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Friedrich Bülau's Call for a Market-Oriented Solution to the Problem of Poverty in Germany (1834)

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In our time, a sudden anxiety has spread among the rich, and they would like to safeguard themselves at any price against the danger they fear from the growing misery of the poor. If they were to take the most natural measures and make it easier for the poor to lift themselves up through their own efforts to a higher level of physical and spiritual welfare, this would help both them and the whole [of society]. But they are merely trying to look after themselves at the cost of the poor, and they believe that they have removed the danger when they have used new restrictions to entrench themselves against the working classes, consequently intensifying the cause of the danger. The proposals for laws to prevent marriage among so-called persons without means [sogenannter nahrungsloser] have emanated from this spirit. Those regarded as without means [nahrungslos] are not, say, those who have no income and are simultaneously incapable of working, e.g. distinguished spendthrifts who have learned nothing; instead, that person is counted as without means who possesses valuable capital in his natural powers – and the interest on this capital could feed him – and who also has the will to exert these powers in support of himself and his family and for the benefit of the commonweal, but whom civic institutions themselves, the laws of the rich, the guild articles, the privileges of the cities, and the tariff laws of the state have deprived of the opportunity to earn his bread in an honest manner. If one takes the tools of the trade away from a poor shoemaker in the country who hasn’t [just] patched up a pair of boots but has [actually] manufactured them, and [then] we bemoan his wife and six children, whom he had, up until that point, honestly fed and faithfully raised, then one is certainly responding with the moral indignation of the fortunate: why did the man have to marry and bring children into the world? Why? Because he is also susceptible to love and doubly in need of it in his depressed condition. Because he is a human being and because he still believes that marriage is a moral relationship and, for anyone for whom it is somehow possible, a duty. If you prohibit marriage for the poor, then you have insulted human dignity most insolently, pronounced terrible scorn on the most natural equality, torn apart the holiest feelings, and you have taken from your fellow human and fellow citizen the last wellspring of innocent joy, the bond that brings him closer at some moments to the level of more high-minded human beings, that binds him to his hearth, to his parish, that makes religion venerable and civil society dear to him, that makes the present valuable and the future important for him – you have obstructed this wellspring for him, deprived him of this bond, robbed him of everything that goes beyond the most common egoism. And then you still demand that he should be a diligent and frugal worker, a good, moral, and law-abiding man, a loyal, peaceful, and grateful citizen. These are such purely human feelings: marital tenderness, fraternal and maternal love; it is so little and yet means so much to the poor. For us, these pleasures are replaced by fatherland, science, business; the poor and unfortunate man has nothing except them. If you make it impossible for him to satisfy his natural instinct in a moral form, then you would have to privilege the extramarital version, then [go ahead and] hire street whores and give them away gratis to the people, build foundling houses, and then take a look at what kind of generation you have called forth. Of course, the population will not become so alarming, since fortunately most [people] are not the products of out-of-wedlock unions. It is hard to write calmly about this subject. Law, morality, religion, and policy all rebel equally against these proposals. [ . . . ]

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