The Market for Literary Products
Capitalism provides many with the opportunity to display initiative. While the rigidity of a status society enjoins on everybody the unvarying performance of routine and does not tolerate any deviation from traditional patterns of conduct, capitalism encourages the innovator. Profit is the prize of successful deviation from customary types of procedure; loss is the penalty of those who sluggishly cling to obsolete methods. The individual is free to show what he can do in a better way than other people.
However, this freedom of the individual is limited. It is an outcome of the democracy of the market and therefore depends on the appreciation of the individual’s achievements on the part of the sovereign consumers. What pays on the market is not the good performance as such, but the performance recognized as good by a sufficient number of customers. If the buying public is too dull to appreciate duly the worth of a product, however excellent, all the trouble and expense were spent in vain.
Capitalism is essentially a system of mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses. It pours a horn of plenty upon the common man. It has raised the average standard of living to a height never dreamed of in earlier ages. It has made accessible to millions of people enjoyments which a few generations ago were only within the reach of a small élite.
The outstanding example is provided by the evolution of a broad market for all kinds of literature. Literature—in the widest sense of the term—is today a commodity asked for by millions. They read newspapers, magazines and books, they listen to the broadcasts and they fill the theatres. Authors, producers and actors who gratify the public’s wishes earn considerable revenues. Within the frame of the social division of labor a new subdivision evolved, the species of the literati, i.e., people making a living from writing. These authors sell their services or the product of their effort on the market just as all other specialists are selling their services or their products. They are in their very capacity as writers firmly integrated into the cooperative body of the market society.
In the precapitalistic ages writing was an unremunerative art. Blacksmiths and shoemakers could make a living, but authors could not. Writing was a liberal art, a hobby, but not a profession. It was a noble pursuit of wealthy people, of kings, grandees and statesmen, of patricians and other gentlemen of independent means. It was practiced in spare time by bishops and monks, university teachers and soldiers. The penniless man whom an irresistible impulse prompted to write had first to secure some source of revenue other than authorship. Spinoza ground lenses. The two Mills, father and son, worked in the London offices of the East India Company. But most of the poor authors lived from the openhandedness of wealthy friends of the arts and sciences. Kings and princes vied with one another in patronizing poets and writers. The courts were the asylum of literature.
It is a historical fact that this system of patronage granted to the authors full freedom of expression. The patrons did not venture to impose upon their protégés their own philosophy and their own standards of taste and ethics. They were often eager to protect them against the church authorities. At least it was possible for an author whom one or several courts had banned to find refuge with a rival court.
Nonetheless, the vision of philosophers, historians and poets moving in the midst of courtiers and depending on the good graces of a despot is not very edifying. The old liberals hailed the evolution of a market for literary products as an essential part of the process which emancipated men from the tutelage of kings and aristocrats. Henceforth, they thought, the judgment of the educated classes will be supreme. What a wonderful prospect! A new florescence seemed to be dawning.
Success on the Book Market
However, there were some flaws in this picture.
Literature is not conformism, but dissent. Those authors who merely repeat what everybody approves and wants to hear are of no importance. What counts alone is the innovator, the dissenter, the harbinger of things unheard of, the man who rejects the traditional standards and aims at substituting new values and ideas for old ones. He is by necessity antiauthoritarian and antigovernmental, irreconcilably opposed to the immense majority of his contemporaries. He is precisely the author whose books the greater part of the public does not buy.
Whatever one may think about Marx and Nietzsche, nobody can deny that their posthumous success has been overwhelming. Yet they both would have died from starvation if they had not had other sources of income than their royalties. The dissenter and innovator has little to expect from the sale of his books on the regular market.
The tycoon of the book market is the author of fiction for the masses. It would be wrong to assume that these buyers always prefer bad books to good books. They lack discrimination and are, therefore, ready to absorb sometimes even good books. It is true that most of the novels and plays published today are mere trash. Nothing else can be expected when thousands of volumes are written every year. Our age could still some day be called an age of the flowering of literature if only one out of a thousand books published would prove to be equal to the great books of the past.
Many critics take pleasure in blaming capitalism for what they call the decay of literature. Perhaps they should rather inculpate their own inability to sift the chaff from the wheat. Are they keener than their predecessors were about a hundred years ago? Today, for instance, all critics are full of praise for Stendhal. But when Stendhal died in 1842, he was obscure and misunderstood.
Capitalism could render the masses so prosperous that they buy books and magazines. But it could not imbue them with the discernment of Maecenas or Can Grande della Scala. It is not the fault of capitalism that the common man does not appreciate uncommon books.
Remarks about the Detective Stories
The age in which the radical anti-capitalistic movement acquired seemingly irresistible power brought about a new literary genre, the detective story. The same generation of Englishmen whose votes swept the Labour Party into office were enraptured by such authors as Edgar Wallace. One of the outstanding British socialist authors, G. D. H. Cole, is no less remarkable as an author of detective stories. A consistent Marxian would have to call the detective story—perhaps together with the Hollywood pictures, the comics and the “art” of striptease—the artistic superstructure of the epoch of labor unionism and socialization.
Many historians, sociologists and psychologists have tried to explain the popularity of this strange genre. The most profound of these investigations is that of Professor W. O. Aydelotte. Professor Aydelotte is right in asserting that the historical value of the detective stories is that they describe daydreams and thus shed light on the people who read them. He is no less right in suggesting that the reader identifies himself with the detective and in very general terms makes the detective an extension of his ego. [Cf. William O. Aydelotte, The Detective Story as a Historical Source. (The Yale Review, 1949, Vol XXXIX, pp. 76-95.)]
Now this reader is the frustrated man who did not attain the position which his ambition impelled him to aim at. As we said already, he is prepared to console himself by blaming the injustice of the capitalist system. He failed because he is honest and law abiding. His more lucky competitors succeeded on account of their improbity; they resorted to foul tricks which he, conscientious and stainless as he is, would never have thought of. If people only knew how crooked these arrogant upstarts are! Unfortunately, their crimes remained hidden and they enjoy an undeserved reputation. But the day of judgment will come. He himself will unmask them and disclose their misdeeds.
The typical course of events in a detective story is this: A man whom all people consider as respectable and incapable of any shabby action has committed an abominable crime. Nobody suspects him. But the smart sleuth cannot be fooled. He knows everything about such sanctimonious hypocrites. He assembles all the evidence to convict the culprit. Thanks to him, the good cause finally triumphs.
The unmasking of the crook who passes himself off as a respectable citizen was, with a latent antibourgeois tendency, a topic often treated also at a higher literary level, e.g., by Ibsen in The Pillars of Society. The detective story debases the plot and introduces into it the cheap character of the self-righteous sleuth who takes delight in humiliating a man whom all people considered as an impeccable citizen. The detective’s motive is a subconscious hatred of successful “bourgeois.” His counterparts are the inspectors of the government’s police force. They are too dull and too prepossessed to solve the riddle. It is sometimes even implied that they are unwittingly biased in favor of the culprit because his social position strongly impresses them. The detective surmounts the obstacles which their sluggishness puts into his way. His triumph is a defeat of the authorities of the bourgeois state who have appointed such police officers.
This is why the detective story is popular with people who suffer from frustrated ambition. (There are, of course, also other readers of detective stories.) They dream day and night of how to wreak their vengeance upon successful competitors. They dream of the moment when their rival, “handcuffs around his wrist, is led away by the police.” This satisfaction is vicariously given to them by the climax of the story in which they identify themselves with the detective, and the trapped murderer with the rival who superseded them. [A significant fact is the circulation success of the so-called expose magazines, the most recent addition to the American press. These magazines are exclusively devoted to the unmasking of secret vices and misdeeds on the part of successful people, especially of millionaires and of celebrities of the screen. According to Newsweek of July II, 1955, one of these magazines estimated its sales for the September 1955 issue at 3.8 million copies. It is obvious that the average common man rejoices in the exposure of the-real or alleged—sins of those who outshine him.]
Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the press is one of the fundamental features of a nation of free citizens. It is one of the essential points in the political program of old classical liberalism. No one has ever succeeded in advancing any tenable objections against the reasoning of the two classical books: John Milton’s Areopagítica, 1644, and John Stuart Mills’s On Liberty, 1859. Unlicensed printing is the life blood of literature.
A free press can exist only where there is private control of the means of production. In a socialist commonwealth, where all publication facilities and printing presses are owned and operated by the government, there cannot be any question of a free press. The government alone determines who should have the time and opportunity to write and what should be printed and published. Compared with the conditions prevailing in Soviet Russia even Tsarist Russia, retrospectively, looks like a country of a free press. When the Nazis performed their notorious book auto-da-fés, they exactly conformed to the designs of one of the great socialist authors, Cabet. [Cf. Cabet, Voyage en lcarie. Paris. 1848, p. 127.]
As all nations are moving toward socialism, the freedom of authors is vanishing step-by-step. From day to day it becomes more difficult for a man to publish a book or an article, the content of which displeases the government or powerful pressure groups. The heretics are not yet “liquidated” as in Russia nor are their books burned by order of the Inquisition. Neither is there a return to the old system of censorship. The self-styled progressives have more efficient weapons at their disposal. Their foremost tool of oppression is boycotting authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, printers, advertisers and readers.
Everybody is free to abstain from reading books, magazines, and newspapers he dislikes and to recommend to other people to shun these books, magazines, and newspapers. But it is quite another thing when some people threaten other people with serious reprisals in case they should not stop patronizing certain publications and their publishers. In many countries publishers of newspapers and magazines are frightened by the prospect of a boycott on the part of labor unions. They avoid open discussion of the issue and tacitly yield to the dictates of the union bosses. [About the boycott system established by the Catholic Church, cf. P. Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Boston, 1949, pp. 194-198.]
These “labor” leaders are much more touchy than were the imperial and royal majesties of bygone ages. They cannot take a joke. Their touchiness has degraded the satire, the comedy and the musical comedy of the legitimate theatre and has condemned the moving pictures to sterility.
In the ancien régime the theatres were free to produce Beaumarchais’s mocking of the aristocracy and the immortal opera composed by Mozart. Under the second French empire, Offenbach’s and Halévy’s Grandduchess of Gerolstein parodied absolutism, militarism and court life. Napoleon III himself and some of the other European monarchs enjoyed the play that made them ridiculous. In the Victorian Age, the censor of the British theatres, the Lord Chamberlain, did not hinder the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical comedies which made fun of all venerable institutions of the British system of government. Noble Lords filled the boxes while on the stage the Earl of Montararat sang: “The House of Peers made no pretence to intellectual eminence.”
In our day it is out of the question to parody on the stage the powers that be. No disrespectful reflection on labor unions, cooperatives, government-operated enterprises, budget deficits and other features of the welfare state is tolerated. The union bosses and the bureaucrats are sacrosanct. What is left to comedy are those topics that have made the operetta and the Hollywood farce abominable.
The Bigotry of the Literati
A superficial observer of present-day ideologies could easily fail to recognize the prevailing bigotry of the molders of public opinion and the machinations which render inaudible the voice of dissenters. There seems to be disagreement with regard to issues considered as important. Communists, socialists and interventionists and the various sects and schools of these parties are fighting each other with such zeal that attention is diverted from the fundamental dogmas with regard to which there is full accord among them. On the other hand, the few independent thinkers who have the courage to question these dogmas are virtually outlawed, and their ideas cannot reach the reading public. The tremendous machine of “progressive” propaganda and indoctrination has well succeeded in enforcing its taboos. The intolerant orthodoxy of the self-styled “unorthodox” schools dominates the scene.
This “unorthodox” dogmatism is a self-contradictory and confused mixture of various doctrines incompatible with one another. It is eclecticism at its worst, a garbled collection of surmises borrowed from fallacies and misconceptions long since exploded. It includes scraps from many socialist authors, both “utopian” and “scientific Marxian,” from the German Historical School, the Fabians, the American Institutionalists, the French Syndicalists, the Technocrats. It repeats errors of Godwin, Carlyle, Ruskin, Bismarck, Sorel, Veblen and a host of less well-known men.
The fundamental dogma of this creed declares that poverty is an outcome of iniquitous social institutions. The original sin that deprived mankind of the blissful life in the Garden of Eden was the establishment of private property and enterprise. Capitalism serves only the selfish interests of rugged exploiters. It dooms the masses of righteous men to progressing impoverishment and degradation. What is needed to make all people prosperous is the taming of the greedy exploiters by the great god called State. The “service” motive must be substituted for the “profit” motive. Fortunately, they say, no intrigues and no brutality on the part of the infernal “economic royalists” can quell the reform movement. The coming of an age of central planning is inevitable. Then there will be plenty and abundance for all. Those eager to accelerate this great transformation call themselves “progressives” precisely because they pretend that they are working for the realization of what is both desirable and in accordance with the inexorable laws of historical evolution. They disparage as reactionaries all those who are committed to the vain effort of stopping what they call “progress.”
From the point of view of these dogmas the “progressives” advocate certain policies which, as they pretend, could alleviate immediately the lot of the suffering masses. They recommend, e.g., credit expansion and increasing the amount of money in circulation, minimum wage rates to be decreed and enforced either by the government or by labor union pressure and violence, control of commodity prices and rents and other interventionist measures. But the economists have demonstrated that all such nostrums fail to bring about those results which their advocates want to attain. Their outcome is, from the very point of view of those recommending them and resorting to their execution, even more unsatisfactory than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. Credit expansion results in the recurrence of economic crisis and periods of depression. Inflation makes the prices of all commodities and services soar. The attempts to enforce wage rates higher than those the unhampered market would have determined produce mass unemployment prolonged year after year. Price ceilings result in a drop in the supply of commodities affected. The economists have proved these theorems in an irrefutable way. No “progressive” pseudo-economist ever tried to refute them.
The essential charge brought by the “progressives” against capitalism is that the recurrence of crisis and depressions and mass unemployment are its inherent features. The demonstration that these phenomena are, on the contrary, the result of the interventionist attempts to regulate capitalism and to improve the conditions of the common man give the “progressive” ideology the finishing stroke. As the “progressives” are not in a position to advance any tenable objections to the teachings of the economists, they try to conceal them from the people and especially also from the intellectuals and the university students. Any mentioning of these heresies is strictly forbidden. Their authors are called names, and the students are dissuaded from reading their “crazy stuff.”
As the “progressive” dogmatist sees things, there are two groups of men quarreling about how much of the “national income” each of them should take for themselves. The propertied class, the entrepreneurs and the capitalists, to whom they often refer as “management,” is not prepared to leave to “labor”—i.e., the wage earners and employees—more than a trifle, just a little bit more than bare sustenance. Labor, as may easily be understood, annoyed by management’s greed, is inclined to lend an ear to the radicals, to the communists, who want to expropriate management entirely. However, the majority of the working class is moderate enough not to indulge in excessive radicalism. They reject communism and are ready to content themselves with less than the total confiscation of “unearned” income. They aim at a middle-of-the-road solution, at planning, the welfare state, socialism. In this controversy the intellectuals who allegedly do not belong to either of the two opposite camps are called to act as arbiters. They—the professors, the representatives of science, and the writers, the representatives of literature—must shun the extremists of each group, those who recommend capitalism as well as those who endorse communism. They must side with the moderates. They must stand for planning, the welfare state, socialism, and they must support all measures designed to curb the greed of management and to prevent it from abusing its economic power.
There is no need to enter anew into a detailed analysis of all the fallacies and contradictions implied in this way of thinking. It is enough to single out three fundamental errors.
First: The great ideological conflict of our age is not a struggle about the distribution of the “national income.” It is not a quarrel between two classes each of which is eager to appropriate to itself the greatest possible portion of a total sum available for distribution. It is a dissension concerning the choice of the most adequate system of society’s economic organization. The question is, which of the two systems, capitalism or socialism, warrants a higher productivity of human efforts to improve people’s standard of living. The question is, also, whether socialism can be considered as a substitute for capitalism, whether any rational conduct of production activities, i.e., conduct based on economic calculation, can be accomplished under socialist conditions. The bigotry and the dogmatism of the socialists manifest themselves in the fact that they stubbornly refuse to enter into an examination of these problems. With them it is a foregone conclusion that capitalism is the worst of all evils and socialism the incarnation of everything that is good. Every attempt to analyze the economic problems of a socialist commonwealth is considered as a crime of lèse majesté. As the conditions prevailing in the Western countries do not yet permit the liquidation of such offenders in the Russian way, they insult and vilify them, cast suspicion upon their motives and boycott them. [These last two sentences do not refer to three or four socialist authors of our time who-very late indeed and in a very unsatisfactory way-began to examine the economic problems of socialism. But they are literally true for all other socialists from the early origins of the socialist ideas down to our day .]
Second: There is no economic difference between socialism and communism. Both terms, socialism and communism, denote the same system of society’s economic organization, i.e., public control of all the means of production as distinct from private control of the means of production, namely capitalism. The two terms, socialism and communism, are synonyms. The document which all Marxian socialists consider as the unshakable foundation of their creed is called the Communist Manifesto. On the other hand, the official name of the communist Russian empire is Union of the Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R.). [About attempts of Stalin to make a spurious distinction between socialism and communism, d. Mises. Planned Chaos, Irvington-on-Hudson. 1947. pp. 44-46 (reprinted in the new edition of Socialism, Yale University Press, 1951. pp.55::1-553)·]
The antagonism between the present-day communist and socialist parties does not concern the ultimate goal of their policies. It refers mainly to the attitude of the Russian dictators to subjugate as many countries as possible, first of all the United States. It refers, furthermore, to the question of whether the realization of public control of the means of production should be achieved by constitutional methods or by a violent overthrow of the government in power.
Neither do the terms “planning” and “welfare state” as they are used in the language of economists, statesmen, politicians and all other people signify something different from the final goal of socialism and communism. Planning means that the plan of the government should be substituted for the plans of the individual citizens. It means that the entrepreneurs and capitalists should be deprived of the discretion to employ their capital according to their own designs and should be obliged to comply unconditionally with the orders issued by a central planning board or office. This amounts to the transfer of control from the entrepreneurs and capitalists to the government.
It is, therefore, a serious blunder to consider socialism, planning or the welfare state as solutions to the problem of society’s economic organization which would differ from that of communism and which would have to be estimated as “less absolute” or “less radical.” Socialism and planning are not antidotes for communism as many people seem to believe. A socialist is more moderate than a communist insofar as he does not hand out secret documents of his own country to Russian agents and does not plot to assassinate anticommunist bourgeois. This is, of course, a very important difference. But it has no reference whatever to the ultimate goal of political action.
Third: Capitalism and socialism are two distinct patterns of social organization. Private control of the means of production and public control are contradictory notions and not merely contrary notions. There is no such thing as a mixed economy, a system that would stand midway between capitalism and socialism. Those advocating what is erroneously believed to be a middle-of-the-road solution do not recommend a compromise between capitalism and socialism, but a third pattern which has its own particular features and must be judged according to its own merits. This third system that the economists call interventionism does not combine, as its champions claim, some of the features of capitalism with some of socialism. It is something entirely different from each of them. The economists who declare that interventionism does not attain those ends which its supporters want to attain but makes things worse—not from the economists’ own point of view, but from the very point of view of the advocates of interventionism—are not intransigent and extremists. They merely describe the inevitable consequences of interventionism.
When Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto advocated definite interventionist measures, they did not mean to recommend a compromise between socialism and capitalism. They considered these measures—incidentally, the same measures which are today the essence of the New Deal and Fair Deal policies—as first steps on the way toward the establishment of full communism. They themselves described these measures as “economically insufficient and untenable,” and they asked for them only because they “in the course of the movement outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.”
Thus the social and economic philosophy of the “progressives” is a plea for socialism and communism.
The “Social” Novels and Plays
The public, committed to socialist ideas, asks for socialist (“social”) novels and plays. The authors, themselves imbued with socialist ideas, are ready to deliver the stuff required. They describe unsatisfactory conditions which, as they insinuate, are the inevitable consequence of capitalism. They depict the poverty and destitution, the ignorance, dirt and disease of the exploited classes. They castigate the luxury, the stupidity and the moral corruption of the exploiting classes. In their eyes everything that is bad and ridiculous is bourgeois, and everything that is good and sublime is proletarian.
The authors who deal with the lives of the poverty-stricken can be divided into two classes. The first class are those who themselves did not experience poverty, who were born and brought up in a “bourgeois” milieu or in a milieu of prosperous wage earners or peasants and to whom the environment in which they place the characters of their plays and novels is strange. These authors must, before they start writing, collect information about the life in the underworld they want to paint. They embark upon research. But, of course, they do not approach the subject of their studies with an unbiased mind. They know beforehand what they will discover. They are convinced that the conditions of the wage earners are desolate and horrible beyond any imagination. They shut their eyes to all things they do not want to see, and find only what confirms their preconceived opinions. They have been taught by the socialists that capitalism is a system to make the masses suffer terribly and that the more capitalism progresses and approaches its full maturity, the more the immense majority becomes impoverished. Their novels and plays are designed as case studies for the demonstration of this Marxian dogma.
What is wrong with these authors is not that they choose to portray misery and destitution. An artist may display his mastership in the treatment of any kind of subject. Their blunder consists rather in the tendentious misrepresentation and misinterpretation of social conditions. They fail to realize that the shocking circumstances they describe are the outcome of the absence of capitalism, the remnants of the precapitalistic past or the effects of policies sabotaging the operation of capitalism. They do not comprehend that capitalism, in engendering big-scale production for mass consumption, is essentially a system of wiping out penury as much as possible. They describe the wage earner only in his capacity as a factory hand and never give a thought to the fact that he is also the main consumer either of the manufactured goods themselves or of the foodstuffs and raw materials exchanged against them.
The predilection of these authors for dealing with desolation and distress turns into a scandalous distortion of truth when they imply that what they report is the state of affairs typical and representative of capitalism. The information provided by the statistical data concerning the production and the sale of all articles of big-scale production clearly shows that the typical wage earner does not live in the depths of misery.
The outstanding figure in the school of “social” literature was Émile Zola. He set the pattern which hosts of less gifted imitators adopted. In his opinion art was closely related to science. It had to be founded on research and to illustrate the findings of science. And the main result of social science, as Zola saw it, was the dogma that capitalism is the worst of all evils and that the coming of socialism is both inevitable and highly desirable. His novels were “in effect a body of socialist homiletics.” [Cf. P. Martino in the “Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences,” Vol. XV, p. 537] But Zola was, in his prosocialist bias and zeal, very soon surpassed by the “proletarian” literature of his adepts.
The “proletarian” critics of literature pretend that what these “proletarian” authors deal with is simply the unadulterated facts of proletarian experience. [Cf. J. Freeman, Introduction to Proletarian Literature in the United States, an Anthology, New York, ‘935, pp. 9-28.] However, these authors do not merely report facts. They interpret these facts from the point of view of the teachings of Marx, Veblen, and the Webbs. This interpretation is the gist of their writings, the salient point that characterizes them as prosocialist propaganda. These writers take the dogmas on which their explanation of events is based as self-understood and irrefutable and are fully convinced that their readers share their confidence. Thus it seems to them often superfluous to mention the doctrines explicitly. They sometimes refer to them only by implication. But this does not alter the fact that everything they convey in their books depends on the validity of the socialist tenets and pseudo-economic constructions. Their fiction is an illustration of the lessons of the anti-capitalistic doctrinaires and collapses with them.
The second class of authors of “proletarian” fiction are those who were born in the proletarian milieu they describe in their books. These men have detached themselves from the environment of manual workers and have joined the ranks of professional people. They are not like the proletarian authors of “bourgeois” background under the necessity to embark upon special research in order to learn something about the life of the wage earners. They can draw from their own experience.
This personal experience teaches them things that flatly contradict essential dogmas of the socialist creed: gifted and hardworking sons of parents living in modest conditions are not barred from access to more satisfactory positions. The authors of “proletarian” background stand themselves in witness of this fact. They know why they themselves succeeded while most of their brothers and mates did not. In the course of their advance to a better station in life they had ample opportunity to meet other young men who, like themselves, were eager to learn and to advance. They know why some of them found their way and others missed it. Now, living with the “bourgeois,” they discover that what distinguishes the man who makes more money from another who makes less is not that the former is a scoundrel. They would not have risen above the level in which they were born if they were so stupid as not to see that many of the businessmen and professional people are self-made men who, like themselves, started poor. They cannot fail to realize that differences in income are due to factors other than to those suggested by socialist resentment.
If such authors indulge in writing what is in fact prosocialist homiletics, they are insincere. Their novels and plays are unveracious and therefore nothing but trash. They are far below the standards of the books of their colleagues of “bourgeois” origin who at least believe in what they are writing.
The socialist authors do not content themselves with depicting the conditions of the victims of capitalism. They also deal with the life and the doings of its beneficiaries, the businessmen. They are intent upon disclosing to the readers how profits come into existence. As they themselves—thank God—are not familiar with such a dirty subject, they first search for information in the books of competent historians. This is what these experts tell them about the “financial gangsters” and “robber barons” and the way they acquired riches: “He began his career as a cattle drover, which means that he bought farmers’ cattle and drove them to the market to sell. The cattle were sold to the butchers by weight. Just before they got to the market he fed them salt and gave them large quantities of water to drink. A gallon of water weighs about eight pounds. Put three or four gallons of water in a cow, and you have something extra when it comes to selling her.” [Cf. W. E. Woodward (A New American History, New York, 1938, p. 608)
in narrating the biography of a businessman who endowed a Theological Seminary.] In this vein dozens and dozens of novels and plays report the transactions of the villain of their plot, the businessman. The tycoons became rich by selling cracked steel and rotten food, shoes with cardboard soles and cotton goods for silk. They bribed the senators and the governors, the judges and the police. They cheated their customers and their workers. It is a very simple story.
It never occurred to these authors that their narration implicitly describes all other Americans as perfect idiots whom every rascal can easily dupe. The above-mentioned trick of the inflated cows is the most primitive and oldest method of swindling. It is hardly to be believed that there are in any part of the world cattle buyers stupid enough to be hoodwinked by it. To assume that there were in the United States butchers who could be beguiled in this way is to expect too much from the reader’s simplicity. It is the same with all similar fables.
In his private life the businessman, as the “progressive” author paints him, is a barbarian, a gambler and a drunkard. He spends his days at the racetracks, his evenings in nightclubs and his nights with mistresses. As Marx and Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, these “bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each others’ wives.” This is how American business is mirrored in a great part of American literature. [Cf., the brilliant analysis by John Chamberlain, The Businessman in Fiction (Fortune, November 1948, pp. 134-148.)]
Excerpted from Ludwig Von Mises The Anti-Capitalist Mentality. First published in 1956.