1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rodbertus, Karl Johann
RODBERTUS, KARL JOHANN (1805-1875), German socialist, was born at Greifswald on the 12th of August 1805, his father being a professor at the university there. He studied law at Göttingen and Berlin, thereafter engaging in various legal occupations; and, after travelling for some time, he bought the estate of Jagetzow in Pomerania, whence his name of Rodbertus-Jagetzow. In 1836 he settled on this estate, and henceforward devoted his life chiefly to economic and other studies, taking also some interest in local and provincial affairs. After the revolution of March 1848 Rodbertus was elected member of the Prussian national assembly, in which body he belonged to the left centre; and for fourteen days he filled the post of minister of public worship and education. He sat for Berlin in the second chamber of 1849, and moved the adoption of the Frankfort imperial constitution, which was carried. When the system of dividing the Prussian electorate into three classes was adopted, Rodbertus recommended abstention from voting. His only subsequent appearance in public life was his candidature for the first North German diet, in which he was defeated. His correspondence with Lassalle was an interesting feature of his life. At one time Rodbertus had some intention of forming a “social party” with the help of the conservative socialist Rudolf Meyer and of W. Hasenclever, a prominent follower of Lassalle; but no progress was made in this. Rodbertus was neither disposed nor qualified to be an agitator, being a man of a quiet and critical temperament, who believed that society could not be improved by violent changes, but by a long and gradual course of development. He warned the working men of Germany against connecting themselves with any political party, enjoining them to be a “social party” pure and simple. He died on the 8th of December 1875.
The general position of Rodbertus was “social, monarchical and national.” He held the purely economic part of the creed of the German social-democratic party, but he did not agree with their methods, and had no liking for the productive associations with state help of Lassalle. He regarded a socialistic republic as a possible thing, but he cordially accepted the monarchic institution in his own country and hoped that a German emperor might undertake the role of a social emperor. The basis of the economic teaching of Rodbertus is the principle laid down by Adam Smith and Ricardo, and insisted on by all the later socialists, that labour is the source and measure of value. In connexion with this he developed the position that rent, profit and wages are all parts of a national income produced by the united organic labour of the workers of the community. Consequently there can be no talk of the wages of labour being paid out of capital; wages is only that part of the national income which is received by the workmen, of a national income which they have themselves entirely produced. The wages fund theory is thus summarily disposed of. But the most important result of the theory is his position that the possession of land and capital enables the landholders and capitalists to compel the workmen to divide the product of their labour with those non-working classes, and in such a proportion that the workers only obtain as much as can support them in life. Thus the iron law of wages is established. Hence also Rodbertus deduces his theory of commercial crises and of pauperism.
A fundamental part of the teaching of Rodbertus is his theory of social development. He recognized three stages in the economic progress of mankind: (1) the ancient heathen period in which property in human beings was the rule; (2) the period of private property in land and capital; (3) the period, still remote, of property as dependent on service or desert. The goal of the human race is to be one society organized on a communistic basis; only in that way can the principle that every man be rewarded according to his work be realized. In this communistic or socialistic state of the future land and capital will be national property, and the entire national production will be under national control; and means will be taken so to estimate the labour of each citizen that he shall be rewarded according to its precise amount. An immense staff of state officials will be required for this function. Rodbertus believed that this stage of social development is yet far distant; he thought that five centuries will need to pass away before the ethical force of the people can be equal to it.
From temperament, culture and social position Rodbertus was averse to agitation as a means of hastening the new era; and, in the measures which he recommends for making the transition towards it, he showed a scrupulous regard for the existing interests of the capitalists and landholders. He proposed that those two classes should be left in full possession of their present share of the national income, but that the workers should reap the benefit of the increasing production. To secure them this increment of production, he proposed that the state should fix a “normal working day” for the various trades, a normal day's work, and a legal wage, the amount of which should be revised periodically, and raised according to the increase of production, the better workman receiving a better wage. By measures such as these, carried out by the state in order to correct the evils of competition, would Rodbertus seek to make the transition into the socialistic era.
The economic work of Rodbertus is an attempt made in a temperate and scientific spirit to elucidate the evil tendencies inherent in the competitive system, especially as exemplified in the operation of the iron law of wages. The remedy he proposes is a state management of production and distribution, which shall extend more and more, till we arrive at a complete and universal socialism,—and all based on the principle that as labour is the source of value so to the labourer should all wealth belong. It is therefore an attempt to place socialism on a scientific basis; and he is certainly entitled to be regarded as one of the founders of “scientific socialism.”
The following are the most important works of Rodbertus: Zur Erkenntniss unserer staatswirtschaftlichen Zustände (1842); Sociale Briefe an von Kirchmann (1850); Creditnot des Grundbesitzes (2nd ed., 1876); “Der Normal-Arbeitstag,” in Tüb. Zeitschrift (1878); Letters to A. Wagner, &c., Tüb. Zeitschrift (1878-79); Letters to Rudolf Meyer (1882). Rodbertus has received great attention in Germany, especially from Adolf Wagner (Tüb. Zeitschrift, 1878); see also Kosak's Rodbertus sozialökonomische Ansichten (Jena, 1882); an excellent monograph by G. Adler, Rodbertus, der Begründer des wissenschaftlichen Sozialismus (Leipzig, 1884); Dietzel, Karl Rodbertus, Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre (Jena, 1886); Jentsch, Rodbertus (Stuttgart, 1899); and E. C. K. Gonner, Social Philosophy of Rodbertus (London, 1899).