Against the zeitgeist: Eugen Richter foresaw the true face of socialism

Philip Booth’s blog article about Pope Pius IX reminded me of another historical figure who predicted, with an astonishing degree of accuracy, what life would be like in a socialist state.

Eugen Richter (1838-1906) was a long-standing deputy in the German Reichstag and a prolific classical-liberal activist. If there was one matter which Chancellor Bismarck and the socialist opposition agreed on, it was their joint condemnation of Richter, who lucidly exposed the fallacies of both sides.

In 1891, Richter published the short novel Images of the Socialist Future, which describes the socialist transformation of a society. The story is told from the perspective of a worker, who in the beginning is enthusiastic about the socialist victory which opens the novel. Gradually he realises that things are going badly wrong, but he reassures himself that the ills are all just ‘temporary’. Until, finally … but I am not going to reveal the ending here.

In a nutshell, the idea is that as the price mechanism – an impersonal mechanism of coordinating individual actions – disappears, it can only be replaced by diktat. But neither do the ‘strongmen’ possess precise knowledge of local conditions, nor do their orders go with the grain of people’s interests and preferences.

Hence, the system must increasingly rely on control and stiff punishments. The invisible hand of the marketplace is replaced by an iron fist. (Richter thus preludes much of The Road to Serfdom, which was published half a century later.) In the end, even emigration is outlawed and the border guards are turned into firing squads.

An interesting feature of Richter’s novel is that the new rulers are not described as power-hungry or otherwise repugnant characters. They appear to be quite decent people who are genuine about their beliefs. The totalitarian tendencies of the society cannot be blamed on ‘abuse’ and ‘power in the wrong hands’ – they are an intrinsic feature of socialism.

‘The new rulers are not described as power-hungry or otherwise repugnant characters. They appear to be quite decent people who are genuine about their beliefs.’ In other words, they meant well! Maybe, but give it time. Chapter X of Hayek’s ‘Road To Serfdom’ (which Kristian Niemietz referred to) is entitled ‘Why The Worst Get On Top’. Hayek himself said that in the course of a long life his opinion of politicians had steadily gone down. Surveying our own political leaders in the current crisis it is easy to sympathise. The two key requirements in financial management are competence and honesty. Do most modern politicians exhibit either?

Isaiah Berlin discussed this issue of motivation and sincerity in his ‘Four Essays on Liberty’. He argued that those who propose a positive view of liberty could easily fall into the following mindset: if one now truly understands human nature and so has found the correct prescription to create the ‘good society’ it is perverse and possibly even evil for anyone to attempt to prevent its implementation. Therefore one is justified in restraining those who are so mistaken as to oppose the creation of the ‘good society’. Moreover this coercion will be beneficial to the misguided.It is the very sincerity of this belief that makes it so dangerous to liberty and pluralism.

It’s a planning economy ruled by former workers that creates dictatorship. But Sweden also has many elements of socializm with a market economy in place too, and I’d would vote for Sweden’s system – flourisihing modern society. The other thing is head of the state: depending on his/her competence and honesty (Myddelton) state either wins or looses, with so many examples in newest history (T.Blair; B.Clinton etc). But in planning system even brilliant person will not be capable to overcome shortcomings of the system without changing it.
D.Xiaopin was saying in this regards: “Doesn’t matter what the cat’s color is – having it capable of catching a mouse” which let market economy run in China.

‘The new rulers are not described as power-hungry or otherwise repugnant characters. They appear to be quite decent people who are genuine about their beliefs.’ In other words, they meant well! Maybe, but give it time. Chapter X of Hayek’s ‘Road To Serfdom’ (which Kristian Niemietz referred to) is entitled ‘Why The Worst Get On Top’. Hayek himself said that in the course of a long life his opinion of politicians had steadily gone down. Surveying our own political leaders in the current crisis it is easy to sympathise. The two key requirements in financial management are competence and honesty. Do most modern politicians exhibit either?

Isaiah Berlin discussed this issue of motivation and sincerity in his ‘Four Essays on Liberty’. He argued that those who propose a positive view of liberty could easily fall into the following mindset: if one now truly understands human nature and so has found the correct prescription to create the ‘good society’ it is perverse and possibly even evil for anyone to attempt to prevent its implementation. Therefore one is justified in restraining those who are so mistaken as to oppose the creation of the ‘good society’. Moreover this coercion will be beneficial to the misguided.It is the very sincerity of this belief that makes it so dangerous to liberty and pluralism.

It’s a planning economy ruled by former workers that creates dictatorship. But Sweden also has many elements of socializm with a market economy in place too, and I’d would vote for Sweden’s system – flourisihing modern society. The other thing is head of the state: depending on his/her competence and honesty (Myddelton) state either wins or looses, with so many examples in newest history (T.Blair; B.Clinton etc). But in planning system even brilliant person will not be capable to overcome shortcomings of the system without changing it.
D.Xiaopin was saying in this regards: “Doesn’t matter what the cat’s color is – having it capable of catching a mouse” which let market economy run in China.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.

Invest in the IEA. We are the catalyst for changing consensus and influencing public debate.

Donate now

Thank you for
your support

Subscribe to
publications

Subscribe

eNEWSLETTER