The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Socialists of the Chair

  • W. J. Ashley
Reference work entry


Kathedersozialisten (socialists of the chair, i.e. the professorial chair) was the nickname given by the liberal journalist, H.B. Oppenheim, in 1872, to a number of the younger German professors of political economy, and quoted by one of the most influential of them, Professor Gustav Schmoller, of Strasburg, in his opening speech at the Eisenach congress of economists held in the same year. The group of teachers thus characterized agreed in believing that there were grave social questions to which it was their duty to call attention, and that these could not be solved, as the Manchester School, then dominant in the German press, and organized in the Volkswirthschaftliche Kongress, believed, by a mere resort to laissez faire. On the other hand they differed from the social democrats in that they disbelieved in the possibility or desirability of violent revolutionary changes: and they rejected as inaccurate the ‘scientific’ formulae both of Lassalle and Marx – the ‘iron law’ and the docrine of ‘surplus value’. Among themselves, opinions ranged all the way from a disposition to think well of trade unions to an eagerness for state intervention in industry in all directions. But most of them were moderate in their expectations and cautious in their proposals. From Hegel and the philosophers on the one side, and from the bureaucratic traditions of the Prussian monarchy on the other, they had learned a high doctrine of the state; but they were guided in their application of it by their firm hold on the principle of relativity which had been inculcated by Roscher and the creators of the historical school. The whole group may be described as the historical school become militant – under the stress of new industrial conditions, the stimulus of the social democratic movement, and with the confidence engendered by the establishment of the German empire. They did much to promote factory legislation, and to prepare the way for the system of compulsory insurance which may be regarded as the most notable outcome of their activity. The term ‘socialists of the chair’, after playing a considerable part in the controversies of a decade, chiefly in the mouths of their critics, seemed to have passed out of current use. Marked divergences had made themselves apparent among those who once bore that name – as in practical politics between Professors Brentano and Schmoller, and with regard to scientific method, between Professors Schmoller and Wagner; while the Liberal and Fortschritt parties had begun to manifest a greater interest in social reform. Thus the apparent unity and distinctness of the group of 1872 – then chiefly the unity of protest – had largely disappeared; though most German economists were still dominated by the leading principles of the Eisenach congress. But in 1896–7 in the attack in the German Reichstag, led by the Freiherr von Stumm, upon Professors Schmoller and Wagner, and most of the other teachers of political economy in the country, the use of the term ‘Katheder-sozialisten’ was once more resorted to as indicating the dangerous character of their teaching, and many explanations were again given of its origin and significance.

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  1. The best general accounts of the movement are given in the chapters under that head in Emile de Laveleye, Le socialisme contemporain (2nd edn, 1883), and John Rae, Contemporary socialism (2nd edn, 1891).Google Scholar
  2. The most characteristic writings of the period are perhaps Adolf Wagner, Rede über die soziale Frage (1871); Gustav Schmoller, Uebereinige Grundfragen des Rechts und der Volkswirthschaft (1875), in reply to the attack of the historian Von Treitschke in a pamphlet, Der Sozialismus und seine Gönner; and Lujo Brentano, Das Arbeiterverhältniss gemäss dem heutigen Recht (1877).Google Scholar
  3. Among the fugitive writings concerning the more recent discussions, may be singled out the article by Professor Hasbach in Die Zukunft for 14 August 1897.Google Scholar
  4. Brentano, L. 1877. Das Arbetierverhältniss gemäss dem heutigen Recht. Leipzig (Altenburg).Google Scholar
  5. Hasbach, 1897. Article in Die Zukunft. 14 August.Google Scholar
  6. Laveleye, E.L. Baron de 1881. Le socialisme contemporian. Paris. Trans. G.H. Orpen, London, 1885.Google Scholar
  7. Rae, J. 1891. Contemporary socialism, 2nd ed. London: Sonnenschein.Google Scholar
  8. Schmoller, G. 1875. Uebereinige Grandfragen des Rechts und der Volkswirthschaft. Jena: F. Mauke.Google Scholar
  9. von Treitschte, H.G. 1875. Der Sozialismus und Gönner. Berlin: G. Reimer.Google Scholar
  10. Wagner, A. 1871. Rede über die Soziale Frage.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. J. Ashley
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