The University Bookman reprints a fine essay on the German centrist Wilhelm Roepke that is apropos of our recent discussions here:
In 1946, as a student in Roepke’s seminar, I was invited to his home in Champel in Geneva, a great privilege. We got to discussing the war, just over, and the immense tragedy of it, and Roepke recounted an episode in which, during the war, he has met, quite by accident, his old friend and colleague, Ludwig von Mises. He remembered von Mises saying that if only the principles of free trade had been followed from the beginning, World War II might never have happened. I don’t recall Roepke’s exact reply to this, but he was, in effect, struck dumb. And he remarked to me that it was incredible that anyone with a fair knowledge of German or of European history could reduce the German question — the darkest and most sombre question of the age, with myriad roots reaching back hundreds of years — to a mere set of economic arrangements. For Roepke, this kind of economic determinism, though employed in the defense of capitalism, is just as fallacious as the Marxian version of economic determinism, directed to the justification of the dialectic. Both are wrong in equating society and history with the economy.
So it was, too, that Roepke, a man born in 1899, hence with one foot, so to speak, in the nineteenth century, could look back on that century and, confronting the gruesome horrors of the twentieth, find a great deal to admire. In particular, he often praised the signal accomplishments of the infant capitalist economy of the early nineteenth century. But he found much to condemn in the subsequent evolution of “historic” capitalism, with its incipient tendencies toward monopolism and giantism, its obsessive materialism, its drive toward mass production and the associated erection of a mass culture based on mass consumption. He deplored the attendant shrinking of the spheres still left to individual creativity and initiative and to the “unbought graces of life,” a Burkean phrase he was fond of citing. In historic capitalism, he saw also the seeds of a later full-blown hostility to the preservation of, the small organic community, of small industry, of the peasant farmer, of a way of life made to “the measure of man.”
If Roepke himself had an obsession, it was his passionate detestation of “the cult of the colossal,” of the accoutrements of an increasingly mechanistic, quantitative, super-efficient, perfectionist, and mathematized society. He saw this cult, expanded to a culture, as the progenitor of the mass man, spiritually starved, desperately bored, and hence critically vulnerable to the new pseudo-religions of nationalism and socialism, and of their variant species, brown or red.
Do go over and browse the new Bookman website. Lots of excellent content there.