The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Oppenheimer, Franz (1864–1943)

  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95189-5_1343

Abstract

Franz Oppenheimer, the son of a rabbi, was born in 1864, in a Berlin suburb. At first he studied medicine which he practised for some time after earning an MD from Berlin University (1895). But his attraction to political and economic matters was already evidenced by his 1896 work about the agrarian settlement reforms. After several other similar works, in 1908 Oppenheimer obtained a doctoral diploma in the field of his new devotion. As was then the custom, he began as a non-salaried lecturer at Berlin University (1909), from where in 1919 he moved to a chair of sociology and economics at Frankfurt University. The political developments in Germany prompted him during 1933 to move to France, then to Palestine, and finally to the United States. He died in Los Angeles in 1943.

Franz Oppenheimer, the son of a rabbi, was born in 1864, in a Berlin suburb. At first he studied medicine which he practised for some time after earning an MD from Berlin University (1895). But his attraction to political and economic matters was already evidenced by his 1896 work about the agrarian settlement reforms. After several other similar works, in 1908 Oppenheimer obtained a doctoral diploma in the field of his new devotion. As was then the custom, he began as a non-salaried lecturer at Berlin University (1909), from where in 1919 he moved to a chair of sociology and economics at Frankfurt University. The political developments in Germany prompted him during 1933 to move to France, then to Palestine, and finally to the United States. He died in Los Angeles in 1943.

Oppenheimer’s intellectual mark was a theory of the state combined with an economic programme based on the ownership of land. He took up a theme entertained by Ludwig Gumplowicz and also aired by S.N. Patten, according to which the state as a social institution originated only ‘through the conquest and subjugation’ of a peaceful, classless community by a migrant, warrior tribe (1907). Not primitive accumulation through differentiation – Marx’s ‘fairy tale’, but outright conquest was the origin of the state (1903). ‘There are two fundamentally opposed ways whereby man [obtains] the necessary means of existence’, the economic, by ‘one’s own labor’, and the political, by ‘the forcible appropriation of the labor of others’. It is against this complex that Oppenheimer endeavoured, with limited success, to trace the evolution of the state from its genesis to its modern constitutional form. The other signal tenet of Oppenheimer was that all mankind’s evil comes from the unequal ownership of land (1896, 1898), probably an influence of H.H. Gossen’s well-known programme for land nationalization. He even went so far as to maintain against Malthus that the only cause of population pressure is the rural exodus that floods the cities because of the land monopoly by a few. Mankind’s bliss calls for everyone to earn one’s means of subsistence by one’s own farmstead as, according to him, was then the case in New Zealand and Utah (1898, 1899). In a mode that recalls Colin Clark’s well-known exaggeration of the Earth’s carrying capacity, Oppenheimer calculated that even though every family possessed enough subsistence land, there would still remain ‘twothirds of the planet unoccupied’.

Oppenheimer characterized himself as a ‘liberal socialist’, yet his perspective was a mixture of socialism and anarchism. Above all, no agrarian votary went as far as Oppenheimer to believe that in a thorough agrarian society there could be no population problem.

How tenacious was Oppenheimer’s attachment to his ideological beliefs was demonstrated by the cooperative agrarian settlements established by him. He even came to live in one of them when poor health compelled him to retire from teaching. Devoted also to Zionism, he was for years the editor of Palästina and wrote several related essays.

Oppenheimer expressed his thoughts with stalwart conviction and great vigour. As J.A. Schumpeter judged, ‘a man of mark’, who did much to keep alive the interest in economic problems.

Selected Works

  • 1896. Die Siedlungsgenossenschaft: Versuch einer positiven Uberwindung des Kommunismus durch Losung des Genossenschafts Problems und der Agrarfrage. Jena: Fischer, 1922.

  • 1898. Grossgrundeigentum und soziale Frage: Versuch einer neuen Grundlegung der Gesellschaftswissenschaft. Jena: Fischer, 1922.

  • 1899. Die Utopie als Tatsache. Zeitschrift fur Sozial-Wissenschaft 2.

  • 1900. Das Bevolkerungsgesetz des T.R. Malthus und der neueren Nationalokonomie. Bern/Leipzig: J. Edelheim.

  • 1903. Das Grundgesetz der Marxschen Gesellschaftslehre: Darstellung und Kritik. Jena: Fischer, 1926.

  • 1907. The state: Its history and development viewed sociologically. Trans. from the German, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1914.

  • 1908. Rodbertus’ Angriff auf Ricardo’s Rententheorie und der Lexis-Diehl’sche Rettungsversuch. Berlin: Reimer.

  • 1909. David Ricardo’s Grundrententheorie: Darstellung und Kritik. Berlin: Reimer.

  • 1910. Theorie der reinen und politischen Okonomie. Berlin: Reimer.

  • 1912. Die soziale Frage und der Sozialismus: Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Maxistischen Theorie. Jena: Fischer, 1925.

  • 1931. Erlebtes, Erstrebtes, Erreichtes: Lebenserinnerungen (Preface by Ludwig Erhard). Dusseldorf: Melzer, 1964.

  • 1932. Weder Kapitalismus noch Kommunismus. 2nd edn. Jena: Fischer.

  • 1941. Wages and trades unions. American Journal of Economics and Sociology 1(1): 45–77.

References

  1. Aaron, R. 1936. German Sociology. Trans. M. and T. Bottomore. Glencoe: Free Press, 1957.Google Scholar
  2. Gerth, H. 1968. Oppenheimer, Franz. In International encyclopedia of the social sciences, vol. II. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Heinman, E. 1944. Franz Oppenheimer’s economic ideas. Social Research 11: 27–39.Google Scholar
  4. Honingsheim, P. 1948. The sociological doctrines of Franz Oppenheimer: An agrarian philosophy of history and social reform. In An introduction to the history of sociology, ed. H.E. Barnes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  5. Schultz, B. 1948. Die Grundgedanken des Systems der theoretischen Volkswirtschaftslehre von Franz Oppenheimer. Jena: Fischer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen
    • 1
  1. 1.