GHDI logo

Heinrich von Treitschke, "Socialism and its Patrons" (1874)

page 5 of 5    print version    return to list previous document      next document

No matter how generously the state may grant political rights to the lower classes, the fact remains that they are unable to govern themselves. They may receive the right to vote, but only in rare exceptions will they become eligible for election. Moreover, there is nothing to criticize here, for parliament is not supposed to represent class interests as such but rather the self-governing bodies connected through the community formed by the discharge of duties; and these bodies encompass all classes. No matter how humanely society strives for the welfare of the lower classes, the artisan will nonetheless live at best in a modest little house, the landowner in a castle. Consequently, by means of this elevation of the lower social strata, one will never reach the goal of balancing out desires, which, according to Aristotle’s lovely phrase, is more important than balancing out possessions.

Far more secure is the other path leading to the alleviation of class differences: the removal of barriers that prevent a person born into poverty from rising into the circles of the propertied and the educated. If state and society know to appreciate the infinite value of talent, they can never do enough toward this end – this goal opens up an extensive, almost immeasurable field for them. Even if it is impossible for the vast majority of people to share in all the delights of culture, any strong and nimble mind should nonetheless retain the hope of rising above the ranks of this majority. The state should not merely unleash people’s work capacity and give the pauper the right to rise above his class; by means of good elementary schools and easy access to advanced education, the state ought to take care as well that genuine talents may actually take advantage of that right. This is the only way in which fresh blood reaches the upper classes, the only way in which we may more or less accomplish that balancing out of desires. [ . . . ] Free competition between everyone for the assets of civilized behavior, the full extent of which may only be achieved by a small minority at any time – that is what I understand by reasonable equality. [ . . . ]

Source: This essay was originally published in Preußische Jahrbücher [Prussian Yearbooks] vol. 34 (1874) under the title, “Die soziale Frage und der preußische Staat” [“The Social Question and the Prussian State”]. The excerpts reproduced here are taken from Heinrich von Treitschke, Zehn Jahre deutscher Kämpfe [Ten Years of German Struggles], 3rd ed. Berlin, 1897, vol. 2, pp. 112ff.

Original German text reprinted in Ernst Schraepler, ed., Quellen zur Geschichte der sozialen Frage in Deutschland. 1871 bis zur Gegenwart [Sources on the History of the Social Question in Germany. 1871 to the Present], 3rd rev. ed. Göttingen: Muster-Schmidt, 1996, pp. 70-78.

Translation: Erwin Fink

first page < previous   |   next > last page