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The Roots of “Anticapitalism” | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on July 21, 2021

In this process he incurs various expenses, such as for tools, and a part of the costs of marketing. He hopes to make a profit from these transactions in order to render his efforts worth while. Curiously enough, his responsibility toward the enterprise is of far greater scope than that of many workers. No wonder that the interest, once centered on accidents in the factories, is shifting more and more to the manager diseases. The entrepreneur sacrifices not only his “nerves” but also his peace of mind. If he fails, he fails not himself alone; the bread of dozens, of hundreds, of thousands of families hangs in the balance.

https://mises.org/wire/roots-anticapitalism

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

In many minds, “capitalism” has come to be a bad word, nor does “free enterprise” sound much better. I remember seeing posters in Russia in the early nineteen-thirties depicting capitalists as Frankenstein monsters, as men with yellow-green faces, crocodile teeth, dressed in cutaways and adorned by top hats. What is the reason for this widespread hatred for capitalists and capitalism despite the overwhelming evidence that the system has truly “delivered the goods”? In its mature stage it indeed is providing, not just for a select few but for the masses, a standard of living cordially envied by those bound under other politico-economic arrangements. There are historic, psychological and moral reasons for this state of affairs. Once we recognize them, we might come to better understanding the largely irrational resentment and desire to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

In Europe there still survives a considerable conservative opposition against capitalism. The leaders of conservative thought and action, more often than not, came from the nobility which believed in an agrarian-patriarchal order. They thought workers should be treated by manufacturers as noblemen treated their agricultural employees and household servants, providing them with total security for their old age, care in the case of illness, and so forth. They also disliked the new business leaders who emerged from the middle classes: the grand bourgeois was their social competitor, the banker their disagreeable creditor, not their friend. The big cities with their smoking chimneys were viewed as calamities and destroyers of the good old life.

We know that Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto furiously attacked the aristocratic social movement as a potential threat to their own program. Actually, most of the leading minds of Christian anticapitalist thought (equally opposed to socialism) were aristocrats: Villeneuve-Bargemont, de Mun, Liechtenstein, Vogelsang, Ketteler.

Bias against Capitalism Not of Worker Origin

Armin Mohler, the brilliant Swiss-German neo-conservative, has recently explained that one of the weakest points of contemporary conservative thought, still wrapped in the threads of its own obsolete agrarian romanticism, is its hostility against modern technology. How right he is! The exception might have been Italy with its tradition of urban nobility and of patricians who, even before the Reformation, engaged in trade and manufacture. Capitalism, indeed, is of North-Italian origin. It was a Franciscan, Fra Luigi di Pacioli, who invented double-entry bookkeeping. Calvinism gave a new impetus to capitalism but did not invent it. (Aristocratic entrepreneurs in Italy? Count Marzotto with his highly diversified business empire of textile plants, paper mills, hotel chains and fisheries is a typical example. His labor relations are of a patriarchal nature involving substantial fringe benefits which also characterize Japanese business practice.)

The real animosity against free enterprise did not originate with the laborers. Bear in mind that in the early nineteenth century the working class was miserably paid, and this for two reasons: (1) the income from manufacturing was quite limited (true mass production came later) and (2) the lion’s share of the profits went into reinvestments while the typical manufacturers lived rather modestly. It is this ascetic policy of early European capitalism which made possible the phenomenal rise of working class standards. Seeing that the manufacturers did not live a life of splendor (as did the big landowners) the workers at first viewed their lot with surprising equanimity. The Socialist impetus came from middle class intellectuals, eccentric industrialists (like Robert Owen and Engels) and impoverished noblemen with a feeling of resentment against the existing order.

As one can imagine, the artificially created ire then was turned first against the manufacturer who, after all, is nothing but some sort of broker between the worker and the public. He enables the worker to transform his work into goods. In this process he incurs various expenses, such as for tools, and a part of the costs of marketing. He hopes to make a profit from these transactions in order to render his efforts worth while. Curiously enough, his responsibility toward the enterprise is of far greater scope than that of many workers. No wonder that the interest, once centered on accidents in the factories, is shifting more and more to the manager diseases. The entrepreneur sacrifices not only his “nerves” but also his peace of mind. If he fails, he fails not himself alone; the bread of dozens, of hundreds, of thousands of families hangs in the balance. The situation is not very different in a stock company. There, the stockholders sometimes make profits in the form of dividends—and sometimes they do not. The worker always expects to be paid. The bigger risks are thus at the top, not at the bottom.

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Author:

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999) was an Austrian nobleman and socio-political theorist who described himself as an enemy of all forms of totalitarianism and as an “extreme conservative arch-liberal” or “liberal of the extreme right.” Described as “A Walking Book of Knowledge,” Kuehnelt-Leddihn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the humanities and was a polyglot, able to speak eight languages and read seventeen others. 

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