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

A leading kleindeutsch historian and university teacher, Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896) was also a National Liberal member of the Reichstag. In this selection from his 1874 reply to Gustav Schmoller’s plea for active social policies, Treitschke attacks Social Democracy and its “patrons” for aggravating workers’ desires with their social agitation; describing inequality as an inevitable fact, he pleads for the removal of barriers to allow the odd talent to rise from the lower classes.

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The bourgeois society of a wealthy nation is always an aristocracy, even under a democratic constitution. Or to use blunt words that are much disdained but truthful – class rule (or more accurately, class order) necessarily results from the nature of society, just as the difference between rulers and subjects results from the nature of the state. Simply by virtue of its name, Social Democracy admits that it strives toward nonsense. [ . . . ]

No doubt, many a talent is being suffocated by this aristocratic condition of society. Nature is a royal economizer: it manages with a plentiful hand. By the hour, it produces countless new seeds in the plant and animal kingdoms that perish before their time; it provides its favorites among people with such abundance that one can brazenly claim that all great men in history were greater than their works; none of them was fully able to develop the gift of his nature. According to this, it is certain that at any time, greatly conceived beings live among the hard-working masses, and they are being prevented from revealing their innate nobility merely on account of the social order. The unrecognized genius likes to abandon himself to such melancholy thoughts. [ . . . ] But history operates in large numbers. As we turn searchingly from the tragic exception to the general rule, we recognize: the reason why the human race is designed with such great needs, why eking out an existence and satisfying the most basic of these needs requires such an incredible portion of its powers, is because at any given time only a small minority is capable of perceiving the true light of the idea with open eyes, while the masses only suffer the refracted ray.

[ . . . ] Our state does not grant any political right unless it is tied to a corresponding obligation; the state demands from all those wishing to participate in the administration of the community in any way that they first earn this power through property and education; it works unceasingly to disseminate and reinforce intellectual life; it even reduces the most universal of its civic obligations, military service, in favor of the powers of the mind by granting education a highly effective reward in the form of the Freiwilligenjahr. [ . . . ] Universal suffrage is a slap in the face to precisely these basic moral principles of the German state; it rewards the lack of education, arouses the arrogance of stupidity. In a state that knows how to honor culture like no other, anyone who has merely made the effort to be born receives, after the passage of some years, the highest political right of a citizen! How should the pauper who enjoys this privilege not reach the conclusion that in the social structure, too, birth constitutes a valid legal title that guarantees every person power without any type of effort? There is no doubt whatsoever that universal suffrage has promoted among the masses a fantastic overestimation of their own power and worth. The irreconcilable contradiction between the democratic equality of political voting rights and the necessarily aristocratic organization

* The Freiwilligenjahr was an abbreviated one-year term of volunteer military service designed for those who wished to attend university – trans.

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