Müller, List and Carey: The Early Nationalists

The Nationalists, the criticism of whose thought comes next, comprise a group of politico-economic writers of the early years of the nineteenth century, who attacked the individ­ualistic-cosmopolitan, free-trade doctrines of the Classicists, and advocated policies designed to build up the productive powers of nations, without direct regard for individual wealth. The Classicists looked at the nation through the eyes of the individual, and regarded its wealth as the sum of individual wealths. The Nationalists saw individuals as dependent parts of the nation, and their wealths as both dependent upon and subordinate to the power and well-being of the whole.

The Nationalists and Their Background

As the nineteenth century began, the difficulties of extreme individualism and laisser faire became apparent, not only in theory, but also in dealing with the practical problems of crises, unemployment, poverty, monetary manipulation, and war. The underlying assumptions of Classicism had led either to pessimism, or to a futile and unreal optimism. Accordingly, we find arising:

(1) Liberal social reformers, who would have merely revised existing institutions in accord with a moderated individualism;

(2) Socialists, who would have established new institutions and greater equality in distribution, and to that end would have abolished private property in large part; (3) Nationalists, who would have subordinated individuals to the state, which they regarded as the primary reality, for the purpose of organiz­ing permanent inequalities among individuals, and increasing or coordinating the aggregate productive capacities of the

Nationalism was fostered by inequality among nations, and throve in industrially backward countries which sought to build up their strength, both military and economic. Indeed, in some respects, it resembles Mercantilism. Nationalism, however rests upon a more idealistic and purposive conception of the state as an organized whole. It is philosophically more sophisticated than Mercantilism. We have commented upon the recrudescence of Mercantilism which followed the World War and the ensuing great depression, and it should be noted here that in a good many respects this phase might better be described as "Nationalism." Fascist, Nazi, and even "New Deal" policies, all show signs of it. And just as early nineteenth-century Germany had her Fichte, Miiller, and List, so early twentieth-century Germany has her Othmar Spann.

None of the early Nationalists were English. It is natural that this serious outbreak against the authority of Adam Smith should have taken place outside of Great Britain. Written for his own country and based upon the national life of his time, it was to be expected that the Wealth of Nations would answer the needs of England better and longer than those of other countries. It is natural, moreover, that what was perhaps the most thoroughgoing revolt against its teachings this side of Socialism, should have occurred in a land whose development and manner of production differed essentially from those of Smith's native country.

Germany, accordingly, has been one among the great civi­lized nations to lead the rebellion against English political economy. Many German thinkers felt that it did not meet her requirements, and from the earliest years of the nineteenth century her economists took a more nationalistic stand. Sar-torius (1806), Jakob (1809), Rau (1826-1832), and Hermann (1832) may be mentioned as to a considerable extent recog­nizing national bounds in theory, and making some place for tariffs. (Excepting Hermann, however, these writers were essen­tially followers of Adam Smith, and nationalism was not the heart of their thought.)

Germany was not only backward in industrial development, and predominantly agricultural, but Germans were divided into numerous petty states whose clashing sovereignties pre­vented cooperation.
Then, too, there developed a characteristic German idealistic philosophy — an "objective idealism" which considered mind as the only reality. Immanuel Kant attacked empiricism and rationalism, and maintained the power of "moral self-determination." He argued that man's intuitions of time, space, quantity, etc., come from the spontaneous action of the ego.

Then J. H. Fichte (1794) sought to supplement Kant's thought by showing how such intuitions are derived from pure consciousness, stressing the freedom of the will and the moral aspects of human nature. He taught that individuals are not mere "atoms," but are organically interrelated parts of society and thus have no "natural rights." To more practical effect, in Der geschlossene Handels-Staat (1800) Fichte held that nations must be essentially independent, each supplying its own needs in so far as possible. Each nation should control its own eco­nomic life, and assign to its several "estates" or classes their respective functions. Foreign trade seemed to him to be apt to upset the internal balance.

Finally, there was the development of Romanticism, first in art and literature, but then in social thought. This is significant as being a revolt against most of what the French Revolution had stood for — the things that represented individualism and economic values determined by free exchange. It was a reac­tion against "Classicism" of all kinds! Both rules of art and "laws" of social science, were rejected. Self-expression was defended; but, in view of the evils and suffering of this world, the self seemed to require protection, so the Romanticists turned back toward Medievalism, and emphasized divine power — the eternal. Hence they were mystics. Competition — individual struggle — under laisser faire seemed hopeless. Hence they were sceptics.
With an industrial inferiority complex in their minds, and a yearning for a self-expression unfettered by objective realities or material limitations, these thinkers sought protection for the individual by making him part of a great national organism.

Obviously there would be those in the young American nation, with its industrial inferiority, its eager urge to self-expression, and its characteristic strain of idealism, who would readily fall in with similar ideas.
And, again, under somewhat similar conditions in the World War period, it is not surprising to find, one hundred years later, the same tendencies showing themselves both in Germany and the United States — the same rejection of "rugged individ­ualism" and of laws of economics which assume free competi­tion — the same doctrine that individual wealth is chiefly attributable to collective social processes — the same resort to a medieval-like regimentation and "allotment" of economic functions among classes and sections-—the same "Nation­alism."

While there is an inner unity of thought among all the Nationalists, we may distinguish two main groups: (1) The Romanticists, and philosophic Nationalists, of whom Miiller is the most important; and (2) the Protectionists, among whom List is outstanding. The former are more philosophical, and more consistently idealistic. They are more given to the organ-ismic concept of society, and to ideals of stability and per­manence. The latter are more apt to stress tariff policies and industrial development. They are usually driven to accept some degree of individualism.