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
IN place of the cab which we had expected to fetch away grandfather and the children, a furniture-van pulled up before the house in the early morning. An official who accompanied it said that we had no occasion to move out before the evening; his instructions at present were merely to fetch the furniture.
“Fetch the furniture?” said my wife in amazement. “I thought that household goods were to remain private property.”
“Certainly, my good woman,” answered the man. “We are by no means instructed to take all the things away. All that the Community lays claim to is what is comprised in this list.”
And he handed us the inventory we had had to
give in previously, and also showed us a copy of the
Onward, with a bye-law of the Government, which we had somehow, in the agitation of the last few days, quite overlooked.
My wife remained like one petrified, and it was long before she could somewhat recover herself. The official was meantime very patient and civil, and did all he could to reconcile her to the necessity of the step.
“My good lady,” he said, “where in the world are we otherwise to get such a quantity of furniture together as will be required for the many State establishments for the education of children, the care of old people, the nursing of the sick, the providing the people with meals, and so on?”
“Then why not go to rich people,” my wife asked, “to people who have great big mansions stuffed as full as they can hold with the most beautiful furniture>”
“We do that as well,” he replied, smirkingly. “In Zoological Gardens St., Victoria St., Regent St., and that district there is quite a procession of furniturevans. All traffic for other vehicles than these has been stopped for the present. No one is to retain more than a couple of beds, and as much other furniture as he can stow away in two or three good-sized rooms. But even then we have not a sufficiency. Only just imagine, we have here alone over 900,000 persons below the age of twenty-one who have to be housed in Children’s Homes and in schools. Then you have another 100,000 persons over sixty-five who have to be provided for at the Refuges. In addition to all this, there are to be ten times as many beds as heretofore in all the hospitals. Now tell me where
are we to get all these things from, and not steal. And tell me further what would be the good of all these beds, and tables, and cabinets to you when granny yonder, the young gentleman here, and the little girl are no longer inmates of the house?”
My wife wanted, at least, to know what we should do when they all came to visit us.
“Well, you will still have six chairs left,” was the reply.
“Yes, but I mean when they stay overnight?” my wife asked.
“There will be some difficulty about that, as you will find very little room at the new place!” he answered.
It now came out that my good wife had suffered her imagination to lead her into supposing that at the new distribution of residences we should, at the very least, receive a neat little villa somewhere at the West End, and be then able to furnish one or two spare rooms for our friends. I must say, though, that Paula never had any grounds for letting her imagination take these lofty flights, inasmuch as Babel always taught that domestic affairs should be on as small and frugal a scale as possible.
Paula tried to find comfort in the thought that grandfather and the children would at least sleep in their own old beds at their new places. She had fully meant, in any case, to send the cosy easy-chair to the Refuge for her father’s use.
But the official shook his head at this.
“That is not quite what is intended,” he said. “The collected articles will be sorted out, and the best use consistent with fitness and harmony made of them. The furniture in these places would be somewhat
of a motley character if each inmate were to bring his own lumber with him.”
This only served to cause renewed lamentations. The easy-chair had been our last birthday present to grandfather. It was as good as new, and the old gentleman always found it so comfortable and easy. Little Annie’s cot had been slept in by all the children, one after another. It had been relegated to the lumber attic, and brought down again, time after time, as occasion required. The large wardrobe, which we subsequently gave up to grandfather, had been amongst the very first things we had bought when we got married, and this we obtained by weekly payments. It took us no end of labour and economy to get our few things together. The looking-glass was a heirloom from my father. He always used to shave himself before it. I remember knocking off that bottom corner as a boy, and getting a good thrashing for it too. Thus, one way and another, a part of our very life’s history clings to every piece of furniture about the place. And now all these things are to become mere broker’s gear, and to be scattered for ever!
But our regrets were unavailing, and we had to let them load the van with our furniture. Towards evening another official came to fetch away grandfather and the children. But we were not permitted to accompany them, the official saying with some asperity, that there must be an end somewhere to all these partings. And I cannot say that the man was altogether in the wrong. The fact is, all this display of feeling is not quite in character with the victories of reason of modern times. Now that the reign of universal brotherhood is about beginning, and millions
stand locked in a fond embrace, we must strive to let our gaze wander far beyond the petty narrow limits of past and vanquished times.
I tried to point this out to my wife when the others had all gone, and Paula and I were left alone. But oh, dear! it is dreadfully quiet and desolate in the half-empty rooms. We have never known quiet like this since the first year of our marriage.
“I wonder whether the children and grandfather will have good beds to-night!” my wife said presently. “And whether they will be able to sleep. Poor little Annie, indeed, was nearly asleep when the man came to fetch her. I wonder, too, whether her clothes have been delivered all right, and whether they have put her long night-gown on, so that she won’t take cold. The child has such a way of kicking the coverlet off in her sleep. I had laid her night-dress quite on the top of the other things, with a little note for the attendant.”
I fear we shall, neither of us, be able to sleep a wink to-night. It is only by degrees that one can get used to these things.