All Commentary
Friday, May 1, 1981

Utopia Lost: A Refutation of Human Perfectibility



This legislation had important results, moral and economic: reluctant to condemn their heirs to poverty by periodic divisions of the patrimony among many children, the French cultivated the old arts of family limitation. The peasants remained prosperous, but the population of France grew slowly during the nineteenth century—from 28 million in 1800 to 39 million in 1914, while that of Germany rose from 21 to 67 million. Prospering on the land, French peasants were slow to move into towns and factories; so France remained predominantly agricultural, while England and Germany developed industry and technology, excelled in war, and dominated Europe.[5]

In 1911, a great French demographer cried out against France’s depopulation and inheritance laws:

Few know it! Hardly anyone thinks of it! The French see their country’s suicide without attempting a thing to prevent it. The death of France, which will be one of the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, astonishes foreigners and leaves us indifferent![6]

We have seen that in all the major countries of the world, legislation is designed to reconcile man’s two most natural ambitions: the desire to survive himself in his wealth and work, and the desire to survive himself in his children. In France, the law prevents the conciliation of these two ambitions; it forces a man to choose, and experience proves that he makes the choice most harmful to his country: he sacrifices the conservation of his nation to the preservation of his family wealthy.[7]

If even this subtle restriction on the hereditary conveyance—French revolutionary legislators might have almost been justified in calling it a theoretical extension of it to younger siblings—could result in the demographic eclipse of the most peopled and powerful state in Western Europe, what would an outright abolition of the conveyance do to an otherwise “perfect” state? The younger children which the French law was designed to protect were never born and never lent their economic productivity or their military manpower to the task of holding back the prolific, prosperous Germans. The statist, utopian assumption in all this is that people are so perfectly subservient to the state that they will have many children and create much wealth for their government regardless of its attitude toward the physical and economic continuity of family life. People are not and they do not.

Depopulating the Soviet Union

Revolutionary France has not been the only demographic colossus committed to utopianly naive restrictions on the freedom to bequeath. Marxist orthodoxy, as we have seen, envisions not merely a restriction on, but a total abolition of private inheritances. Accordingly, Marx and Engels are depopulating (and de-Europeanizing) the Soviet Union just as French revolutionary naivete penalized France. The Great Russian ethnic majority which stabilized the identity of tsarist Russia has disappeared under the communists; Stalin’s genocides and wars have left catastrophic deficits of males; and infant mortality is skyrocketing to such an extent that China can seriously relish the possibility of an end to Soviet population growth.

Two American demographers, basing their study only on figures put out by the Soviets themselves, have concluded that the average Soviet woman has from six to eight abortions in her lifetime.[8] Soviet feminists claim that the figure is closer to ten,[9] with the inevitable probability of uterine damage. Infant mortality is up to the levels of underdeveloped countries and Soviet life expectancy, having risen impressively in the 1950s, is edging down.[10] Western experts on Soviet affairs are astounded at this “health crisis” and cite alcoholism and health expenditure cutbacks, but these factors could be more of an effect than a prime cause of sagging familial morale in the U.S.S.R.

Breaking Family Ties

The overall problem is that a still theoretically utopian Soviet state, despite tacit concessions to the reality of minor family possessions staying within a family, remains faithful to Marx’s and Engels’ suppression of the essence of familial continuity, the hereditary conveyance. The Kremlin is reputed to be coldly realistic, but what more urgently real duty do the Soviets face than the peopling of that immensely rich Siberia which faces a billion hostile Chinese, and how can this crucial goal be achieved with the average Soviet woman undergoing at least half a dozen governmentally performed abortions during her childbearing years? The U.S.S.R. has already become predominantly Asian in population: how can it best resist the Asian nation par excellence, a China with Marxist pretensions of its own?

“The Sixties and Seventies have proved devastating to Soviet society,” writes demographer Nick Eberstadt.[11] And indeed they have, but did not the Soviets enjoy a certain demographico- economic growth up until that time? The growth-in-different communist state could spur its people to grow when its patriotism could point to Japanese or German militarism or to the fact that only the United States had the power of nuclear attack. But those days are gone forever, and when did they leave for good? At the dawn of the devastating sixties and seventies.

Soviet citizens are now free to see that the most dangerously self-deluded opponent of their familial continuity is not Hitler, but communism itself, as freely expressed in the 1848 Manifesto. Once the Soviets became a nuclear superpower, their leadership lost its most precious or perhaps its only tool for persuading the Soviet family to grow: Russian nationalism and military vulnerability. Soviet women will bear children to defend the “motherland of socialism” but not to prove the utopian theses of two nineteenth century German pseudo-scientists.

So it is that most utopias may be generally defined as the fruits of an intolerance for the hereditary transmission of wealth, an intolerance which, once international circumstances calm down long enough for families to take stock of it, provokes the disastrous retaliation of depopulation. The Soviets must repudiate Point Three of the Communist Manifesto or continue to face a demographic decline of incalculable consequences for the whole world. If the demographic decline of France opposite Germany was the most ominous event of the nineteenth century, the de-Europeanization and slow population growth of Soviet Russia is among the most disconcerting phenomena of the twentieth.

Beneficiaries of Great Wealth Often Oppose Such Transfers

Along with this new definition of utopianism as an assault on hereditary transmissions of wealth should come some theory of who the serious opponents of family wealth are. They could be anyone, but the deliciously paradoxical fact of the matter is that some of the most famous ones were the direct beneficiaries of great, unearned family wealth. At the very beginning of Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks Cephalus whether the latter’s wealth is self-acquired or inherited, and rejoices upon learning that it is inherited:

. . . the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.[12]

This passage fits in well with evidence indicating that Plato was of a patrician family and his leisurely, rambling dialogues the fruit of more leisure than any ordinary person could afford in his day. As to Marx and Engels we are far better informed. They shared not only friendship and a belief in “scientific” human perfectibility, but a common source of income, the Engels family fortune:

To support both himself and Marx, [Engels] accepted a subordinate position in the offices of Ermen & Engels [senior] in Manchester, eventually becoming a full fledged partner in the concern. He again functioned successfully as a businessman, never allowing his communist principles and criticism of capitalist ways to interfere with the profitable operations of his firm. Hence he was able to send money to Marx constantly, often in the form of five pound notes but later in far higher figures. When Engels sold his partnership in the business in 1869, he received enough for it to live comfortably until his death in 1895 and to provide Marx [who died in 1883] with an annual grant of 350 pounds, with a promise of more to cover all contingencies.[13]

Birthrights Rejected

The point is not, certainly, that a social thinker has to inherit great wealth in order to mount a utopian attack on the very conveyance which enriched him, but it could hardly be a coincidence that the two most famous and revered assaults on family wealth have come from among the heirs most gorged on its benefits. Dynastically wealthy persons constitute less than one per cent of all the humans who have ever lived, yet they have produced most, perhaps almost all of the utopian social blueprints which have distracted mankind from the real task of improving, not “perfecting” society. Nor is it being said here that major heirs are absent from the ranks of libertarian, individualistic thinkers: the task is not to predict the future political behavior of the dynastically wealthy, but to classify and analyze their past thoughts and attitudes as well as the nature of the political majorities which have accepted them as leaders.

Finally, it should always be remembered that dynastic wealth is virtually never a political factor outside of the world’s wealthiest nations because only the latter produce politically significant amounts of it. It is in the Germany and Britain of Marx and Engels, the America of Franklin Roosevelt, or the France of Jean-Paul Sartre that the partisan functions of family wealth must be sought. Did not Sartre, France’s most eminent twentieth century Marxist, admit that his mother once paid about $24,000 in taxes for him?[14]

The material poverty of a Lenin or a Mao Tse-tung disproves none of all this: penniless terrorists have always sought justification with the economically illiterate rich, who, like them, are too small a group to impose utopia and tyrannize the masses alone. The inescapable conclusion is that the most popular enemies of free market economies are those who never had to enter those economies on their own in the first place.

A Theory of Marxist “Progress”

From this principle a very logical theory of Marxist “progress” can be induced. It derives not from any socialist logic, but from the successes of free market economies: as more wealth is created by productive people like Engels’ father and his workers, more direct and indirect heirs like Marx and Engels are free to denounce the market logic which enriched their fathers and themselves. This is inevitably most evident in the recent history of the nation which has produced more anesthetizing dynastic wealth than any other in history, the United States, whose floundering welfare state is of course the creation of its most politically successful heir to great wealth, Franklin Roosevelt.

But the American experiment is beyond the scope of this indictment of human perfectibility, and rightfully so, for the heartbeat of our constitutional government, the separation of powers, is specifically anti-utopian: if the framers of the Constitution had been naive enough to think a single individual (philosopher king) or group (the urban proletariat) perfectible, they would not have perpetually separated the powers of demographico-economic growth, which are legislative in nature, from the executive power whose legitimate functions derive from and should be limited to the real or imminent emergencies which lessen human numbers. This institutionalized mistrust between legislators and the executive can minimize human greed and arrogance because it concedes that they exist. All governmental schemes which reject the separation of powers are doomed to be devoured by the selfishness and imperfectibility they deny.

So it is that our demographically based logic does not refute “scientific” utopia and leave nothing in its place. American history, before the 1930s at least, is the most real refutation of utopia, but also the proof that man has a choice between pursuit of an impossible perfection and the cynicism which would deny “improvability.” The United States, apparently bent on returning to the “growthist” ideals which made it great, and the self-depopulating Soviet Union respectively illustrate the Greek pun through which the jesting Thomas More gave utopia its name: the “good place” (eutopos) opposed to the “noplace” (outopos) of utopian pseudo-science. []


1.   “The Communist Manifesto,” in Capital and Other Writings, Modern Library Edition, page 342.

2.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 183.

3.   Ibid.

4.   Premier Edouard Daladier, “Rapport au President de la Republique,” 1939, quoted in Politics and Society in Contemporary France, edited by Eric Cahm, 1970; pages 484-485.

5.   Will Durant, The Age of Napoleon, page 125.

6.   Jacques Bertillon, La Depopulation de la France; Paris, 1911, page one.

7.   Ibid., page 150.

8.   Christopher Davis, Murray Feschback, “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR,” Bureau of the Census, Series P-95, No. 74, page 13.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Ibid., page one.

11.   In reviewing “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR”, New York Review of Books, February 19, 1981, page 23.

12.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 7.

13.   Oscar J. Hammen, “Friedrich Engels,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980, Volume 6, pages 859-860.

14.   Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations, X: politique et autobiographie; Gallimard, Paris, 1976; page 203.


This legislation had important results, moral and economic: reluctant to condemn their heirs to poverty by periodic divisions of the patrimony among many children, the French cultivated the old arts of family limitation. The peasants remained prosperous, but the population of France grew slowly during the nineteenth century—from 28 million in 1800 to 39 million in 1914, while that of Germany rose from 21 to 67 million. Prospering on the land, French peasants were slow to move into towns and factories; so France remained predominantly agricultural, while England and Germany developed industry and technology, excelled in war, and dominated Europe.[5]

In 1911, a great French demographer cried out against France’s depopulation and inheritance laws:

Few know it! Hardly anyone thinks of it! The French see their country’s suicide without attempting a thing to prevent it. The death of France, which will be one of the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, astonishes foreigners and leaves us indifferent![6]

We have seen that in all the major countries of the world, legislation is designed to reconcile man’s two most natural ambitions: the desire to survive himself in his wealth and work, and the desire to survive himself in his children. In France, the law prevents the conciliation of these two ambitions; it forces a man to choose, and experience proves that he makes the choice most harmful to his country: he sacrifices the conservation of his nation to the preservation of his family wealthy.[7]

If even this subtle restriction on the hereditary conveyance—French revolutionary legislators might have almost been justified in calling it a theoretical extension of it to younger siblings—could result in the demographic eclipse of the most peopled and powerful state in Western Europe, what would an outright abolition of the conveyance do to an otherwise “perfect” state? The younger children which the French law was designed to protect were never born and never lent their economic productivity or their military manpower to the task of holding back the prolific, prosperous Germans. The statist, utopian assumption in all this is that people are so perfectly subservient to the state that they will have many children and create much wealth for their government regardless of its attitude toward the physical and economic continuity of family life. People are not and they do not.

Depopulating the Soviet Union

Revolutionary France has not been the only demographic colossus committed to utopianly naive restrictions on the freedom to bequeath. Marxist orthodoxy, as we have seen, envisions not merely a restriction on, but a total abolition of private inheritances. Accordingly, Marx and Engels are depopulating (and de-Europeanizing) the Soviet Union just as French revolutionary naivete penalized France. The Great Russian ethnic majority which stabilized the identity of tsarist Russia has disappeared under the communists; Stalin’s genocides and wars have left catastrophic deficits of males; and infant mortality is skyrocketing to such an extent that China can seriously relish the possibility of an end to Soviet population growth.

Two American demographers, basing their study only on figures put out by the Soviets themselves, have concluded that the average Soviet woman has from six to eight abortions in her lifetime.[8] Soviet feminists claim that the figure is closer to ten,[9] with the inevitable probability of uterine damage. Infant mortality is up to the levels of underdeveloped countries and Soviet life expectancy, having risen impressively in the 1950s, is edging down.[10] Western experts on Soviet affairs are astounded at this “health crisis” and cite alcoholism and health expenditure cutbacks, but these factors could be more of an effect than a prime cause of sagging familial morale in the U.S.S.R.

Breaking Family Ties

The overall problem is that a still theoretically utopian Soviet state, despite tacit concessions to the reality of minor family possessions staying within a family, remains faithful to Marx’s and Engels’ suppression of the essence of familial continuity, the hereditary conveyance. The Kremlin is reputed to be coldly realistic, but what more urgently real duty do the Soviets face than the peopling of that immensely rich Siberia which faces a billion hostile Chinese, and how can this crucial goal be achieved with the average Soviet woman undergoing at least half a dozen governmentally performed abortions during her childbearing years? The U.S.S.R. has already become predominantly Asian in population: how can it best resist the Asian nation par excellence, a China with Marxist pretensions of its own?

“The Sixties and Seventies have proved devastating to Soviet society,” writes demographer Nick Eberstadt.[11] And indeed they have, but did not the Soviets enjoy a certain demographico- economic growth up until that time? The growth-in-different communist state could spur its people to grow when its patriotism could point to Japanese or German militarism or to the fact that only the United States had the power of nuclear attack. But those days are gone forever, and when did they leave for good? At the dawn of the devastating sixties and seventies.

Soviet citizens are now free to see that the most dangerously self-deluded opponent of their familial continuity is not Hitler, but communism itself, as freely expressed in the 1848 Manifesto. Once the Soviets became a nuclear superpower, their leadership lost its most precious or perhaps its only tool for persuading the Soviet family to grow: Russian nationalism and military vulnerability. Soviet women will bear children to defend the “motherland of socialism” but not to prove the utopian theses of two nineteenth century German pseudo-scientists.

So it is that most utopias may be generally defined as the fruits of an intolerance for the hereditary transmission of wealth, an intolerance which, once international circumstances calm down long enough for families to take stock of it, provokes the disastrous retaliation of depopulation. The Soviets must repudiate Point Three of the Communist Manifesto or continue to face a demographic decline of incalculable consequences for the whole world. If the demographic decline of France opposite Germany was the most ominous event of the nineteenth century, the de-Europeanization and slow population growth of Soviet Russia is among the most disconcerting phenomena of the twentieth.

Beneficiaries of Great Wealth Often Oppose Such Transfers

Along with this new definition of utopianism as an assault on hereditary transmissions of wealth should come some theory of who the serious opponents of family wealth are. They could be anyone, but the deliciously paradoxical fact of the matter is that some of the most famous ones were the direct beneficiaries of great, unearned family wealth. At the very beginning of Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks Cephalus whether the latter’s wealth is self-acquired or inherited, and rejoices upon learning that it is inherited:

. . . the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.[12]

This passage fits in well with evidence indicating that Plato was of a patrician family and his leisurely, rambling dialogues the fruit of more leisure than any ordinary person could afford in his day. As to Marx and Engels we are far better informed. They shared not only friendship and a belief in “scientific” human perfectibility, but a common source of income, the Engels family fortune:

To support both himself and Marx, [Engels] accepted a subordinate position in the offices of Ermen & Engels [senior] in Manchester, eventually becoming a full fledged partner in the concern. He again functioned successfully as a businessman, never allowing his communist principles and criticism of capitalist ways to interfere with the profitable operations of his firm. Hence he was able to send money to Marx constantly, often in the form of five pound notes but later in far higher figures. When Engels sold his partnership in the business in 1869, he received enough for it to live comfortably until his death in 1895 and to provide Marx [who died in 1883] with an annual grant of 350 pounds, with a promise of more to cover all contingencies.[13]

Birthrights Rejected

The point is not, certainly, that a social thinker has to inherit great wealth in order to mount a utopian attack on the very conveyance which enriched him, but it could hardly be a coincidence that the two most famous and revered assaults on family wealth have come from among the heirs most gorged on its benefits. Dynastically wealthy persons constitute less than one per cent of all the humans who have ever lived, yet they have produced most, perhaps almost all of the utopian social blueprints which have distracted mankind from the real task of improving, not “perfecting” society. Nor is it being said here that major heirs are absent from the ranks of libertarian, individualistic thinkers: the task is not to predict the future political behavior of the dynastically wealthy, but to classify and analyze their past thoughts and attitudes as well as the nature of the political majorities which have accepted them as leaders.

Finally, it should always be remembered that dynastic wealth is virtually never a political factor outside of the world’s wealthiest nations because only the latter produce politically significant amounts of it. It is in the Germany and Britain of Marx and Engels, the America of Franklin Roosevelt, or the France of Jean-Paul Sartre that the partisan functions of family wealth must be sought. Did not Sartre, France’s most eminent twentieth century Marxist, admit that his mother once paid about $24,000 in taxes for him?[14]

The material poverty of a Lenin or a Mao Tse-tung disproves none of all this: penniless terrorists have always sought justification with the economically illiterate rich, who, like them, are too small a group to impose utopia and tyrannize the masses alone. The inescapable conclusion is that the most popular enemies of free market economies are those who never had to enter those economies on their own in the first place.

A Theory of Marxist “Progress”

From this principle a very logical theory of Marxist “progress” can be induced. It derives not from any socialist logic, but from the successes of free market economies: as more wealth is created by productive people like Engels’ father and his workers, more direct and indirect heirs like Marx and Engels are free to denounce the market logic which enriched their fathers and themselves. This is inevitably most evident in the recent history of the nation which has produced more anesthetizing dynastic wealth than any other in history, the United States, whose floundering welfare state is of course the creation of its most politically successful heir to great wealth, Franklin Roosevelt.

But the American experiment is beyond the scope of this indictment of human perfectibility, and rightfully so, for the heartbeat of our constitutional government, the separation of powers, is specifically anti-utopian: if the framers of the Constitution had been naive enough to think a single individual (philosopher king) or group (the urban proletariat) perfectible, they would not have perpetually separated the powers of demographico-economic growth, which are legislative in nature, from the executive power whose legitimate functions derive from and should be limited to the real or imminent emergencies which lessen human numbers. This institutionalized mistrust between legislators and the executive can minimize human greed and arrogance because it concedes that they exist. All governmental schemes which reject the separation of powers are doomed to be devoured by the selfishness and imperfectibility they deny.

So it is that our demographically based logic does not refute “scientific” utopia and leave nothing in its place. American history, before the 1930s at least, is the most real refutation of utopia, but also the proof that man has a choice between pursuit of an impossible perfection and the cynicism which would deny “improvability.” The United States, apparently bent on returning to the “growthist” ideals which made it great, and the self-depopulating Soviet Union respectively illustrate the Greek pun through which the jesting Thomas More gave utopia its name: the “good place” (eutopos) opposed to the “noplace” (outopos) of utopian pseudo-science. []


1.   “The Communist Manifesto,” in Capital and Other Writings, Modern Library Edition, page 342.

2.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 183.

3.   Ibid.

4.   Premier Edouard Daladier, “Rapport au President de la Republique,” 1939, quoted in Politics and Society in Contemporary France, edited by Eric Cahm, 1970; pages 484-485.

5.   Will Durant, The Age of Napoleon, page 125.

6.   Jacques Bertillon, La Depopulation de la France; Paris, 1911, page one.

7.   Ibid., page 150.

8.   Christopher Davis, Murray Feschback, “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR,” Bureau of the Census, Series P-95, No. 74, page 13.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Ibid., page one.

11.   In reviewing “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR”, New York Review of Books, February 19, 1981, page 23.

12.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 7.

13.   Oscar J. Hammen, “Friedrich Engels,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980, Volume 6, pages 859-860.

14.   Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations, X: politique et autobiographie; Gallimard, Paris, 1976; page 203.

Mr. Manoogian is Assistant Counsel to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Civil Service.

“When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?”

This biblical verse, Ecclesiastes 5:11, was the inspiration of that most famous of anti-utopians, Thomas Robert Malthus, who became a clergyman in the same year (1798) he published his famous Essay on Population. Malthusian pessimism will always be flawed by its clumsy and rather foolish predictions on food-producing and birth control technology, but it will always be a powerful tradition because the ultimate refutation of human perfectibility does indeed derive from a theory of human numbers, one which is far more complete than anything conceived in Ecclesiastes or elaborated by Malthus. The latter’s calculations were generally wrong, but his number-related suspicion of human imperfectibility points in the right direction.

Human numbers increase or decrease. In the strictest logic, every live birth is a tiny step toward the smothering of the world’s farmlands in people, just as a lack of births points toward the extinction of the species. Pending the realization of these comparably undesirable extremes, we are left with given societies or nations within which every social phenomenon relates in some way to the “moreness” or “lessness” of its number. Wars, just or unjust, popular or despised, won or lost, always connote some lessening of human numbers; peace implies a certain steady, cautious growth in human numbers which has always been the routine precondition of civilization: more manpower, expanded economies, more refined division of labor and leisure, and so on.

But growth is no unmixed blessing any more than is depopulation. The deceptively simple truth of the matter is that when a group decides to increase its numbers it collectively moves away from the advantages and disadvantages of demographic sparsity and toward the blessings and curses of growth. From the beginning of time we have stood in crowded cities and yearned for the peace of the countryside, then fretted on lonely farms in nostalgia for the human beehive of the city.

But a specifically mathematical truth stands behind this casual observation: We simultaneously desire two demographic conditions, contraction and dilation, which cannot simultaneously occur. Whether it is increasing or decreasing in number, every human society is moving toward one set of desiderata and away from another. The human group can dilate or contract toward one and only one set of universal human goals at a single given time. Man is demographico- mathematically imperfect and imperfectible.

A second, more informal way to consider human imperfectibility is the best preparation for a direct and definitive refutation of history’s most revered utopians, Plato and Marx. It concerns the impossibility of a just deployment of wealth upon the death of a creator of wealth.

At that time, two parties have claims to the wealth: the person’s heirs, meaning almost always his children, whose very existence announces population growth; and his government, whose very existence is justified by the prevention or minimalization of crises which diminish human numbers (wars, climatic catastrophes, and the like). Neither claim is perfectly just, since neither the heirs nor the government’s tax collectors have made the same innovations, taken the same risks or performed the same labor which created the wealth. But neither claim is completely refutable, either.

A Dilemma

The growth claimant, the heir, is correct to point out that he is genetically and geographically closer to the decedent, and the latter does almost always prefer his own sons and daughters as beneficiaries; but the non-growth claimant, the government, is also correct in pointing out that its power provided the creator of wealth with the physical security indispensable to the orderly creation of prosperity and innovation. Certainly, if society were perfectible, a perfect method of doing something so simple as assigning wealth upon the death of its creator would be possible or at least conceivable. It is not.

The hereditary conveyance of wealth has frustrated utopian thinkers for thousands of years, and for good reason: even a “perfect” state has to begin somewhere, and begin equally for everyone, but everywhere the utopian turns he sees that inheritances “aggravate” the inequalities of wealth and position which make utopia seem so unattainable. It is no wonder that almost all believers in human perfectibility call for an end to the bequeathing of wealth to heirs. Plato and Marx are not exceptions.

In all of political theory it is difficult to find two more dissimilar political thinkers than the most famous ancient and the most famous modern utopians. What could the patrician Athenian visionary, steeped in literature, music and athletics, have in common with the sarcastic German journalist, arch-materialist and agitator? The simple answer is a common call for the end of individual inheritances.

Toward the end of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels present ten points toward the communization of society. Point three reads succinctly enough: “Abolition of all right of inheritance.”[1]

Plato seems wiser and therefore far less optimistic about sweeping away the very essence of the human family by mere fiat. He knows that to eliminate or, more realistically, to minimize the effects of the hereditary conveyance, one must hack at its deepest roots without fear or favor. The fifth book of the Republic does just that, and the lives of the elite guardians of the Platonic state are regulated not only before their birth, but before their conception: “The number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population.”[2] The future guardians, “offspring of the good parents,” will never know these parents. Anonymous nurses “will provide for their nurture, and will bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk, taking the greatest possible care that no mother recognize her own child.”[3] The hereditary conveyance of wealth within a family of guardians will be abolished because the guardians will know no family at all.

Declining Population

It is of course beyond the scope of this article to refute Plato or Marx line by line, volume by volume. The point is that this is unnecessary to our logic, since neither system has passed the first and most important test of any social blueprint, pragmatic or utopian: is the proposed government one under which human beings will consistently continue to increase their numbers (i.e., have three or more children) or at least maintain them (by having two)? In logical sequence, no other issue is reached if the answer to this question is negative. Even utopia needs people, and even the slightest and most well-intentioned interference with the hereditary conveyance of wealth can induce catastrophic demographic declines, as shall be seen below. If no one in a state works for the long-range enrichment of any one but the state, human reproduction becomes a form of tribute to the state and to its majority politicians, and human numbers eventually shrink in retaliation.

Perhaps most importantly, neither Plato nor Marx in all their voluminous works ever bothers to address the ultimate question: how do you make the state everyone’s heir without giving its politicians an ominous vested interest in the death of their most productive and wealthy citizens? A private heir is virtually always forbidden by the state from killing his future benefactor to hurry his inheritance, but who will forbid the forbidder? Stalin’s murder of millions of relatively wealthy Russian peasants has been denounced even in the communist world, but it is an inescapable result of Marx’s and Engels’ explicit and absolute hostility to the hereditary conveyance, their implicit rejection of the only conditions under which human populations seem to consent to maintain themselves.

But what historical evidence can be cited to support the thesis that the freedom to bequeath wealth to one’s children is the necessary precondition of demographic growth and national survival? Utopias, by definition, can never be wholly refuted by history because they can never be totally placed in the arena of historical reality. But certain policies based on utopian assumptions always seem to manage to creep into the histories of the most innovative nations, provoking anti-utopian reactions, like the depopulation of France under its inheritance law, which confirm our demographic logic.

Trouble in France

Almost consistently from the days of Caesar to the late nineteenth century, France was the most populous nation in western Europe and therefore the society most likely to risk social experiment within the security which only superior numbers can provide. Then, relatively suddenly, its population growth stalled and virtually ceased. Aggravated, of course, by the First World War, deaths in France exceeded births during the 1930s. The country which had been almost five times as populous as Spain in the latter’s golden age and over twice as peopled as Victorian Britain in the nineteenth century fell behind the Italians, the British and above all the Germans in population, virtually assuring German domination of Europe until 1945. Even today, under many government programs to increase French population, France has twice the territory of West Germany and is in many ways richer, but cannot match German economic performances. What had happened?

In 1793, the French revolutionary legislature, the Convention, abolished primogeniture, the feudal law which directed the estates of persons toward their first-born child. This abolition of a restriction on the hereditary conveyance was consistent with demographic growth and therefore correct, but the Convention did not proclaim the right of all persons to bequeath what they want to whom they want. It replaced the feudal directive with a far more extensive one by mandating that all property must be willed in equal shares to all legitimate and acknowledged illegitimate children. Napoleon incorporated this principle into his Code Civil, and it remained the law throughout the turbulent nineteenth century, blissfully untouched by “liberal” and “conservative” governments alike. The Germans and British had no such law, and generally allowed the freedom to bequeath. A popular historian sums it up concisely:


This legislation had important results, moral and economic: reluctant to condemn their heirs to poverty by periodic divisions of the patrimony among many children, the French cultivated the old arts of family limitation. The peasants remained prosperous, but the population of France grew slowly during the nineteenth century—from 28 million in 1800 to 39 million in 1914, while that of Germany rose from 21 to 67 million. Prospering on the land, French peasants were slow to move into towns and factories; so France remained predominantly agricultural, while England and Germany developed industry and technology, excelled in war, and dominated Europe.[5]

In 1911, a great French demographer cried out against France’s depopulation and inheritance laws:

Few know it! Hardly anyone thinks of it! The French see their country’s suicide without attempting a thing to prevent it. The death of France, which will be one of the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, astonishes foreigners and leaves us indifferent![6]

We have seen that in all the major countries of the world, legislation is designed to reconcile man’s two most natural ambitions: the desire to survive himself in his wealth and work, and the desire to survive himself in his children. In France, the law prevents the conciliation of these two ambitions; it forces a man to choose, and experience proves that he makes the choice most harmful to his country: he sacrifices the conservation of his nation to the preservation of his family wealthy.[7]

If even this subtle restriction on the hereditary conveyance—French revolutionary legislators might have almost been justified in calling it a theoretical extension of it to younger siblings—could result in the demographic eclipse of the most peopled and powerful state in Western Europe, what would an outright abolition of the conveyance do to an otherwise “perfect” state? The younger children which the French law was designed to protect were never born and never lent their economic productivity or their military manpower to the task of holding back the prolific, prosperous Germans. The statist, utopian assumption in all this is that people are so perfectly subservient to the state that they will have many children and create much wealth for their government regardless of its attitude toward the physical and economic continuity of family life. People are not and they do not.

Depopulating the Soviet Union

Revolutionary France has not been the only demographic colossus committed to utopianly naive restrictions on the freedom to bequeath. Marxist orthodoxy, as we have seen, envisions not merely a restriction on, but a total abolition of private inheritances. Accordingly, Marx and Engels are depopulating (and de-Europeanizing) the Soviet Union just as French revolutionary naivete penalized France. The Great Russian ethnic majority which stabilized the identity of tsarist Russia has disappeared under the communists; Stalin’s genocides and wars have left catastrophic deficits of males; and infant mortality is skyrocketing to such an extent that China can seriously relish the possibility of an end to Soviet population growth.

Two American demographers, basing their study only on figures put out by the Soviets themselves, have concluded that the average Soviet woman has from six to eight abortions in her lifetime.[8] Soviet feminists claim that the figure is closer to ten,[9] with the inevitable probability of uterine damage. Infant mortality is up to the levels of underdeveloped countries and Soviet life expectancy, having risen impressively in the 1950s, is edging down.[10] Western experts on Soviet affairs are astounded at this “health crisis” and cite alcoholism and health expenditure cutbacks, but these factors could be more of an effect than a prime cause of sagging familial morale in the U.S.S.R.

Breaking Family Ties

The overall problem is that a still theoretically utopian Soviet state, despite tacit concessions to the reality of minor family possessions staying within a family, remains faithful to Marx’s and Engels’ suppression of the essence of familial continuity, the hereditary conveyance. The Kremlin is reputed to be coldly realistic, but what more urgently real duty do the Soviets face than the peopling of that immensely rich Siberia which faces a billion hostile Chinese, and how can this crucial goal be achieved with the average Soviet woman undergoing at least half a dozen governmentally performed abortions during her childbearing years? The U.S.S.R. has already become predominantly Asian in population: how can it best resist the Asian nation par excellence, a China with Marxist pretensions of its own?

“The Sixties and Seventies have proved devastating to Soviet society,” writes demographer Nick Eberstadt.[11] And indeed they have, but did not the Soviets enjoy a certain demographico- economic growth up until that time? The growth-in-different communist state could spur its people to grow when its patriotism could point to Japanese or German militarism or to the fact that only the United States had the power of nuclear attack. But those days are gone forever, and when did they leave for good? At the dawn of the devastating sixties and seventies.

Soviet citizens are now free to see that the most dangerously self-deluded opponent of their familial continuity is not Hitler, but communism itself, as freely expressed in the 1848 Manifesto. Once the Soviets became a nuclear superpower, their leadership lost its most precious or perhaps its only tool for persuading the Soviet family to grow: Russian nationalism and military vulnerability. Soviet women will bear children to defend the “motherland of socialism” but not to prove the utopian theses of two nineteenth century German pseudo-scientists.

So it is that most utopias may be generally defined as the fruits of an intolerance for the hereditary transmission of wealth, an intolerance which, once international circumstances calm down long enough for families to take stock of it, provokes the disastrous retaliation of depopulation. The Soviets must repudiate Point Three of the Communist Manifesto or continue to face a demographic decline of incalculable consequences for the whole world. If the demographic decline of France opposite Germany was the most ominous event of the nineteenth century, the de-Europeanization and slow population growth of Soviet Russia is among the most disconcerting phenomena of the twentieth.

Beneficiaries of Great Wealth Often Oppose Such Transfers

Along with this new definition of utopianism as an assault on hereditary transmissions of wealth should come some theory of who the serious opponents of family wealth are. They could be anyone, but the deliciously paradoxical fact of the matter is that some of the most famous ones were the direct beneficiaries of great, unearned family wealth. At the very beginning of Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks Cephalus whether the latter’s wealth is self-acquired or inherited, and rejoices upon learning that it is inherited:

. . . the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.[12]

This passage fits in well with evidence indicating that Plato was of a patrician family and his leisurely, rambling dialogues the fruit of more leisure than any ordinary person could afford in his day. As to Marx and Engels we are far better informed. They shared not only friendship and a belief in “scientific” human perfectibility, but a common source of income, the Engels family fortune:

To support both himself and Marx, [Engels] accepted a subordinate position in the offices of Ermen & Engels [senior] in Manchester, eventually becoming a full fledged partner in the concern. He again functioned successfully as a businessman, never allowing his communist principles and criticism of capitalist ways to interfere with the profitable operations of his firm. Hence he was able to send money to Marx constantly, often in the form of five pound notes but later in far higher figures. When Engels sold his partnership in the business in 1869, he received enough for it to live comfortably until his death in 1895 and to provide Marx [who died in 1883] with an annual grant of 350 pounds, with a promise of more to cover all contingencies.[13]

Birthrights Rejected

The point is not, certainly, that a social thinker has to inherit great wealth in order to mount a utopian attack on the very conveyance which enriched him, but it could hardly be a coincidence that the two most famous and revered assaults on family wealth have come from among the heirs most gorged on its benefits. Dynastically wealthy persons constitute less than one per cent of all the humans who have ever lived, yet they have produced most, perhaps almost all of the utopian social blueprints which have distracted mankind from the real task of improving, not “perfecting” society. Nor is it being said here that major heirs are absent from the ranks of libertarian, individualistic thinkers: the task is not to predict the future political behavior of the dynastically wealthy, but to classify and analyze their past thoughts and attitudes as well as the nature of the political majorities which have accepted them as leaders.

Finally, it should always be remembered that dynastic wealth is virtually never a political factor outside of the world’s wealthiest nations because only the latter produce politically significant amounts of it. It is in the Germany and Britain of Marx and Engels, the America of Franklin Roosevelt, or the France of Jean-Paul Sartre that the partisan functions of family wealth must be sought. Did not Sartre, France’s most eminent twentieth century Marxist, admit that his mother once paid about $24,000 in taxes for him?[14]

The material poverty of a Lenin or a Mao Tse-tung disproves none of all this: penniless terrorists have always sought justification with the economically illiterate rich, who, like them, are too small a group to impose utopia and tyrannize the masses alone. The inescapable conclusion is that the most popular enemies of free market economies are those who never had to enter those economies on their own in the first place.

A Theory of Marxist “Progress”

From this principle a very logical theory of Marxist “progress” can be induced. It derives not from any socialist logic, but from the successes of free market economies: as more wealth is created by productive people like Engels’ father and his workers, more direct and indirect heirs like Marx and Engels are free to denounce the market logic which enriched their fathers and themselves. This is inevitably most evident in the recent history of the nation which has produced more anesthetizing dynastic wealth than any other in history, the United States, whose floundering welfare state is of course the creation of its most politically successful heir to great wealth, Franklin Roosevelt.

But the American experiment is beyond the scope of this indictment of human perfectibility, and rightfully so, for the heartbeat of our constitutional government, the separation of powers, is specifically anti-utopian: if the framers of the Constitution had been naive enough to think a single individual (philosopher king) or group (the urban proletariat) perfectible, they would not have perpetually separated the powers of demographico-economic growth, which are legislative in nature, from the executive power whose legitimate functions derive from and should be limited to the real or imminent emergencies which lessen human numbers. This institutionalized mistrust between legislators and the executive can minimize human greed and arrogance because it concedes that they exist. All governmental schemes which reject the separation of powers are doomed to be devoured by the selfishness and imperfectibility they deny.

So it is that our demographically based logic does not refute “scientific” utopia and leave nothing in its place. American history, before the 1930s at least, is the most real refutation of utopia, but also the proof that man has a choice between pursuit of an impossible perfection and the cynicism which would deny “improvability.” The United States, apparently bent on returning to the “growthist” ideals which made it great, and the self-depopulating Soviet Union respectively illustrate the Greek pun through which the jesting Thomas More gave utopia its name: the “good place” (eutopos) opposed to the “noplace” (outopos) of utopian pseudo-science. []


1.   “The Communist Manifesto,” in Capital and Other Writings, Modern Library Edition, page 342.

2.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 183.

3.   Ibid.

4.   Premier Edouard Daladier, “Rapport au President de la Republique,” 1939, quoted in Politics and Society in Contemporary France, edited by Eric Cahm, 1970; pages 484-485.

5.   Will Durant, The Age of Napoleon, page 125.

6.   Jacques Bertillon, La Depopulation de la France; Paris, 1911, page one.

7.   Ibid., page 150.

8.   Christopher Davis, Murray Feschback, “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR,” Bureau of the Census, Series P-95, No. 74, page 13.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Ibid., page one.

11.   In reviewing “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR”, New York Review of Books, February 19, 1981, page 23.

12.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 7.

13.   Oscar J. Hammen, “Friedrich Engels,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980, Volume 6, pages 859-860.

14.   Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations, X: politique et autobiographie; Gallimard, Paris, 1976; page 203.

Mr. Manoogian is Assistant Counsel to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Civil Service.

“When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?”

This biblical verse, Ecclesiastes 5:11, was the inspiration of that most famous of anti-utopians, Thomas Robert Malthus, who became a clergyman in the same year (1798) he published his famous Essay on Population. Malthusian pessimism will always be flawed by its clumsy and rather foolish predictions on food-producing and birth control technology, but it will always be a powerful tradition because the ultimate refutation of human perfectibility does indeed derive from a theory of human numbers, one which is far more complete than anything conceived in Ecclesiastes or elaborated by Malthus. The latter’s calculations were generally wrong, but his number-related suspicion of human imperfectibility points in the right direction.

Human numbers increase or decrease. In the strictest logic, every live birth is a tiny step toward the smothering of the world’s farmlands in people, just as a lack of births points toward the extinction of the species. Pending the realization of these comparably undesirable extremes, we are left with given societies or nations within which every social phenomenon relates in some way to the “moreness” or “lessness” of its number. Wars, just or unjust, popular or despised, won or lost, always connote some lessening of human numbers; peace implies a certain steady, cautious growth in human numbers which has always been the routine precondition of civilization: more manpower, expanded economies, more refined division of labor and leisure, and so on.

But growth is no unmixed blessing any more than is depopulation. The deceptively simple truth of the matter is that when a group decides to increase its numbers it collectively moves away from the advantages and disadvantages of demographic sparsity and toward the blessings and curses of growth. From the beginning of time we have stood in crowded cities and yearned for the peace of the countryside, then fretted on lonely farms in nostalgia for the human beehive of the city.

But a specifically mathematical truth stands behind this casual observation: We simultaneously desire two demographic conditions, contraction and dilation, which cannot simultaneously occur. Whether it is increasing or decreasing in number, every human society is moving toward one set of desiderata and away from another. The human group can dilate or contract toward one and only one set of universal human goals at a single given time. Man is demographico- mathematically imperfect and imperfectible.

A second, more informal way to consider human imperfectibility is the best preparation for a direct and definitive refutation of history’s most revered utopians, Plato and Marx. It concerns the impossibility of a just deployment of wealth upon the death of a creator of wealth.

At that time, two parties have claims to the wealth: the person’s heirs, meaning almost always his children, whose very existence announces population growth; and his government, whose very existence is justified by the prevention or minimalization of crises which diminish human numbers (wars, climatic catastrophes, and the like). Neither claim is perfectly just, since neither the heirs nor the government’s tax collectors have made the same innovations, taken the same risks or performed the same labor which created the wealth. But neither claim is completely refutable, either.

A Dilemma

The growth claimant, the heir, is correct to point out that he is genetically and geographically closer to the decedent, and the latter does almost always prefer his own sons and daughters as beneficiaries; but the non-growth claimant, the government, is also correct in pointing out that its power provided the creator of wealth with the physical security indispensable to the orderly creation of prosperity and innovation. Certainly, if society were perfectible, a perfect method of doing something so simple as assigning wealth upon the death of its creator would be possible or at least conceivable. It is not.

The hereditary conveyance of wealth has frustrated utopian thinkers for thousands of years, and for good reason: even a “perfect” state has to begin somewhere, and begin equally for everyone, but everywhere the utopian turns he sees that inheritances “aggravate” the inequalities of wealth and position which make utopia seem so unattainable. It is no wonder that almost all believers in human perfectibility call for an end to the bequeathing of wealth to heirs. Plato and Marx are not exceptions.

In all of political theory it is difficult to find two more dissimilar political thinkers than the most famous ancient and the most famous modern utopians. What could the patrician Athenian visionary, steeped in literature, music and athletics, have in common with the sarcastic German journalist, arch-materialist and agitator? The simple answer is a common call for the end of individual inheritances.

Toward the end of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels present ten points toward the communization of society. Point three reads succinctly enough: “Abolition of all right of inheritance.”[1]

Plato seems wiser and therefore far less optimistic about sweeping away the very essence of the human family by mere fiat. He knows that to eliminate or, more realistically, to minimize the effects of the hereditary conveyance, one must hack at its deepest roots without fear or favor. The fifth book of the Republic does just that, and the lives of the elite guardians of the Platonic state are regulated not only before their birth, but before their conception: “The number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population.”[2] The future guardians, “offspring of the good parents,” will never know these parents. Anonymous nurses “will provide for their nurture, and will bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk, taking the greatest possible care that no mother recognize her own child.”[3] The hereditary conveyance of wealth within a family of guardians will be abolished because the guardians will know no family at all.

Declining Population

It is of course beyond the scope of this article to refute Plato or Marx line by line, volume by volume. The point is that this is unnecessary to our logic, since neither system has passed the first and most important test of any social blueprint, pragmatic or utopian: is the proposed government one under which human beings will consistently continue to increase their numbers (i.e., have three or more children) or at least maintain them (by having two)? In logical sequence, no other issue is reached if the answer to this question is negative. Even utopia needs people, and even the slightest and most well-intentioned interference with the hereditary conveyance of wealth can induce catastrophic demographic declines, as shall be seen below. If no one in a state works for the long-range enrichment of any one but the state, human reproduction becomes a form of tribute to the state and to its majority politicians, and human numbers eventually shrink in retaliation.

Perhaps most importantly, neither Plato nor Marx in all their voluminous works ever bothers to address the ultimate question: how do you make the state everyone’s heir without giving its politicians an ominous vested interest in the death of their most productive and wealthy citizens? A private heir is virtually always forbidden by the state from killing his future benefactor to hurry his inheritance, but who will forbid the forbidder? Stalin’s murder of millions of relatively wealthy Russian peasants has been denounced even in the communist world, but it is an inescapable result of Marx’s and Engels’ explicit and absolute hostility to the hereditary conveyance, their implicit rejection of the only conditions under which human populations seem to consent to maintain themselves.

But what historical evidence can be cited to support the thesis that the freedom to bequeath wealth to one’s children is the necessary precondition of demographic growth and national survival? Utopias, by definition, can never be wholly refuted by history because they can never be totally placed in the arena of historical reality. But certain policies based on utopian assumptions always seem to manage to creep into the histories of the most innovative nations, provoking anti-utopian reactions, like the depopulation of France under its inheritance law, which confirm our demographic logic.

Trouble in France

Almost consistently from the days of Caesar to the late nineteenth century, France was the most populous nation in western Europe and therefore the society most likely to risk social experiment within the security which only superior numbers can provide. Then, relatively suddenly, its population growth stalled and virtually ceased. Aggravated, of course, by the First World War, deaths in France exceeded births during the 1930s. The country which had been almost five times as populous as Spain in the latter’s golden age and over twice as peopled as Victorian Britain in the nineteenth century fell behind the Italians, the British and above all the Germans in population, virtually assuring German domination of Europe until 1945. Even today, under many government programs to increase French population, France has twice the territory of West Germany and is in many ways richer, but cannot match German economic performances. What had happened?

In 1793, the French revolutionary legislature, the Convention, abolished primogeniture, the feudal law which directed the estates of persons toward their first-born child. This abolition of a restriction on the hereditary conveyance was consistent with demographic growth and therefore correct, but the Convention did not proclaim the right of all persons to bequeath what they want to whom they want. It replaced the feudal directive with a far more extensive one by mandating that all property must be willed in equal shares to all legitimate and acknowledged illegitimate children. Napoleon incorporated this principle into his Code Civil, and it remained the law throughout the turbulent nineteenth century, blissfully untouched by “liberal” and “conservative” governments alike. The Germans and British had no such law, and generally allowed the freedom to bequeath. A popular historian sums it up concisely:


This legislation had important results, moral and economic: reluctant to condemn their heirs to poverty by periodic divisions of the patrimony among many children, the French cultivated the old arts of family limitation. The peasants remained prosperous, but the population of France grew slowly during the nineteenth century—from 28 million in 1800 to 39 million in 1914, while that of Germany rose from 21 to 67 million. Prospering on the land, French peasants were slow to move into towns and factories; so France remained predominantly agricultural, while England and Germany developed industry and technology, excelled in war, and dominated Europe.[5]

In 1911, a great French demographer cried out against France’s depopulation and inheritance laws:

Few know it! Hardly anyone thinks of it! The French see their country’s suicide without attempting a thing to prevent it. The death of France, which will be one of the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, astonishes foreigners and leaves us indifferent![6]

We have seen that in all the major countries of the world, legislation is designed to reconcile man’s two most natural ambitions: the desire to survive himself in his wealth and work, and the desire to survive himself in his children. In France, the law prevents the conciliation of these two ambitions; it forces a man to choose, and experience proves that he makes the choice most harmful to his country: he sacrifices the conservation of his nation to the preservation of his family wealthy.[7]

If even this subtle restriction on the hereditary conveyance—French revolutionary legislators might have almost been justified in calling it a theoretical extension of it to younger siblings—could result in the demographic eclipse of the most peopled and powerful state in Western Europe, what would an outright abolition of the conveyance do to an otherwise “perfect” state? The younger children which the French law was designed to protect were never born and never lent their economic productivity or their military manpower to the task of holding back the prolific, prosperous Germans. The statist, utopian assumption in all this is that people are so perfectly subservient to the state that they will have many children and create much wealth for their government regardless of its attitude toward the physical and economic continuity of family life. People are not and they do not.

Depopulating the Soviet Union

Revolutionary France has not been the only demographic colossus committed to utopianly naive restrictions on the freedom to bequeath. Marxist orthodoxy, as we have seen, envisions not merely a restriction on, but a total abolition of private inheritances. Accordingly, Marx and Engels are depopulating (and de-Europeanizing) the Soviet Union just as French revolutionary naivete penalized France. The Great Russian ethnic majority which stabilized the identity of tsarist Russia has disappeared under the communists; Stalin’s genocides and wars have left catastrophic deficits of males; and infant mortality is skyrocketing to such an extent that China can seriously relish the possibility of an end to Soviet population growth.

Two American demographers, basing their study only on figures put out by the Soviets themselves, have concluded that the average Soviet woman has from six to eight abortions in her lifetime.[8] Soviet feminists claim that the figure is closer to ten,[9] with the inevitable probability of uterine damage. Infant mortality is up to the levels of underdeveloped countries and Soviet life expectancy, having risen impressively in the 1950s, is edging down.[10] Western experts on Soviet affairs are astounded at this “health crisis” and cite alcoholism and health expenditure cutbacks, but these factors could be more of an effect than a prime cause of sagging familial morale in the U.S.S.R.

Breaking Family Ties

The overall problem is that a still theoretically utopian Soviet state, despite tacit concessions to the reality of minor family possessions staying within a family, remains faithful to Marx’s and Engels’ suppression of the essence of familial continuity, the hereditary conveyance. The Kremlin is reputed to be coldly realistic, but what more urgently real duty do the Soviets face than the peopling of that immensely rich Siberia which faces a billion hostile Chinese, and how can this crucial goal be achieved with the average Soviet woman undergoing at least half a dozen governmentally performed abortions during her childbearing years? The U.S.S.R. has already become predominantly Asian in population: how can it best resist the Asian nation par excellence, a China with Marxist pretensions of its own?

“The Sixties and Seventies have proved devastating to Soviet society,” writes demographer Nick Eberstadt.[11] And indeed they have, but did not the Soviets enjoy a certain demographico- economic growth up until that time? The growth-in-different communist state could spur its people to grow when its patriotism could point to Japanese or German militarism or to the fact that only the United States had the power of nuclear attack. But those days are gone forever, and when did they leave for good? At the dawn of the devastating sixties and seventies.

Soviet citizens are now free to see that the most dangerously self-deluded opponent of their familial continuity is not Hitler, but communism itself, as freely expressed in the 1848 Manifesto. Once the Soviets became a nuclear superpower, their leadership lost its most precious or perhaps its only tool for persuading the Soviet family to grow: Russian nationalism and military vulnerability. Soviet women will bear children to defend the “motherland of socialism” but not to prove the utopian theses of two nineteenth century German pseudo-scientists.

So it is that most utopias may be generally defined as the fruits of an intolerance for the hereditary transmission of wealth, an intolerance which, once international circumstances calm down long enough for families to take stock of it, provokes the disastrous retaliation of depopulation. The Soviets must repudiate Point Three of the Communist Manifesto or continue to face a demographic decline of incalculable consequences for the whole world. If the demographic decline of France opposite Germany was the most ominous event of the nineteenth century, the de-Europeanization and slow population growth of Soviet Russia is among the most disconcerting phenomena of the twentieth.

Beneficiaries of Great Wealth Often Oppose Such Transfers

Along with this new definition of utopianism as an assault on hereditary transmissions of wealth should come some theory of who the serious opponents of family wealth are. They could be anyone, but the deliciously paradoxical fact of the matter is that some of the most famous ones were the direct beneficiaries of great, unearned family wealth. At the very beginning of Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks Cephalus whether the latter’s wealth is self-acquired or inherited, and rejoices upon learning that it is inherited:

. . . the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.[12]

This passage fits in well with evidence indicating that Plato was of a patrician family and his leisurely, rambling dialogues the fruit of more leisure than any ordinary person could afford in his day. As to Marx and Engels we are far better informed. They shared not only friendship and a belief in “scientific” human perfectibility, but a common source of income, the Engels family fortune:

To support both himself and Marx, [Engels] accepted a subordinate position in the offices of Ermen & Engels [senior] in Manchester, eventually becoming a full fledged partner in the concern. He again functioned successfully as a businessman, never allowing his communist principles and criticism of capitalist ways to interfere with the profitable operations of his firm. Hence he was able to send money to Marx constantly, often in the form of five pound notes but later in far higher figures. When Engels sold his partnership in the business in 1869, he received enough for it to live comfortably until his death in 1895 and to provide Marx [who died in 1883] with an annual grant of 350 pounds, with a promise of more to cover all contingencies.[13]

Birthrights Rejected

The point is not, certainly, that a social thinker has to inherit great wealth in order to mount a utopian attack on the very conveyance which enriched him, but it could hardly be a coincidence that the two most famous and revered assaults on family wealth have come from among the heirs most gorged on its benefits. Dynastically wealthy persons constitute less than one per cent of all the humans who have ever lived, yet they have produced most, perhaps almost all of the utopian social blueprints which have distracted mankind from the real task of improving, not “perfecting” society. Nor is it being said here that major heirs are absent from the ranks of libertarian, individualistic thinkers: the task is not to predict the future political behavior of the dynastically wealthy, but to classify and analyze their past thoughts and attitudes as well as the nature of the political majorities which have accepted them as leaders.

Finally, it should always be remembered that dynastic wealth is virtually never a political factor outside of the world’s wealthiest nations because only the latter produce politically significant amounts of it. It is in the Germany and Britain of Marx and Engels, the America of Franklin Roosevelt, or the France of Jean-Paul Sartre that the partisan functions of family wealth must be sought. Did not Sartre, France’s most eminent twentieth century Marxist, admit that his mother once paid about $24,000 in taxes for him?[14]

The material poverty of a Lenin or a Mao Tse-tung disproves none of all this: penniless terrorists have always sought justification with the economically illiterate rich, who, like them, are too small a group to impose utopia and tyrannize the masses alone. The inescapable conclusion is that the most popular enemies of free market economies are those who never had to enter those economies on their own in the first place.

A Theory of Marxist “Progress”

From this principle a very logical theory of Marxist “progress” can be induced. It derives not from any socialist logic, but from the successes of free market economies: as more wealth is created by productive people like Engels’ father and his workers, more direct and indirect heirs like Marx and Engels are free to denounce the market logic which enriched their fathers and themselves. This is inevitably most evident in the recent history of the nation which has produced more anesthetizing dynastic wealth than any other in history, the United States, whose floundering welfare state is of course the creation of its most politically successful heir to great wealth, Franklin Roosevelt.

But the American experiment is beyond the scope of this indictment of human perfectibility, and rightfully so, for the heartbeat of our constitutional government, the separation of powers, is specifically anti-utopian: if the framers of the Constitution had been naive enough to think a single individual (philosopher king) or group (the urban proletariat) perfectible, they would not have perpetually separated the powers of demographico-economic growth, which are legislative in nature, from the executive power whose legitimate functions derive from and should be limited to the real or imminent emergencies which lessen human numbers. This institutionalized mistrust between legislators and the executive can minimize human greed and arrogance because it concedes that they exist. All governmental schemes which reject the separation of powers are doomed to be devoured by the selfishness and imperfectibility they deny.

So it is that our demographically based logic does not refute “scientific” utopia and leave nothing in its place. American history, before the 1930s at least, is the most real refutation of utopia, but also the proof that man has a choice between pursuit of an impossible perfection and the cynicism which would deny “improvability.” The United States, apparently bent on returning to the “growthist” ideals which made it great, and the self-depopulating Soviet Union respectively illustrate the Greek pun through which the jesting Thomas More gave utopia its name: the “good place” (eutopos) opposed to the “noplace” (outopos) of utopian pseudo-science. []


1.   “The Communist Manifesto,” in Capital and Other Writings, Modern Library Edition, page 342.

2.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 183.

3.   Ibid.

4.   Premier Edouard Daladier, “Rapport au President de la Republique,” 1939, quoted in Politics and Society in Contemporary France, edited by Eric Cahm, 1970; pages 484-485.

5.   Will Durant, The Age of Napoleon, page 125.

6.   Jacques Bertillon, La Depopulation de la France; Paris, 1911, page one.

7.   Ibid., page 150.

8.   Christopher Davis, Murray Feschback, “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR,” Bureau of the Census, Series P-95, No. 74, page 13.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Ibid., page one.

11.   In reviewing “Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR”, New York Review of Books, February 19, 1981, page 23.

12.   The Republic, translated by B. Jowett; Modern Library Edition, page 7.

13.   Oscar J. Hammen, “Friedrich Engels,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980, Volume 6, pages 859-860.

14.   Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations, X: politique et autobiographie; Gallimard, Paris, 1976; page 203.