Robert M. Thornton

22 February 2012

This afternoon I was resoundingly humbled.

I began this site in December, 2011.  After registering the site name and adding a few pages, I thought it prudent to assure that I would not incur a copyright protest or otherwise encroach on another’s claim to Nock’s intellectual property.

Since the Nockian Society, kept alive in the person of an original member, Robert M. Thornton, distributes copies of his works and at least has publishing privileges if not outright copyright ownership, I reached out in January 2012 and wrote to Mr. Thornton through the Nockian Society web site that I had found.  In fact, I found two web sites.

To my delight, I received a letter by mail a few days later from Mr. Thornton.  It was a month before I took the next step and phoned him, but today (22 February 2012) I did so.

In his short letter, Mr. Thornton wrote that he learned of my email message when his wife turned on her Kindle, which had been a Christmas gift.

It was Mrs. Thornton who answered the phone.  I introduced myself and mentioned the email message.  Oh, yes, she remembered opening it, and we both speculated how it had come to them through the Kindle — a marvel that we will leave unexplained.

She turned my call over to her husband, and he graciously allowed me to stammer at him, astonished as I was that I could merely dial a number and reach so singular a person.  I conveyed my purpose in calling, which was the same as my purpose in emailing him: that I have begun a blog in Nock’s name and that I wanted to assure myself that I was not misappropriating the privilege.

He told me, as I suspected, that he is not internet-savvy and that the Nockian Society web sites, one beginning with “the” and the other without, were created by someone else.  (I now know who that was.)  The email link went to, which, perhaps to their surprise, was arranged to reach Mrs. Thornton.

Be that as it may, Mr. Thornton assured me that I would offend no one by quoting from AJN.  We compared lists of Nock’s works and he offered to mail me a thing or two.  I explained that I was surprised to find the blog name available, (Nock’s), both at WordPress and at Blogspot.  And I described briefly how I had similarly registered in 1999 when it was, to my surprise at the time, unclaimed.

I promised to stay in touch with him, and once I have contrived to demonstrate (with printouts?) what I have done at this blog, I will mail it to him.

Altogether, I am honored to have had this conversation with one of the three founders of the unorganized Nockian Society.

The Nockian Society itself honors Nock’s distaste for organizations, so it has “no officers, no dues, and no meetings.”  [Update as of November 2016: The Nockian Society also no longer has either web site.]  From the message that went out in the first Society bulletin:

Francis Rabelais
Artemus Ward
H. L. Mencken

Three admirers of the late Albert Jay Nock met for lunch early in 1963 — a doctor, a businessman [the same Robert M. Thornton with whom I spoke], and a clergyman [the Rev. Edmund A. Opitz].  Individually, each had found his own way to AJN, and felt an affinity for Nock’s ideas as well as Nock’s nonpushy approach to the idea business.  A common interest in AJN had brought these three together in the first place; here, as in other instances, Nock proved to be a touchstone.  Men who respond to Nock tend to hit it off pretty well together.  This is a sufficient reason for The Nockian Society.

We are not out to save the world.  Neither is our aim to idolize a man or endorse every idea embraced by AJN.  Nock had a way of setting ideas in motion and then keeping out of their way.  The Society keeps out of its members’ way, as it pursues a policy of salutary neglect.

The most tangible thing about this Society is its mailing list.  Those whose names are writ therein receive an occasional memorandum containing priceless information available nowhere else.  The Hon. Sec’y is eager to add your name to this collection and will dispatch a free packet of Nockian literature to you at the first sign of interest.

Well, that was 49 years ago.  Mr. Thornton, who must have roughly 30 years on me, which would make him about 90, was the businessman of the three, and, true to its original statement, he offered to mail me a packet when I showed an interest.  So I look forward to receiving the packet.

And with that modest impetus, I presume to promote and carry the banner for the Nockian Society.  From now on, though, it has the advantage of an internet presence with actual text from his works.

Join, if you wish, by reading and participating.  Or don’t.  That’s how AJN would want it.

=David A. Woodbury=

2 November 2016 — And now, an update.  It has been five years since this blog was started.  I fancy myself the newest (as of 2011) and possibly only remaining member of the Nockian Society.  In 2011 there were two domain names purporting to represent the Society, and, and neither of these any longer exists.  There is what may be an archive of the latter site at It may well lie dormant there indefinitely.  Being an appendage of a college web address there is no need separately to maintain a registration or pay separately for hosting.
8 January 2020 — Update: the Cal Tech web address above no longer works as given nor with https.

5 thoughts on “Robert M. Thornton

  1. Just finished “Our Enemy, The State” and, while looking for whatever else was available, stumbled on a reference to the Nockian Society. I have read several of the monthly posts and am signing on for notifications of future posts. Thank you!

  2. My father and Bob Thornton were friends and shared an affinity for Nock. I inherited it as well. I worked for FEE when Ed Opitz was there and involved with the Nockian Society and the Remnant. I’ve lost touch with Bob Thornton, so need to communicate with him. Thank you for created this website.

  3. I set a site up about 20 years ago (hosted on Mindspring free hosting) which is lost to history – I spoke to Mr Thornton about that time too. The classics never die I suppose

  4. My Godfather was Rev. Edmund Opitz. My dad is Charles Hallberg the publisher of Our Enemy the State also Jefferson, A Cure Worse Than the Disease. (Dad has about 60 titles) I did not know that there were forums for the Nokian Society. Thank you. Christen

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