Isiah's Job

Albert Jay Nock

[with commentary by Dan Sullivan, from a Land-Theory online discussion, April 1999]

Sullivan: I had made the point that the financial returns to promoting genuine justice will not be as lucrative as the financial returns to leading various superficially appealing causes. Albert J. Nock explained this very well in the essay, "Isiah's Job," which appears in his book, *Free Speech and Plain Language*. Below, I copied excerpts essenstial to discussions about our doing what successful mass-movement groups do.

I also have some comments on Nock's apparently fatalistic approach, which I will make afterward. Those who want to read the entire essay can go to:

From "Isiah's Job"

"Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass- acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses' attention and interest...

" The main trouble with this [mass-man approach] is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one's doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message."

"As the word 'masses' is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, laboring people, proletarians. But it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man 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 those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively 'the masses'. 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."

"[The Remnant] 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.

"The Remnant want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about.

"In a sense, nevertheless, as I have said, it is not a rewarding job. A prophet of the Remnant will not grow purse-proud on the financial returns from his work, nor is it likely that he will get any great renown out of it. Isaiah's case was exceptional to this second rule, and there are others -- but not many.

"It may be thought, then, that while taking care of the Remnant is no doubt a good job, it is not an especially interesting job because it is as a rule so poorly paid. I have my doubts about this. There are other compensations to be got out of a job besides money and notoriety, and some of them seem substantial enough to be attractive. Many jobs which do not pay well are yet profoundly interesting, as, for instance, the job of research student in the sciences is said to be; and the job of looking after the Remnant seems to me, as I have surveyed it for many years from my seat in the grandstand, to be as interesting as any that can be found in the world.

"The other certainty which the prophet of the Remnant may always have is that the Remnant will find him. He may rely on that with absolute assurance. They will find him without his doing anything about it; in fact, if he tries to do anything about it, he is pretty sure to put them off. He does not need to advertise for them nor resort to any schemes of publicity to get their attention. If he is a preacher or a public speaker, for example, he may be quite indifferent to going on show at receptions, getting his picture printed in the newspapers, or furnishing autobiographical material for publication on the side of "human interest". If a writer, he need not make a point of attending any pink teas, autographing books at wholesale, nor entering into any specious freemasonry with reviewers.

"All this and much more of the same order lies in the regular and necessary routine laid down for the prophet of the masses. It is, and must be, part of the great general technique of getting the mass-man's ear - - or as our vigorous and excellent publicist, Mr.H.L.Mencken, puts it -- the technique of boob- bumping. The prophet of the Remnant is not bound to this technique. He may be quite sure that the Remnant will make their own way to him without any adventitious aids; and not only so, but if they find him employing any such aids, as I said, it is 10 to 1 that they will smell a rat in them and will sheer off.

"The certainty that the Remnant will find him, however, leaves the prophet as much in the dark as ever, as helpless as ever in the matter of putting any estimate of any kind upon the Remnant; for, as appears in the case of Elijah, he remains ignorant of who they are that have found him or where they are or how many. They did not write in and tell him about it, after the manner of those who admire the vedettes of Hollywood, nor yet do they seek him out and attach themselves to his person. They are not that kind. They take his message much as drivers take the directions on a roadside signboard -- that is, with very little thought about the signboard, beyond being gratefully glad that it happened to be there, but with every thought about the direction.

"This impersonal attitude of the Remnant wonderfully enhances the interest of the imaginative prophet's job. Once in a while, just about often enough to keep his intellectual curiosity in good working order, he will quite accidentally come upon some distinct reflection of his own message in an unsuspected quarter. This enables him to entertain himself in his leisure moments with agreeable speculations about the course his message may have taken in reaching that particular quarter, and about what came of it after it got there. Most interesting of all are those instances, if one could only run them down (but one may always speculate about them), where the recipient himself no longer knows where nor when nor from whom he got the message- or even where, as sometimes happens, he has forgotten that he got it anywhere and imagines that it is all a self-sprung idea of his own.

Sullivan: Now, it seems that there are people who are willing to consider things now, and do something about it now, rather than waiting. Nock might be correct that nothing can be done on a grand scale until the current system collapses, but experiments can still be conducted on smaller scales, as in municipal shifts to land value tax and entrepreneureal communities that fund services from rents.

Where I agree with Nock is that our message is only accessable to those who are willing and able to stop, listen, think and act. Thus, if we are going to make plans, they must be plans that can be implemented by this distinctly small part of the populace. Similarly, if we are going to seek resources, we must seek them from such people.

Now, one could say that those interested in fame and fortune should promote something more amenable to those ends, while those interested in truth and justice should stay behind.

Still, there is nothing wrong with fame per se, but only with a pandering for it, and the same is even more true of fortunes, because one must earn *some* money in order to do what one has to do. Still, I would rather deliver pizza by day and say exactly what I mean by night than gain my living by saying what I am kinda, sorta willing to say so that unthinking masses will be emotionally drawn toward sending money to the organization that employs me.