The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 11, 2018

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Ropke, Wilhelm
William F. Campbell - 03/23/12

Although he was a Protestant, Röpke respected Catholic social teaching and its embrace of small business, small farms, and “subsidiarity”—the doctrine that political decisions ought to be made locally wherever possible and only delegated upward to central authorities when absolutely necessary to the common good. Like the Chestertonian distributists, Röpke held that the widespread dissemination of private property (especially land) and economic power was the best safeguard against socialism and totalitarianism. He warned that the amassing of great wealth in the hands of the few was merely a waystation on the road to collectivism. He held up as a model the Swiss constitution (modeled in 1848 on the then-decentralized American system), noting that citizens in that country paid most of their taxes to their local governments. In terms of public policy, Röpke subscribed to the American view of substantive due process and a federalist understanding of legitimate police powers.

Röpke wrote elegantly and persuasively, and most of his numerous books have been translated into English and many other languages. His textbook, The Economics of the Free Society (1937), is probably the best introduction to free-market economics available. The first two books of his trilogy, The Social Crisis of Our Time (1942) and The Moral Foundations of Civil Society (1944), are excellent syntheses of social conservatism and market economics. Probably his most important work for the conservative intellectual movement in the United States has been his late collection of essays A Humane Economy (1958).

Further Reading
  • Röpke, Wilhelm. Against the Tide. Translated by Elizabeth Henderson. Chicago: Regnery, 1969.
  • ———. International Economic Disintegration. London: William Hodge, 1942.
  • Zmirak, John. Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2001.
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