Books / Digital Text

Social Liberalism

1. Introduction

Heinrich Herkner, president of the Association for Social Policy, recently published his autobiography under the sub­title “The Life of a Socialist of the Chair.” In it he made it his task “to facilitate an understanding of the closing era of German academic socialism.”1,2  In fact, it cannot be denied that the Socialists of the Chair have said everything they meant to say, and it seems their supremacy is now declin­ing. Therefore, it is time for an examination of their achieve­ments.

On the occasion of Gustav Schmoller’s seventieth birth­day, the most eminent members of the Historical-Realistic School cooperated in a work that was to present the results of the efforts of German economics during the nineteenth century.3A summary of the forty monographs of this book was never written. The preface expressly states that it must be left to a future analysis to take stock of the nature and ex­tent of the progress of German economic science as a whole.4

If anyone had tried to write this analysis, it undoubtedly would have been disappointing. The summary more than the individual monographs would have revealed how few of its goals the School did achieve. It would have shown how the School, whenever it touched upon fundamental ques­tions, could not escape borrowing from the discoveries of a theoretical school that is quite low in its esteem. In each contribution that merely half-way meets its requirements, the work of economic theorists is clearly visible despite the fact that they stood apart from the School and were attacked by it. Bernhard’s contribution on wages, for instance, ar­rives at the conclusion that “the Historical-Statistical School barely touched the main problem of wages.” It merely launched detailed investigations, but on the great questions it “finally could stutter only the confession: the processes are more complicated than the sum of our detailed investi­gations. There would be no new German research if it were not for the so-called abstract Austrian School.”5If this is true of wages, a topic on which the Socialists of the Chair loved to expound, how much more must it apply to all other problems!

We are gaining the same impression from all other collec­tions of essays this School has published. In Outlines of So­cial Economics Austrian economists dealt with the history of thought and with economic theory. And the classical contri­butions by Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Wieser, and a few other “theorists” are the only essays of lasting interest in the ten-thousand-page collection of the third edition of the Hand­book of Social Sciences.

There is yet another comprehensive Festschrift that seeks to present the entire science in monographs. But there are signs that such collections covering motley problems, tor­turing readers and embarrassing librarians, are gradually being replaced with collections dealing with one set of prob­lems only. On the occasion of the eightieth birthday of Lujo Brentano, the veteran dean of academic socialism in and outside Germany, his students published Economics Af­ter the War.6

Naturally, the quality of the individual contributions var­ies greatly. And it need not be emphasized that the twenty-nine contributors worked independently and took no notice of each other’s theories and ideologies. But a common thread appears throughout the works—especially those the editors thought most important and which Brentano prob­ably read with greatest delight—namely, the intention to defend and elaborate the “Brentano system.” The external conditions for such a task are less favorable today than sev­enteen years ago. When the Schmoller Festschrift appeared, academic socialism and Historical-Realistic economics stood at the zenith of their reputation and political influence. A great deal has changed since then. The Schmoller Festschrift had the sound of a fanfare. The Brentano Festschrift is call­ing for discussion.

  • 1. Zeitschrift für die Gesainte Staatswissenschaft [Journal for all the social sciences], vol. 81, 1926.
  • 2. Zeitschrift für die Gesainte Staatswissenschaft [Journal for all the social sciences], vol. 81, 1926.
  • 3. Die Entwicklung der deutschen Volkswirtschaftslehre im 19. Jahrhundert [The devel­opment of German economics during the ninteenth century], Leipzig, 1908, two volumes.
  • 4. Ibid., vol. I, p. viii.
  • 5. Bernhard, “Der Arbeitslohn” [Wages] in ibid., vol. I, XI, p. 11 et seq.
  • 6. Festgabe für Lujo Brentano: Die Wirtschaftswissenschaft nach dem Kriege [Economics after the war], Twenty-nine Contributions to the State of German and Foreign Research after the War; vol. I, Economic Ideologies; vol. II, The Situation in Research; edited by M.J. Bonn and M. Palyi, Munich and Leipzig, 1925. Below, I quote from these contributions, giving in the footnotes author, volume, and page number.
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