This book is a remarkable discovery, as fresh today as when it was first translated in 1893. It is a novel of life under socialism by Eugene Richter, a German liberal of the 19th century.
Prophetic is not quite the word for this book. Richter saw with chilling clarity what would happen under socialistic control. The economy would be smashed. Families would be destroyed. The population would grow poorer by the day. The state would be unleashed to crush political dissent and lock everyone into a national prison. None of the ideals would be achieved.
The novel's narrative voice, however, is blinded by ideological loyalty to the cause. As he describes the calamity, he justifies it all in the name of progress, equality, and fairness to all. The reader, then, experiences the horrors of the events and then also the horrors of the intellectual twists and turns that some people will undertake to keep the disaster happening as long as possible.
To remember that this was written before any country actually experienced the total state is astonishing, page by page. The tone of the narrative is chillingly light and detached. Meanwhile, the events taking place make the blood run cold. The novel not only fulfills Mises's own predictions of life under socialism; it anticipates them long before any country embraced socialism as a system.
This is the book that shouts out, as clearly as any ever written: we were warned!
This is the first edition to appear in new typography since it was first published. It is also the longest example of writing from the great generation of German liberals, and it is surely one of the best, literary proof to English readers that stunning prescience existed in those days.
Pictures of a Socialistic Future even succeeds as a novel. It is gripping to read, even deeply painful in many places. Once can imagine that this work is capable of shaking the faith of even the most diehard socialist.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University writes the new introduction to the book. "Only the Richterian theory can readily explain why the most devoted surviving child of German socialism grew up to be the prison-state of East Germany: Self-righteous brutality was the purists’ plan all along. Decades before the socialists gained power, Eugen Richter saw the writing on the wall. The great tragedy of the 20th century is that the world had to learn about totalitarian socialism from bitter experience, instead of Richter’s inspired novel. Many failed to see the truth until the Berlin Wall went up. By then, alas, it was too late."
Having grown up in Germany I met lots of East Germans after the fall of socialism and heard some truly horrendous stories. It is truly astonishing how so much about the GDR could have been predicted in a fictional novel 60 years earlier.
Very enjoyable book.
I first came across this book about 25 years ago, and considered it one of the best anti-Utopian novels of our time.
Decades before socialism was fully put into practice anywhere, Eugene Richter (who had headed the German National Liberal Party) showed the disastrous effects that nationalization of industry and planning would produce in any country that implemented the socialist dream.
The fictional German family, through whose eyes the collectivist "experiment" is see, is broken and destroyed by the end of the novel. The daughter of this family dies as a consequence of "free" socialized medicine. Planned production is mismatched with the actual demands of the citizens; income equalization destroys incentives to work; the state dictates where people shall live; and black markets for everything soon emerge. The socialist experiment comes to an end in war.
Richter anticipated and understood much of what socialism would create before it actually happened. A true classic of liberty.
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