The Class That Exploits Us-Civil Servants
Classical-Liberal Exploitation Theory
by Ralph Raico
The original version of this paper was delivered at the Second Annual Libertarian Scholars’ Conference, New York City, October 26, 1974, as a response to a paper by Leonard Liggio.
In the popular academic mind, the doctrine of class conflict seems to be inextricably linked to the particular Marxist version of the idea. Lip service is often paid – especially by those eager to diminish the claims to originality of Marx and Engels – to the fact that these writers had precursors in this approach to social reality.
Frequently a certain “French school,” preceding Marx and Engels and influencing their views, is alluded to; Guizot, Thierry, Saint-Simon, and a few others are sometimes mentioned in this connection. But what that earlier perspective consisted in, and how it might differ from the more familiar Marxist model, is rarely if ever broached. And yet this earlier view is not only more correct and faithful to socioeconomic reality than the Marxist version (a point which must be assumed here, since there is no space to demonstrate it) but may well account for a discrepancy and contradiction within Marxism that has been noticed and commented upon but never explained.
When Marx says that the bourgeoisie is the main exploiting and parasitic class in modern society, “bourgeoisie” may be understood in two different ways. In England and the United States, it has tended to suggest the class of capitalists and entrepreneurs that makes its living by buying and selling on the (more or less) free market. The mechanism of this exploitation would involve the classical Marxist conceptual apparatus of the labor theory of value, the appropriation of surplus value by the employer, and so on.
On the Continent, however, the term “bourgeoisie” has no such necessary connection with the market. It can just as easily mean the class of “civil servants” and rentiers off the public debt as the class of businessmen involved in the process of social production. That these former classes and their allies are engaged in the systematic exploitation of society was a commonplace of 19th-century social thought, somehow mysteriously lost sight of as these same classes have risen to greater prominence in the English-speaking nations.