Who was Wilhelm Röpke?

By | January 25, 2019

[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.

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  1. https://mises.org/profile/wilhelm-röpke
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Who was Wilhelm Röpke?

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Roepke opposed collectivist policies not simply because economic science told him they were bound to inflict misery on millions. He also regarded collectivism as incompatible with authentic human freedom.

  2. Dale Paul Fox

    Many scholars agree with this connection with the French Revolution and modern politics.

  3. Greg Heyman

    Röpke was shaped by his military service in World War 1. That experience had a profound influence on his thought. Initially, Röpke’s anti Nationalism and antiwar positions translated into support for socialism. To his surprise, however, his university studies (especially his study of Mises) led him to conclude that his protest against war and nationalism mandated “a commitment to liberalism in the sphere of international economic relations; in other words, to free trade.”

    1. Bryan Lee

      More of us should be exposed to such experiences because it seems to only be the way to ensure we are not stupid by adopting socialist-collectivists political policies.

  4. Max Foster

    There will be many critics who will reject Ropke en bloc because he rejects the contradiction with their more or less collectivist and centrist ideas.

    1. Eva Easterbrook

      I agree Max. The rise of “collectivism” as foreseen by Ropke and his rejection of its historical destruction is a deep-seated problem worldwide. Why people move to it can be explain in simple terms. It gives them an easy path to life.

  5. AutisticTechie

    This brilliant German economist of the “Austrian school” stood up to the centralising and dehumanising policies of the Nazis. Röpke recognised that collectivist ideologies lay waste to civil society-destroying the intermediary institutions between individual and state.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Wilhelm Röpke recognized that allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand is the most humane system and as such he was champion of the market economy.

  6. Shawn C. Stolarz

    If we are really interesting in getting into his baseline philosophy then read about it in his 2014 book.
    “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market” – June 1, 2014

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      I agree. If you want a bracing look at how society should run, pick up this book. Ropke, a German who resisted Hitler during WWII and was an architect of Germany’s post-war economic resurgance, writes beautifully about the value of the market economy, and about the need to undergird this economy with strong social and political institutions.

  7. Len Jakosky

    I like your series on “who was …” or “who is …”. It gives me a glimpse into the world that I was never exposed to when growing up. Many of the key intellectual figures of the 19th and 20th century were not discussed in school.

    1. Anita

      I agree with you Len. Very few of us were exposed to key information in school. Why? That is a question that our teachers must answer.

    2. Martin Shiell

      I too agree with you and others who believe that our American education system is lacking.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    I never heard of him before but I’ll be going out on the Internet to read more about him. Thank you for pointing out his contributions to us.

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