advertisement 1
Monday, May 21st, 2018                                                 SUBSCRIBE TO OUR RSS FEEDrss feed

Liberals Never Learn

Published by on July 21, 2010

Liberals Never Learn thumbnail
by Albert Jay Nock
from The American Mercury, vol. XLI, no. 164 (August 1937), pp. 485-90.

THERE IS NO question that the Liberals and Progressives are in the political saddle at the moment, fitted out with bucking-straps and a Spanish bit, and are riding the nation under spur and quirt. Liberalism became the fashion in 1932, so for six years every esurient shyster who was out to rook the public has had to advertise as a Liberal and a Progressive. None other need apply. Hence we now have a hundred-per-cent Liberal Administration backed up by Liberal State, county, and municipal placemen, and a solid nation-wide Liberal bureaucracy running close to a million, all frozen tight in their jobs. One would hardly believe there could be as many Liberals in the world as are now luxuriating with their muzzles immersed in the public trough. They are a curious assortment, too, differing widely in race, color, and previous condition of servitude, but they are all Liberals. Mr. Farley is a Liberal, Governor Murphy is a Liberal; so is Mr. Ashurst, Mr. Ickes, Mr. Wagner, Mr. La Follette, Mr. Black, Mr Wallace, and over all — God save us! — stands the smiling figure of Liberalism’s Little Corporal in person.

It is an impressive array, if you don’t mind what you look at, but nothing to waste words on. We have seen its like before. When Mr. Taft left the Presidency in 1912, political Liberalism descended on the country with a leap and a whistle, under the banner of Mr. Wilson, who being a North-of-Ireland Scotch Presbyterian pedagogue, was ideally fitted by birth and training to give a first-class demonstration of Liberalism in action; and believe me, he gave one. It was the first chance the country ever had to see the real thing in Liberalism, and we certainly saw it dished up with all the modern improvements. When Uncle Sam finally staggered out from under that experience with genuine old-vatted, eighteen-carat, stem-winding, self-cocking Liberalism, most of us thought the poor old man had had enough of it to last him all his life, but in 1932 he was back at the nut-factory again, clamoring for more.

But as I say, speaking seriously, all this is not worth wasting words on, because as everybody but Liberals and unborn children might be presumed to know, a jobseeker’s professions of Liberalism are simply so much in the routine work of electioneering. They are a routine device in the general technique of what my friend Mr. Mencken calls boob-bumping. Hence when Liberalism is in the saddle, as at present or as in 1912-1920, you get substantially the same thing that you get from any other stripe of politics: i.e., you get it in the neck, and get it good and hard. Liberalism gives you a little more exalted type of flatulence, a more afflictive self-righteousness, and in its lower reaches you get a considerably larger line of zealous imbecility; but otherwise the public gets about as much and as little for its money from political Liberalism as it gets out of any other species of organized thievery and fraud.

What I do think is worth looking into for a moment is the working of the Liberal mind as displayed by persons in private life; persons, that is, who are not jobholders or jobseekers, but who have an interest in public affairs — such persons, let us say, as are likely to be found in the Foreign Policy Association or who expound the Liberal point of view in the correspondence columns of the press. I have known many such in my time, and the curious workings of their mentality always interested me profoundly. They were, and are, excellent people, and their public spirit is admirable. They are sincere, as far as their intelligence, or their lack of it, permits them to be; that is to say, they are morally honest, their motives and intentions are impeccable; but intellectually they are as dishonest a set of people, taking one with another, as I ever saw. Chiefly for this reason I have long regarded them as the most dangerous element in human society; and it might be worth a reader’s while to let me specify a little, by way of showing cause for the belief.

In the first place, I never knew a Liberal who was not incurably politically-minded. Those whom I have known seemed to think not only that politics can furnish a cure for every ill the social flesh is heir to, but also that there is nowhere else to look for a cure. They had an extraordinary idea of the potency and beneficence of political remedies, and when they wanted some social abuse corrected or some social improvement made, they instinctively turned to politics as a first and last resort.

The upshot of this addiction is that the Liberal is always hell-bent for more laws, more political regulation and supervision, more jobholders, and consequently less freedom. I do not recall a single Liberal of my acquaintance who impressed me as having the least interest in freedom, or a shadow of faith in its potentialities. On the contrary, I have always found the Liberal to have the greatest nervous horror of freedom, and the keenest disposition to barge in on the liberties of the individual and whittle them away at every accessible point. If anyone thinks my experience has been exceptional, I suggest he look up the record and see how individual liberty has fared under the various régimes in which Liberalism was dominant, and how it has fared under those in which it was held in abeyance. Let him take a sheaf of specifically Liberal proposals for the conduct of this-or-that detail of public affairs, and use it as a measure of the authors’ conception of human rights and liberties. If he does this I think he will find enough to bear out my experience, and perhaps a good deal more.

Being politically-minded, the Liberal (as I have known him) is convinced that compromise is of the essence of politics, and that any conceivable compromise of intellect or character is justifiable if it be made in behalf of the Larger Good. Hence he does not reluct at condoning and countenancing the most scandalous dishonesties and the most revolting swineries whenever, in his judgement, the Larger Good may be in any way served thereby. He assents to the earmarking of a large credit of rascality and malfeasance, upon which jobholders may draw at will if only they assure him that the improvement or benefit which interests him will be thereby forthcoming. Thus, for example, he tacitly agrees to the debauching of an entire electorate — to the setting up of an enormous mass of voting-power, subsidized from the public treasury — because it will insure the election of Mr. Roosevelt, and electing Mr. Roosevelt will in turn insure the triumph of the Larger Good.

Consequently, in his unreasoning devotion to the Larger Good and his inability to see that this kind of service really produces nothing that he expects it to produce, the Liberal is always being taken in by some political peruna that anyone in his right mind would know is inert and fraudful. This gullibility is perhaps the trait which chiefly makes him so dangerous to society; he is such an incorrigible sucker. He whoops up some political patent medicine, say the Wagner Act or the AAA, gets other unthinking persons to indorse it, and when its real effect and intention becomes manifest, he learns nothing from his disappointment, but flies off to another synthetic concoction, and then again to another and another, thus keeping himself and his whole entourage in an unending state of befuddlement. He was keen to Save the World for Democracy; he was strong for the War to End All War, self-determination of nations, freedom of the seas, the rights of minorities, and all that sort of thing. He was red-hot for the League of Nations, and now he is all in favor of The More Abundant Life, social security, and soaking the rich in order to uplift and beatify the proletariat. He does all this as an act of faith, according to the little Sunday-scholar’s definition of faith as “the power of believing something that you know isn’t so”; for if he would listen to the voice of experience alone, it would tell him in no uncertain tones that such stuff is but the purest hokum, and that taking any stock in it merely puts him in line for another brisk run of disappointment precisely like the many he has incurred already in the same way.

The typical Liberal not only puts his confidence in bogus political nostrums and comes to grief; he puts it also in the Pied Pipers who devise these nostrums, and thereby he regularly comes to grief again. For some inexplicable reason he persists in believing that a politician who is enough of a linguist to talk the clichés of Liberalism fluently, one who knows the Liberal idiom and has its phrase-book pretty well by heart, is trustworthy. He has the naïve expectation that such a politician will act as he talks, and when he finds that he does not so act, he is very sad about it. Thus the Liberal fell for Roosevelt I; he fell for Woodrow Wilson; he fell for Ramsay MacDonald and even for Lloyd George; he fell for Roosevelt II; and as one after another of his gonfaloniers turned out to be cotton-backed, he lifted up his voice in lamentation and great woe.

I read an article by Mr. Walter Lippmann some time ago, which faithfully reflects this naïve and inveterate trait of the Liberal. It was printed in the New York Herald Tribune, and by an odd coincidence it appeared in the issue of April 1 — All Fools’ Day — though too much probably should not be made of that circumstance. Mr. Lippmann rehearses in detail his support of Mr. Roosevelt’s various candidacies, and his indorsement of almost all the New Deal policies. In the Summer of 1935, however, he saw signs that Mr. Roosevelt “had acquired the habit of emergency action; that he was not disposed to relinquish his extraordinary personal powers and restore the normal procedure of representative government.” As time went on, these signs multiplied; “expenditures and subsidies did not decline” and “vested interests had been created which the Administration could not or would not resist.” Then came the Supreme Court proposal and the Administration’s “tolerant silence” about the sit-down strikes; and these appear to be the last straws that broke the back of Mr. Lippmann’s confidence. He goes on in a despondent strain to say, “So what I see is a President establishing the precedent that his will or the will of the party in power must prevail, and that the law may be manipulated to carry out their purposes.”

Sancta simplicitas! One reads this with amazement. Is it possible that Mr. Lippmann actually expected Mr. Roosevelt to relinquish voluntarily any personal power that could be made to come his way? Did Mr. Lippmann actually suppose that Mr. Roosevelt, and more than any other professional politician, cares two straws about “the normal procedure of representative government” or would turn his hand over to restore it unless and until it were politically expedient so to do? Why, really, did Mr. Lippmann think there was the faintest possibility that expenditures would decline and bureaucratic vested interests be resisted by the Administration? If it were quite urbane to do so, one might ask what Mr. Lippmann thinks the Administration is there for. As for “establishing the precedent” that Mr. Lippmann cites, the answer is that Mr. Roosevelt is establishing that precedent because he can get away with it, or thinks he can, and it is simply silly to suggest that he might have any squeamishness about imposing his will upon all and sundry — the more, the better — or any shadow of compunction about manipulating the law to carry out his purposes. Mr. Lippmann’s article, in short, is based on the assumption that the commonly-accepted codes of honesty and decency are as applicable to professional politicians as they are to folks; and while this does great credit to Mr. Lippmann’s qualities of heart, one must say in all conscience that it does precious little credit to his qualities of head.

But of such pre-eminently is the kingdom of Liberalism. Mr. Lippmann says he is “deeply disquieted,” not because he apprehends the dictatorship of either Mr. Roosevelt or Mr. Lewis, or the rise of an organized Facism. What he sees in the present state of the Union is “the makings of a fierce reaction against Mr. Roosevelt and the whole Liberal and Progressive movement, and against all Liberal and Progressive ideas. This is what I dread.” I can not share Mr. Lippmann’s sentiments; indeed, I hope he may be right. What I have seen of the Liberal and Progressive movement gives me no wish for its continuance — far from it — and if it be disintegrated tomorrow I should be disposed to congratulate the country on its deliverance from a peculiarly dangerous and noisome nuisance. With regard to “all Liberal and Progressive ideas,” I have never been able to make out that there are any. Pseudo-ideas, yes, in abundance; sentiment, emotion, wishful dreams and visions, grandiose castles in Spain, political panaceas and placebos made up of milk, moonshine, and bilge-water in approximately equal parts — yes, these seem to be almost a peculium of Liberalism. But ideas, no.

P.S. — As the foregoing goes to press, Mr. Lippmann comes out with another article in the same vein, in the Herald Tribune of June 26. In the course of his writing he says:

‘I wish I could recover the belief that the President really is interested in democratic reforms and not in the establishment of irresistible power personally directed. It is not pleasant to have such fears about the Chief Magistrate of the Republic. But for many long months nothing has happened which helps to dispel these fears. Many, many things continue to happen which accentuate them.’

I have no wish to bear hardly on Mr. Lippmann, for his conclusions in both the articles I have cited are sound and true, and I wish the country would heed them. Nevertheless the sentences just quoted are probably, I think, entitled to the first prize as an exhibit of the Liberal’s imperishable naïveté. Why, one must ask, should any vertebrated animal ever have entertained the fantastic belief which Mr. Lippmann has lost; and having lost it, why should he wish to recover it?


This original American Mercury article was first brought to digital form by the good folks at

Related Articles:

Readers' Comments

  1. Tweets that mention Liberals Never Learn | The American Mercury -- on July 22nd, 2010 5:13 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marcus Chavken and Raymond Birkin, Orson Winkler. Orson Winkler said: Liberals Never Learn | The American Mercury: Liberalism became the fashion in 1932, so for six years every esurien… […]

  2. Dave Allen on July 23rd, 2010 5:59 pm

    The more I read about Albert Jay Nock, the more I am impressed. And the more contempt I feel for those who destroyed old-line conservatism in America, which was honorable, and replaced it with Fox News-style neoconservatism, which is not.

    Dave Allen
    Jackson, NJ

  3. Benjamin Marks on August 1st, 2010 7:52 am

    Good to see you guys pick up the essay. I’ll gradually be putting more stuff up from the American Mercury.

    Thanks also for the link back to the website.

    On another site I run I’ve put up a Mencken article from that same issue that has also never been republished. It is online here: . Feel free to post that to your site as well. A link back to my site would be nice too.


  • Forgotten victim
  • Literature, US News »

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy”

    November 7, 2016

    Homeless Jack on “Grabbing Some Pussy” thumbnail

    We discovered this piece scrawled on some foolscap left on our doorstep, an all-lower-case Kerouac-style stream of consciousness rap, and offer it as we found it. by H. Millard trump is an american original and a throwback to the days when americans were bursting with confidence and energy and the sheer joy of freedom and […]

    Africa, History »

    ‘The Choice of Achilles’: John Alan Coey Against the New World Order

    January 3, 2013

    ‘The Choice of Achilles’: John Alan Coey Against the New World Order thumbnail

    by T.R. Bennington AS EVER, BUT ESPECIALLY in our present state of civilizational malaise, there is a need for figures with the power to inspire — men who in less confused and cynical times would have been unabashedly described as heroic. One such figure is Corporal John Alan Coey, a young soldier who has perhaps […]

    Science »

    Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth

    March 2, 2015

    Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth thumbnail

    “DOES the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?” If you answered the latter, you’re among a quarter of Americans who also got it wrong, according to a new report by the National Science Foundation. A survey of 2,200 people that was released Friday revealed some alarming truths about […]

  • Reader’s Comments

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Login / Register / RSS

  • Vintage Mercury »


    June 7, 2017

    Jailbirds thumbnail

    by Jim Tully; from The American Mercury, September, 1928; transcribed by Kevin I. Slaughter THE jail room was thirty-five feet long, twenty-five feet wide, and seven feet high. In this large cage were fifty prisoners. Some had been sentenced and were serving jail terms; others awaited trial, or removal to the penitentiary. The floor was of […]

    Opinion »

    The Old Right and the Antichrist

    June 7, 2017

    The Old Right and the Antichrist thumbnail

    by Richard Spencer (pictured) The following address was given to the H.L. Mencken Club’s Annual Meeting; November 21-23, 2008. BEFORE William F. Buckley settled on writing God and Man at Yale in 1951, the 25 year-old had something quite different in mind as a debut volume. Buckley planned, and may have begun drafting, a book caustically […]

    Literature »

    The Leo Frank Case: The Lynching of a Guilty Man, part 2

    May 16, 2018

    The Leo Frank Case: The Lynching of a Guilty Man, part 2 thumbnail

    by Philip St. Raymond for The American Mercury LOOK AT THE headline and lead article in the Atlanta Georgian newspaper of April 29, 1913, we have illustrated above. Click on this link to see a large and easy-to-read version. “LEE’S GUILT PROVED, Detectives Assert” — “SUSPICION LIFTS FROM FRANK” — “We Have Sufficient Evidence Now to […]

  • Names and Topics


    Literature »

    The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds Audio Book: To West Virginia

    November 12, 2017

    <em>The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds</em> Audio Book: To West Virginia thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie for The American Mercury THIS WEEK in Vanessa Neubauer’s new audio book reading — chapter 17 — of Robert Griffin’s The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds we learn why William Luther Pierce moved the main office of his White revolutionary organization, the National Alliance, from the Washington, DC area to the forest-covered […]

    Frank Audio Books, History »

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 5

    November 10, 2017

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 5 thumbnail

    THIS WEEK we present the fifth and next-to-last audio book installment of prosecutor Hugh Dorsey’s closing arguments in the 1913 trial of Leo M. Frank (pictured) for the strangling and sex murder of his 13-year-old sweatshop employee Mary Phagan. Even more than 100 years later, we are still feeling the repercussions of this case — […]

    Literature »

    The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds Audio Book: Bob Mathews

    November 5, 2017

    <em>The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds</em> Audio Book: Bob Mathews thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie for The American Mercury TODAY WE bring you the story of Dr. William Pierce’s encounter with White revolutionary Robert Mathews (pictured), in Vanessa Neubauer’s new audio book — chapter 16 — of The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds. Click here for all the chapters of this book that we’ve published so […]

    Frank Audio Books, History »

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 4

    November 3, 2017

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 4 thumbnail

    VANESSA NEUBAUER’S audio book reading from the 1913 Leo Frank case this week is the fourth part of prosecutor Hugh Dorsey’s closing arguments. Leo Max Frank (pictured with his wife Lucille in happier times) was ultimately convicted of murdering his 13-year-old pencil factory employee, Mary Phagan, in a case which set the stage for Jewish-Gentile […]

    Literature »

    The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds Audio Book: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    October 29, 2017

    <em>The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds</em> Audio Book: Alexander Solzhenitsyn thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie for The American Mercury TODAY WE bring you Vanessa Neubauer’s new audio book — chapter 15 — of The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds, which discusses Dr. William Pierce’s exploration and critique of the work of the great Russian intellectual Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Click here for all the chapters of this book that […]

    Frank Audio Books, History »

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 3

    October 27, 2017

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 3 thumbnail

    THIS WEEK’S audio book presentation on the 1913 Leo Frank case is the third (of six) parts of prosecutor Hugh Dorsey’s closing arguments. His arguments, along with the evidence in this case, were ultimately successful — and Jewish pencil factory superintendent Leo Frank (pictured) was convicted of murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan, his sweatshop employee. Frank […]

    Literature »

    The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds Audio Book: Cosmotheism

    October 23, 2017

    <em>The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds</em> Audio Book: Cosmotheism thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie for The American Mercury COSMOTHEISM is a religion for those of European descent founded by physicist, teacher, philosopher, writer, and American political activist William Luther Pierce. On this week’s audio book installment of the only authorized biography of Dr. Pierce, Professor Robert S. Griffin’s The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds, we learn […]

    Frank Audio Books, History »

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 2

    October 20, 2017

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 2 thumbnail

    THIS WEEK WE present the second part of the closing arguments of Solicitor Hugh Dorsey (pictured in a  contemporary newspaper illustration), the prosecutor in the 1913 murder trial of Leo Frank for the slaying of his sweatshop employee Mary Phagan. This prosecution has been presented in the major media as a case of “anti-Semitism” — […]

    Literature »

    The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds Audio Book: Our Cause

    October 15, 2017

    <em>The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds</em> Audio Book: Our Cause thumbnail

    by Bradford L. Huie for The American Mercury THIS WEEK in our audio biography of William Pierce (pictured), read by Miss Vanessa Neubauer, we present author Robert S. Griffin’s exploration of Dr. Pierce’s spiritual ideals, as expressed in his seminal speech Our Cause. Click here for all the chapters of this book that we’ve published so […]

    Frank Audio Books, History »

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 1

    October 13, 2017

    New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank – Dorsey’s Closing Arguments, part 1 thumbnail

    TODAY WE present the closing arguments of Solicitor Hugh Dorsey (pictured), which were the very last arguments heard by the jury, in the 1913 murder trial of Leo Max Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan. These powerful, successful, and historic arguments span some six hours, and they will be presented here over the next […]