The Remnant and the Masses

The concept of a “Remnant” is biblical in its origin, but—like most things biblical—has application both far and wide. Members of the Remnant, as contrasted with the masses, are the real movers and shakers of any given society. It is the Remnant who actually know and care about what is really happening; and are often the only ones doing anything about it. Encouraging as that may sound, it is also frustrating, because the Remnant are a slippery bunch. As Leonard Read tells it:

Members of the effective Remnant are few in number, and no others really count. The Remnant are, as Albert Jay Nock observed, an odd lot, quiet, shy of show-offs, indeed, they will have nothing to do with such types. These few—mostly unknowns—are the ones who tip the scales, and their search is always for those who, to some extent, make progress against their own bewilderment, who gain in understanding and clarity of expression, who evidence integrity and, above all, who strive to enlighten themselves. Those of The Remnant “run a mile” from reformers, they resent all attempts at “ramming ideas down their necks.” This attests to their realism for they know the futility of such an effort. It simply cannot be done.

Read refers his readers to Albert Jay Nock, whose essay on the Remnant—called Isaiah’s Job—is still necessary reading even though 77 years have passed since it was first published in Atlantic Monthly in 1936. Read says that Nock’s essay gave him his “first instruction in the methods appropriate to freedom,” and that “like the Bible, from which the story is taken, it merits reading again and again.” I couldn’t agree more. I recommend everyone reading this short article take the time to print out and study Isaiah’s Job over the weekend; it will be time well invested.

So much for the sales pitch; what about the Remnant? For one, Nock says they are “obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can.” Further, “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.” This may sound like a great challenge, but the generally accepted method of appealing to the masses is even more challenging. In fact, if Nock is to be believed—and I think he is—chasing the masses with a message of rebuilding and strengthening the foundations is not simply a challenge—it is futile. Speaking of the average resident of the masses, Nock has this to say:

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.

Harsh words, but true. This low view of the masses is—for the most part—the biblical view, and was the predominant view (at least among those who considered themselves to be Remnant men) up until the Enlightenment.

In the eighteenth century, however, certain European philosophers spread the notion that the mass-man, in his natural state, is not at all the kind of person that earlier authorities made him out to be, but on the contrary, that he is a worthy object of interest. His untowardness is the effect of environment, an effect for which “society” is somehow responsible. If only his environment permitted him to live according to his lights, he would undoubtedly show himself to be quite a fellow; and the best way to secure a more favourable environment for him would be to let him arrange it for himself. The French Revolution acted powerfully as a springboard for this idea, projecting its influence in all directions throughout Europe.

Nock points to the French Revolution as Character Witness A against a romanticized view of the masses. If a change in “environment” were the only thing necessary for the masses to progress, than surely France would be the proving ground. Conversely, the political revolution west of the Atlantic—although influenced by Enlightenment ideas—did not take this view seriously enough to make it the law of the land. The American republic thrived while the French “democracy” beheaded the masses by the thousands.

But what, you may be asking, does this have to do with our modern political predicament? Much, dear reader, much; and on this we shall have more to say tomorrow.