Monday, July 1, 1968 — reprinted from the Foundation for Economic Education
Mr. Silia, a member of The Nockian Society, is a free-lance writer and poet.
Occasionally the smoke-screen generated by public opinion polls, manipulated news media, and other socio-political forms of gamesmanship tends to daunt even the most ardent proponent of liberty. For we are all human, and yield at times to discouragement.
However, it is during such times that we should try to marshall our inner strength and re-examine our outer goals, for things are not always what they seem. It is, therefore, in our own best interest, as well as the interest of liberty, not to judge by appearances, but in terms of the realities involved.
But how to distinguish one from the other, you ask? Perhaps Albert Jay Nock, founder and editor of the old Freeman, has the best solution.
For example, in his classic essay, “Isaiah’s Job,” Nock made it abundantly clear that his goal was not to convert the masses to any particular philosophy.
“The mass-man,” wrote Nock, “is one who has neither 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 these principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great, the overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses.”
So, Nock’s duty as he saw it was to tend the Remnant, those unique individuals who had, or were willing to develop, the necessary insight and ability to understand and employ ideas on liberty. In distinguishing them from the masses Nock noted: “The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.”
So Nock’s primary purpose, then, was not to alter public opinion, manipulate news, or convert others to his way of thinking. He merely sought to improve himself and thereby become ever more capable of furnishing other seekers with the inspiration and insight which might further their own personal unfoldment. His job, in short, was to be a sort of catalytic agent for the Remnant.
Knowing beforehand that the masses were not to be transformed or converted, Nock did not become discouraged in his task of servicing the Remnant. And once you clearly see his point you will understand its soundness.
In other words, if your goal is to reform the world to your liking, you are slated for failure from the outset. For that task is impossible — as well as unnecessary. But if your goal is to reform yourself, and incidentally present the truth as you know it to others, then you cannot fail.
Whether anyone accepts the ideas you present is immaterial to your goal. Even though you may convert no one, you still improve society by improving one of its units — yourself.
Nevertheless, you can be sure that your self-improvement will attract the Remnant’s attention, although you may not be aware of it. Or as Nock said, “… in any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them: first, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.”
This, then, was Nock’s job. It is likewise the job of all those who are interested in promoting the cause of liberty. And to them, Nock offers this bit of encouragement: “If, for example, you are a writer or a speaker or a preacher, you put forth an idea which lodges in the Unbewusstsein 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, as one might say, corrupts it. Meanwhile, he has quite forgotten how he came by the idea in the first instance, and even perhaps thinks he has invented it; and in those circumstances, the most interesting thing of all is that you never know what the pressure of that idea will make him do.”
This endeavor will, of course, strike a responsive chord only in those rare individuals who are ready to work for the Remnant.