There was a school of German liberals in the nineteenth century, and this is a masterpiece to emerge from that school. Eugene Richter saw what socialism would mean, and he traced it all out in a marvelous novel that is so prescient that it’s spooky. I had to close the book several times to get over the chills. One reason it is so chilling is that it is written from the point of view of a defender of socialism. To see how the narrator comes to terms with the poverty, the horror, the death — it is all just a bit too realistic a forecast of twentieth-century intellectual life.
I can’t recommend this book too highly. 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 nineteenth 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!
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. One 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, Eugene Richter saw the writing on the wall. The great tragedy of the twentieth 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.”