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"Freedom of Occupation": Excerpt from the Staats-Lexikon: "Trade and Manufacturing" (1845-1848)

As this excerpt from Carl von Rotteck and Carl Welcker’s Staats-Lexikon (1845-1848) demonstrates, even liberals who opposed guilds and favored occupational freedom worried that a free labor market might lead to the dominance of large capitalists over small businesses. The author advocates cooperatives, voluntary associations, and education as correctives rather than government intervention.

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B) Occupational freedom. In contrast to compulsory guild membership, occupational freedom consists in not binding the practice of a trade to a specific time and manner of learning, to a period of travel as a journeyman, to a test of knowledge and skill involving the production of a craft masterpiece, or to the number of those already practicing the trade. Freedom is the natural condition, it is the right that requires no particular proof; restricting freedom, on the other hand, has to be proven necessary in order to maintain the rights of third parties or for the greater public good. But freedom is far different from anarchy; it is necessarily limited in the interest of the whole through law. Thus, in a condition of freedom, even the occupational trades have their laws in a constitution of occupational freedom, a law on practicing trades, within which they can operate and provide training. The transition from compulsion to freedom is often no less painful for the habits and interests that have developed under the former than the transition from freedom to compulsion is for the opposing interests. The serf who must henceforth support himself by his own hard work resists the removal of the yoke under which his lord and master, although permitted to beat him, was also required to feed him; a free man would rather die than submit to such a yoke. The guild spirit fears ruin and death from starvation when the barriers are open to competitive rivalry from hard work and skill; where occupational freedom has existed long enough for the fleshpots of Egypt to have vanished from the memory of the current generation, [there] one does not grasp how the practice of an occupation might count as a prerogative that the members of a corporate body claim exclusively for themselves. When the guilds arose and formed, they had to give themselves the power to protect person and property, fend off violence, promote their interests; they also needed to establish instruction and preparations for practicing a trade. The authority of the state focused its resources and its efficacy almost exclusively on war. The beneficial exchange of corporate privilege and compulsion for civic equality of rights and freedom presupposes that the whole [of society] has proceeded toward laws and institutions that secure the right of the individual and afford him the opportunity to train himself to become a useful member of society, in accordance with his own talents and capabilities. – After the abolition of compulsory guild membership, the state’s regulations remain, whereby the dangers that can arise among some occupational trades through ineptitude or negligence with regard to the health, life, and property of citizens are meant to be prevented; likewise with concern for the regular operation of those trades that supply society with indispensable goods, especially foodstuffs. Furthermore, everyone will be required to specify which occupation, one or several,

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