Hungarian born German Writer, Physician, Author, Social Critic and Zionist Leader
Max Nordau, fully Max Simon Nordau, born Simon Maximilian Südfeld
Hungarian born German Writer, Physician, Author, Social Critic and Zionist Leader
We have thus seen that great wealth in almost all cases, is due to the appropriation of the results of others' labor, not one's own. By their own labor alone, men are only able to support life from day to day, occasionally to lay by sufficient for times of sickness and old age, rarely to attain to regular prosperity. Some physicians, lawyers, authors, painters and other artists, have been able to turn their personal efforts to such advantage as to obtain annual incomes of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and thus accumulate fortunes of millions, without resorting to speculation or illegitimate profits. But such persons are rare, numbering probably but two hundred or even one hundred, living at one time throughout the civilized world. And even their wealth, examined closer, has something of a parasitic character, with the sole exception of that amassed by the author. In his case, if he becomes a millionaire, it is owing to the fact that he has written a book of which one or two millions copies have been sold, showing that his wealth is the direct remuneration of his intellectual labor, paid him voluntarily and willingly by mankind in general.
We sometimes console ourselves with the reflection that speculators in times of panic are sure to lose at on stroke all that they have been accumulating in the years of unchecked robbery. But this is a pleasing delusion with which the pastor's lambs try to comfort themselves, who like to see punishment follow crime as the finis. Even if a panic does force a speculator to disgorge his ill-gotten gains, it cannot alter the fact that for many years perhaps, he has been living in the lap of luxury, at the expense of the laboring members of the community. He may lose his property at such a time, but no power on earth can deprive him of the champagne which has been flowing in streams for him, nor of the truffles he has eaten, the piles of gold he has gambled away on the green cloth, nor of the hours he has spent in all kinds of pleasures only possible to the rich. Besides, a panic is only disastrous to single, isolated speculators, not to speculation in general. On the contrary panics are the great harvest of speculation, the opportunities for the slaughter of the entire saving and producing classes in a nation or in a continent, en masse. Then the few great capitals, the enormous fortunes, open their jaws and swallow not only the whole property of the investment-seeking public, but also that of the small robber capitalists, whom they usually good-naturedly allow to play around them, looking on like the lion at the mouse's gambols. Great depreciations of values are usually brought about and utilized by the financial giants. They then buy up everything that has value and a future, to sell it again when the storm has passed away and the skies are blue, at an enormous profit to the very same people who have just sold it at such ridiculous prices. They buy it up again during the next panic, at the same low rates, and play the cruel game as often as a few years of peaceful industry have refilled the emptied money drawers of the producing classes. Financial crises are simply the piston strokes with which the capitalists pump the savings of the Industrial classes into their own reservoirs.
We will briefly mention some peculiarities frequently manifested by a degenerate. He is tormented by doubts, seeks for the basis of all phenomena, especially those whose first causes are completely inaccessible to us, and is unhappy when his inquiries and ruminations lead, as is natural, to no result.
It is in vain that the rich withdraw from the commonwealth their accumulated possessions with unconsciously criminal egotism, in order to ensure a life of luxury and leisure to their children and their children's children forever, they never accomplish their design. Experience teaches us that no wealth lasts through several generations without some business efforts. Inherited fortunes never remain long in a family, and even Rothschild's millions may not protect his descendants of the sixth or eighth generation from poverty, unless they possess those qualities which would have enabled them to win a high place for themselves in the world without any inherited millions. These facts show the operation of an implacable law, which is constantly striving to bring about an equilibrium in the economic life of society, so grievously disturbed by the unnatural conditions of inherited property. An individual who has never been confronted with the necessity of calling his most primitive organic instinct, the acquiring of food, into play, soon loses the ability to retain his possessions and to defend them against the greed of those without possessions, who encroach upon him on every side. Only when all the descendants of a family are absolutely mediocre natures, and live far from all public and private agitation, in complete obscurity, the world forgetting and by the world forgot, leading a regular vegetable existence, can they hope to retain undiminished the possessions that form their heritage. But as soon as this family produces an individual gifted with more imagination, who surpasses in any direction the standard of mediocrity prevalent in the family, with passions or ambition, eager to shine or at least to appreciate life's possibilities, the family inheritance is doomed to decrease or ruin, because this off-shoot of the wealthy family is absolutely incapable of replacing even one penny of the sums he spends in the gratification of his whims. It is with wealth as it is with an organism. The latter must have vital activity to maintain life; as soon as the vital processes cease in its cells it falls a prey to corruption, and is consumed by the microscopic beings with whom nature is teeming, seeking whom they may devour. In the same way we can say that life becomes extinct in a fortune in which the vital processes of exchange and circulation are not carried on, so that it is preyed upon and soon devoured by the greedy companions of corruption, the parasites, swindlers, cheats and speculators.
The right of inheritance must be abolished. This is the only natural and hence the only possible cure for the ulcers in the body of society caused by the present conditions of political economy. Such a proposition seems extremely radical at the first glance, appearing to be practically the confiscation of all individual property. But examined loser, we find that it is only the consistent development 01 certain phenomena now existing, which cause no one uneasiness.
Man alone wishes to provide his descendants with their stored up food, their albumen, their milk and their worms, to the third and fourth, to untold generations. Man alone is anxious to keep his children and great grand-children, into the most distant future, in the embryonic condition in which the young of all animals are provided for by the beings to whom they owe their existence; he will not abandon them to their own resources. When a man accumulates a fortune, he wishes to bequeath it to his family in such a way that its members will be, if possible, relieved forever from the necessity of earning their own livelihood. This is contrary to all of nature's laws. It is a violent disturbance of the regular arrangement of the world, according to which every living being is compelled to win for himself his place at the great table of nature, or else perish. This disturbance of nature's regulations is the cause of all the evils of the economic world. And while it condemns enormous masses of individuals to wretchedness and want, it at the same time, takes its revenge upon its originators.
The robber band is however, constantly contradicting itself with the most short-sighted policy. The robbers carefully avoid even the pretense of submitting to their own code of morality, and thus betray the small amount of respect they have for it in reality. Idleness is only a crime in the poor man. In the rich man it is an attribute of a higher type of humanity, the token of his exalted rank. And labor, which his double-faced morality asserts to be a virtue for the poor man, is from his point of view, a disgrace and a sign of social inferiority. ^ The millionaire pats the laboring man on the shoulder, but excludes him from his social intercourse. Society which has accepted and adopted the morality and views of the band of capitalists, glorifies labor in its most choice terms, but at the same time, assigns the laborer to the lowest rank. Society kisses the gloved hand and spits on the horny hand of the son of toil. It looks upon the millionaire as a demi-god, upon the day laborer as an outcast. Why? For two reasons. Firstly, because the prejudices and ideas imbibed in the Middle Ages have been perpetuated to the present time, and secondly because manual labor in our civilization is synonymous with lack of education.
Manual labor is also synonymous with a lack of education in our civilization
The speculator is a robber who robs the producers of the articles produced by forcing them to accept inadequate compensation for their toil, and the consumers, by forcing them to buy from him at an enormous advance. The weapon with which he falls upon producers and consumers like a highwayman, is double-barrelled, and is called elevation and depression of prices, or cornering the markets. He makes use of this murderous implement in the following manner. When his intention is to plunder the producer, he begins to sell certain goods that he does not possess, at a price lower than the current market rates, promising to deliver them to the purchasers a fortnight, a month or three months later than the date of sale. The purchaser of course, buys of the speculator because he asks lower prices. The producer now has only two courses open to him. If he is rich enough to carry his goods without selling until the day arrives when the speculator is obliged to deliver those he has guaranteed to the purchaser, then the speculator will not be able to get the goods at as low prices as he had hoped, and will be obliged to buy them at the producer's price, and lose money upon them, thus being robbed instead of robbing. But if the producer cannot do this, and this is by far the most frequent case, then he is forced to sell his goods immediately at such prices as the goods will bring in the market. He must underbid the speculator, who then becomes his purchaser, for the consumer has already ordered what he wants from the speculator. Thus when the time comes for him to deliver the goods, he is able to buy them of the producer at a lower price even than the one contracted for.
Never before were there so many property-less individuals as at present, men who according to my definition above, do not know in the morning what they can get to eat during the day, nor where they can sleep at night. The slave in ancient Rome, the serf in Russia, were completely without property, as in fact they formed part of the property of their master, but their actual physical wants were supplied, they had always food and shelter. During the Middle Ages the outcasts, gypsies, robbers, strolling players and tramps of all kinds were the only persons without the pale of property holding. They could call nothing on earth their own, no table was ever set for them, the ruling-authorities even deprived them theoretically, of the right to look upon the gifts of nature as spread for them. They fought their way out of the wretchedness in which the social systems of their day sought to imprison them, by begging, robbery and poaching, and even if the gallows and the wheel were more frequently the causes of their death than old age, they had notwithstanding, a full and merry life up to the very steps of the scaffold. The modern proletariat or lowest wages-receiving class has no precedent in history. It is the child of our times.
The working man feels poor when he is not able to smoke and drink his whisky, the shop-keeper's wife, when she cannot dress in silk and fill her house with superfluous household goods, the professional man, when he cannot accumulate capital sufficient to free him from the haunting anxiety in regard to the future of his children and the support of his declining years. This poverty is evidently not only relative?the shop-keeper's wife appearing rich in the eyes of the working man, the professional man considering as the height of luxury, what would seem shabby to those brought up in the luxury of an aristocratic home,?it is also subjective, as it only exists in the imagination of the individual in question and is by no means an objective, appreciable lack of the indispensable conditions of existence, entailing suffering upon the organism. In short it is not physiological poverty, and old Diogenes proved that this is the boundary line of the subjective sensation of happiness, viz. that a man can be well and comfortable as long as his physical wants can be easily and abundantly gratified.
One single fundamental principle must govern society, and this principle must be either individualism, that is, egotism or the solidarity, the cohesive fellowship of mankind, that is, altruism. At the present day neither fellowship nor egotism are ruling alone, but a combination of both, which is as unreasonable as it is inconsistent.
The writers on political economy have invented a phrase to quiet the uneasy conscience of the rich?the "iron law of wages." According to this law the wages paid in any locality are at least what is actually necessary to support life there. In other words, the laborer is certain of earning sufficient to satisfy his actual necessities, even if he has no surplus. This would be very fine if it were only sustained by facts. If it were true, the rich man could say to himself, morning and evening, that everything is arranged for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and no one would have a right to disturb his digestion and his nightly rest by groans and curses. But the misfortune is, that this famous iron law of wages is only a Jesuitical play upon words. At the best, it does not apply to those who cannot procure work at all. And during the time when he has really work to do, it is impossible for the laboring man in western Europe, to earn enough so that he can have anything left over for days when he is out of work. He is thus reduced to beggary during part of the year, or to a gradual physical decline from lack of sufficient nourishment. But the iron wage-law does not apply even to the amount of daily wages earned by those actually employed. What is the minimum of income that will support an individual? Evidently it is that which will keep his system in a good condition, and allow him to develop fully and attain to the natural limit of his life. As soon as he attempts more than his system is capable of enduring, or gets less food, warmth and sleep than his system requires to remain at the summit of its type, then he falls into physiological distress. Overwork is as equally the cause of organic decline as insufficient food, but the latter is synonymous with slow starvation.
Absolute poverty is also incompatible with a civilization which has not yet passed beyond the standpoint of physiocracy. As long as a people are only familiar with agriculture, cattle-raising and domestic industries, although they may be poor in money and articles of luxury, yet the necessaries of life are within the reach of every individual. Only when man loses his direct dependence upon food-producing Mother Earth, only when he forsakes the furrow in the field and passes beyond the reach of Nature who offers him bread and fruits, milk and honey, game and fish, only when he shuts himself up behind the city walls and gives, up his share of forest and stream, procuring his food and drink no longer from the grand store-house of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, but by an exchange of the products of his labor for the gifts of nature monopolized by others, only at this period does the possibility arise for a small minority of persons to accumulate great wealth and for a large majority to sink into absolute poverty, physiological distress.
Possession is organized upon a personal basis and egotism reaches in the laws governing inheritance the utmost limits to which it can attain, by no^ only seizing by stealth and violence everything that it can lay hands on, but by clinging to the plunder forever and ever and excluding the rest of mankind from ever sharing in its benefits. The man of property however, will not allow the man without property to call that principle to his aid to which the former owes his wealth.
Their population is divided into a small minority, living in the midst of an aggressive and extreme luxury, partly attacked by a very frenzy of extravagance, and a great mass, consisting of persons who can only support life by the hardest exertions, or who in spite of all their efforts, find it impossible to attain to a normal human existence. The minority is daily growing richer, the contrast between its life and that of the millions is daily growing more decided, its importance and influence in the community is hourly increasing. When we are speaking of the unprecedented, foolish extravagance of certain millionaires and billionaires of our days, some self-conceited, wouid-be historian is sure to interrupt us and quote with a smile of compassion for our ignorance, the words of some musty old writer describing the extravagant goings-on in Rome under the Empire, or even in the Middle Ages. He will maintain that the disproportion between the very rich and the very poor was in former ages, far greater than at present. But it is all only a trumped-up, learned fraud. There never was a fortune in the Middle Ages like the hundred millions of a Vanderbilt, a Baron Hirsch, Rothschild, Krupp etc., as we know them today. In ancient times such an amount might have been accumulated by some favorite of a tyrant, or a satrap or pro-consul, by plundering a country or a continent, but the wealth thus amassed had no permanence. It was like the treasures in the fairy-tale. Today in his possession, tomorrow, lost. Its owner dreamed a few hours, and was then awakened by the dagger of an assassin, the persecution of his sovereign or by the brutal confiscation of his wealth. There is not a single example of the descendance of such a fortune from father to son for even three generations, or the calm and undisturbed enjoyment of it by the possessor, in the Roman Empire or in any Oriental state. And in former times, the number of these millionaires and billionaires was incomparably smaller than in these days, when, in England alone, there are from eight hundred to a thousand millionaires, and in Europe altogether,?not counting in any other continent?there are at least a hundred thousand persons with fortunes of a million and over.
As long as the college-bred young man considers himself disgraced by manual labor because the laborer is despised, as long as he sees in his diploma an instrument by which to compel society to rally to his support and as long as he considers himself entitled by his education to the parasitic life of the wealthy classes?as long as these conditions endure, his education will bring him far more unhappiness, in five cases out of ten, than he would ever experience if he were without it and leading the life of a handicraft man or even of a day-laborer. This can only be remedied by giving back to education its natural role. It must be its own object. We must learn to consider that a cultivated mind is in itself, a sufficient reward for the efforts made to get the cultivation, that we have no right to expect any other reward for these efforts, and that its possession does not relieve us in any way from the duty of productive labor.
Speculation is one of the most intolerable and revolting manifestations of disease in the economic organism. Those profound sages who maintain that everything that exists, is superexcellent, have also attempted to defend speculation, to justify it, to assert its necessity even to enthusiasm. I will immediately prove to the panegyrists what the principle is, whose cause they are espousing. The speculator plays in the economic world the role of a parasite. He produces nothing, he does not even perform the questionable service of mediator, performed by the merchant. He confines himself to taking away from the real workers, by stealth or violence, the largest part of the proceeds of their labor.
This band of robbers, for whom the whole community toils, is powerfully organized. It has, in the first place. the making and administration of the laws in its own hands, as it has had for centuries. At every new law promulgated, we might exclaim with MoliŠre: "Vous ˆtes orfŠvre, Monsieur Josse!" "You are a capitalist, Mr. Lawmaker, or at least, you hope to become such, and declare everything to be a crime that might hinder you in the pursuit, enjoyment and possession of your capital." Everything that a man can get hold of in any way except by open, hand to hand violence is and remains his own. And even when the genealogy of a property can be traced to literal robbery or theft (such as conquest, seizure of church property or political confiscation of others' goods) this crime becomes an unimpeachable title to possession, if the owner has been able to hold the property for a certain number of years. The state law that calls out the police, is not sufficient for the millionaire. He makes superstition his ally and gets from Religion an extra padlock for his money chest, by smuggling into the catechism a sentence which asserts that property is sacred, and envy and covetousness for our neighbor's property, a sin to be punished with the fires of hell. He distorts even the laws of morality and furthers his selfish aims by inculcating upon the vast majority of the people, toiling for him, that labor is virtue, and that man was only created to labor as much as possible. How comes it that the best and truest intellects have believed in the reality of this fiction for thousands of years? Labor a virtue? According to what law of nature? No living being in the whole organic world works for the pleasure of working, but only for the purpose of self and race preservation, and only so much as is necessary for this twofold purpose. People say that organs only remain sound and develope when exercised, and that they wither when they lie idle. The advocates of this system of capitalists' morality who have found this argument in physiology, do not mention the fact that organs are much more rapidly destroyed by over work than by no work. Rest, comfortable leisure, is infinitely more natural, pleasant and desirable for man as well as for all other animals, than work and exertion. The latter is only a painful necessity, required for the preservation of life.
At no period in the world's history were the contrasts between rich and poor so decided, so prominent, as at present. Those writers on political economy who commence their scientific works with the axiom that pauperism is as old as humanity itself, betray either a lack of reflection or truth. There is an absolute and a relative poverty. Absolute poverty is that condition in which a man is partially or totally unable to satisfy his actual wants, that is, those which are the result of the organic act of living. Hence it is that condition in which he finds it impossible to procure sufficient food, or where to procure it, he is obliged to curtail the rest and sleep which his system requires and without which he pines and dies prematurely. Relative poverty, on the other hand, signifies a condition of lack of means to satisfy the wants which man has artificially acquired, not the indispensable requisites for the preservation of life and health, but those of which the individual usually becomes conscious by the comparison of his manner of living with that of others.
The absorption of all goods into the public property after the death of the accumulator, would lead to an almost inexhaustible public fund, without interfering with individual possession. Each member of the community would have then his individual and general property as he has his baptismal and family name. The public property with which he is born, is like his family name; the private fortune which he accumulates during the course of his life and of which he is the sole, unmolested proprietor and usufructuary, is his baptismal name, and both taken together represent his economic personality as the names represent his personality as a citizen. While he is toiling for himself he is working for the community, which will someday fall heir to all the surplus remaining after his expenditures have ceased. The public fortune will be a vast reservoir, receiving the surplus of the rich and dealing out blessings to the poor, regaining its normal level once in every generation and thus equalizing the inequalities in the distribution of property, which inheritance on the contrary, fixes indelibly and increases in each generation.
Those circumstances of our civilization which affect the largest number of human beings, with the most painful and lasting results are the grievous errors prevailing in the economic world. There are plenty of people who have never taken any interest in abstract question, to whom God is a matter of as much indifference as primal causes; the encyclical as uninteresting as the theory of evolution, whose faith or knowledge is alike superficial. Many people also are totally indifferent to the political problems of the day, and the number is much larger than is usually supposed, who do not care in the least whether they are governed in the name of a personal king or of an impersonal republic, so long as the State remains visible in the shape of public officials, tax-collectors and drill-sergeants. But on the other hand, there is not a single man of our civilization who is not daily confronted by the question of supply and demand. The circumstances of the economic world force themselves upon the dullest observation and the most secluded intelligence. Every human being possessed of consciousness, experiences certain wants and grumbles at the difficulty or rebels against the impossibility of satisfying them. With bitterness does he see the disproportion between his labor and the enjoyments he is able to purchase as the results of it, and compare his own share of the gifts of nature and productions of art to those enjoyed by others. He grows hungry every few hours, he is fatigued and weary at the close of each working day, every time that he sees a beautiful or brilliant article he longs to possess it, in obedience to that natural instinct of human nature to attract notice and admiration to its personality by ornamental or distinguishing appendages. Thus he is led by the circumstances of his physical conditions to reflect upon his relation to the general movements of political economy, the production and distribution of wealth. There is consequently no subject in which the masses are more vitally interested than this.
But if individual proprietorship is a natural instinct, and hence utterly refuses to be suppressed, there is one application of the right of personal possession against which reason absolutely revolts, and for whose existence no natural causes can be produced?this is inheritance. It is true that the impulse for the preservation of the species impels all living beings to care for their offspring and to provide the most favorable conditions of existence possible for them. But this care never extends beyond the moment when the young creatures are sufficiently developed to care for themselves without outside assistance, as the parents did before them. There is only sufficient stored up food in the seed of the plant or in the white of the egg, to supply the embryo with nourishment during its earliest stage of life?the time of absolute helplessness. The mammiferous animals give milk to their young only as long as they are unable to graze or hunt food for themselves, and the parent birds cease to bring worms to their little ones as soon as they have successfully accomplished their first independent flight.
The body of a fortune can be artificially protected against decay and putrefaction as well as a human body; the latter by antiseptics, the former by a special law?which ensures the perpetuation of the property intact, that is, the law of entail. This law of entail is an invention which affords us an interesting proof of the fact that the rich egotists have always had a dim suspicion of the unnaturalness of the right of inheritance. The man of wealth feels that he is committing a crime against humanity and that nature will take her revenge upon his descendants for his contempt of her laws, consequently he erects a last barrier against her assault. He forsees that his children will not have anus strong enough to hold fast to their heritage, so he ties it to their bodies with ropes and cords that no one can unfasten. But even the law of entail, this carbolic acid bath for dead fortunes, loses its efficacy after a while and ceases to protect the inherited wealth against corruption and decay and the family against economic shipwreck.
But these material deprivations must not be underestimated. The great masses of the poor in civilized countries maintain their bare existence under conditions worse than those of any animal in the wilderness. The dwelling place of the day-laborer in a large city of the old world, is far more filthy and unhealthy than the den of a beast of prey in the forest. It is by far less perfectly protected against the cold than the latter. His food is barely sufficient to sustain life, and death from actual starvation is of daily occurrence in the capitals of the world.