Letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, June 16, 1862
|Written||16 June 1862|
First published: in F. Lassalle. Nachgelassene Briefe und Schriften, Stuttgart-Berlin, 1922.
To Ferdinand Lassalle in Berlin
[London,] 16 June 1862[edit source]
Bucher has indeed sent me 3 Julian Schmidts, but none of the other works you mention. Mr Schmidt, Mr Schmidt (of which I have sent Engels and Wolff the copies intended for them) was all the more welcome to me for arriving at a time when I was feeling far from cheerful. Moreover, although I had only read, or rather leafed through, very little of Schmidt’s stuff, I have at heart always detested the chap as the quintessence of middle-class snobbism, no less revolting in literature than elsewhere. As you rightly intimate, your attack is aimed indirectly at the middle-class cultural vulgarians. Here it’s a case of aiming at the donkey blows intended for the driver. Since we can’t for the present actually ‘crop’ the driver’s ears for him, it increasingly behoves us to slice the heads off the noisiest and most pretentious of his cultural donkeys — with our pens, notwithstanding poor Meyen who, in the Freischutz, found ‘this literary playing at guillotines’ as puerile as it was barbaric.’ What especially tickled me was the Schwabenspiegel and the ‘seven wise men’ — I almost said ‘seven Swabians’ — of Greece. Incidentally — since in the case of Julian Schmidt, Julian the Grabovite (which is unjust, because it looks like a blow aimed at the Apostate, or, at any rate, casts some ridicule on the other Julian), one may permit oneself to digress — I was at one time greatly interested in the sofos as the mask peculiar to Greek philosophy (using mask here in the best sense). First, we have the seven Swabians or wise men as forerunners, mythological heroes, next, in the middle, Socrates, and finally, the sofos as the ideal of the Epicureans, Stoics, and sceptics. I derived further amusement from drawing a comparison between this sofos and what is (in some respects) his caricature, the French ‘sage’ of the 18th century. And then the sofisths as a necessary variant of the sofos. It is typical of the moderns that the Greek combination of character and knowledge implicit in the sofos has survived in popular consciousness solely in the form of sophists.
Julian — not Julian the Grabovite, but Julian the Apostate — was the cause of a recent brush I had with Engels who, as I was already aware when the dispute began, was essentially in the right. But so specific is my aversion to Christianity that I have a predilection for the Apostate and do not like to see him identified either with Frederick William IV or with any other romantic reactionary, not even mutatis mutandis. Don’t you feel the same?
Your admonition as to Rodbertus and Roscher reminded me that I still had notes to make front and about both. As regards the Rodbertus, I failed to do it justice in my first letter to you. There’s really much in it that is good. Except that his attempt to produce a new theory of rent is almost puerile, comical. For he would have us believe that, in agriculture, raw materials are not taken into account because — the German farmer, or so Rodbertus maintains, does not himself regard seed, fodder, etc., as expenditure, does not take these production costs into account, i.e., he reckons wrong. In England, where the farmer has been reckoning correctly for over 150 years now, rent ought not, therefore, to exist. Hence the conclusion would not be that drawn by Rodbertus, namely that the tenant pays rent because his rate of profit is higher than in industry, but rather because, in consequence of his wrong reckoning, he contents himself with a lower rate of profit. This one example, by the by, suffices to show me how the partial under-development of German economic conditions necessarily tends to confuse people. Ricardo’s theory of rent as it now stands is undoubtedly false, but every objection that has been raised against it is either due to a misunderstanding of it or at best demonstrates that certain phenomena do not, prima facie, tally with Ricardo’s theory. Now, this latter fact in no way discounts a theory. On the other hand, the positive theories that set out to refute Ricardo are vastly more false. Puerile though Mr Rodbertus’s positive solution may be, it does, nevertheless, tend in the right direction, but to go into that here would take too long.
As regards the Roscher, it will be some weeks before I can sit down with the book beside me and write any comments on it. I shall reserve this fellow for a note. Such professorial schoolboys have no place in the text. Roscher undoubtedly has a considerable — and often quite useless — knowledge of literature, although even here I seem to discern the Göttingen alumnus rummaging uneasily through literary treasures and familiar only with what might be called official, respectable literature. But that’s not all. For what avails me a fellow who, even though he knows the whole of mathematical literature, yet understands nothing of mathematics? And so complacent, self-important, tolerably well-versed, eclectic a dog, too! If only such a professorial schoolboy, by nature totally incapable of ever doing more than learn his lesson and teach it, of ever reaching the stage of teaching himself, if only such a Wagner were, at least, honest and conscientious, he could be of some use to his pupils. If only he didn’t indulge in spurious evasions and said frankly: ‘Here we have a contradiction. Some say this, others that. The nature of the thing precludes my having an opinion. Now see if you can work it out for yourselves!’ In this way his pupils would, on the one hand, be given something to go on and, on the other, be induced to work on their own account. But, admittedly, the challenge I have thrown out here is incompatible with the nature of the professorial schoolboy. An inability to understand the questions themselves is essentiellement part and parcel of him, which is why his eclecticism merely goes snuffling round amidst the wealth of set answers; but, here again, not honestly, but always with an eye to the prejudices and the interests of his paymasters! A stonebreaker is respectable by comparison with such canaille.
Ad vocem Toby. If you believe you can use Toby Meyen, then use him. Only don’t forget that the company of a dunderhead can be very compromising unless great precautions be taken.
We are, indeed, but few in number — and therein lies our strength.
We shall all be very glad to see you over here. It will greatly please my family, not to mention myself, as they hardly ever see a ‘human being’ now that my English, German and French acquaintances all live outside London. I haven’t seen Mario. No doubt friend ‘Blind’ warned him against visiting ‘such a dreadful person’.