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
WE have just passed through terrible days. On Sunday morning Franz arrived here unexpectedly on his way to Stettin, to which town, as I take it, he has been transferred. My wife appeared not the least surprised at his coming, but she showed all the more emotion at his going away again. She sobbed aloud, hung upon his neck, and seemed utterly incapable of bearing the separation from her son. Franz parted from me, too, as though it were a matter of never seeing each other more. Agnes was not about at the time, but I heard that they intended to meet at the railway station.
On Wednesday I chanced to read to my wife some intelligence in the
Onward, that once more a number of emigrants, in seeking to evade pursuit by the frontier guards, had been shot down by the latter. She became greatly excited at the news, and upon my saying, in response to her inquiry, that this had taken place in the roadstead of Sassnitz, she fainted. It took me some considerable time to bring her back to consciousness. Presently she narrated to me in broken sentences that Franz and Agnes had gone off together on Sunday, not, as I had supposed, to Stettin, but to Sassnitz, with the intention of leaving Germany
altogether. From the account in the paper, it seems that, upon the arrival of the Danish mail-steamer from Stettin, the frontier guards at once boarded the vessel, and attempted to drag the fugitive emigrants back by sheer force. The emigrants offered resistance, and there was a sanguinary encounter.
They were anxious hours we spent before our fears were somewhat set at rest by the appearance of a new number of the
Onward, with a list of the killed and arrested. Franz and Agnes were not in either of the lists, but what can have become of them?
My wife now related to me the story of the young people’s resolve to get away from the country. It seems that Franz had some time previously confided to her his fixed determination to leave Germany as soon as possible, as he found the state of affairs unbearable. Fearing that my well-known respect for the law might lead me to oppose his intentions, he earnestly begged his mother not to breathe a syllable of his plans to me. All her efforts to induce him to give up the idea were futile. Seeing his determination was unalterable, the good mother could no longer find it in her heart to oppose it. In old days, and quite unknown to me, my wife had laid by sundry gold pieces, and these she gave to Franz to make use of as passage-money on a foreign ship.
At first, Agnes had opposed the plan. She was ready, she said, to follow Franz to the end of the world if needs be; but she could not see at present, she added, what necessity there was for their leaving all else that was dear to them. But in a short time her own circumstances became so unpleasant that she altered her opinion. All this I have only just learnt.
In old days, in the stillness and purity of the maternal
home, the young maiden used to carry on her business as a milliner, selling her wares for the most part to a house in a large way. Now she saw herself obliged to work in a big sewing establishment, and to spend the whole day with a number of women and girls, many of whom had habits and principles not at all to her mind. Her chaste maidenliness was often shocked at a good deal of the talk, and at the familiarities between the girls and the male managers. Sundry complaints she made only tended to make her position still more unpleasant. Her personal attractions likewise soon drew upon her an amount of offensive attention from one of the head managers. An abrupt repulse on the part of Agnes only subjected her to those petty annoyances and harassments in her work by which a mean nature seeks its revenge.
I make no manner of doubt that there was plenty of this sort of thing under the old system. But at least there was then this advantage, that people could make a change if anything did not suit them. Nowadays, however, many of the managers seem to look upon their workgirls as little better than defenceless slaves, who are delivered over to them. Many of the higher placed officials see all this well enough, but as they themselves act not a whit differently as regards the abuse of power, they are very lenient in respect of all complaints made to them. Under such circumstances the near relations, or lovers of maidens whose honour is thus menaced, have often no other resource left than to take the law into their own hands. The result of this state of things is, that cases of personal chastisement, manslaughter, and even murder are frightfully on the increase.
Agnes, who only has her mother left, had no protector
in Berlin. Her complaining letters to Franz in Leipsig drove him to desperation, and ripened his resolve to no longer delay the execution of his plans. Agnes coincided heartily with his views, and latterly she and my wife sat up half the night to get all ready for the journey.
At length the decisive Sunday had been reached, that Sunday which had given rise to so much anxiety and painful uncertainty to us. The suspense was terrible, but, at last, at the expiration of nearly a week, the arrival of a letter from the English coast put an end to our fears.
According to this letter the pair were fortunately not on board the Danish mail-steamer. The fisherman at Sassnitz, to whose house they had gone on their arrival there, is a distant relation of my wife’s. The letter went on to say that the inhabitants of the coast about there are greatly incensed against the new order of things, because by it they have been largely deprived of the comfortable living they made out of visitors to the different bathing-places. Permission to go to watering-places and health resorts is now only accorded to such persons as are duly recommended by a properly constituted medical commission.
Our wary fisherman strongly opposed all idea of taking a passage by one of the mail-steamers, because a vigilant look-out had latterly been kept on these. Watching his opportunity, and availing himself of the attention of the authorities being engrossed by the affair of the Danish steamer, he put Franz and Agnes on board his fishing smack, and made for the open sea. He took them up as far as Stubbenkammer Point, where he fell in with an English goods steamer returning from Stettin, whose captain readily transferred
the fugitives to his vessel. The English, whose trade has been very seriously affected by the new order of things, never lose an opportunity of having a slap at our socialistic Government by giving all the aid they can to persons desirous of leaving the country.
So in a short time Franz and Agnes duly reached England, and now they are already on their way to New York.
Poor children! what a deal they must have gone through! And my good wife, above all; my wife who kept all her cares and troubles so long locked up in her bosom, quite unknown to me! How shall I ever be able to recompense her for all the immense sacrifices she has made as a mother?