Liberalism, Nationalism, and Socialism

Count Metternich and his counterparts at the Congress of Vienna hoped to return to the old system, with its hereditary monarchy, established church, and privileged landowning aristocracy. However, the day of the Old Order had passed; the American and French revolutions had created profound changes in political thought that are still extant. They were radical changes from the established order, which the new thinkers rejected.

Liberalism: Liberalism was a product of enlightenment thinking, and held that human progress was inevitable. Liberals believed that all people should be equal before the law; all were born free, were basically good, and capable of improvement. Liberalism expected all governments to be representative, (rather than autocratic), freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and from arbitrary arrest.

Nineteenth century liberalism, commonly known as "classical liberalism," opposed government intervention in social programs and economic affairs. It is quite different from modern day American liberalism (represented by the Democratic Party) which supports active government intervention to meet social needs and regulate the economy.

Classical Liberals favored an economic policy of unrestrained private enterprise, commonly known as Laissez Faire. The prevailing philosophy was "that government is best which governs least." Government was to remain completely aloof from economic interference. This principle was first proposed by Adam Smith in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith had proposed "free" enterprise, where market forces would regulate price. He believed that such a system would give all citizens a free and equal chance to do what they did best. Under such a system, everyone, not just the rich, would benefit. Smith’s proposition was in marked contrast to the old system of mercantilism in which the government actively intervened to regulate markets. (For instance the Navigation Acts and Tea Act of the seventeenth/eighteenth centuries which forced the American Colonies to deal exclusively with British merchants.) Smith’s argument was for equal economic opportunity for all. The writings of Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo were also influential. Malthus had argued that the population would always grow faster than the supply of food, and Ricardo’s "Iron Law of Wages" had said that because of population growth, wages would always be barely sufficient to keep people from starving. A fourth liberal economic thinker was Jeremy Bentham who argued that laws should be judged by their social utility; did they provide "the greatest good for the greatest number." The standard question he posited for any law or regulation was, "Does it work?"

Liberalism became very popular in Britain during the Industrial revolution, particularly with Factory owners, as the demand for workers was always much less than the supply. Smith’s Laissez Faire capitalism was all the justification they needed to operate their factories and deal with their employees as they saw fit. They even used it to support the outlaw labor unions as they presumably interfered with the employee’s "right to work." The writings of Malthus and Ricardo were used to justify opposition to any form of government action to protect the rights of workers. They argued that if the workers were poor, it was their own fault, because they multiplied like rabbits.

Politically, liberals supported representative government, but believed that only male property owners should have the franchise; although with time, the franchise was broadened. Few supported universal male suffrage, but the requirements of property were gradually reduced. Part of the inspiration for this idea was Jacksonian Democracy in the United States, in which every man was entitled to vote. Liberals also supported universal education, as this was deemed a way for individuals to improve themselves.

Nationalism: Nationalism:  Nationalism was a radical ideology, as was liberalism after the final defeat of Napoleon. It evolved from a real or imagined cultural identity, which is represented by a common language, common history, and common territory. Nationalists traditionally attempt to turn this cultural identity into a political identity, whereby political boundaries coincide with cultural unity*for example, "France" is composed of French speaking people who consider themselves French. The preceding example may seem overly simplistic; but when one considers the large number of ethnic groups forced to live under a government comprised of another ethnic group, such as in Russia, or nineteenth century Austria, the problem becomes more apparent. The overlapping and intermingling of groups, each seeking to establish its own identity, can easily become an explosive situation.

Nationalism as a principal was the child of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. During the Reign of Terror, the Republic's leaders appealed to the people as Frenchmen to repel the foreign armies which hoped to overthrow the republic and re-establish the Ancien Regime. During Napoleon's invasions, nationalist sentiments throughout Europe consolidated opposition to his military campaigns.

Perhaps the most concise definition of Nationalism was that of the German Philosopher Johann Herder, who argued that every people has its own particular spirit and genius, which it expresses through culture and language. Unwittingly, Herder also alluded to the negative side of nationalism, that nationalist sentiments often generate feelings of "we" and "they," when "they" easily devolve into the enemy. The identification of "we" and "they" quickly led to a sense of national superiority, and in some cases a sense of a nationalist mission. Manzini once wrote, "People never stop before they have achieved the ultimate aim of their existence, having fulfilled their mission." Nazi Germany is a classic example of Nationalism gone awry. Yet another example is the "superiority of France," espoused by Michelet in 1846, who stated that the principles of the French Revolution had made France "the salvation of mankind." Needless to say, nineteenth century German and Spanish nationalists saw France as an oppressor, not a savior.

Compare this with the Mexican War in which the United States gained large portions of Mexican territory, and John Louis O’Sullivan’s declaration that taking land from "an imbecile and distracted Mexico," was a logical step in the "fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allowed by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." Obviously a statement of superiority and of a mission.

Socialism: Socialism was a radical doctrine with roots in France. Almost all socialist thinkers were French. They saw the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in England as the beginning of a dramatic transformation in society, but were troubled by what they saw as it’s the end result of that transformation, such as capitalism and political competition for votes. They argued that these developments caused selfish individualism and divided society up into competing factions. Individual French thinkers went in different directions, yet all envisioned a utopian concept.

Early French socialists advocated economic planning, perhaps inspired by the emergency measures in late eighteenth century France. They argued that the government should organize the economy and not depend on competition to do so, as competition was ultimately destructive. They also had a passionate desire to protect the poor from exploitation by the rich; arguing that rich and poor should be economically equal. They also argued that private property should be regulated by the government, or abolished altogether and replaced by community ownership.

French Utopian Socialism was a direct result of the post revolutionary stresses on the French economy. Workers cherished the memory of the "good old days" of the radical phase of the revolution when economic life was regulated. Skilled craftsmen, with a long tradition of guilds, apprenticeships and wage controls vehemently opposed laissez faire capitalism, which they believed denied workers the right to organize and promoted destructive competition. Yet these ideas had little influence outside of France. Their economic arguments were weak, and their specific programs were too fanciful to be taken seriously.

Among the early Socialist thinkers:

Count Henri de Saint-Simon: (1760 – 1825) Saint-Simon in a fit of utopian fervor once wrote that "the age of gold is upon us!" He argued that proper social organization was required if society was to progress. The arrangement required the "parasites of society," that is the aristocracy, lawyers and churchmen (imagine anyone calling a lawyer a parasite. Heavens!) must give way to the "doers," the scientists, industrialists and engineers. The doers would plan the economy and guide it forward by means of vast public works projects and establishing investment banks. Every social institution ought to have as its main goal improvement in the condition of the poor.

Charles Fourier: (1772-1837) An unrealistic dreamer (to be charitable) who went so far as to compute mathematically the ultimate socialist utopia. He envisioned self-sufficient communities of 1,620 people living on 50,000 acres which contained a combination of industry and agriculture. He also said that marriage was only a form of prostitution, and should be abolished. He rather argued for "free unions" based only on love and sexual freedom. Fourier expected a rich philanthropist to show up at his door any day and put his plans to work. Needless to say, he died disappointed. Even so, his ideas were influential in establishing "utopian" communities in the United States, such as those in New Harmony, Indiana and Oneida, New York.

Louis Blanc: (1811 – 1882) Argued that the full power of the state should be directed at setting up government backed workshops and factories to guarantee full employment; and that the right to work was a sacred right, just like life, liberty, etc. In his Organization of Work, he said workers should agitate for universal voting rights and take control of the government peacefully.

Pierre Joseph Proudhon: (1809 – 1865): Prudhon advocated the abolition of private property. In a pamphlet entitled What is Property? H answered his own question by stating that property ownership was theft, pure and simple. It was profit that had been stolen from workers, who were the true source of all wealth.

Karl Marx and Marxism: Marxist socialism established the foundation for modern socialism and also planted the seeds for the devolution of socialism into Communism. Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was the German son of a Jewish lawyer who had converted to Christianity, but was himself an atheist. He studied philosophy at the University of Berlin and later journalism and economics. He was particularly influenced by Fourier’s ideas of the abolition of marriage which he believed would lead to the "emancipation" of women and the abolition of the family as a unit. Later, Marx developed his own ideas about socialism and became its chief proponent. Marx fled to England as a political refugee after the revolutions of 1848, discussed later. He adopted the thoughts of David Ricardo, who said that labor was the source of all value. Marx later argued that profits were actually wages stolen from the poor. He also adopted Friedrich Engels’ ideas of the oppression of the working class.

Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848 which became the socialist Bible. Marx was also the author of Das Kapital. Whereas the early French utopian socialists had argued that the middle class and the state should help the poor, Marx said that the interests of the middle class and the working class were unalterably opposed to one another. The Manifesto argued that the "history of all previously existing society is the history of class struggles." Marx argued that one class always exploited the other, and with modern industry, the division of classes was more pronounced than ever before. He saw this division as between the middle class, or bourgeoisie, and the working class, or proletariat. The bourgeoisie had reduced everything to money and "naked self interest." "In a word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, the bourgeoisie had substituted naked, shameless direct brutal exploitation."

To Marx, this class struggle was represented by small minority who owned the means of production and grew richer; while the proletariat was growing in size and poorer, yet also growing in class consciousness. He believed that a small number of the bourgeoisie would "go over" to the proletariat and who "had raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical moment." Ultimately, the proletariat would conquer the bourgeoisie in a violent revolution, just as the bourgeoisie had defeated feudal aristocracy. Marx believed that the time of this great revolution was very near, as stated in the last words of the Manifesto: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have noting to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world unite!"

Marx’s ideas gained substantially more acceptance than had the French utopian socialists. He combined his own ideas of socialism with those of the French thinkers as well as English classical economics and German philosophy. He based his theory of historical evolution on the writings of the German philosopher Georg Hegel who argued that history was "ideas in motion," Each age characterized by a dominant set of ideas which also produced opposing ideas and eventually a new synthesis. He expressed it as the "thesis gives rise to the antithesis, which together create the synthesis." Marx adopted this Hegel’s ideas, but saw economic relationships between classes as the driving force of history. He often claimed that he had instituted a "scientific study of history." The historical "thesis" had been aristocracy, and the "antithesis" the rise of industrial capitalism. To Marx, the bourgeoisie would now give way to the workers revolution as the logical next step in the progress of history. Marx’s ability to combine philosophy, history and economics into his ideas were largely responsible for the overall success of communism. Marx, the atheist, called religion "the opiate of the masses." As part of his communist revolution, organized religion was to be abolished.