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
THE Chancellor has tendered his resignation. All well-intentioned persons must sincerely regret this step, especially after yesterday’s event. But the Chancellor is said to be in an overwrought and nervous state. And, indeed, this can scarcely be wondered at, for he has had a hundred times more thought and work than any chancellor under the old system had. The ingratitude of the mob has deeply wounded him, and the incident of yesterday was just the last drop which has made the cup run over.
It has come out, however, that the boot cleaning question was really at the bottom of the ministerial crisis. It is now known that the Chancellor some little time back handed over to the Cabinet an elaborate memorandum, which memorandum, however, the other ministers always contrived to persistently shelve. The Chancellor insists now on attention being paid to his memorandum, and he has had it inserted in the
Onward. He demands that class differences be instituted, and says that for his part he cannot possibly dispense with the services of others. The maximum eight hours’ day simply cannot and does not exist for a chancellor, nor could otherwise exist than by having
three chancellors to govern in shifts of eight hours each of the twenty-four. He urges that he, as Chancellor, lost a lot of valuable time each morning over cleaning his boots, brushing his clothes, tidying up his room, fetching his breakfast, and similar offices; and that, as a consequence, matters of grave State import, which he alone was in a position to attend to, were subjected to vexing delay. He had no other choice, he says, than either to appear occasionally before the ambassadors of friendly powers minus a button or two on his coat, or to, himself, (the Chancellor, as is well known, is not married,) do such small repairs as were too pressingly urgent, or too trifling, to be sent to the great State repairing shops. He argues further that by having a servant to perform such little offices much valuable time would have been saved to the public. Then again the having to take his meals at the one appointed State cookshop was very irksome, by reason of the crowd of suppliants who daily organised a hunt after him. As for his carriage-drives, he never took them except when, from the limited time at his disposal, it was otherwise quite impossible to obtain a mouthful of fresh air.
All this sounds, of course, very plausible, but there is no denying that a proposition of this kind is diametrically opposed to the principle of social equality, and that it would only too strongly tend to introduce the system of household slavery once more. That which is demanded by the Chancellor for himself others might with equal right demand, and we should soon have his colleagues in the Cabinet, and others, such, for instance, as heads of Government departments, directors of the numerous State institutions, mayors of towns, etc. etc., making the same pretensions.
On the other hand, however, it certainly does seem a pity that the whole vast machinery of the State, upon whose smooth working such mighty issues depend, should now and then come to a stop because the Chancellor has to sew a button on, or to polish his boots before he can receive someone in audience.
This is a question of greater moment than is apparent to everyone at first sight. But that such an excellent Chancellor, and such a consistent Socialist should in the course of his career be tripped up by a stumbling-block of this kind cannot be too much regretted.