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.
Fortunes are accumulated in the name of individualism; but they are defended in the name of human solidarity. The rich man enjoys his disproportionate share of life's blessings of which he has made himself master by unblushing egotism; but when the poor man helps himself to them with some of the rich man's egotism and selfishness, he is arrested. In the form of usury and speculation the unscrupulous furtherance of self-interest is allowable, but it is strictly forbidden when it takes the form of robbery and theft. The same principle applied in the former case is a merit, in the other a crime. Human reason revolts at such ideas. If egotism is to be preached let it be consistent and assert its right in all cases. If it is right for the rich man to luxuriate in a life of leisure because he has been able to get possession of landed estates or to take advantage of the labor of others, then it must also be conceded to be right for the poor man to strike him dead and take possession of his property as the spoils of victory, if he has the courage and strength to undertake and carry through such an undertaking. This is logical. It is true that such logic would soon bring society to destruction and our civilization to the dogs, and men would become like beasts of prey wandering alone through the land and tearing each other to pieces. But anyone who is not pleased with this abstract aim of our social development, egotism, has no other alternative before him but to accept the other sole principle, fellowship. The motto will no longer be: Every one for himself, but: One for all and all for each. Society will then assume the responsibility of supporting and educating the youth of the country until they can earn their own livelihood, of supporting those too old and feeble to support themselves, of coming to the aid of infirmity, without allowing hunger and distress to exist except as the punishment of voluntary idleness. But these responsibilities can only be accepted and fulfilled upon one condition: the abolition of the right of inheritance.
The inventor of the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, showed that he appreciated this fact with honest naivete, by placing his first human beings in a paradise where they could live without any necessity for exertion, and labor, the sweat of man's brow, was the terrible punishment for their disobedience. Natural, zoological morality proclaims that rest is the highest reward of labor, and that only so much work is desirable and commendable as is indispensable to prolong life. But the robber band do not accept this idea of the case. Their interests demand that the masses should work more than is necessary for them to support life and should produce more than is required for their own consumption so that their masters can take possession of this overproduction for their own use. Consequently they have suppressed the morality of nature and invented another, which they set their philosophers to tabulating, their parsons to praising and their poets to singing. According to their system, idleness is the beginning of all crimes and labor a virtue, the most excellent of all virtues.
From the point of view of a man of this civilization of the Nineteenth Century, who is a slave to all the customs and wants of civilized life, the great majority of mankind appear to have been always relatively poor in the past, growing poorer and poorer as they are more and more removed from the present. The clothing was coarser and less frequently renewed, the dwelling places were less comfortable, the food more primitive, the utensils less in number, there was less money in circulation and less abundance of unnecessary articles. But the picture of relative poverty is not affecting. Only an empty-headed fool could find anything Magic in the fact that an Esquimau woman protects herself from the cold by a sack-shaped garment made out of seal-skin instead of a complicated affair of velvet as expensive as it is ungraceful.
The modern day-laborer is more wretched than the slave of ancient times, for he is fed by no master nor anyone else, and if his position is one of more liberty than the slave, it is principally the liberty of dying of hunger. He is by no means as well off as the outlaw of the Middle Ages, for he has none of the gay independence of that freelance. He seldom rebels against society, and .has neither means nor opportunities to take by violence or treachery what is denied him by the existing conditions of life. The rich is thus richer, the poor poorer, than ever before since the beginnings of history. The same thing is true of the extravagance of the rich. We are continually being bored by the anecdotes told by grubbers in history, as to the wonderful banquets spread by Lucullus. But it remains yet to be proved that ancient Rome ever saw a feast that cost $80.000, like the ball given by a New York Croesus, of which the newspapers have been giving us accounts recently. A private individual who set before his guests dishes made of nightingales' tongues, or presented a hundred thousand sestertia to some Grecian hetera, made such a stir and commotion in Rome that all the satirists and chroniclers of those and afterdays repeated his name again and again. Nowadays no one speaks of the thousands upon thousands who pay $40.000 for a set of china, $100.000 for a race-horse or let some adventuress spend a million for them in a year.
Great catastrophes are looming up on the field of political economy and it will not be possible to ignore them much longer. As long as the masses were religious, they could be consoled for their wretchedness on earth by promises of unlimited bliss in the future. But today they are becoming more enlightened and the number of those patient sufferers is daily growing less who find in the Host a satisfactory substitute for their dinner and accept the priests' order on the place waiting for them in paradise with as much pleasure as if it were some good terrestrial farm of which they could take immediate possession. The poor count their numbers and those of the rich and realize that they are constantly growing more numerous and stronger than the latter. They examine the sources of wealth and they find that speculating, plundering and inheriting have no more rational justification for existing than robbery and theft, and yet the latter are prosecuted by the laws. The increasing disinheritance of the masses by their deprivation of land and by the increasing accumulations of property in the hands of a few, will make the economic wrongs more and more intolerable. The moment that the millions acquire in addition to their hunger, a knowledge of the remote causes to which it is due, they will remove and overthrow all obstacles that stand between them and the right of satisfying their appetite. Hunger is one of the few elementary forces which neither threats nor persuasion can permanently control. Hence it is the power which will probably raze the present structure of society level with the ground, in spite of its foundations of superstition and selfishness?a task beyond the power of philosophy alone.
The producer may have become bankrupt by the operation, but the speculator has got his pound of flesh and is happy. If his aim is to plunder the consumer then he buys up all the available goods offered of a certain kind at the producer's price. He can do this without trouble as the transaction does not cost him a single penny; he pays for his purchase, not in cash, but in promises. He need not settle his account for weeks or months, as the case may be. Thus without real possession, frequently without going to the expense of a single dollar, the speculator becomes owner of the goods, and if the consumer wishes to buy any of them he must apply to the speculator arid pay the price he demands. The speculator receives into one hand the money given him by the consumer and after abstracting a portion as large as possible, which he puts into his own pocket, he hands over the remainder with the other hand to the producer. In this way the speculator, without labor, without benefiting the community, becomes wealthy and influential. Capital extends to him the highest favor, unlimited credit. When some poor fellow of a working man wants to start in business for himself, he meets with the utmost difficulty in borrowing the small sum he requires to purchase his tools and raw material, and to support himself until the sale of his first productions. But when some idler with sufficient audacity decides to live upon the labor of others and wants to carry on some speculative buying and selling on a large scale, both producers and consumers place themselves at his disposal, without waiting even to be entreated. They say that they run no risks; the credit demanded only exists in theory. The producer does not give up his goods; he only promises to deliver them on a certain day at a certain price, of course only upon the receipt of cash. The consumer on the other hand, does not pay down the purchase price, but only agrees to pay it on the day that the goods are delivered to him. This theoretical credit is sufficient however, for the speculator to create for himself, out of nothing, the most scandalous wealth.
Ignorance is either an infirmity in the individual and consequently in the community, or else it is not. If it is no infirmity, why are the children compelled to attend the primary and elementary schools? If it is, why is it not cured completely by a complete and rounded education? Is not knowledge of the laws of nature as valuable as the multiplication table? The coming voters, in whose hands lie the destinies of their native land, do not they need any acquaintance with history, politics and national economy? Can they get the full benefit of the art of reading which they have mastered, if they are not instructed in nor even introduced to the masterpieces of prose and poetry in their national literature? The intermediate schools provide for this, at least. Why then is not attendance upon the intermediate schools made compulsory? The obstacle is a material one. The poor man who has already experienced great difficulty in supporting his child until he graduates from the primary school, would find it utterly impossible to carry the burden of his maintenance until he had reached an advanced age, until his eighteenth or twentieth year. He is compelled by sheer necessity to convert the laboring power of his child into money, at the earliest possible moment. In order to have the benefits of the intermediate schools shared by as many pupils as attend the primary schools, the labor of the scholars should be organized and utilized, as is the case in some educational institutions in the United States, where the pupils carry on a farm or work at some manual trade, in connection with their studies, with sufficient success and pecuniary returns, aided by outside benevolent contributions to a certain extent, to support themselves during their school life. A far better and more consistent plan would be for the community to supply not only instruction, but the entire material support of the scholars during their years of study. "That would be pure Communism!" exclaims some obstinate adherent of that organized egotism which we call the existing science of political economy.
The professors of political economy are not of this opinion. They have a horror of leisure for mankind and believe that all good and happiness lie in the most extreme exertions of man's laboring faculties. Their doctrine can be condensed into two commandments: Thou shalt consume as much as possible, no matter whether the consumption is justified by actual necessity or not; thou shalt produce as much as possible no matter whether the productions are needed or not.
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.