Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (LFB)by Albert Jay Nock
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In 1946, oil baron William F. Buckley Sr. sent his extremely bright son Bill to Yale University. The father wanted to pass on one book to prepare him to think independently. His household had thousands of books on hand. The book he chose was Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, by a family friend named Albert Jay Nock (1870–1945) , perhaps the most brilliant American essayist of the 20th century, and certainly among its most important libertarian thinkers. Nock had died three years earlier, but left this autobiography, almost a private family treasure.
The father knew exactly what he was doing. Nock had written that "the effect of keeping good company in literature is exactly what it is in life. Keeping good company is spiritually dynamogenous, elevating, bracing. It makes one better. Keeping bad company is disabling; keeping indifferent company is enervating and retarding."
The young Bill Buckley devoured the book. He carried it all through school. He read and reread it constantly. It shaped him and helped him find an intellectual identity. At the end of his college experience, he wrote God and Man at Yale. It was a literary sensation, or scandal, depending on your point of view. He said what no one else was willing to say: The economics faculty was teaching the Keynesian malarkey that free enterprise doesn't work, and the religion faculty did not really believe in God. The alumni association was mortified. Shock waves lasted for years. This book launched his career.
Whatever else you can say about William F. Buckley Jr., he defied the conventions, even through his later years when this conservative icon came out against the drug war and refused to enlist in the culture war.
Nock, an innate anarchist who seemed to turn all known truth on its head, was his muse. You can see it in the style; the aloofness; the distance he maintained from the passing fads; the disdain with which he held the mainstream media; the dismissive attitude he had toward the intellectual class and the mandarins of the civic religion; and, most of all, the love of liberty. This was the spirit of Nock at work in Buckley's life.
More than just a biography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man presents a full theory of society, state, economy, and culture, and does so almost inadvertently. His stories, lessons, observations, and conclusions pack a very powerful punch — so much so that anyone who takes time to read carefully cannot but end up changed in intellectual outlook. One feels that one has been let in a private club of people who see more deeply than others. This is truly an American classic.
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Meet the Author
Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870 – August 19, 1945) was an influential American libertarian author, educational theorist, and social critic of the early and middle 20th century.
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