Albert Jay Nock wrote a wonderful essay, “Isaiah’s’ Job” in 1936. In the essay, he is retelling advice he is giving to an acquaintance – an acquaintance who has a brilliant economic idea, one he is sure he must bring to the masses. “I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the population. What do you think?"
The essay can be found here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/nock3b.html
Nock was not as enthused about the prospects of moving the masses along to this new and brilliant economic doctrine. He replied with the story of Isaiah, and God’s charge to Isaiah:
In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."
Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They 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; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."
The Lord made clear that the masses were not Isaiah’s concern – that there was a remnant out there and Isaiah was preaching only to them:
[Isaiah] preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not.
Unfortunately for Isaiah, he would not know the remnant; he would get no feedback that his message was being heard and accepted by the few.
…in any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those – dead sure, as our phrase is – but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First that they exist; second, that they will find you.
It has always been true that the remnant exists – there is some small portion of the population waiting for the message, able and desirous to grasp it. That the remnant will find the preacher seemed, in the past, a somewhat more difficult prospect. Imagine the burden in Isaiah’s time – to be “found” required Isaiah travelling from town to town, standing in a public place, and delivering his message. It was not a popular message; it was one that was certain to either be ignored or gain for him ridicule and derision. He would almost certainly get no positive feedback – the remnant were glad to hear the message, but there was likely little more exchange. As Nock said, you will never know who the remnant are.
Even more: the members of the remnant didn’t know each other. They quietly took the message and then went their own way. If the numbers of the remnant was not revealed to the prophet, surely individual members of the remnant would not know anything about the others – who they were, how many, etc.
Certainly in his life time, Ron Paul had to have the feelings that Nock was describing to his acquaintance and captured in this essay. This was true for many of those who have stood tall for freedom, individual liberty, free-market economies, and a non-intervention foreign policy.
It was not so long ago that, to paraphrase a critic, all of this “remnant” could fit in a phone booth. But even this is not a fair portrayal, and for the example, I again return to Nock’s essay:
One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet's attempt – the only attempt of the kind on the record, I believe – to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job. He said that he was running away, not because he was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to; "and as for your figures on the Remnant," He said, "I don't mind telling you that there are seven thousand of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are."
So, it was quite likely the remnant was much larger than could fit in a phone booth – but to Ron Paul, the number was rather unknown.
What was known had to be rather disconcerting – when Dr. Paul ran for President in 1988, he received less than 1% of the vote. As Nock described the Lord’s message to Isaiah: “The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen.”
The Remnant and the Internet
I consider the change that the internet has brought to the message delivered by Nock to his acquaintance.
You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First that they exist; second, that they will find you.
The remnant for the message of liberty always existed. This Ron Paul knew. The remnant would find Ron Paul – when he was winning less than 1% of the vote, he had to take this on faith, if he even considered it at all. He could not know the remnant, outside of his small circle.
Today, much of this has changed. The two things that Nock said one would know of the remnant are certainly still true – they exist, and they will find the messenger.
But the idea that the messenger will never know who the remnant are and what they will do is changing quite rapidly. Certainly, Dr. Paul does not know all of those who support him and his message. However, we are all seeing what the remnant will do – organizing state by state, county by county – implementing actions to further the message and deliver results.
Today, thanks to the internet, things have changed. Countless millions are able to hear the messenger. No more travelling town by town, preaching to an empty town square. One message gets repeated thousands of times, broadcast by dozens of the remnant to an ever larger circle.
More importantly, the remnant now knows there are other – countless others- who are part of the same remnant.
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 remnant did not know – could not know – that there were many like them. Yes, a few – if one somehow found their name on a mailing list of one of the handful of like-minded libertarian organizations.
The knowledge within the remnant, that one is not alone, that others hear the message and accept it, is very powerful. The recognition that one is not standing alone – with the fewer than 1% who made themselves known in 1988, for example – is very encouraging to the remnant.
Today, Ron Paul is receiving upwards of 20% of the vote, and the numbers continue to grow. Anecdotally, Lew Rockwell comments month after month and year after year that the latest period has set a new record for readership to his site.
For a remnant to find each other is a phenomenon unknown in recorded history. It is quite encouraging and can only result in the advancement of the cause of liberty. In many ways, the benefits of the internet can only accrue to the remnant and not to the masses – were there not already enough messages to the masses about the benefits of giving up liberty to the state?
The message to the masses does not gain from the internet in the way the message to the remnant does. The masses always found each other – it was the remnant that needed this wonderful tool.
I wonder what Nock would say today on this subject….