Origins of Pre-Marxist Socialism

Albion Woodbury Small

Today, I am beginning my readings of a textbook-length tome by the famed American sociologist Albion Woodbury Small, entitled, The Cameralists. It is understandable for readers of The Fourth Estate to not know who Small was the founder of the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department, which accounts for why he was more influential within the field of Sociology as opposed to my own, Political Science. He was also not a well-known figure among other “Social Sciences” that I cover on my Blog like Economics, Psychology, Finance, History, Criminology, or Legal Jurisprudence (aka “Legal Studies” and “Cultural Studies”). Other fields like Philosophy, Theology, Military Science, Financial Engineering, Public Relations, or International Relations do not cover Small. This is a long book with plenty of insight into the methodological basis behind The Work-Standard and The Third Place. Since I am planning to finish the Second Edition of The Work-Standard before the end of February, my goal at the moment is to explore this topic in relation to my research.

Small’s 1909 tome provides an accessible basis from which I can argue that what we know today as “Socialism” has its historical origins in Cameralism. It covers most of the historical record regarding its German authors, the majority of whom are still unknown to most people, even today’s Socialists. Their continued obscurity in the early 21st century remains an unfortunate consequence of Economics, Political Science and other Social Sciences such as Sociology and Psychology being incorrectly repurposed as actual Sciences like Physics or Biology. As I had pointed out in “Thus Spoke Lenin: Beware of Positivism and Reflectivism,” the Liberal Capitalists spent the decades between the late 19th and late 20th centuries trying to spearheaded this absurd notion of treating the “Social Sciences” as actual Sciences. These consequences are on full display within higher academia in the Western world, including the pedagogical and educational concerns of whether the Student Body is actually learning anything that will help them in the Real World.

This brings us to the Cameralists, who were trying to provide more practical, hands-on approaches to political statecraft and economic governance in the 17th-18th centuries (or 16th-18th centuries, if we were to go by Small’s analysis). The idea of Socialism being the ideological successor to Cameralism becomes discernible when we realize why the Cameralists developed their ideology and what set itself apart from Capitalism’s precursor, Mercantilism. The Cameralists advocated a holistic Weltanschauung striving to comprehend everyday social relations defining the political-economic life of an entire nation-state. Economic life, contrary to the Liberal Capitalists, did not spontaneously emerge on its own by pure chance. Rather, it originated as a political matter that began with the State and its central government.

The Cameralists argued that in order to comprehend everyday social relations, including how they relate to one another, every analysis has to begin with the State. By beginning with the State, it is then possible to determine how the Totality and the Self interacts with their State. Not in terms of “Taxation,” “Regulations,” “Trade” or “Budgets,” I should remind my readers, but in more so in terms of concepts described in The Work-Standard. I am talking about those familiar ideas like “State Ownership,” “Collective Ownership,” “Community-organized Guilds,” “Work-Conscription,” “Real Trade Agreements (RTAs),” and everything else which were made possible by the Work-Standard. These concepts and more have their origins in Cameralism and my interest in investigating them in relation to Socialism has been a topic that I have been wanting to explore for some time now.

The lasting impact of the Cameralists was more evident in the German language, particularly how a German speaker perceives and studies different national economies and their financial regimes. Given my partial fluency of German, I noticed some peculiar lingual nuances that allowed me to study nations as complex and intricate as the German Reich or these United States in a more familiar light. The most obvious pertains to how the word “Economy” carries similar connotations to a German and an American, despite the two having different Germanic languages. I can tell based on how the English-speaking and German-speaking worlds interpret and describe the word “Economy,” regardless of whether we are talking about ‘two Market/Mixed Economies’ or ‘two Planned/Command Economies’ because of the word’s etymological origins.

In the English-speaking world, “Economy” is derived from the Ancient Greek word “Oἰκονομία” (Oikonomía), which roughly translates to the ‘Art of Managing a Household’. The term is related to the French “Économie” and the Italian “Economia,” French and Italian being European Romance languages. All three terms carry specific connotations to the “Distribution/Redistribution” and “Allocation/Reallocation” of any resources inside the Family Household. A good analogy for English speakers is the image of brothers and sisters taking turns on the PCs, gaming consoles, television sets and living spaces of their working-class family’s townhouse. The imagery is significant as this Author has not found any suitable terms within the German language to describe “Suburbia,” Suburbia being a British concept whose influence in the American Way of Life is a post-1945 phenomenon.

In the German-speaking world, “Ökonomie” also shares the same Ancient Greek origin, except it is often supplanted by another German word, “Wirtschaft.” “Wirtschaft” is more commonplace among German speakers because it translates into English as the ‘Art of Hosting a Household’ or ‘Art of Keeping a Household,’ the latter suggesting the presences of Housekeepers (“Maids and Butlers”) living and working inside the Family Household. Outside the Family Household, however, “Wirtschaft” serves as the German “getting-down-to-business word of choice” for describing any national economy on Earth. It is important for English speakers to realize that when a German speaker uses the word “Wirtschaft,” they are determined to know the national economy in service to the Totality.

Here in the US, we Americans are more familiar with Suburbia being a geographical polity separating the Urban (the City) and the Rural (the Countryside). We know this because we express it through specific statements related to our own distinct version of the English language. Our interpretation of Suburbia is distinguishable based on how we define it. We describe it in relation to specific terms like the “Middle Class” and the “American Dream.” We think of the two-story home with the white picket fence, the garage, the well-trimmed lawn, backyard barbecues and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Where our interpretation of “Economy” differs from the British and has more in common with the Germans is (or, perhaps, was) the widespread prevalence of Shopping Malls in the American Way of Life during their heyday in the 1980s-1990s. Anyone who has been reading The Third Place will recall the Germanic Shopping Citadel as a suitable replacement for the Shopping Mall, creating the Socialistic economic conditions whereby the Main Streets of America control Wall Street.   

Such conclusions, interestingly enough, are reflected in the Small’s description of Cameralism in the opening Chapter of The Cameralists:

Every theory, system, science is in some way a reflection of the prevailing purposes of the time in which it developed.

No hypothesis about the precise nature of the cause and effect concerned is concealed in this commonplace. We need not raise that question. Enough that in some way or other, which it is not necessary to discuss at this point, our philosophies echo the dominant purposes of the time that produced them.

If we attempt to detach a system of thought from the whole scheme of activities impelled by the prevailing systems of purposes, and if we try to set forth the meaning of that thought as though it had no connection with those purposes, the result is inevitable misinterpretation.

The same effect follows unintentional not less than deliberate separation of a body of thought, in which we are especially interested, from the surrounding circumstances of its development. It is like abstracting a plant from the soil and atmosphere which are the media of its existence, and then expecting it both to grow and to reveal the abstract process of its previous growth.

Speaking particularly of the social sciences, their crudeness at present is in part the result of arbitrary dismemberment of the process of which science is an interpretation, and consequent substitution of fictitious processes, more or less remote from one another and meaningless for one another. We have then, so far as we depend upon these sciences for knowledge, a collection of ghosts stalking abroad in defiance of all known laws, and apparently tending less and less to explain reality.

A single instance in which this has occurred on a rather large scale furnishes the primary motive of this book We are to deal with Cameralists and Cameralism. A history of neither is to be attempted. At most this book may be called a brief of the argument which a history would have to complete if it were to satisfy sociologists.

An authentic interpretation of Cameralism necessarily gives the most prominent place, in the center of the picture, to Justi. In order however rightly to estimate Justi, the work of other Cameralists before and after his time must be analyzed and compared with his system. For the purposes of this survey then we shall regard Cameralism as beginning with Seckendorff, and ending with Sonnenfels. A history of Cameralism would have to begin more than a century before these pioneers. It would trace beginnings earlier than the time of Elector August of Saxony (1553–86) and Landgrave Philipp of Hesse (1518– 67). It would follow changes of form, content, relations, and name, and it would be obliged to show, finally, that present differences between German and English institutions must be stated partially in terms of the persistence in the one case of a cameralistic tradition which was never naturalized in the other.

Categories: Politics

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