[January 25, 2019] Leadership comes in many forms. Yet, of the more undervalued leaders, those who provide moral and intellectual arguments for or against a particular idea hold a special role. Their advocacy can be compelling as it was for Professor Wilhelm Röpke (sometimes spelled Roepke).
Wilhelm Röpke (1899 – 1966) devoted his life to combating collectivism in economic, social, and political theory. He contributed to a theoretical structure and political vision that warned of the dangers of political consolidation into a centralized form. More than any other of his time, he explored the ethical foundations of a market-based social order.1
“Whether in Bolshevism, Fascism, or Nazism, we meet continually with the forcible and ruthless usurpation of the power of the State by a minority drawn from the masses, resting on their support, flattering them and threatening them at the same time; a minority led by a charismatic leader and brazenly identifying itself with the State.”
Röpke’s early work outlined themes that would reoccur throughout his career: the curse of collectivism and scientism, and the central importance of moral and social institutions that sustain the free society. For example he noted that Fascism has a grave moral defect. It fails to recognize the individual as the key social unit.
Right economic reasoning, Professor Röpke argued, begins not with the nation but with human action, and right social policy begins with the recognition that society is made up of individuals with souls. Fascism, on the other hand, by ignoring the individual soul, is socialism’s close cousin because it exults in the idolatry of the state.
“The more we gained knowledge of these new totalitarian systems of mass-rule, the more we realized not only their similarity of structure, but also the fact that we had to do with a type of dominance that had been known in earlier epochs. We discovered that [Communism, Fascism, and Socialism] … possessed the means of domination unknown in [and superior to] past ages.”
Wilhelm Röpke’s writings are especially appropriate for the modern debates over socialism and capitalism (and their real meanings) and the ideology of collectivism versus individual freedom. I would propose that today’s neo-Marxists would vehemently disagree.