The Weird Uncle: Albert Jay Nock

Hero_nock“In the popular histories of political ideas, there’s no more omnipresent figure than the godfather–as in, Irving Kristol, godfather of neoconservatism, or William F. Buckley Jr., godfather of modern conservatism. But intellectual historians tend to unjustly neglect a very important influence when they trace their genealogical lines: the weird uncle. For American conservatives that figure is Albert Jay Nock–a man who died a decade before the first issue of National Review but who shaped its spirit nonetheless.

Nock didn’t try hard to obscure his strangeness. In fact, he carefully tended his eccentric image on nearly every page of his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, published in 1943. During his long career as a writer for New York’s little magazines like The American Magazine and Harper‘s, these foibles became enshrined in myth. A misanthropic character, who considered Western civilization to be on a road to perdition, he viewed himself an atavistic figure from premodern times and occasionally wore a cape to symbolize his preference for the past. This sartorial detail also had the intended effect of enshrouding him in mysteriousness. During a stint as editor of the Freeman, he declined to give his colleagues his home address or to reveal more substantive details about himself. Van Wyck Brooks recounted a rumor that contacting Nock required leaving a note under a rock in Central Park. None of his New York friends or colleagues knew that Nock had spent decades as an Episcopal priest or that he had abandoned his wife and children. Had they read his Memoirs they would not have come to know these facts either.”

More here by Franklin Foer in The New Republic.