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Franz Hitze, The Quintessence of the Social Question (1880)

A number of Catholic thinkers also focused on the social question. This excerpt is from The Quintessence of the Social Question (1880), written by the Catholic theologian and social reformer Franz Hitze (1851-1921). Hitze advocated a type of corporative socialism that differed from the program of Social Democracy in many ways. One of the most important points of divergence was Hitze’s argument that the state should not take the lead in propping up or reforming the existing social order. That task, in his view, should be undertaken by self-regulated occupational estates similar to traditional guilds. In this way, he believed, civil society could in essence heal itself. In a footnote Hitze also argued that parliamentary representation of competing social interests should also be refashioned on a corporatist basis by means of a new electoral law.

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“Socialism” intends to level and mechanize everything. The state is supposed to be supreme and to take exclusive charge of all production and distribution. With this, socialism is taken to the extreme. This is not justifiable as an ideal, or in keeping with justice (the existing right of ownership), or practically feasible, or finally correct in terms of factual prerequisites (the generally prevalent large-scale operations).

Socialism must exist because and insofar as the production method is socialistic. Not all branches of production are equally socialistic; therefore, neither is the legal socialism that is to be introduced. The result of this is that, strictly according to “socialistic” principles, socialism has to become associated with the special large-scale branches of production. In other words, socialism can only assume a corporative structure.

The socialistic organization of occupational groups seems to us to be the solution to the social question. Such a structure is nothing new: the Middle Ages had it. The guilds were socialistic organizations whose socialism vis-à-vis personal liberty, as well as personal property and occupational rights, went much too far in many cases (in the later period), just as liberalism, on the other end of the scale, goes much too far with its absolute personal freedom and its absolute personal property and occupational rights. In their essence, however, the guilds were a model of property and labor organization. Thus, a guild-like organization of all our occupational categories appears to us as the goal of the future, as the only way to break the supremacy of capital and the machine, so as to utilize the advances in production for the general public. And to repeat: this should of course occur on an extended economic and democratic basis.

With respect to the trades, there have long been demands for such a guild-like socialistic reorganization. Little serious effort has been made, however. People still wish to sneak in the “free guild.” As if some compulsion did not constitute the very essence of a guild! A guild without compulsion is like a knife without a blade. You will not curtail the supremacy of capital with that; but that after all is our purpose. Moreover, without compulsion one also cannot secure an order of labor relations (regarding an apprentice and journeyman system, etc.), for order requires compulsion. All attempts made by common undertakings to appropriate the advantages of the capitalist production method will fail in the face of resistance from big-capital's cronies, because they are sufficient unto themselves and prefer to keep all the benefits for themselves. What is a guild good for if a factory, a department store can turn the entire guild upside down? The trades demand the “compulsory guild,” a type of organization really modeled after the guilds and equipped with comprehensive powers to protect their labor rights; they demand that all economic arrangements for which “individual self-help” does not suffice be set up jointly by way of guilds. And we also demand such a guild-like organization for the farming class, for large-scale industry and large landed estates, for big and small trading firms, and for the class of paid laborers.

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