Neoliberalism, 1927

excerpts Plutocracy What is the regime of the "new men"? Since the dawn of societal development, the axis of social life has always revolved between the following two extremes: the agrarian regime, based on the domination of the land, and the capitalist regime, based on the domination of money. In the first, the ruling class is made up of the rural nobility, the domination of the great estates. Ultimately, this role devolves upon the urban bourgeoisie, the domination of the great funds of capital: the "plutocracy". It is to be understood that the regime of the rural nobility is the older. The plutocratic regime – that of the "new men", the masters of monetary capital – comes into being later, it slowly dissolves the older regime, and takes its place. How can each of these two social regimes be characterized? In the social order whose basis is the domination of the land, the collective life is guided according to customs passed down from fathers and forefathers; it authoritatively consolidates those at the top and demands the submission of those below. This is natural: since here the nerve of social life – the land – is not gained by merit and labor, but is inherited from parents, in accordance with the traditional laws. This gives the entire life of society a routine form, steadfastly rooted in customs, refractory to any change: it is the aristocratic or despotic regime, whose social basis has always been domination of the land by a handful of the privileged. It is to be understood that in comparison with its luminous parts, which make it appealing – especially in novels and plays – the agrarian nobility also has its sins, of which the greatest is the abuse of power, often circumscribed only by the whim of the one who wields it. Relative to these men of the past, these pillars of centuries-old traditions, who are the new men? What are their origins and the social order they found? At first, the new men are everywhere aliens to the society in which they live. For this reason, they are eliminated from the domination of the land and have no other means of making a living except commerce, the trades and banking. Following labor coupled with an equal dose of ability, they manage to accumulate large sums of money and by this means they acquire a social influence equal to that of the nobles, the masters of the land. Thus, the "plutocracy" is born, which is to say the power of monetary wealth: it is the social domination of the "new men", lately elevated from the lower strata, in opposition to the nobles of ancient rank. The essential trait of the new man is energy and lack of scruples. The new man has not inherited anything: he must create his fortune through labor. But not through honest labor, let it be understood: for large amounts of cash have never been earned honestly. Large fortunes, as Wundt somewhere observes, cannot be acquired along the beaten track of morality. This is why the new man, the one who amasses a vast fortune from scratch, is always from the caste of those who have no fear of God and no shame before man. Because of their most often foreign origins, their plebeian provenance, but above all their utterly unscrupulous lives, the new men have always suffered the contempt of society. The poets ridicule them, the moralists stigmatize them, the nobles despise them; nevertheless, the whole of society is forced to bow before their sacks of money, without which it cannot exist. And the new men revenge themselves for the general contempt, by which they know they are surrounded, causing the overwhelming force of the pedestal of their power – money – to be felt all the more brutally. Relying on the magical power of money, the new men begin the process of disorganizing and dissolving the old agrarian societies. They corrupt the high dignitaries of the state, persuading them to support, parallel to the paths of the law, their mercantile enterprises; they tempt the noble masters of the estates to reckless squandering, making them burden themselves with debt and ultimately lose their lands. In the place of this aristocratic order, which the new men demolish, because there is no place for them in its system of privileges, they found a new order, such as their interests demand: an order in which no one is judged according to their birth, but according to their merit, whose expression – it is to be understood – is wealth; in which all are alike, whether foreign or native; in which the energetic and unscrupulous rise with no legal impediment to the top of the social pyramid, while the one with prejudices of blood or moral scruples is thrust to one side, as an anachronism. This is democracy; its name, that of the "power of the people", has an ironic sense at best. Behind the screen of the rule of the people, money has always ruled in democracy, money having always possessed the means to win the favor of the people. Democracy is the regime of the new men. Previously, I have showed that the transition from the old regime of the agrarian aristocracy to the plutocratic regime of the new men has always been felt as an epoch of decadence, an index of the certain collapse of society. Without doubt, the world has had solid grounds for such a belief. The plutocratic regime divides the world into a mass of poor people and a handful of rich people, and it insults the sufferings of the many through the spectacle of the orgies and debauchery of the few. Generally, the impression of decadence is produced by societies in which there is much squandering and little labor and in which those who squander are not those who toil. This is what occurs, it is true, at the beginnings of the plutocracy, when fortunes are amassed rapidly, more through daring and dextrous coups than through hard and steadfast labor. Otherwise, it is a historical fact that the ancient plutocracy determined the collapse of the Graeco-Roman world, so that the impression of decadence, at least for ancient thinkers, was wholly well founded. What, however, has been the fate of the modern plutocracy, whose fortune has not been accumulated by any cleaner means? This plutocracy has been destined to move from dissolute and destructive action to constructive activity: it has laid the foundations of large-scale industrial production, and thereby it has been obliged to adopt a morality of stern austerity, which for it, in the new phase, is a condition of existence. The plutocrat of the industrial nations is no longer a libertine who has got rich over night, but a man who leads a life of systematic, rational, sober, abstemious labor; who often cuts down his expenses in order for business to prosper. This plutocrat is the tool of a social fatality: through his activity, he lays the groundwork of a social order in which material wellbeing will no longer be the privilege of a handful of the superposed, but of the entire working masses. In any case, we do not wish to overlook the fact that, at any period, plutocracy, however odious it might have been at the outset – odious in the full sense – has nevertheless had a civilizing role. From the capital it has accumulated, it has been able to give birth to all the arts, sciences and philosophy we now possess. It is true that a culture whose foundations rest upon capital of such gloomy origins, a share in which is excluded to the vast majority of mankind, is of a nature to make us skeptical. It seems that we should rather be tempted to curse such a culture, born at the price of such sins against human dignity. And, of course, we should do so were it not for the fact that the constructive role of the plutocracy, in its latter phase, gives us the guarantee that, once well being has spread to the masses, culture too will cease to be a mere luxury for a restricted social elite, thus becoming what it is destined to be: everyday nourishment for broader strata of mankind. Of course, this end is still far away, very far away. But it is sufficient to ascertain that we are heading in that direction. The Romanian plutocracy: origins and development of the regime of the "new men" in Romania In Romania, the process of concocting a social layer of "new men" begins late, not until after the entry of the Romanian Principalities into commercial relations with the Western bourgeoisie (1829). Until then, our old rural aristocracy continues to be the decisive factor in the order of social life. About this Romanian nobility, which fenced in its social status – as is everywhere the case in agrarian regimes – with broad privileges, it is not possible to speak in the same eulogistic terms as about the aristocracy of other countries. Nor is it possible to recall its disappearance with the same regret with which, for example, Tocqueville laments the disappearance of the French nobility. Our old boyar class had long ceased to be purely Romanian. This is why it did not have the pride or the fanatical patriotism of the native, who felt bound to his estate by a hereditary, almost mystic sentiment. Nor is it possible to say anything much about the valor or the chivalry of this boyar class. It was a class of intriguants – the most intriguant under the vault of heaven, as Kisseleff once said – and ready to bend its knee before any foreigner who was capable of protecting its privileges. To this, of course, no small contribution was made by the fact that Graeco-Byzantine blood flowed in its veins and that its soul often combined the unconscious traits of the parvenu of more recent date. From the end of the third decade of the last century, the Principalities came under the sphere of influence of Western capitalism, which pulled them into the vortex of commercial life, and thus new men began to proliferate in our lands too. This new social layer, destined to inherit the role of the great boyars, formed in two ways. In the first place, the new men engaged in commerce and modest banking enterprises. The same as everywhere else, these were foreigners, generally Jews from Poland and Hungary. Their number visibly increases after 1830, which indicates that they found here a terrain advantageous to good business. But the true breeding ground for native new men is the bureaucracy. Although it is believed that the Romanian is a bureaucrat by nature and that the civil service is in his blood, it is nevertheless worth recalling that before 1829 the Romanian Principalities did not have a bureaucracy. Indeed, it is not until Western capitalism has given birth to a commercial life in the Principalities, thereby creating sources of public income and thus public wealth, that the need to create a bureaucracy arose, in order to handle this wealth. Moreover, the creation of such an apparatus of functionaries demanded a certain degree of training, at least in the elementary notions of writing, reading and arithmetic; this imposed the organization of public education, arising for the first time from the needs of state life and guided by state authority. It was natural that the road to service had to be opened by book learning, and this in itself created a new bureaucratic organism. It is to be understood that it was not the great boyars who rushed to book learning and hence to the newly created service, in order to swell the ranks of our young but vigorous bureaucracy. Neither book learning nor office-work was the business of the aristocracy. This was coveted by the lower classes, the energetic, the adroit, the unscrupulous, those desirous to gain a better social status at any cost. It is true that, in order to open the doors to the bureaucracy, book learning alone was not sufficient, but a title of minor nobility was also required, something which, however, could easily be acquired by any devoted man of family. Our bureaucratic social layer, formed of elements with the dubious traits that everywhere mark out the new man, had, by 1848, become a remarkable force. Alongside them stood the other group of new men, made up of foreign elements who dealt in money matters. Each of these layers of new men were bound together by a close community of interests: both the one and the other were to suffer as a result of boyar privileges, which impeded their free movement and free ascent; and both the one and the other worked to demolish that odious regime, aspiring to replace it with a regime of equality for all, which would leave the way open for men of energy. The new men of foreign origins, the merchants and bankers, worked to demolish the boyar regime by social means. They besieged the great properties, they ruined them beneath a mountain of debts, which they were wonderfully skilled in overburdening them with, and made from their liquidation sums of money that were to be the pedestal of the new democratic and plutocratic regime. The native new men, brought together in the liberal political faction, worked to prepare and accomplish political revolution; they endeavored to depose the old constitution and privileges, replacing them with a democratic, egalitarian constitution, as their boundless appetite for rapid social climbing demanded. In 1848, an initial assault on the regime by the liberal elements – the native new men – was a woeful failure. In a broad spirit of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism, they had called on the aid of all the new men of foreign origins: Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Germans, Armenians, and Israelites. In return for support in demolishing the boyar regime, they offered these exotic comrades in interest a corner at the "fraternal banquet", at the "common table": a comfortable place in the new egalitarian state, which they were about to found. The blow the new men might have dealt the old agrarian boyar class in 1848 succeeded in 1864, and, by the constitution of 1866, the new regime acquired a provisory conclusion. After that, the new men sat down, it is true, to the "great banquet", professing the sovereign contempt of any new man for the "virtue of the sack". At this feast they banquet still, but alone: their humanitarianism for their exotic comrades in the revolutionary struggle has disappeared, et pour cause. Indeed, after the native new men managed to achieve the autonomy of the democratic state, created by them and for them, these candidates at the budgetary feast made a radical change of face. Fed up with using state policy to protect the businesses of foreigners lodging among us, they realized that it was much more "viable" to employ official policy to set up their own businesses. Thus, the humanitarian and cosmopolitan comrades of the exotic new men, the native new men, were transformed into their most unyielding and chauvinist persecutors. They incite the country against the foreign businessmen, portraying them as dangerous to the interests of the state and trying to convince their fellow countrymen – without much success up to now – that they are working to build a "national capitalism", whose interests coincide with the higher interests of the state. The first step to be taken in this direction was the foundation of the National Bank in 1881, an institution whose economic importance no one will place in doubt. But in relation to social transformations, the foundation of this banking institution signifies the date when the native new men ceased to make up a mere political bureaucracy, in order to become a banking plutocracy. It is the most significant turning point in the transformations made by the regime of the new men in Romania. It was then that the era of plutocracy, in which we find ourselves today, commenced. The new men, who were on the way to laying the foundation of a Romanian national plutocracy, still needed an occasion to be able to bring about their plan quickly and on a large scale. The welcome occasion was our war of national integration. For our generation, witness to the social consequences of the Great War, there is no longer any need of much talk in order to demonstrate that war is a huge generator of new men. Thus has it been always and everywhere during the course of history, and so it occurred in Romania. Prolonged wars bring the old wealthy families crashing down to the bottom and elevate to the top the new men, the adroit and the morally unscrupulous. In Romania, the turbid atmosphere of war, the concentration of huge services in the hands of the state, and the lack of any serious control on the other hand, gave a grandiose opportunity to the new men to exhibit superbly their infinite contempt for the "virtue of the sack". Rapid, daring and adroit coups sprang up in every part, with a miraculous power of contagion; the new men would go to bed dirt poor and wake up millionaires the next day. It seemed that the spirit of the great promoter of Romanian plutocracy had revealed itself somewhere, at the heights of the upper air, crying out once more to the four corners of Greater Romania: "Get rich, lads!" Yes, all the unscrupulous men sensed that this was the moment of the coup and that if they let it pass, they would not encounter it a second time. Thus, our honest world was the stupefied witness to a competition of unexampled cynicism, in the rush to get rich to the detriment of the state. We ourselves have evaluated, with much goodwill and in the absence of data it is to be understood, the sum of the frauds after the war to be at least ten billion; of this figure, seven billion have poured straight into the safes of the banks. What a rich pedigree of plutocrats born over night, and what a new aspect our social life had to take following this transformation! But the new men did not stop there. With the spirit of adventure and risk of any new man, used to gaining or losing everything at a single blow, they launched an assault to enslave our entire economic life. Thus, after the war, our world once more had the opportunity to view the progress of a foreign economic epidemic: the febrile competition of the banks to place their capital in industrial enterprises. Like the frog in the fable, which puffs itself up into some kind of big animal, our banks puffed themselves up in order to swallow our entire economic movement. From their capital, so rapidly and mysteriously accumulated, in an epoch of complete economic stagnation, two billion flowed in a short space of time into industrial placements. And after two years of such an epidemic, the tills of the banks had increasingly begun to dry up, and the capital placed in industry was for the time being not bringing any surplus value capable of filling the void. Hence the terrible financial crisis in which we flounder today and which seems to allow a glimpse of the specter of crash: it has its origins in the insatiable appetite of the new men to lay their hands on everything in this country. We do not know what will be the outcome of this crisis; but without being a seer, we might risk prophesizing that it will yet further strengthen the national or rather national liberal plutocracy. For, it will provide this plutocracy with the wonderful opportunity to allow various enterprises to be ruined, saving its own with the help of state policy, of which it is the sole master. Parallel to the vertiginous accumulation of capital, the war brought a reinforcement of the plutocracy by other means, namely it utterly ruined the great rural properties and with them the class of great landowners. It is true that the role of this class had also been much reduced before the war, through the rural land reforms made in detriment to their wealth. Nevertheless, 3,816,000 hectares had remained in the ownership of just 4,200 major landowners, while a million peasant households owned less (3,159,00 hectares), while middling properties no longer played any role worthy of being taken into account. After the war, however, the large landowners were completely ruined: they had to hand over more than two million hectares to the peasant class. Thus, the class of large landowners disappeared from the arena of social life, leaving in their place, as sole master, the all-powerful plutocracy. This is something that any one knows instinctively, without any sociological culture. Since, while before the war our plutocrats were wholly ignored, today there are very few naïve people who do not realize that the real masters in this country are the kings of the Romanian plutocracy of recent date. This tableau of the development of the regime of the new men in Romania would certainly have a large gap were we not to say a few words about a new and fruitful breeding ground for such social elements, provided to us by the act of National Union: we refer to Transylvania. Although the Romanian province beyond the Carpathians has long been under a modern bourgeois regime, it may nevertheless be said that for Transylvanians of Romanian nationality, this regime was inexistent until the Union. The Romanian Transylvanians, by their very status in the Hungarian state, were excluded from handling Hungarian national capital and thereby deprived of the immense political and economic benefits that resulted from control of capital. It was not until the Union that our brothers were emancipated from these social restrictions: for the Romanians in Transylvania, the Union has all the vast social significance of a transition from old to new regime, from a regime of oppression to one of real liberty. It is thus no wonder that the Union has opened vast perspectives and at the same time huge appetites for the Transylvanians. Today, cultivated Transylvanians, in whom the blood of the new man does not flow, are few and far between. Otherwise, it was also one of their own who masterfully depicted the Transylvanian Romanians of today, when he said that they have not only millenary sufferings but also millenary appetites. Nevertheless, we must not view this fact from on high or with too great a dose of sincere or affected moral indignation. From the Romanian national point of view, the millenary appetites of the Transylvanians deserve not punishment but rather encouragement and stimulation. Transylvania today finds itself in the same social situation in which the old kingdom found itself until the eighth decade of the last century: its entire bourgeoisie is foreign, its entire capital is in non-Romanian hands. It can thus very well be seen that the Romanian Transylvanians, in order to be true masters in their own house, must at all costs wrest from foreign hands that nerve of current social life: capital. At all costs, and this means, for any one who knows the new man: by any means. Where labor is of no help, then ability and daring will have to intervene; where individual forces are insufficient, then the entire weight of state policy will have to intervene, in defense of the national cause. Anyone can therefore perceive what an immense career for new men is opened by the current phase of social development in Transylvania. Up to now, the unconscious model of the new men from over there was the activity of the new men from over here: they attempted, with the help of politics, to take control of bank capital, and then, by means of that capital, to take control of the entire economic life of Transylvania. Up to now, it is true, they have achieved little; for their plutocratic appetites came into conflict with the appetites of the kingdom's plutocracy, which is in vigorous competition with them over there. And this is why the Transylvanians at present hate the plutocracy of the kingdom like the gates of Hades, to speak the language of Homer. Having said that, we wish to reveal only this: how grotesque was the general illusion at the moment of the Union: that the Transylvanians would bring about a recovery of moral health in the public life of Romania. In the best case, the Transylvanians will give us a vigorous and steeled national bourgeoisie and thereby they will work – we must admit – on the most grave national task of the moment, on filling the most serious void in the Romanian province beyond the Carpathians. But a recovery of the moral health of political life can be brought about by the Transylvanians just as little as by the liberals – our first new men – who have, since the latter half of the last century, been unable to accomplish it. The career of the new man does not lead down the paths of morality: at least so much ought to have been learned by he who is not entirely at odds with a sense of reality. And now the question is raised: what is the well-behaved attitude we should take in front of the new men, especially in these times, when their exploits have given rise to a general and legitimate indignation? The elevation of the new men to the level of deciding social force has given rise to the common impression in this country, the same as everywhere else, that Romanian society has entered an epoch of decadence and is heading for certain collapse. Those faithful to our former regime, who have managed to attract to them all that is most intelligent in Romanian intellectual life, have greeted the regime of the new men with overwhelming criticism. And it is in fact to such criticism that our entire culture since the second half of the last century can be reduced. It is superfluous to say, as it sufficiently results from what has been said, that the behavior of the new men has been of such a nature as to provoke any thinking head to adamant criticism. It is true, with a ruling class heavy with moral sins, enervated by squandering without labor, and with a peasantry in the state that we have all known since the war, who could have avoided the impression that Romanian society is doomed to certain decadence? Who would not have felt provoked to criticism, which naturally could be nothing other than the explosion of the most profound moral revolt? Confronted with this, we have nevertheless felt that it is of supreme scientific and national interest to utilize our journalistic activity in order to bring two things to light, to which, as it seems to us, the attitude of any cultivated man as regards the plutocracy of his country must be reduced. a) Firstly, the plutocracy is a necessary historical fact; as soon as our country came under the sphere of influence of foreign capital, the birth of an indigenous plutocracy became a necessity. The celebrated historian Ed. Meyer has made the interesting observation that whenever society develops at its heart a plutocratic layer, there can be heard the common plaint of the corruption of the superposed, who are leading all to perdition. In fact, he says, here it is not a question of the corruption of people, but of a historical process, which we find both in the ancient world and in the modern world, since the Renaissance and – we might add – in Romania since 1829. This is why to condemn the plutocracy makes as much sense as condemning some phenomenon or other of nature: it must be studied and understood. Then, b) it is a common error to believe that the Romanian plutocracy has only a socially disintegrating and destructive role. The Romanian plutocracy has now brought its destructive career to a close, for the old agrarian regime has been abolished down its every last remnant. Currently, our plutocracy is working on the positive and constructive task of industrialization, upon which depends our role among the civilized nations and our future prospects. Thus, he who wishes his country to have a better lot – and we reckon that everyone wishes it – must fully realize that the potency for the fulfillment of such a wish depends only on the energy with which the plutocracy will fulfill its positive task. And he who understands this will, we are convinced, find himself forced to revise his attitude to the plutocracy. Of course, he will not be able to adopt an attitude of praise, but nor will he be able to condemn this social layer without discussion. He will view it as a necessary fact, which has the historic social function of leading mankind to a higher level, in which material wellbeing, culture, freedom and consciousness of human dignity will be goods widely distributed among the mass of the people.

by Ştefan Zeletin (1882-1934)