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 ministerial crisis called forth by the boot-polishing question is not yet over. Meantime, a decree has been issued against all emigration without the permission of the authorities. Socialism is founded upon the principle that it is the duty of all persons alike to labour, just as under the old regime the duty to become a soldier was a universally recognised one. And just as in the old days young men who were ripe for military service were never allowed to emigrate without authority, so can our Government similarly not permit the emigration from our shores of such persons as are of the right age to labour. Old persons who are beyond work, and infants, are at liberty to go away, but the right to emigrate cannot be conceded to robust people who are under obligations to the State for their education and culture, so long as they are of working age.
At the beginning of the new order of things scarcely
any other persons than gentlemen of private means, with their families, showed any desire to get across the borders. True, the working powers of these people had been originally taken account of as a factor in the general sum; but it soon turned out that the labour done by such persons as had never been accustomed to harder work than cutting off coupons, or signing receipts, was of such little value that further assistance from these quarters could well be dispensed with. These people were hence quite at liberty to go. The main thing was to take care that they did not take money or money’s worth with them over the frontier. Then again, the emigration of nearly all the painters, sculptors, and authors was a thing that could be viewed with the most perfect equanimity. The new system of working on a grand scale, and more or less on one and the same pattern, was not at all to the taste of these gentlemen. They raised objections to working with others in the great State workshops, for the good of the State in general, and to being subjected to the supervision of officials. Let all such malcontents go! We shall have no lack of poets, who, in their leisure hours, will gladly sing the praises of Socialism. It had been intimated to artists and sculptors that they would no longer be able to lay their works of art at the feet of insolent wealthy upstarts, but would have in future to dedicate them to the nation at large. And that does not at all suit these servants of Mammon.
There is, however, one unpleasant fact in connection with the emigration of all the sculptors, and that is, that the proposed erection of statues to many of the departed heroes of our cause seems to be delayed indefinitely. Not even the statues of those memorable
pioneers Stadthagen and Liebknecht are completed. On the other hand, the clearance of the salons of the bourgeoisie has placed a vast amount of sculpture at our disposal for the decoration of our meeting-halls and the like.
A word as to authors. These gentlemen who criticise everything, and whose very business it is to spread discontent amongst the people, may, in fact, readily be dispensed with in a State where the will of the masses is law. Long ago Liebknecht used those memorable words: “He who does not bend to the will of the majority, he who undermines discipline must be bundled out.”
If all such gentlemen go of their own accord so much the better.
If this had been all, no prohibition of emigration had ever been needed. But the incomprehensible part of the business is that it was observed that useful people, and people who had really learnt something, went away in ever-increasing numbers to Switzerland, to England, to America, in which countries Socialism has not succeeded in getting itself established. Architects, engineers, chemists, doctors, teachers, managers of works and mills, and all kinds of skilled workmen, emigrated in shoals. The main cause of this would appear to be a certain exaltation of mind which is greatly to be regretted. These people imagine themselves to be something better, and they cannot bear the thought of getting only the same guerdon as the simple honest day labourer. Bebel very truly said: “Whatever the individual man may be, the Community has made him what he is. Ideas are the product of the Zeitgeist in the minds of individuals.”
Unfortunately the Zeitgeist under the old system long went wandering about, lost in the mazes of error. Hence all these mad notions about the superiority of one man over another.
As soon as our young people shall have received proper training in our socialistic institutions, and shall have become penetrated with the noble ambition to devote all their energies to the service of the Community, so soon shall we be well able to do without all these snobs and aristocrats. Until such time, however, it is only right and fair that they should stay here with us.
Under these circumstances the Government is to be commended for stringently carrying out its measures to prevent emigration. In order to do so all the more effectually, it has been deemed expedient to send strong bodies of troops to the frontiers, and to the seaport towns. The frontiers towards Switzerland have received especial attention from the authorities. It is announced that the standing army will be increased by many battalions of infantry and squadrons of cavalry. The frontier patrols have strict instructions to unceremoniously shoot down all fugitives.
Our Chancellor is an energetic man, and it is to be hoped he will long continue at the head of affairs.