyan sensibility of the pre-World War I Nock and the partly Cram-inspired pessimistic Nock of later years.

Buckley’s relationship to Nock is pretty well known — WFB Sr. was a friend of AJN, and WFB Jr. often paid homage to Nock — but I had not known about Carey McWilliam’s admiration for him.

Postscript: For what it’s worth — we Nock aficionados can be a punctilious lot — Navasky’s dates are wrong, too. Nock worked for The Nation during World War I, not the 1920s, and even got the magazined censored when he wrote critically about Samuel Gompers. Bad for the labor-business-government war effort, don’t ya know. He launched The Freeman, with Francis Neilson as co-editor (in name, at least), in 1920.


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