Compendium: A Reading of Oswald Spengler’s Prussianism and Socialism (Part IV of IV)

The Spenglerian association of Prussia with Socialism, as paradoxical as it may seem to most people, does have an historical basis. The history surrounding this association is unfortunately too obscure, even though a Prussian origin can be discerned in the histories of the United States and the former Soviet Union. Yes, the same two countries that defined the backdrop of the Cold War during the history of the late 20th century.

Spengler connected the origins of Socialism to the prevalence of “Cameralism” as a Prussian equivalent to English “Mercantilism.” Mercantilism is of course the English precursor to Capitalism. Cameralism originated in Prussia and the broader German-speaking world as an economic philosophy that ran contrary to Mercantilism and the French Physiocratic School during the Enlightenment. However, as Spengler explained, conventional economics had just one motivation in neglecting the historical importance of the old Cameralists:

Prussia’s accomplishments within its own economic sphere received in theory, with the aid of the other-worldly German philosophy of Idealism, the exalted title of Socialism. But the true creators of Prussian economic life were not able to recognize their creations in this theoretical guise. Thus there arose a bitter conflict between two unnecessarily hostile factions: one made up of theorists, and another in charge of practice. We have now reached the stage where it is imperative for each of the sides to come to terms with the other and to accept the task that faces both.

It was Cameralism that Spengler was able to describe the type of governance model that would be employed by the Prussian Socialist nation-state. He that Prussia between the late 18th and early 19th centuries challenged the Liberal Capitalist model of political-economic governance:

In Prussia, however, there existed a true state in the most exacting sense of the word. In Prussia there were, strictly speaking, no private individuals. Every single person who lived in this system, which functioned with the precision of a good machine, was an integral member of that system. For this reason the task of administration could not be assigned to private individuals, as the parliamentary system prescribes. Administration of public funds was an official function, and the politicians responsible for it were state officials, servants of the commonwealth. In England business and politics were synonymous; in France the swarm of professional politicians called into office by the constitution had become hirelings of the business interests. In Prussia the purely professional politician has always been a disreputable figure.

When, therefore, the democratization of government became unavoidable in the nineteenth century, the English pattern had to be shunned since it was contrary to the Prussian style. Here, democracy could not mean private freedom, for that was tantamount to commercial license and would have led to a form of private politics that would use the state as a tool. The knightly ideal of “all for all” underwent a modern reinterpretation—but not in the sense of forming parties that reached down to the masses every few years, giving them the privilege of either voting for a party-endorsed candidate or not voting at all, while the party itself, if it was in the “opposition,” reached upward to interfere with the work of government. Rather, the “all for all” principle took the form in Prussia of assigning to every individual, depending on his practical, moral, and intellectual abilities, a certain measure of command and obedience. That is to say, each citizen was allotted a very personal rank and degree of responsibility, and like an official post it was revocable.

Another area of interest was the attempted implementation of “Council Democracy” in Prussia by Prussian Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein. Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein introduced the concept as an alternative to the “Parliamentarian Democracy” model favored by England as part of the “Prussian Reform Movement.” As Spengler wrote, it was historically called the “Rätesystem” (Council System) in Prussia.

Freiherr vom Stein

In its most fundamental form, Council Democracy would have Constituencies organized by their profession and economic sector, rather than by an electoral district as in the case of Parliamentarian Democracy. Each Constituency elects somebody among their ranks to delegate on their behalf at the local level, with those delegates electing somebody among themselves to delegate on their behalf in the regional and then national levels at the State Council. The goal of Council Democracy is to ensure that everyone, the Totality, of the nation-state is politically and economically involved in the everyday affairs of the nation-state. Unlike Parliamentarian Democracy, there are no election cycles, political parties, career politicians, election campaigns, and betting markets predicting the likelihood of elections under Council Democracy. The Delegates will oversee the enacting of laws with the Heads of State and Government and the Delegates themselves may be recalled by their own Constituents.

The most responsible position in this gigantic organism, in Frederick the Great’s words the role of “first servant of the state,” must not be abandoned to ambitious privateers. Let us envision a unified nation in which everyone is assigned his place according to his socialistic rank, his talent for voluntary self-discipline based on inner conviction, his organizational abilities, his work potential, consciousness, and energy, his intelligent willingness to serve the common cause. Let us plan for general work conscription, resulting in occupational guilds that will administrate and at the same time be guided by an administrative council, and not by a parliament. A fitting name for this administrative body, in a State where everyone has a job, be it army officer, civil servant, farmer, or miner, might well be “labor council.” [Read: Spengler’s way of writing: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”]

It was primarily the realm of the political that Spengler arrived at the conclusion that true Socialism has the State governed and ruled by the people, the Totality. His criticism of Marxism rests on the argument that, even under Socialism, the political must govern the affairs of the economic and financial within fiscal and monetary policies. In fact, conventional economic thought still stresses the need for fiscal and monetary policies to operate in sync, but this has never been fully feasible due to the inherent limitations of Parliamentarian Democracy. That was why Spengler advocated for Council Democracy to overcome those limitations:

From a strictly technical viewpoint, Socialism is the principle of public service. In the final analysis every worker has the status not of a businessman, but of a public servant, as does every employer. There are public servants of industry, commerce, traffic, and the military. This system was realized in the grandest style in Egyptian culture and again, though quite differently, in China. It represents the inner form of Western political civilization, and it already became manifest in the Gothic cities with their professional guilds and corporations. A symbolic expression of the system was the Gothic cathedral, in which every element was a necessary part of the dynamic whole.

In the true State, Work is not a commodity but a duty toward the common interest, and there is no gradation—this is Prussian-style democratization—of ethical values among the various kinds of work. The judge and the scholar perform “Work” just as the miner and the lathe operator. In our German Revolution it was English thinking that planned for the worker to expropriate the rest of the people by squeezing as much money as possible out of the least amount of work, and by lauding his “commodity” above all others. One of the preconditions of a strike is that the people exist only as parties, not as a state. Another Marxist, that is to say English, idea is the open negotiation for wage increases, and the unilateral determination of wage scales following the success of the proletarian party.

The Prussian way of doing things is for the state to determine wages impartially for each kind of work, planning the scales carefully according to the total economic situation at any given time, in the interest of all the people and not of any one profession. That is the principle of salary scales for civil servants, made to apply to all occupations. It includes the prohibition of the strike, for it regards this as a private commercial device inimical to state interests. The power to set wage scales is removed from both employer and employee and becomes the privilege of a general economic council, thus ensuring that each party will operate within the same firm boundaries as they have had to in other areas of management and work practice. [21]

(21. One can imagine a system in which every worker, the military officer and administrative official as well as the “laborer,” maintains an account with a state savings bank which receives standardized accounts from the institutions obligated to pay wages. The individual would then have at his disposal a certain sum to be determined by a standard scale of distribution based on years of service and number of dependents.)

In the final section of the treatise, “Section V: The Internationale,” Spengler continued his arguments against Marxism by not being worthy of furthering the goals of Anti-Imperialism. He warned that yesterday’s Anti-Imperialism can potentially become tomorrow’s Social Imperialism. One can cite the Yugoslav-Soviet, Albanian-Soviet, and Sino-Soviet Disputes as examples of why Social Imperialism must always be taken into consideration as a valid factor. What compelled Spengler to focus his attention on the question of Imperialism was the significance of Marxism itself raising the issue of “Property.”

Its critique touched on a problem of the utmost importance: property. This is not the place to discuss, even in outline, the immense symbolic significance of such difficult matters as the relationship between property and marriage, property and political ideal, or property and world view. On these topics, also, each of these great cultures has spoken its own language. The Western concept of property is far removed from that of antiquity, India, and China. Property is power. Faustian man has little regard for inert, undynamic possessions, for “credit” per se. He emphasizes, rather, the importance of “productive” property. The ancient world’s sensual delight in the mere accumulation of treasures is rare among us. The pride of the modern conqueror, the merchant and gambler, even of the collector of art works, is based on the idea that by taking his booty he has gained power. The Spaniards’ thirst for gold and the Englishmen’s hunger for new territories are directed toward property that creates more property.

In contrast to this dynamic concept of property, another view prevailed in the Renaissance and in Paris: the pensioner ideal. The goal of this form of cupidity was not dynamic potential but simple pleasure; not “everything” but “enough”; not deeds but “life.” The condottieri desired their principalities and court treasuries in order to enjoy to the fullest the leisure culture of their century. The Medici banking house, one of the first in Europe, was far from wanting to control the world market. Louis XIV sent out his generals and tax collectors with the intent of securing material support for his Olympic existence as the “Sun King.” The French aristocrats at Versailles were quite thoroughly imbued with the Renaissance outlook. Their culture was anything but dynamic. Traveling Englishmen like Young were amazed to find, just prior to the Revolution, how badly they had managed their wealth. They were happy if they simply “had” it, and if the intendant saw to the collection of the sums necessary for Parisian life.

“Capital” is the grand expression that describes the English view of Property. “Capital” means economic energy; it is the armor one puts on before joining the battle for success. Instead of the French cavalier and pensioner, what we see here is the magnate of the stock market, of petroleum or steel, whose pleasure consists in the feeling of economic omnipotence. He understands property to mean exclusively private property. As he sees it, one man’s sniffle can cause the market to plunge all over the world; a telegram of three words can unleash catastrophes on the far side of the planet; and the trade and industry of entire nations are a function of his personal credit. “Private” property—it is important to grasp the term in its full dramatic sense. The billionaire demands absolute freedom to arrange world affairs by his private decisions, with no other ethical standard in mind than success. He beats down his opponents with credit and speculation as his weapons. His state and his army are his trust, and the political state is little more than his agent whom he commissions with wars such as those in Spain or South Africa, or with treaties and peace negotiations. The final goal of these genuine mastertypes is to turn the whole world into one huge trust. As far as he is concerned the average citizen’s nominal right to property can remain inviolate; he can enjoy complete freedom to give away, sell, or bequeath his possessions as he sees fit. But the economic value of his possessions as commercial capital is made to move in certain directions by a remote central agency that is utterly beyond his control. Thus the money magnate is a property owner in a very special sense. Whole peoples and nations can be forced to work according to his tacit command and his omnipresent will.

This concept of property, a disguise for the businessman’s liberalism, is diametrically opposed to the Prussian view. The Prussian sees property not as private booty but as part of the common weal; not as a means or expression of personal power but as goods placed in trust, for the administration of which he, as a property owner, is responsible to the state. He does not regard national wealth as the sum of individual private fortunes; instead, he considers private fortunes as functions of the total economic potential of his nation. We must repeat again and again the magnificent words of Frederick the Great: “I am the first servant of my state.” As soon as every individual makes this attitude his own, socialism becomes a fact. There is no sharper contrast to this idea than Louis XIV with his factual statement, “I am the state.” Whether on the throne or in the streets, the Western world can conceive of no more blatant contrast than that between Prussianism and Jacobinism, between socialist and anarchist instinct. It is the basis for the ineradicable enmity between our two peoples. Napoleon remarked on St. Helena, “Prussia has been an obstacle to France since the days of Frederick, and will always remain so. It was the greatest obstacle to the plans I had for France.”

Coming full circle, Spengler tied the significance of Kapital, Private Property and Parliamentarian Democracy as all being political weapons of Liberal Capitalist Imperialism. He cited the myopic research of Robert Owen and his attempts at realizing English-style Utopian Socialism. It was in Owen’s attempts at redefining Kapital that Spengler gave an almost prescient warning about the later rise of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank as being handmaidens of the United Nations, the UN itself being the successor to the League of Nations.

Robert Owen

Robert Owen attempted to formulate as a kind of reform of capital the desire of the English lower class to adopt for itself the upper-class ideal of property. But it would be a gross underestimation of the Viking instinct to think that English-American capital will retreat one step on the path toward absolute economic domination of the world. Unlimited personal freedom and the natural inequality of man, based on relative degrees of individual talent, are the fundamental articles of the Anglo-Saxon creed. Instead of authoritarian socialism, the English or American billionaire adheres to an impressive form of private socialism, a welfare program on a grand scale which turns his own personal power into pleasure and morally vanquishes the recipient of welfare funds. The flashy techniques for distributing these millions are an effective cover-up for the methods used to obtain them in the first place. It is the same attitude as that of the old corsairs who, while banqueting in the castle just conquered, threw their table scraps to the prisoners: the voluntary surrender of property increases the value of what remains. The question whether or not such voluntary acts should become a legal duty is the chief point of contention among the economic parties of the future in England and America. Today some people are prepared to transfer broad economic areas that are less amenable to speculation, such as the mining and railroad industries, to the case of a pseudo-state. But of course they intend to retain the behind-the-scenes prerogative of making this “state” an executive organ of their own business interests by utilizing the democratic forms of parliamentarism, i.e., by paying for election campaigns and newspapers and thus controlling the opinions of voters and readers.

Therein lies the frightful danger of an enslavement of the world by big business. Today its tool is the League of Nations, ostensibly a system of nations that have “self-government” on the English model, but in reality a system of provinces and protectorates whose populations are being exploited by a business oligarchy with the aid of bribed parliaments and purchased laws, just as the Roman world was exploited by the bribery of senators, proconsuls, and popular tribunes. Marx saw through this nascent system, and it became the target of his caustic social criticism. He wished to depose the English idea of omnipotent private property, but once again he was able to formulate only a negation: expropriation of the expropriators, robbery of the robbers.

The distinction between “Common Property” (Read: Common Wealth or ‘Commonwealth’) and “Private Property” (Read: Private Wealth) is where Spengler began to discern the problems behind this particular dialectic. Both Common and Private Properties are specifically referring to Kapital, rather than actual things that one owns like a home, an automobile, paintings, and so on. It was from this distinction that Spengler would later write:

Maintain full Germanic respect for property, but award the power inherent in it to the State, the Totality, and not to the Individual. That is the meaning of Socialization. It was systematically pursued by Prussian governments that functioned on instinct untrammeled by theory, from the civil and war chambers of Frederick William I to the social welfare institutions of Bismarck. But the orthodox and heterodox Marxists of the German Revolution have tried to outdo each other in spoiling it all. Socialization does not mean nationalization by expropriation or theft. It is not all concerned with nominal property, but rather with the techniques of administration. Buying up industries right and left for the sake of some slogan, and handing them over to administrative bodies incognizant of the ways of large enterprises instead of leaving them to the responsibility and initiative of their owners, is the surest way to pervert true socialism. The Old Prussian method was to legislate the formal structure of the total productive potential while guarding carefully the right to property and inheritance, and to allow so much freedom to personal talent, energy, initiative, and intellect as one might allow a skilled chess player who had mastered all the rules of the game. This is largely how it was done with the old cartels and syndicates, and there is no reason why it could not be systematically extended to work habits, work evaluation, profit distribution, and the internal relationship between planners and executive personnel. Socialization means the slow, decades-long transformation of the worker into an economic civil servant, of the employer into a responsible administrative official with extensive powers of authority, and of property into a kind of old-style hereditary fief to which a certain number of rights and privileges are attached. In Socialism the economic will remains as free as that of the chess player; only the end effect follows a regulated course.

The Hohenzollern created the Prussian civil-servant type, the first of its kind in the world. By reason of his inherited socialistic abilities this type vouches for the possibility of a new socialization. For two hundred years he has symbolized in his methods what socialism symbolizes to us today as a task to be done. If the German worker can give up Marxism and begin to think as a socialist, he will easily become the Prussian type just described. The “state of the future” is the state made up of civil servants. That is one of the inevitable final conditions toward which our civilization is steadily moving. Even a billionaire’s socialism could imperceptibly transform a nation into an army of private “officials.” The big trusts have already virtually become private states exercising a protectorate over the official state. Prussian socialism, however, implies the incorporation of these professional-interest “states” into the state as a totality. The point at issue between conservatives and proletarians is in truth not at all the necessity of the authoritarian socialist system, which could be avoided by adopting the American system (that is the hope of the German liberals), but the question of supreme command. It may look as though two socialist alternatives exist today, one from above and another from below, and both of a dictatorial cast. Yet in reality either would gradually merge into the same final form.

At the moment people are unaware of this fact, so much so that both parties regard the Constitution as the decisive factor. But it is not a question of laws, it is a question of personalities. If the labor leaders are not able to demonstrate very soon the superior statesman-like skills required of them, others will take their place. In a political system that intentionally blurs the distinctions between workers and administrators, assuring each qualified individual, from menial laborer to foreman and corporation head, a secure career—in such a system a born statesman can see to it that the goals of conservatives and proletarians alike, the complete nationalization of economic life by legislation rather than expropriation, are finally combined into one.

The leadership of such a system cannot be “republican.” Putting aside all illusions, “republic” means today the corruptibility of executive power by means of private capital. A prince will obey the tradition of his house and the philosophy of his calling. No matter what our opinion of this may be, it removes him from the special political interest of parties as we have them now. He acts as their arbitrator. And if, in a socialistically structured state, membership in the professional councils including the State Council itself is determined in view of practical talents, the prince can narrow the selection by the use of ethical and moral criteria. A president, prime minister, or popular representative is the pawn of a party, and a party is in turn the pawn of those who pay for it. The prince is today a government’s only protection against big business. The power of private capital is forcing a unification of socialist and monarchist principles. The individualistic ideal of private property means subjugation of the state by free economic powers, i.e., democracy, i.e., corruptibility of the government by private wealth. In a modern democracy the leaders of the masses find themselves in opposition, not to the capitalists but to money and the anonymous power it exerts. The question is how many of these leaders can resist such power. If anyone would like to know the difference between an abstract theoretical democracy and one that has existed for some time and is therefore convinced of its own excellence, let him read Sallust on Catilina and Jugurtha. There can be no doubt that Roman conditions are in store for us, but a monarchist-socialist order can neutralize them.

Let me summarize. It is my wish that this brief exposition will give those of our people who by reason of their initiative, self-discipline, and mental superiority are called upon to lead the next generation, a clear picture of the times in which we live and the direction in which we are destined to move.

We now know what is at stake: not just German destiny, but the destiny of all of civilization. The critical question not only for Germany but for all of the world—but it must be answered for all of the world in Germany—is this: In the future, shall business rule the state, or the state rule business?

Categories: Compendium, Economic History, Philosophy

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