“Truth is a cruel flirt, and must be treated accordingly”

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September 6, 2017 by AK

Via Arts and Letters Daily, a a brief article on the economist Henry George by Michael Kinsley, formerly of The New Republic. In the title, Kinsley introduces George as “the obscure economist Silicon Valley billionaires should dump Ayn Rand for.” If you’ve ever been interested in libertarian thought, you’re probably familiar not only with Ayn Rand but also with Albert Jay Nock, the author of Our Enemy, the State (1935) and Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943). And if you’re familiar with Albert Jay Nock, you should be able to recognize the name, Henry George.

Unlike Rand, Nock is a pleasure to read, which is one reason to recommend his essay. The author was sympathetic to the economist’s ideas and admired his service to the American public but could not fail to notice this:

His character was unmatched in the whole public life of his period. He was nobly serious, grandly courageous, and so sincere as to force even his enemies, of whom he had many, to speak well of him. He had great brilliance, some wit, and the command of a fine irony; but he had absolutely no humor.

Not a major flaw in an economist, one would think, but Nock saw it as an epistemological handicap:

All his life he had labored under the unhumorous man’s inability to learn what none of us probably enjoys learning, that Truth is a cruel flirt, and must be treated accordingly. Court her abjectly, and she will turn her back; feign indifference, and she will throw herself at you with a coaxing submission. Try to force an acquaintance — try to make her put on her company manners for a general public — and she will revolt them like an ugly termagant; let her take her own way and her own time, and she will show all her fascinations to every one who has eyes to see them.

This is too good for me to comment on.

Going back to Kinsley’s piece, I should add that George is not completely forgotten: look at this site or google “Georgist.” One of the site’s contributors, incidentally, is John Cowan, a frequent, unbelievably erudite commenter at LanguageHat‘s.


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