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THE NEW SOCIETY

BY

WALTHER RATHENAU

AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION BY
ARTHUR WINDHAM


NEW YORK
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY
1921




PREFACE


Walther Rathenau, author of _Die neue Gesellschaft_ and other studies
of economic and social conditions in modern Germany, was born in 1867.
His father, Emil Rathenau, was one of the most distinguished figures
in the great era of German industrial development, and his son was
brought up in the atmosphere of hard work, of enterprise, and of
public affairs. After his school days at a _Gymnasium_, or classical
school, he studied mathematics, physics and chemistry at the
Universities of Berlin and of Strassburg, taking his degree at the age
of twenty-two. Certain discoveries made by him in chemistry and
electrolysis led to the establishment of independent manufacturing works,
which he controlled with success, and eventually to his connexion with
the world-famous A.E.G. - _Allgemeine Electrizitätsgesellschaft_ - at
the head of which he now stands. During the war he scored a very
remarkable and exceptional success as controller of the organization
for the supply of raw materials. He is thus not merely a scholar and
thinker, but one who has lived and more than held his own in the thick
of commercial and industrial life, and who knows by actual experience
the subject-matter with which he deals.

The present study, with its wide outlook and its resolute
determination to see facts as they are, should have much value for all
students of latter-day politics and economics in Europe; for though
Rathenau is mainly concerned with conditions in his own land the same
conditions affect all countries to a greater or less degree, and he
deals with general principles of human psychology and of economic law
which prevail everywhere in the world. It is not too much to say that
"The New Society" constitutes a landmark in the history of economic
and social thought, and contains matter for discussion, for sifting,
for experiment and for propaganda which should occupy serious thinkers
and reformers for many a day to come. His suggestions and conclusions
may not be all accepted, or all acceptable, but few will deny that
they constitute a distinct advance in the effort to bring serious and
disinterested thought to the solution of our social problems, and in
this conviction we offer the present complete and authorized
translation to English readers.




THE NEW SOCIETY


I

Is there any sign or criterion by which we can tell that a human
society has been completely socialized?

There is one and one only: it is when no one can have an income
without working for it.

That is the sign of Socialism; but it is not the goal. In itself it is
not decisive. If every one had enough to live on, it would not matter
for what he received money or goods, or even whether he got them for
nothing. And relics of the system of income which is not worked for
will always remain - for instance, provision for old age.

The goal is not any kind of division of income or allotment of
property. Nor is it equality, reduction of toil, or increase of the
enjoyment of life. It is the abolition of the proletarian condition;
abolition of the lifelong hereditary serfage, the nameless hereditary
servitude, of one of the two peoples who are called by the same name;
the annulment of the hereditary twofold stratification of society, the
abolition of the scandalous enslavement of brother by brother, of that
Western abuse which is the basis of our civilization as slavery was
of the antique, and which vitiates all our deeds, all our creations,
all our joys.

Nor is even this the final goal - no economy, no society can talk of a
final goal - the only full and final object of all endeavour upon earth
is the development of the human soul. A final goal, however, points
out the direction, though not the path, of politics.

The political object which I have described as the abolition of the
proletarian condition may, as I have shown in _Things that are to
Come_,[1] be closely approached by a suitable policy in regard to
property and education; above all, by a limitation of the right of
inheritance. Of socialization in the strict sense there is, for this
purpose, no need. Yet a far-reaching policy of socialization - and I do
not here refer to a mere mechanical nationalization of the means of
production but to a radical economic and social resettlement - is
necessary and urgent, because it awakens and trains responsibilities,
and because it withdraws from the sluggish hands of the governing
classes the determination of time and of method, and places it in the
hands that have a better title, those of the whole commonalty, which,
at present, stands helpless through sheer democracy. For only in the
hands of a political people does democracy mean the rule of the
people; in those of an untrained and unpolitical people it becomes
merely an affair of debating societies and philistine chatter at the
inn ordinary. The symbol of German bourgeois democracy is the tavern;
thence enlightenment is spread and there judgments are formed; it is
the meeting place of political associations, the forum of their
orators, the polling-booth for elections.

But the sign that this far-reaching socialization has been actually
carried out is the cessation of all income without work. I say the
sign, but not the sole postulate; for we must postulate a complete and
genuine democratization of the State and public economy, and a system
of education equally accessible to all: only then can we say that the
monopoly of class and culture has been smashed. But the cessation of
the workless income will show the downfall of the last of
class-monopolies, that of the Plutocracy.

It is not very easy to imagine what society will be like when these
objects have been realised, at least if we are thinking not of a brief
period like the present Russian régime, or a passing phase as in
Hungary, but an enduring and stationary condition. A dictatorial
oligarchy, like that of the Bolshevists, does not come into
consideration here, and the well-meaning Utopias of social romances
crumble to nothing. They rest, one and all, on the blissfully ignorant
assumption of a state of popular well-being exaggerated tenfold beyond
all possibility.

The knowledge of the sort of social condition towards which at present
we Germans, and then Europe, and finally the other nations are tending
in this vertical Migration of the Peoples, will not only decide for
each of us his attitude towards the great social question, but our
whole political position as well. It is quite in keeping with German
traditions that in fixing our aims and forming our resolves we should
be guided not by positive but by negative impulses - not by the effort
to get something but to get away from it. To this effort, which is
really a flight, we give the positive name of Socialism, without
troubling ourselves in the least how things will look - not in the
sense of popular watchwords but in actual fact - when we have got what
we are seeking.

This is not merely a case of lack of imagination; it is that we
Germans have, properly speaking, no understanding of political
tendencies. We are more or less educated in business, in science, in
thought, but in politics we are about on the same level as the East
Slavonic peasantry. At best we know - and even that not always - what
oppresses, vexes and tortures us; we know our grievances, and think we
have conceived an aim when we simply turn them upside down. Such
processes of thought as "the police are to blame, the war-conditions
are to blame, the Prussians are to blame, the Jews are to blame, the
English are to blame, the priests are to blame, the capitalists are to
blame" - all these we quite understand. Just as with the Slavs, if our
good-nature and two centuries of the love of order did not forbid it,
our primitive political instincts would find expression in a pogrom in
the shape of a peasant-war, of a religious war, of witch-trials, or
Jew-baiting. Our blatant patriotism bore the plainest signs of such a
temper; half nationalism, half aggression against some bugbear or
other; never a proud calm, an earnest self-dedication, a struggle for
a political ideal.

We have now a Republic in Germany: no one seriously desired it. We
have at last established Parliamentarianism: no one wanted it. We have
set up a kind of Socialism: no one believed in it. We used to say:
"The people will live and die for their princes; our last drop of
blood for the Hohenzollerns" - no one denied it. "The people mean to be
ruled by their hereditary lords; they will go through fire for their
officers; rather death than yield a foot of German soil to the foe."
Was all this a delusion? By no means; it was sincere enough, only it
did not go deep. It was the kind of sincerity which depends on not
knowing enough of the alternative possibilities.

When the alternatives revealed themselves as possible and actual, then
we all turned republican, even to the cottagers in Pomerania. When the
military strike had broken down discipline, the officers were
mishandled; when the war was lost, the fleet disgraced, and the
homeland defiled, then we began to play and dance.

But was this frivolity? Not at all; it was a childish want of
political imagination. The Poles, a people not remotely comparable to
the German in depth of soul and the capacity for training talent, have
for a century cherished no other thought than that of national unity,
while we passively resign our territories. No Englishman or Japanese
or American will ever understand us when we tell him that this
military discipline of ours, this war-lust, did not represent a
passion for dominion and aggression, but was merely the docility of a
childish people which wants nothing, and can imagine nothing, but that
things should go on as they happen, at the moment, to be.

We Germans know but little of the laws which govern the formation of
national character. The capacity of a people for profundity is not
profundity, either of the individual or of the community. It may
express itself in the masses as mere plasticity and softness of
spirit. The capacity for collective sagacity and strength of will
demands from the individual merely a dry intelligence in human
affairs, and egoism. It would be too much to say that our political
weakness may be merely the expression of spiritual power, for the
latter has not proved an obstacle to success in business. Indolence
and belief in authority have their share in it.

But have we not been the classic land of social democracy, and have we
not become that of Radicalism? Well, we have been, indeed, and are,
with our submissiveness to authority and our capacity for discipline,
the classic land of organized grumbling; and the classic land, too, of
anti-semitism which deprived us of the very forces we stood most in
need of - productive scepticism and the imagination for concrete
things. Organized grumbling is not the same thing as political
creation. A Socialism and Radicalism poorer in ideas than the
post-Marxian German Socialism has never existed. Half of it was merely
clerical work, and the other half was agitators' Utopianism of the
cheapest variety.

Nothing was more significant than the fact that the mighty event of
the German Revolution was not the result of affection but of
disaffection. It is not we who liberated ourselves, it was the enemy;
it was our destruction that set us free. On the day before we asked
for the armistice, perhaps even on the day before the flight of the
Kaiser, a plébiscite would have yielded an overwhelming majority for
the monarchy and against Socialism. What I so often said before the
war came true: "He who trains his children with the rod learns only
through the rod."

And to-day, when everything is seething and fermenting - no thanks to
Socialism for that - all intellectual work has to be done outside of
the ranks of social-democracy, which stumbles along on its two
crutches of "Socialization" and "Soviets."[2] Orthodox Socialism is
still a case of the "lesser evil," what the French call a _pis aller_.
"Things are so bad that any change must be for the better." What is to
make them better we are told in the socialist catechism; but _how_ it
is to do so, how and what anything is to become, this, the only
question that matters, is regarded as irrelevant. It is answered by
some halting and insincere stammer about "surplus value" which is to
make everybody well off - and which would yield all round, as I have
elsewhere shown, just twenty-five marks a head. Fifteen millions of
grown men are pressing forward into a Promised Land revealed through
the fog of political assemblies and in the thunder of parrot-phrases - a
land from which no one will ever bring back a bunch of grapes.

If one would interrogate not the agitators, but their hearers, and
find out what they instinctively conceive this land to look like, we
should get the answer, timid and naïve but at the same time the
deepest and shrewdest that it is possible to give - that it is a land
where there are no longer any rich.

A most true and truthful reply! And yet a profound error silently
lurks in it. You imagine, do you not, that in a land where there are
no more rich people there will also be no more poor? "Why, of course
not! How can there be poor people when there are no more rich?" And
yet there will be. In the land where there are no more rich there will
be _only_ poor, only very poor, people.

Whoever does not know this and is a Socialist, that man is merely one
of the herd or he is a dupe. He who knows it and conceals it is a
deceiver. He who knows it, and in spite of that, nay, on account of
that, is a Socialist, is a man of the future.

Though the crowd be satisfied with some dim feeling that this, anyhow,
is the tendency of the times and that with this stream one must swim;
though the more thoughtful contemplate the evils of the time and
decide to put up with the _pis aller_; the responsible thinker is
under the obligation of investigating the land into which the people
are being led. We must know what it looks like, where there are no
rich people and where no one can have an income without working for
it, we must understand what we call the "new society" so as to be able
to shape it aright.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: _Von Kommenden Dingen_, by Walther Rathenau. Berlin. S.
Fischer.]

[Footnote 2: Workers' and Soldiers' Councils.]




II


The question is not very urgent.

As surely as the hundred years' course of the social World-Revolution
cannot be arrested, so surely can we prophesy that the process cannot
maintain all along the line the rapid movement of its beginning. The
victorious and the defeated countries will have to work out to the end
the changes and interchanges of their various phases, for in the
historical developments which we witness to-day, we find mingled
together the phenomena of organic growth and of disease; already we
see that the Socialism of the healthy nations is different from that
of the sick ones. It is in vain that those who are sick with the
Bolshevist disease dream that they can infect the world.

The small daily and yearly movements in our realm of Central Europe
cannot be determined beforehand, because they depend upon small,
accidental, local, and external forces. The great and necessary issues
of events can be predicted, but it would be folly to discuss their
accidental flux and reflux. When an unguarded house is filled with
explosives from the cellar to the roof, then we know that it will one
day be blown up; but whether this will happen on a Sunday or a
Monday, in the morning or in the evening, or whether the left door
post will be left standing or no, it would be idle to inquire.

From the historical point of view it is of no consequence whether
Radicalism may make an inroad here and there, or whether here and
there the forces of reaction and restoration may collect themselves
for a transitory triumph. The great movement of history, as we always
find when a catastrophe has worked itself out, grows slower, and this
retardation in itself looks like reaction. We, who are not accustomed
to catastrophes, and who did not produce this first one, but rather
suffered it, we, who easily get sea-sick after every rapid
movement - think, for instance, of the former Reichstag - we shall
certainly experience, as the first deep wave of the Revolution sinks
into us, an aristocratic, dynastic, and plutocratic Romanticism, a
yearning for the colour and glitter of the time of glory, a revolt
against the spiritless, mechanical philanthrophy of unemployed orators
of about fourth-form standard intellectually; against the monotonous
and insincere tirades of paid agitators and their restless disciples;
against laziness; ignorance, greed, and exaggeration masquerading as
popular scientific economy; and against the brutal and extortionate
upthrust from below. And so we shall arrive at the reverse kind of
folly, an admiration and bad imitation of foreign pride and pomp, an
arrogant individualism and a hardening of our human feeling. The
intellectual war profiteers, who are all for radicalism to-day, will
soon be wearing cornflowers[3] in their button-holes.

For the third time we shall see an illustration of the naïve
shamelessness of the turn-coat. The spiritual process of conversion is
worth noticing; Paul was converted to be a converter. But the
scurrying of the intellectual speculator from the position which has
failed into the position which has won, with the full intention of
scurrying back again if necessary, and always with the claim to
instruct other people, is an expression of the alarming fact that life
has become not an affair of inward conviction, but of getting the
right tip.

The turn-coat movement began when a shortsighted crowd, incapable of
judgment, and with their minds clouded with a few cheap phrases,
expected from a quick and victorious war the strengthening of all the
elements of Force, and feared to be left stranded. Even the most
threadbare kind of liberalism appeared to be compromising, they
clamoured for "shining armour." The most wretched victims in soul and
body, who were obliged to flee forwards because they could not flee in
any other direction, were called heroes, and the manliest word in our
language, a word of which only the freest and the greatest are worthy,
was degraded. One who has experienced the hate and fury of the
turn-coats who poured contempt upon every word against the war and the
"great days," is unable to understand how a whole people can throw
its errors overboard without shame and sorrow - or he understands it
only too well. At this day we are being mocked and preached at by the
turn-coats of the second transformation, and to-morrow we shall be
smiled at by those of the third.

But it does not matter. The moving forces of our epoch do not come
from business offices nor from the street, the rostrum, the pulpit, or
the professorial chair. The noisy rush of yesterday, to-day and
to-morrow is only the furious motion of the outermost circle, the
centre moves upon its way, quietly as the stars.

We have in our survey to leap over several periods of forward and
backward movement and we shall earn the thanks of none of them. What
is too conservative for one will be too revolutionary for another, and
the æsthete will scornfully tell us that we have no fibre. When we
show that what awaits us is no fools' paradise, but the danger of a
temporary reverse of humanity and culture, then the facile Utopianist
will shout us down with his two parrot-phrases,[4] and when we, out of
a sense of duty, of harmony with the course of the world and
confidence in justice at the soul of things, tread the path of danger,
precipitous though it be, then we shall be scorned by all the
worshippers of Force and despisers of mankind.

But we for our part shall not pander either to the force-worshippers
or to the masses. We serve no powers that be. Our love goes out to the
People; but the People are not a crowd at a meeting, nor a sum-total
of interests, nor are they the newspapers or debating-clubs. The
People are the waking or sleeping, the leaking, frozen, choked, or
gushing well of the German spirit. It is with that spirit, in the
present and in the future, as it runs its course into the sea of
humanity, that we have here to do.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 3: The emblem of the Hohenzollerns.]

[Footnote 4: The reference, apparently, is to the argument that any
change must be for the better, and to the reliance on surplus value.
See pp. 13, 14.]




III


The criterion which we have indicated for the socialized society of
the future is a material one. But is the spiritual condition of an
epoch to be determined by material arrangements? Is this not a
confession of faith in materialism?

We are speaking of a criterion, not of a prime moving force. I have no
desire, however, to avoid going into the material, or rather we should
say mechanical, interpretation of history. I have done it more than
once in my larger works, and for the sake of coherence I may repeat it
in outline here.

The laws which determine individual destinies are reproduced in the
history of collective movements. A man's career is not prescribed by
his bodily form, his expression, or his environment; but there is in
these things a certain connexion and parallelism, for the same laws
which determine the course of his intellectual and spiritual life
reflect themselves in bodily and practical shape. Every instant of our
experience, all circumstances in which we find ourselves, every limb
that we grow, every accident that happens to us, is an expression or
product of our character. We are indeed subject to human limitations;
we are not at liberty to live under water or in another planet; but
within these wide boundaries each of us can shape his own life. To
observe a man, his work, his fate, his body and expression, his
connexions and his marriage, his belongings and his associations, is
to know the man.

From this point of view all social, economic and political schemes
become futile, for if man is so sovereign a being there is no need to
look after him. But these schemes re-acquire a relative importance
when we consider the average level of man's will-power, as we meet it
in human experience - a power which, as a rule, shows itself unable to
make head against a certain maximum of pressure from external
circumstances. And again, these schemes are really a part of the
expression of human will, for through them collective humanity battles
with its surroundings, its contemporary world, and freely shapes its
own destinies.

The inner laws of the community harmonize with those of the
individuals who compose it. The fact that certain national traits of
will and character are conditioned or even enforced by poverty or
wealth, soil and climate, an inland or maritime position, tends to
obscure the fact that these external conditions are not really laid on
the people but have been willed by themselves. A people _wills_ to
have a nomadic life, or wills to have a sea-coast, or wills
agriculture, or war; and has the power, if its will be strong enough,
to obtain its desire, or failing that to break up and perish. It is
the same will and character which decides for well-being and culture,
or indolence and dependence, or labour and spiritual development. The
Venetians did not have architecture and painting bestowed upon them
because they happened to have become rich, nor the English sea-power
because they happened to live on an island: no, the Venetians willed
freedom, power and art, and the Anglo-Saxons willed the sea.

There is a grain of truth in the popular political belief that war
embodies a judgment of God. At any rate character is judged by it; not
indeed in the sense of popular politics, that one can "hold out" in a
hopeless position, but because all the history that went before the
war, the capacity or incapacity of politics and leadership is a
question of character - and with us it was a question of indolence, of
political apathy, of class-rule, philistinish conceit and greed of
gain. Nowhere was this conception of the judgment of God so


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