Franz Oppenheimer

Franz Oppenheimer books and biography


Franz Oppenheimer

Franz Oppenheimer

Franz Oppenheimer (born 30 March 1864 in Berlin; died 30 September 1943 in Los Angeles) was a German sociologist and political economist, who published also in the area of the fundamental sociology of the state.


Personal life

After his study of medicine in Freiburg and Berlin, Oppenheimer was practiced as a physician in Berlin from 1886 to 1895. From 1890 onwards, he began to concern himself with sociopolitical questions and social economics. After his activity as a physician, he was editor-in-chief of the magazine Welt am Morgen, where he became acquainted with Friedrich Naumann, who was, at the time, working door-to-door for different daily papers.

In 1909, Oppenheimer earned a Ph. D. in Kiel with a thesis about economist David Ricardo. From 1909 to 1917, Oppenheimer was Privatdozent in Berlin, then for two years Titularprofessor. In 1919, he accepted a call to serve as Chair for Sociology and Theoretical Political Economy at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main. This was the first chair dedicated to Sociology in Germany.

From 1934 to 1935, Oppenheimer taught in Palestine. In 1936 he was appointed an honorary member of the American Sociological Association. In 1938 he emigrated via Tokyo and Shanghai to Los Angeles in the United States. 1941, he became a founding member of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology.


Ludwig Erhard studied economics with Franz Oppenheimer and was strongly influenced by Oppenheimer's ideas of "liberal socialist" economic policy that attempted to steer a middle path between socialism and liberalism. Albert Jay Nock, although a vocal critic of socialism, was deeply influenced by Oppenheimer's analysis of the fundamental nature of the state.

Origins of the State

Unlike Locke and others, Oppenheimer rejected the idea of the "social contract" and contributed to the "conquest theory" of the State:

"The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors."
"No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner. [1] Wherever a reliable tradition reports otherwise, either it concerns the amalgamation of two fully developed primitive states into one body of more complete organisation; or else it is an adaptation to men of the fable of the sheep which made a bear their king in order to be protected against the wolf. But even in this latter case, the form and content of the State became precisely the same as in those states where nothing intervened, and which became immediately 'wolf states'." (p. 15)

The economic and the political means

Stamp Franz Oppenheimer, series Important Germans
Stamp Franz Oppenheimer, series Important Germans

Oppenheimer also contributed a vital distinction by which human beings obtain their needs:

"There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation! These words convey to us ideas of crime and the penitentiary, since we are the contemporaries of a developed civilization, specifically based on the inviolability of property. And this tang is not lost when we are convinced that land and sea robbery is the primitive relation of life, just as the warrior's trade - which also for a long time is only organized mass robbery constitutes the most respected of occupations. Both because of this, and also on account of the need of having, in the further development of this study, terse, clear, sharply opposing terms for these very important contrasts, I propose i. the following discussion to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means" for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the "political means." (pp. 24-25)

Albert Jay Nock introduced these concepts to American readers in his own book "Our Enemy the State."

Openheimmer's market anarchism ideas are in line with another authors as Thomas Hodgskin, Benjamin Tucker or Kevin Carson. [1]


Franz Oppenheimer created an extensive oeuvre consisting of approximately 40 books and 400 essays which contain writings on sociology, economics, and the political questions of his time.

See also

  • Social market economy
  • Political sociology
  • Economic sociology
  • Political economy

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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The State

By Franz Oppenheimer
Political Science

The State
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