Pictures of the Socialistic Future
By Eugene Richter
Eugene Richter (1838-1906) was a member of a generation of classical liberals who died between the turn of the 19th century and the First World War. This generation included the French economist
Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), the English sociologist
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the English historian Lord Acton (1834-1902), the English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906), the American sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), and the English radical liberal
Thomas Mackay (1849-1912). What died with the passing of this generation was a form of classical liberalism which was based on a strong defence of individual liberty, property rights and self-ownership, free trade and laissez-faire, and opposition to war and imperialism. The “liberalism” which emerged after the catastrophe of the First World War, if one can indeed call it “liberalism”, turned its back on this generation of classical liberals and all that it believed in–with dire consequences for liberty in the 20th century.Richter was born in Duesseldorf and attended universities in Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin. In the late 1860s, when the German unified nation state was being created by Prussia through a series of wars against other German states and France, Richter first became a member of the German national parliament (the Reichstag). Over several decades he used Parliament as a platform to voice his unwavering opposition to increasing state expenditure, increases in the size and power of the army and the navy, government abuses of individual freedom, and colonial policy. Richter was faced with two major sources of opposition to his form of classical liberalism. On the one hand there were the conservatives led by Otto von Bismarck who cleverly forged an alliance between traditional conservatives, the military, and the working class with his combination of warfare and welfare expenditure and tariff protection. On the other hand, there were the socialists who wanted to maintain the high level of government expenditure, but shift the balance more towards welfare expenditure. As modern electoral politics emerged in Germany in the late 19th century Richter’s never-ending opposition to all government expenditure increasingly came to be seen as mere dogmatism and pig-headed “Manchesterism” (as free trade and free market ideas were called).Pictures of the Socialistic Future (freely adapted from Bebel) (1891), is Richter’s satire of what would happen to Germany if the socialism espoused by the trade unionists, social democrats, and Marxists was actually put into practice. It is thus a late 19th century version of Orwell’s
1984, minus the extreme totalitarianism which Orwell had witnessed in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia but which was still inconceivable to 19th century liberals. The main point of the book is to show that government ownership of the means of production and centralised planning of the economy would not lead to abundance as the socialists predicted would happen when capitalist “inefficiency and waste” were “abolished”. The problem of incentives in the absence of profits, the free rider problem, the public choice insight about the vested interests of bureaucrats and politicians, the connection between economic liberty and political liberty, were all wittily addressed by Richter, much to the annoyance of his socialist opponents.Richter’s book is part of a series we are putting together online on late 19th century free market criticism of socialism. It now joins those by
Spencer.Little has been written on Richter. There is a brief excerpt from one of his books and a short bio in
Western Liberalism: A History in Documents from Locke to Croce, ed. E.K. Bramsted and K.J. Melhuish (London: Longman, 1978). There is a long chapter on Richter in Ralph Raico,
Die Partei der Freiheit: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Liberalismus (Stuttgart: Lucius, 1999). See also Ralph Raico, “Eugen Richter and Late German Manchester Liberalism: A Reevaluation,”
The Review of Austrian Economics, vol. 4, 1990, pp. 3-25. Online at
David M. Hart
March 1, 2004
Henry Wright, trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd.
First published in German. Introduction by Thomas Mackay.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Some Press Notices
- Introduction, by Thomas Mackay
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Chapter 35
- Postscript, by Henry Wright
I HAVE had rather a bad time of it to-day with my two women folk, my wife and Agnes. It was mother’s birthday, a day whose return I have for the last twenty-five years greeted with joy. On the present occasion, alas! there was nothing but heaviness in our hearts. To-morrow Franz is to set out for Leipsig, and on the same day we must yield up our other two children. Grandfather is to remove into the Refuge for People of Advanced Years.
It will readily be understood that there was more thought of all these matters than of the birthday. My wife’s heart was full to overflowing, especially at the sight of grandfather. “Socialism,” said he, “is a calamity for all of us; I have foreseen this all along.” I tried to comfort him by describing to him the easy, agreeable life he would lead at the Refuge.
“What is all that to me?” he cried, full of impatience. “When there I shall have to live and sleep and eat with strangers. I shall no longer have my daughter about me to look after me. I shall not be able to have my pipe whenever and
wherever the humour takes me. I shall be no longer able to have games with Annie, or to listen to the tales Ernst brings home from school. I shall never hear how things are going on in your workshop. And whenever I become ill I shall be left quite to myself. Old trees should be left where they are, and never be transplanted. And I am sure the end won’t be long in coming to me.”
We tried to reassure him by promising to visit him very often.
“Such visits,” said he, “are only a doing of things by halves. You are never alone and really at your ease, and you are constantly getting disturbed by other people.”
We got little Annie, grandfather’s pet, to do the best she could, in her confiding way, to solace him. The child was the only cheerful member of the company. Somebody had told her a lot of tales of all the cakes, pretty dolls, clever dogs, picture-books, and similar delights which were to be had at the Children’s Homes. So she was never tired of talking of these things.
Franz manifests resignation, and quiet, firm resolution. But I don’t like to see this in him. It looks to me as though he were devising some plans or other which he is determined not to betray. Whatever such plans may be I trust they are not at variance with our socialistic principles.
My second son, Ernst, does not much betray what his thoughts and feelings are. Towards his mother, however, he has been especially tender, and this as a general thing is not at all his way. We had meant to apprentice him to some trade now, and he had looked forward to this with much pleasure. He has
a skilful hand, and would push his way onwards at a trade; but he has not made all the progress in school matters that one could have wished. But now it must be otherwise, as lads of his age, one and all, have to be kept at school a few years longer before they can receive a technical training.
Upon everyone of her birthdays mother treats us to a prime, juicy loin of veal, which Franz playfully calls our historical joint.
“When you come to see me, as I hope you will soon,” said my wife, sadly, as the joint appeared on the table, “I shall not be able to set roast veal before you, for I shall then no longer have a kitchen of my own.”
“I have the greatest respect imaginable for your roast joints,” I replied; “but it would never do to give up our ideals on such grounds. So far from there being any lack of roast joints in the future we shall have them even more frequently than hitherto, and many another delicacy in addition.”
“True enough,” she answered; “but we shall not enjoy these things together. One gets his meals here, another there. The distress caused to the individual heart by all this tearing asunder is poorly compensated for by knowing that the public at large live better. I don’t care a straw about the joint, but I do care about the social life of the family.”
“Ah, I see,” I said jocularly. “It is not for the sake of the pennyworth of cake, but only for the kind regards which accompany it. Never mind, old lady; rest assured we shall not have any the less regard for one another in the future, and we shall have more leisure to show it than we have had so far.”
After a short silence, she asked, querulously:
“What I want to know is, why must things be so?”
And Agnes, who always seconds my wife when she gets on to such subjects, repeated the question even more querulously. Whenever these two talk a duet there is very little chance left for me, especially when Franz remains neutral, or, what is worse still, keeps nodding approval to Agnes.”
“Have you then so entirely forgotten those delightful lectures by Miss W.,” I asked, “those lectures on the emancipation of women, and on the equality of women’s rights in all respects with the rights of men? You found those lectures at the time as inspiring as Bebel’s book.”
“Oh, Miss W. is an old maid,” they replied, “who has never had more than her one furnished room.”
“She may none the less on that account be in the right,” I answered. “The principle of equal rights, equal obligations, irrespective of sex, constitutes the basis of the socialistic Community. Our platform is the total independence of the wife from her husband, and this end is to be obtained by securing to women an equal and independent income for services done away from their own homes: no more household serfs, and no more slavish services on the part of wives or servants. Hence we endeavour to reduce all household work to a minimum by transferring this as far as possible to great central establishments conducted by the State. We must have no children and no elderly persons about the homes, so that these, by their varying number in different families, may again
give rise to all the gradations of wealth and poverty. These are the doctrines which Bebel taught us.”
“I daresay all that is very nicely and mathematically worked out,” said grandfather; “but it can never bring happiness. And why not? Because humanity is something more than a flock of sheep.”
“Grandfather is quite right,” cried Agnes. And then she clasped Franz round the neck, and hung upon him, and said she never had the least wish to be emancipated from him.
Under these circumstances there was at once an end to all reasonable argument.
But, after all, I wish to-morrow, with all its part ings, were well over.