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Richter’s Socialist Dystopia

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Source: Introduction to Richter's Pictures of the Socialistic Future (Freely adapted from Bebel), trans. Henry Wright, Introduction by Thomas Mackay (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1907).

INTRODUCTION by Thomas Mackay

IT has been suggested by the publishers that the English translation of Eugene Richter's clever little satire requires a word of introduction, on this, its new appearance, in a cheap and popular form. In 1893, the year of its first issue here, Socialism, though a burning question in Germany, was not an urgent controversy in this country. Since 1893 many things have happened, and this must be the excuse for the superfluity of a preface.

In 1893 Socialism in this country was a subject for academic discussion. In 1907 it has its representatives and its party in parliament, and it may soon arrive within the range of practical politics. This may bring about a great reconstruction of parties. Eugene Richter was the leader of the Liberal Party in the German Reichstag. The German elections of 1907 show that the rift between the Socialist party and the Liberals, of which the satire of Richter is an earlier indication, has grown more pronounced. The same clearing of the issues has been going on in France. The republican ministry, under M. Clemenceau, seems to have broken definitely with M. Jaurès and his Socialist followers. France, above all others, is the country of clear thought and accurate expression, and more and more the insistent logic of systematic discussion has brought out the fact that Liberalism is the real antithesis to Socialism. The French writers, also, who have shown themselves the most determined opponents of Socialism and Collectivism, such as M. M. P. Leroy-Beaulieu, De Molinari, and Yves Guyot, have been proud to describe themselves as disciples of the Liberal School of Economists. So it naturally comes that the phrase l'enemi c'est le libéralisme is an accepted commonplace in the mouth of the advocates of Socialism. That this truth will emerge as the result of sustained and serious controversy, here in England, is equally certain. It is the confusion of desultory discussion, in a subject-matter where the details have not been presented to us by experience or authoritative exposition, that still obscures the issue. Richter's meritorious attempt to paint for us a picture of the Socialist future supplies an omission which the socialists do not attempt to repair, and his little book may arrest attention and suggest difficulties in quarters which cannot be reached by more weighty and philosophical criticism.

In these days of social and political introspection, mankind, if not governed, is largely influenced by ideals, and ideals are provided for us by the Liberal and by the Socialist parties. Conservatism, which, after all, is the habitual attitude of the English nation, seems to hold the balance, and stands for no special ideal, but rather for the practical experience which notes that reformers' dreams are not always fulfilled, and that it is salutary, in the first instance at any rate, to look askance at things which are new.

The ideal of the Liberal leads him to look for a regeneration of our social economy through a fuller development of the economic competence of the individual. This is the fundamental conception of the Liberal creed, of which a somewhat imperfect expression (so, at least, it is now said by those who have been taught by events), under the title of the Manchester school or the school of laissez-faire, exercised so wide an influence during the greater part of last century. The instructed Liberal will now admit that complete individual freedom, the goal of the earlier visionaries, though a thing to be sought and desired, is not a thing to be obtained per saltum by a society which has behind it a long record of subjection—through periods of customary communism, serfdom, militarism, and the personal incompetencies of character which these entail. Progress he regards as the gradual disentanglement and emancipation of the race from these influences. The mere fact that we have reached a point when the generous conceptions of Socialism have been accepted as welcome aspirations of our social conscience is, to the liberal philosopher, proof of the advance and improvement of human character, under a system in which the desire of personal freedom has been the chief formative and disentangling influence. Society, he will argue, is merely the environment within which, through the discipline of the ages, human individuality is seeking to learn the rule which will give it the opportunity of attaining its fullest expression. To the enthusiast for liberty—the true Liberal—the valuable thing is the free experience of the individual and the discipline which that teaches.

The Socialist, on the other hand, asks