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
OPEN-AIR concerts are continually being given in the various public squares of Berlin. The new Chancellor is going the right way to work to make himself popular. In all the theatres there are two performances on week-days, and three on Sundays, and these are all gratis. As a matter of course, the theatres which our busy, industrious Community inherited from the bourgeoisie have proved very inadequate in point of number and size. It has hence been found necessary to supplement them by the addition of various other large buildings. Amongst others, many of the churches are now appropriated to this purpose. As regards the latter, there are still to be found persons here and there who show some scruples, and who somehow do not seem to be able to cut themselves loose from old and deep-rooted superstitions. But it is perfectly clear that the churches have become common property; and it is equally clear, from the provisions of the law framed at the Erfurt Conference of October, 1891, and subsequently adopted,
that no common property can be devoted to ecclesiastical or religious purposes.
Naturally, no other plays are given at the theatres than such as represent the glories of the new order, and which keep the sordidness of past capitalists and plunderers in lively remembrance. For any considerable length of time there is, it must be confessed, an element of monotony in this. But, anyhow, it shows up the rightness of our principles, and this is sometimes very necessary.
At first, everyone was at liberty to go to any theatre, just wherever and however he liked. But this senseless competition is now superceded by a well-devised organisation of the people’s diversions. It was found that the representations of classic, socialistic plays were made to rows of empty seats, whereas in places where special artistes were engaged, the spectators were packed like sardines. They used to fight almost for the best places. Now all that is different, and the Town Council distributes in rotation to the various theatrical managers the pieces to be represented. The several managers dispose of the seats by lottery to such spectators as have been apportioned to them for that particular evening and play, thus following the plan introduced in 1889 at the socialistic Popular Free Theatre.
There is a saying, “Good luck in love, bad luck at play.” And we have experienced the truth of this. As luck would have it, my wife and I have lately, on three successive occasions, got such bad places assigned to us through this lottery system that she could hear nothing, and I found it just as impossible to see anything. She is a little hard of hearing, and I am very short-sighted. Neither of these qualities is in perfect
harmony with the idea of social equality as illustrated by the theatre.
Dancing is another of the diversions which are arranged every evening by the city authorities. The entrance is on the same principle as in the case of the theatres, and young and old are all equally entitled to appear. The reform of the etiquette of dancing seemed, at first, to present some few difficulties from a socialistic point of view. This reform has, however, been carried out, and the equality of the ladies is now thereby asserted that the choice of partners made by the ladies alternates regularly with the choice made by the gentlemen. Bebel says, indeed, that women have just the same right to seek that men have to seek them. But the attempt to apply this principle to dancing, by leaving it optional to each sex, in every single dance, to solicit partners, had soon to be abandoned, as it was found that the order of the dances was in danger of becoming involved in inextricable entanglement.
Various interesting letters have appeared in the
Onward, which discuss, in a very exhaustive and subtle manner, the question whether, in a socialised community, in the dance, such a thing is conceivable as a “right” on the part of certain women to men; or
vice versâ, a right on the part of men to women? The equal obligation all round to labour, as one lady points out in the
Onward, clearly entitles all alike to enjoy the same recompense. One part of this recompense is found in joining in those dances which have been organised by the State. No lady could find any pleasure in the dance without a partner of the other sex, whilst it is even more apparent that no gentleman would dance without a lady.
On the part of this lady, the practical solution of the difficulty was suggested in the
Onward, that for the future all partners at dancing, irrespective of age, beauty, ugliness, and everything else, be chosen by drawing lots. She contends that precisely as in a socialised community there are no persons without work, and without shelter, so in the same way there must never be any ladies at a dance without their proper partners.
But a professor of Modern Natural Law has sent a letter to the paper expressing the fear that, in process of time, this method of organising the selection of partners in the dance might have unforeseen results of an unpleasant kind. He fears it might in time lead to a demand for the recognition of a right of marriage, to a demand that the State take the regulation of marriage into its own hands, by a gigantic universal raffle of men and women. He is strongly of opinion that, precisely as a marriage-tie is a strictly private contract, made without the intervention of any functionary whatever, so in the same way must a temporary union between a lady and a gentleman in the dance preserve the character of a private contract; and he deprecates the idea of any master of the ceremonies meddling, either by lottery or in any other way, with such engagements.
As a matter of fact though, I understand that a large number of ladies take the view that a consistent social equality demands the abolition of the differences between married and unmarried. These ladies have lately joined the party of the Younkers, although in reality they themselves are for the most part of a somewhat ripe age. Anyhow, the extension of the right of voting to women may materially tend to
add strength to the Opposition at the approaching election.
Preparations are now being made for a speedy general election. The vast number of calls which the preliminary arrangements for the new socialistic State made upon the time and attention of the Government did not admit of the elections taking place at an earlier date. The right to vote is possessed by all persons of both sexes who have passed their twentieth year. The system of election decided upon is the so-called system of proportional election, which was adopted by the Erfurt Conference in October, 1891. According to this system, large electoral divisions, with several candidates, are constituted, and each political party returns to Parliament a number of representatives in proportion to the votes recorded for that particular party.