on With Ol’ Isaiah
few days ago the day after U.S. and British forces began their air
assaults against targets in Afghanistan I found myself revisiting
one of my favorite essays: Albert Jay Nock’s classic Isaiah’s
Job. I had been a bit despondent. One remark in an email commenting
on my recent essay
on the need to re-explore this country’s founding principles had
been weighing on my mind. The email had begun, simply but forcefully,
"Excellent article but you are preaching to the choir." Despite
all the other email this was the phrase that remained in my mind.
is easy to sink temporarily into doubts whether writing about such
ideas as adhering to this country’s founding principles has any
point. After all, the political elites who make decisions capable
of affecting millions of people, such as whether or not to go into
battle, do not appear to be listening. For all I know, of course,
some of their stooges may be keeping little black books on those
of us who have taken to the Internet to stand up for Constitutionally
limited government. There is reason to think that at least some
LRC writers are regarded as a threat in some quarters. Just read
Jonah Goldberg. But the point is, probably no one close to President
George W. Bush has so much as glanced at LRC’s archive of articles
critical of U.S. foreign adventuring. Likewise, it is doubtful that
Alan Greenspan has taken note of Lew Rockwell’s recent
critique of the dominant economic policy since September 11 which
was really just a modification of the dominant policy of centralized
micromanagement of the economy that preceded the attacks.
with those making the decisions not reading, and others in positions
of influence (at, for example, neocon hotbeds like National Review)
being caustically if defensively dismissive, is it worth it? That
was my question, and then my eyes fell once more upon my volume
of Albert Jay Nock essays containing the wonderfully inspirational
this essay, Nock is recounting his explanation to an acquaintance,
"a very learned man, one of the three or four really first-class
minds that Europe produced in his generation," why, despite
his acquaintance’s conviction to the contrary, he has no "mission
to the masses." Nock refers him to the story of Isaiah, the
Old Testament prophet. The time was around 740 B.C. The society
Isaiah lived in was prosperous, relative to the times, but decadent
and complacent. Then, in the year of the aged King Uzziah’s death,
as Nock tells it, "the Lord commissioned the prophet to go
out and warn the people of the wrath to come. ‘Tell them what a
worthless lot they are,’ he said. ‘Tell them what is wrong, and
why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart
and straighten up….’" It is clear that Isaiah will have an
uphill battle, for as Nock’s version of the word of the Lord continues,
"‘I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you … that it won’t do
any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn
up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They
will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down
to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with
Isaiah asks the same fifty-dollar question: is there any point?
The Lord’s answer is a resounding Yes. And then come some
of the most important words one who promotes individual liberty
and Constitutionally limited government can read these days: "There
is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure,
unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can.
They need to be encouraged and braced up, because when everything
has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come
back and build up a new society, and meanwhile your preaching will
reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care
of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."
of course, is the answer a message from 1936, when Nock’s essay
first appeared, to a country in late 2001 rapidly shifting into
Crisis mode. This is the answer, and it has many applications.
we inveigh against the political correctness that has turned colleges
and universities into Stalinist re-education camps and even spread
to corporate America, we are writing for a Remnant that may be trapped
in those institutions but knows better. Those with elementary horse
sense know that radical feminist rants against men and the traditional
family unit are just so much rubbish born of resentment. Members
of the Remnant no doubt concluded long ago that multiculturalism
is not a live option, because members of all cultures and
ethnic groups prefer the company of their own. This explains campus
re-segregation in all-black dorms, etc. We are speaking here of
natural human behavior, not hatred or hostility toward other groups.
Today, however, those who have reached these conclusions probably
have a strong sense of isolation, since the view that every group
should mix with and feel good about every other group is so popular
and so widely endorsed by the intelligentsia.
when we criticize the ongoing efforts by the Federal Reserve and
the federal government to micromanage as much of the economy as
possible, we are taking care of the Remnant. This Remnant may not
have read Mises and Rothbard but still instinctively realize the
ultimate futility of the project. Its members recognize that enterprises
down here in the South Carolina boonies (for example) cannot operate
at peak efficiency if they have to answer to directives issued from
hundreds of miles away in Washington, D.C. The situation is worse
if these directives change every year, as do the nation’s tax-slavery
laws, and the small entrepreneur finds himself having to consult
a lawyer (and pay him) just to keep up with the IRS’s latest whims.
Again, a sense of isolation and discouragement may result from a
sense of swimming against the dominant tide.
we urge a serious reexamination of those aspects of U.S. foreign
policy that may have helped motivate the September 11 terrorist
attacks, we are addressing a Remnant. This Remnant knows that no
peoples, whatever their religious or ethnic background, are likely
to take it very well when their cities and factories are bombed
into rubble by a U.S. president trying to distract attention from
how much trouble he is in at home. To urge such a reexamination
is not to be "anti-American," as some are now saying.
It might be anti-Empire, as part of the positive and healthy goal
of someday resurrecting a Constitutionally limited government whose
foreign policy is limited to protecting our borders. If this is
ever possible, then America might again be a beacon to the rest
of the world rather than an Empire hated for its materialism and
its need to meddle constantly in everyone else’s affairs. (If not,
then when the Empire finally destabilizes or its power centers face
even more devastating attacks than those of September 11, then setting
up new Constitutional republics in regions that have seceded becomes
a live option.)
should be clear, through all this, that those Nock and others call
"the masses" are largely hopeless. Who are "the masses"?
Just the run-of-the-mill, go-along-with-the-crowd range of people
who buy miniskirts solely because miniskirts are popular (it could
just as easily be pet rocks), or fly the American flag solely because
all their neighbors are doing it and isn’t it a good thing to stand
up and be proud of America? "The masses" are chronic followers
and joiners; they have neither the cognitive ability nor the character
to evaluate the flow of the popular tide and decide on their own
whether to swim with it or against it. As Nock expresses this, "[t]he
mass-man neither has the force of intellect to apprehend the principles
issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character
to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct;
and because such people make up the great, overwhelming majority
of mankind, they are called collectively the masses."
The masses, it goes without saying, will log on to the Internet
to look at entertainment sites rather than read LewRockwell.com.
They will buy millions of copies of People but are unlikely
to have the slightest interest in, say, Chronicles.
masses are unlikely to heed the warnings issued by Samuel Adams,
that those who trade liberty for security will end up with neither,
or those being sounded now about the dangers of trusting government
officials who state openly that it "may be necessary to curtail
some civil liberties" in the fight against terrorism. The masses,
most of whom graduated from government schools, lack sufficient
knowledge of or interest in history to realize that in every past
Crisis, the federal government has arrogated new powers to itself.
Although supposedly temporary and created to deal with the emergency,
these powers always turned out to be permanent fixtures that were
taken for granted by the government-school educated next generation.
There is no reason to think our present situation is any different.
short, in Nock’s essay the masses do not come off very well. So
allow me a few remarks in their favor. Most, I think, are fundamentally
decent and mean well (however much all of us are fallen creatures).
Many are specialists, and very good at what they do. A functional
society needs all kinds of people, from philosophers to common laborers
and everything in between. It is not necessary that everyone be
constantly pondering the weighty issues of our time most likely
a lot of important work would never get done. So the masses have
their place. The mistake is to believe, as so many Enlightenment-influenced
political philosophers and activists have, that the masses provide
raw material for some kind of social utopia, if "we" (meaning
the activists) can just create the right environment. That kind
of thinking has always been a recipe for totalitarianism, just because
the masses always refuse to cooperate. They simply lack the altruism,
or interest in acting for "the good of the whole" that
Utopia would require. At a more modest level, this is the fundamental
mistake of thinking we can really have a permanent functional democracy,
as opposed to the Constitutional republic the Framers had in mind.
is because the masses are easily misled. Their thinking and planning
is generally directed toward whatever affects them and their loved
ones directly. They are not drawn to political power. Thus they
do not really comprehend the thinking of that minority of the population
that is drawn to power; it simply isn’t on their radar screens.
This makes them vulnerable to a wide variety of behind-the-scenes
manipulations, ranging from the encroachment of political agendas
into the classrooms their children attend to the mass media’s hammering
everyone about the need for "unity" in this time of Crisis.
Unfortunately, their very nature makes it unlikely that more than
a few will respond to our counter-hammering about the dangers of
trading liberty for security.
be all this as it may, the Remnant is also out there. Nock tells
us there are only two things we can really know for sure about the
Remnant. That was the first, "that they exist." The second
is that, if you do your best, "they will find you." We
are speaking and writing to those who question perhaps almost instinctively "what
everyone knows" and decide to snoop around on their own in
search of truth. As such, they are naturally drawn to others who
do the same. Beyond this, "working for the Remnant means working
in impenetrable darkness … [for] … you do not know and will never
know who the Remnant are, or where they are, or how many of them
there are, or what they are doing or will do."
course, the Internet has changed things since Albert Jay Nock’s
time, as Gary North observed in an essay
last year. My own correspondence plus the steadily accelerating
number of hits websites such as LewRockwell.com receive every month
is all the evidence I need that the Remnant exists, and that some
of its members have indeed found us. I can even say with confidence
that I know who some of them are. They exist in all occupations
(except government bureaucracy, for which I hear they have very
little aptitude), at every socioeconomic level and in all walks
of life. They don’t look any different from the masses necessarily,
but they think differently, and that makes all the difference in
the world. All of us have come to certain realizations: Multiculturalism
is silly. Central economic planning has not worked; does not work;
can never work. Empire-building makes enemies. We may not have influence
now, but we have confidence that some ideas work if put into practice,
while others lead nowhere except to trouble. The federal government
cannot pile economic quick-fix on top of economic quick-fix indefinitely.
The educational system cannot produce feminized, hypersensitive
drones forever. Nor can American political elites continue trying
to manage the rest of the world when they cannot even fulfill their
proper functions at home. One of the few Constitutionally legitimate
functions of the federal government is the protection of our borders.
The federal government as it exists today cannot even do this effectively.
report shows that 13 of the hijackers who flew the planes into
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing almost 6,000 innocent
people, entered this country legally, in full accordance with federal
immigration laws (some had overstayed their visas). Records on others
are incomplete or simply missing. Despite all the propaganda to
the contrary, federal stooges in airports cannot
even protect us now.
to Nock, working on behalf of the Remnant is unlikely to lead one
to attain riches or fame. But "There are other compensations
to be got out of a job besides money and notoriety…. Many jobs which
do not pay well are yet profoundly interesting…; and the job of
looking after the Remnant seems to me … to be as interesting as
any that can be found in the world." Now it is true that writing
for the Remnant may involve quite a bit of what seems to be "preaching
to the choir." But it affects the thinking of new readers who
discover it all the time, and sometimes "an idea … lodges in
the Unbewisstsein of a casual member of the Remnant, and
sticks fast there. For some time it is inert; then it begins to
fret and fester until presently it invades the man’s conscious mind
… and in those circumstances the most interesting thing of all is
that you never know what the pressure of that idea will make him
raison d’etre, then, has not changed since the time of the
prophet Isaiah. Our mission, as was his, is to conquer our occasional
self-doubts and "be off now and set about it." So let
us carry on with ol’ Isaiah, in full confidence that truth, righteousness
and ultimately, history, are on our side. Even if it takes a while,
and even if the road ahead has a few bumps in it.
Yates [send him mail]
has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is a professional writer at work on a number of projects
including a work of political philosophy, The Paradox of Liberty.
He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He has started writing
a novel and also set up a small freelance writing business, Millennium
3 Communications, in the hope that one or the other will eventually
lead to an escape from underemployment. He lives in Columbia, South
© 2001 LewRockwell.com