The particular form of economic organization, which is becoming more and more apparent in this country, as an outgrowth of the power of pressure groups, is one of the worst variants of statism: guild socialism. Guild socialism robs the talented young of their future—by freezing men into professional castes under rigid rules. It represents an open embodiment of the basic motive of most statists, though they usually prefer not to confess it: the entrenchment and protection of mediocrity from abler competitors, the shackling of the men of superior ability down to the mean average of their professions. That theory is not too popular among socialists (though it has its advocates)—but the most famous instance of its large-scale practice was Fascist Italy.
In the 1930’s, a few perceptive men said that Roosevelt’s New Deal was a form of guild socialism and that it was closer to Mussolini’s system than to any other. They were ignored. Today, the evidence is unmistakable.
It was also said that if fascism ever came to the United States, it would come disguised as socialism.
The [student] rebels’ notion that universities should be run by students and faculties was an open, explicit assault on the right attacked implicitly by all their other notions: the right of private property. And of all the various statist-collectivist systems, the one they chose as their goal is, politico-economically, the least practical; intellectually, the least defensible; morally, the most shameful: guild socialism.
Guild socialism is a system that abolishes the exercise of individual ability by chaining men into groups according to their line of work, and delivering the work into the group’s power, as its exclusive domain, with the group dictating the rules, standards, and practices of how the work is to be done and who shall or shall not do it.
Guild socialism is the concrete-bound, routine-bound mentality of a savage, elevated into a social theory. Just as a tribe of savages seizes a piece of jungle territory and claims it as a monopoly by reason of the fact of being there—so guild socialism grants a monopoly, not on a jungle forest or waterhole, but on a factory or a university—not by reason of a man’s ability, achievement, or even “public service,” but by reason of the fact that he is there.
Just as savages have no concept of causes or consequences, of past or future, and no concept of efficacy beyond the muscular power of their tribe—so guild socialists, finding themselves in the midst of an industrial civilization, regard its institutions as phenomena of nature and see no reason why the gang should not seize them.
If there is any one proof of a man’s incompetence, it is the stagnant mentality of a worker (or of a professor) who, doing some small, routine job in a vast undertaking, does not care to look beyond the lever of a machine (or the lectern of a classroom), does not choose to know how the machine (or the classroom) got there or what makes his job possible, and proclaims that the management of the undertaking is parasitical and unnecessary. Managerial work—the organization and integration of human effort into purposeful, large-scale, long-range activities—is, in the realm of action, what man’s conceptual faculty is in the realm of cognition. It is beyond the grasp and, therefore, is the first target of the self-arrested, sensory-perceptual mentality.
If there is any one way to confess one’s own mediocrity, it is the willingness to place one’s work in the absolute power of a group, particularly a group of one’s professional colleagues. Of any forms of tyranny, this is the worst; it is directed against a single human attribute: the mind—and against a single enemy: the innovator. The innovator, by definition, is the man who challenges the established practices of his profession. To grant a professional monopoly to any group, is to sacrifice human ability and abolish progress; to advocate such a monopoly, is to confess that one has nothing to sacrifice.
Guild socialism is the rule of, by, and for mediocrity. Its cause is a society’s intellectual collapse; its consequence is a quagmire of stagnation; its historical example is the guild system of the Middle Ages (or, in modern times, the fascist system of Italy under Mussolini).
What makes guild socialism cruder than (but not different from) most statist-collectivist theories is the fact that it represents the other, the usually unmentioned, side of altruism: it is the voice, not of the givers, but of the receivers. While most altruistic theorists proclaim “the common good” as their justification, advocate self-sacrificial service to the “community,” and keep silent about the exact nature or identity of the recipients of sacrifices—guild socialists brazenly declare themselves to be the recipients and present their claims to the community, demanding its services. If they want a monopoly on a given profession, they claim, the rest of the community must give up the right to practice it. If they want a university, they claim, the community must provide it.