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Victor Böhmert's Critique of the Traditional and Restrictive Nature of Guilds (1858)

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The aforementioned charges are now simply repeated by the opponents of occupational freedom, with the addition of just a few strong words at most. As soon as one begins to examine the character of these stated arguments and assertions in general, one immediately sees that the adherents of the guilds have an ample stock of catchwords at their disposal. The specter of the “proletariat” is cast in the leading role. It hovers like a dark shadow over what is for most people the rather dim idea of the condition of occupational freedom. The rest of the cast is constituted by: giveaway prices, starvation wages, the decline of the middle class, the exploitation of the poor by the rich, the domination of capital, murderous competition, unsound, fraudulent labor, and demoralization. Yet not even this exhausts the accusations. One goes on to complain about the isolated character of all endeavors, of the death of every kind of independence and every fraternal, cooperative aspiration among the craftsmen, and in the end one arrives at the “socialist state” or at serious threats of “revolution.” Unfortunately, this brilliant construction of catchwords and phrases often deceives even thinking, educated men, namely when a hazy view of economic life today gets tangled up in romantic descriptions and praise of the past. The kind of research that grapples with the truth does not have such catchwords at its disposal, it has to look for reasons and proof, for facts and observations, it has to weigh these carefully and establish a final judgment as well-founded only after a series of [interim] conclusions. Therefore, it would be just as well if the following essays were skipped over by those readers who are not patient enough to follow us along this difficult path of argumentation!

II. What does occupational freedom accomplish for the state? Does it really create a proletariat?

Occupational freedom is depicted as dangerous from a political, business, and moral point of view. We shall begin our remarks with an examination of these political misgivings by first taking a closer look at the specter of the “proletariat” that has been conjured up.

What does the proletariat actually mean? What are proletarians? The word derives from Latin. Proletarii were the poor inhabitants of Rome who, according to Livy, had less than eleven thousand asses (an ass was a “Roman copper coin”) in property and were not able to serve the state with money, but only with children (their proles). The original meaning of the word has mostly been forgotten, and it is now a general designation for people from the lowest and poorest class. It is unfortunately a fact that, as once in Rome, there are also a lot of poor people in every civil society today. “Work” is everywhere recognized as the best remedy for poverty. Through work every person is supposed to create something useful and earn something. The more useful things a person creates and the more

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