Skip to main content

About this book

This volume provides a comprehensive account of Wilhelm Röpke as a liberal political economist and social philosopher. Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966) was a key protagonist of transatlantic neoliberalism, a prominent public intellectual and a gifted international networker. As an original thinker, he always positioned himself at the interface between political economy and social philosophy, as well as between liberalism and conservatism. Röpke’s endeavors to combine these elements into a coherent whole, as well as his embeddedness in European and American intellectual networks of liberal and conservative thinkers, are a central theme throughout the book.

The volume includes papers by international experts from a conference in Geneva on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Röpke’s passing. The first part focuses on new biographical insights into his exile years in Istanbul and Geneva, while the second part discusses his business cycle theory in the context of the Great Depression, and the third part elaborates on his multifaceted social philosophy.

Wilhelm Röpke was among the most important thinkers within the classical liberal revival post-WWII, with intriguing tensions between liberalism and conservatism. A highly recommended volume.

–– Peter J. Boettke, 2016-2018 President of the Mont Pèlerin Society and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, George Mason University

This important collection of papers provides an in-depth assessment of Wilhelm Röpke’s contributions, placing him in the context of his time. A fine contribution.

–– Bruce J. Caldwell, Director of the Center for the History of Political Economy and Research Professor of Economics, Duke University

Table of Contents


Wilhelm Röpke as a Pragmatic Political Economist and Eclectic Social Philosopher: An Introduction

Commun and Kolev provide here as co-editors an introduction to the volume. They refer to the conference in Geneva which has led to this collection of contributions, and embed the volume in the multifaceted literature on neoliberalism. Along the aspects of Wilhelm Röpke’s life and work, Commun and Kolev depict the structure of the volume. The biographical section portrays Röpke as a European public economist involved in manifold international networks and discourses. The section on economics presents Röpke as a pragmatic political economist amid the tensions between Keynes and the Austrian School. The section on social philosophy sheds light on Röpke as an eclectic social philosopher at the intersection of conservatism and liberalism. Finally, some major challenges posed by Röpke’s heritage are outlined.
Patricia Commun, Stefan Kolev

Wilhelm Röpke: New Biographical Insights


Between Two Continents: Wilhelm Röpke’s Years in Istanbul

Masala and Kama first investigate Wilhelm Röpke’s activities during his years at the University of Istanbul (1933–1937) and, second, show the importance of this period for Röpke’s development. Röpke’s relationship to Atatürk’s Turkey is puzzling: despite the unique process of modernization, his contributions to the new university, and his intensifying friendship to Alexander Rüstow, Röpke later seldom referred to life in Istanbul, and his influence on Turkish academia was very limited. Subsequently, the authors analyze Röpke’s works in Turkish, most of them never published in another language: three textbooks, among them one on the history of economic thought, Röpke’s only comprehensive work in this field. Also articles for Turkish journals are discussed, focusing on Röpke’s attitude to the role of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Antonio Masala, Özge Kama

Wilhelm Röpke’s Utopia and Swiss Reality: From Neoliberalism to Neoconservatism

Franc assesses Wilhelm Röpke’s impact on Swiss domestic policy. Röpke spent the greater part of his academic life (1937–1966) in Switzerland and used the example of Switzerland as a blueprint for his social philosophy. He conveyed a utopian image of Switzerland and used Switzerland as a stylized model for the ideal neoliberal nation. In foreign affairs, Röpke’s description of Switzerland helped to improve its shattered image after WWII. Domestically, Röpke’s glorification of Switzerland strengthened its nascent nationalism. Röpke contributed to the so-called “spiritual defense” during the war. After the war, neoconservative politicians repeated Röpke’s description of Switzerland as “an exception in history.” Until today, neoconservative intellectuals and politicians use and abuse Röpke to justify, e.g., the non-joining of the European project and exceptional agricultural protectionism.
Andrea Franc

The Making of the “Third Way”: Wilhelm Röpke, Luigi Einaudi, and the Identity of Neoliberalism

Giordano explores the support and impulses which Wilhelm Röpke and Luigi Einaudi, one of the most influential Italian economists of the twentieth century, exchanged during their long and intense intellectual relationship. Their exchange continued from the mid-1930s until Einaudi’s death in 1961. Giordano focuses on their common vision of a liberal “Third Way” between totalitarian collectivism and historical capitalism. In their view, the true nature of the free market economy could only unfold if it was embedded in an “ethical-legal framework.” They also shared a diagnosis of the crisis of Western civilization. Despite some differences, both Röpke and Einaudi accompanied the incipient process of European integration, attempting to guide it toward the principles of the “Third Way.”
Alberto Giordano

Paleo- and Neoliberals: Ludwig von Mises and the “Ordo-interventionists”

Kolev provides a reconstruction of the intellectual relationship between Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and German ordoliberals Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke, aiming at a nuanced understanding of the hostile climate in their relationship. The four decades are separated into five phases: (1) socialization echoing the Methodenstreit, (2) initial debates on business cycles in the 1920s and early 1930s, (3) clashes on political economy and social philosophy at the Colloque Walter Lippmann in 1938 and the early decades of the Mont Pèlerin Society after 1947, (4) coexistence during the German “economic miracle,” and (5) exchanges in the 1960s, including new archival materials about Mises’ only honorary doctorate in economics, at Freiburg in 1964. As an overarching element, Kolev offers a specific interpretation of neoliberalism.
Stefan Kolev

Wilhelm Röpke as a Political Economist: Between Keynes and the Austrians


The Moral Foundations of Society and Technological Progress of the Economy in the Work of Wilhelm Röpke

Resico and Solari focus first on the relationship in Wilhelm Röpke’s work between morality, social integration, and the market by delineating Röpke’s humanism and his metaphysical conception of man. The authors emphasize the interdependent set of feedbacks in economy and society which are at the heart of Röpke’s system. In the next step, the connection between morality and social integration is explored via the concept of metastability of the market society. Subsequently, Resico and Solari discuss innovations in technology and organization, relate them to the concept of metastability, and show Röpke’s ambiguous assessment of these innovations due to his focus on decentralizing economy and society. Overall, the relationship between division of labor, technology, and economic development is studied as it gradually unfolds in Röpke’s works.
Marcelo Resico, Stefano Solari

Was Wilhelm Röpke Really a Proto-Keynesian?

Fèvre examines the difficulties of the commonly encountered qualification that Wilhelm Röpke’s early work is “proto-Keynesian.” By focusing on his 1936 Crises and Cycles and previous publications, Fèvre shows that Röpke attempted a synthesis by drawing upon various inspirations in business cycle theory. The major impulses stemmed from J.M. Keynes, with concepts from the period before his General Theory, and F.A. Hayek, both of whom in Fèvre’s assessment were equally important for Röpke regarding different phases of the business cycle. Röpke’s innovative approach to the secondary depression and “liberal interventionism” as a possible solution for this depression type receive further attention. Moreover, Röpke’s political insights from the same publications help to understand why Röpke’s latest works were characterized by such a virulent anti-Keynesianism.
Raphaël Fèvre

Wilhelm Röpke’s Report on the Brauns Commission: Advocating a Pragmatic Business Cycle Policy

The Brauns Commission was initiated in January 1931 by former Labor Minister Heinrich Brauns upon the request of the German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning. The commission was assigned to make recommendations helping to solve the dramatic rise in unemployment during the Great Depression and its related costs. In light of the German tradition of crisis expertise in the 1920s and of Wilhelm Röpke’s analysis of the discussions among the commission’s experts, Commun presents new insights into Röpke’s positions as a pragmatic liberal in dramatic times. In the midst of the massive economic and financial depression in 1931, Röpke recommended a moderate countercyclical stimulus policy. Targeted at this very particular moment of time in Germany, he appears as a proponent of a “pragmatic business cycle policy.”
Patricia Commun

The Secondary Depression: An Integral Part of Wilhelm Röpke’s Business Cycle Theory

Wilhelm Röpke’s secondary depression constitutes an important approach toward understanding economic downturns. Röpke defined the destructive secondary depression as a consequence of a failed purification process (primary depression) without elaborating on their relationship. Thus, literature on Röpke’s work emphasizes the independence of the secondary depression from the primary depression and even considers this independent secondary depression as his only contribution to business cycle research. However, Grudev points out that the roots of the secondary depression can be traced back to the primary depression which itself depends on Röpke’s definition of the preceding boom. Grudev concludes that the secondary depression is an integral part of Röpke’s business cycle theory, which can be defined as a distinguishable branch of the “Neo-Wicksellian” School.
Lachezar Grudev

Wilhelm Röpke as a Social Philosopher. Part A: Conservatism


From Basel to Brooklyn: Liberal Cultural Pessimism in Burckhardt, Röpke, and the American Neoconservatives

Kahan argues that cultural pessimism has always been a characteristic of some strands of liberal thought and that therefore Wilhelm Röpke’s cultural pessimism does not mean that he was a conservative. Liberal cultural pessimism can be found in both anti-modernist and modernist forms. Jacob Burckhardt and Röpke share an anti-modernist liberal cultural pessimism, whereas the American neoconservative Irving Kristol is an example of a modernist liberal cultural pessimism. Even though many liberals have been optimists, optimism has never been a requirement for liberalism.
Alan S. Kahan

Wilhelm Röpke: Why He Was a Conservative

Solchany compares today’s relevance of F.A. Hayek to Wilhelm Röpke’s and shows that, unlike today, during the early decades of neoliberalism, Röpke was almost as important as Hayek in shaping nascent neoliberalism. While Hayek contended at the end of The Constitution of Liberty that he is not a conservative, Röpke in A Humane Economy presented himself as an outspoken conservative. By analyzing Röpke’s worldview and showing its roots, Solchany emphasizes the conservative side of neoliberalism, an anti-modernist outlook not only shared by many European neoliberal intellectuals, especially in Germany and France, but also raising great interest among US conservatives. Röpke’s intellectual relationship with Russell Kirk was particularly important here. These US conservatives looked for an innovative creed to merge conservative and liberal values.
Jean Solchany

Wilhelm Röpke and American Conservatism

Petersen explores Wilhelm Röpke’s complex relationship to conservatism. William S. Schlamm, an Austrian-born ex-communist turning into an outspoken anti-communist, developed a special relationship to Röpke. Petersen then distinguishes different currents within US conservatism’s postwar awakening, focusing on “fusionism,” as formulated especially by Frank Meyer, and on “traditionalism,” as formulated especially by Russell Kirk. Although Petersen describes Röpke’s friend Schlamm as an Austrian-born “fusionist,” he nevertheless classifies Röpke to belong rather to “traditionalism,” as understood in the USA of the time. Petersen justifies this claim by a comparative analysis of the intensity in the relationships Röpke-Meyer and Röpke-Kirk, the latter being clearly dominant. Röpke’s mergers of liberal and conservative ingredients do not make him a “fusionist” in the historical sense of the term, Petersen concludes.
Tim Petersen

Cultural Pessimism and Liberal Regeneration? Wilhelm Röpke as an Ideological In-Between in German Social Philosophy

Lantink concentrates on analyzing Wilhelm Röpke’s wartime trilogy, classifying it as a missing link in German social philosophy. The trilogy incorporates patterns of thought that can be found in the cultural pessimism of the 1920s, among others in Oswald Spengler. Their rhapsodic textual form resonates with the “intellectual novel” as conceived by Thomas Mann. Röpke is also compared to Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. Röpke’s social utopia shared with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon both objections to centralism and sympathies for small farmers and artisans. Here Lantink reminds how Switzerland already served as an ideal for nineteenth-century anarchists. In addition, Röpke’s volumes are compared to the wartime publications of Hayek and of Adorno and Horkheimer. Finally, Lantink explores Röpke’s ideological relevance for the postwar Christian Democratic Union in Germany.
Frans Willem Lantink

Wilhelm Röpke as a Social Philosopher. Part B: Liberalism


Wilhelm Röpke on Liberalism, Culture, and Economic Development

Goldschmidt and Dörr claim that Wilhelm Röpke’s “cultural pessimism” is not merely a diagnosis of his time but that it can also provide guidance to economics today. His observations regarding the interconnectedness of economic development and culture demonstrated the importance of social processes for economics. Goldschmidt and Dörr highlight the societal structures to which Röpke conferred importance for economic development, connecting this assessment to his views of a sustainable liberalism as an occidental cultural ideal. In addition to Röpke’s apologetics for Western culture, as exemplified by studying his attitude to South African apartheid, approaches to a culturally sensitive view of other regions can also be found in his work. Especially this “other Röpke” makes him valuable to contemporary cultural economics.
Nils Goldschmidt, Julian Dörr

Skepticism About Markets and Optimism About Culture

Schneider emphasizes that especially in A Humane Economy, Wilhelm Röpke’s distrust of the market is compensated for by his trust in culture. This can be contradictory, given Röpke’s general cultural pessimism. Röpke trusted the market as an organizational principle, but he dismissed assigning to it the main role in organizing society. For Schneider, Röpke very specifically meant bourgeois culture and was optimistic about this particular culture. However, Röpke left open questions: Was there ever a bourgeois culture? By which (epistemic) criterion did he assign this leading role to it? Could his appreciation of freedom clash with his appreciation of culture? Schneider finally claims that if Röpke had recognized the market as a process, it would have been much easier to reconcile market and culture.
Henrique Schneider

Democracy, Liberalism, and Moral Order in Wilhelm Röpke: A Comparison with James M. Buchanan

By analyzing how excessive state intervention leads to the bureaucratization of the economy and primarily benefits a class of politicians and bureaucrats, Wilhelm Röpke anticipated core elements of Public Choice Theory. In Ciampini’s account, Röpke described the behavior of special interest groups who exploited the dynamics of the welfare state’s growth, pressuring politicians and bureaucrats to extract additional privileges. According to Ciampini, Röpke conceived a series of public choice arguments before key concepts like “rent-seeking” were formulated by Public Choice theorists James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. In this analysis, Röpke’s understanding of the political process comes close to Buchanan’s research programs of Public Choice and of Constitutional Political Economy.
Gabriele Ciampini

Wilhelm Röpke’s Relevance in a Post-Totalitarian World

Ebeling portrays Wilhelm Röpke as a leading European advocate of a liberal economic order and a conservative social order built around the institutions of civil society. While not an advocate of laissez-faire, Röpke believed that a competitive market economy was essential to a free and humane society, which was the opposite of the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century. In the postwar period, Röpke considered the welfare state and inflation to be new dangers threatening the freedom and stability of Western societies from within. Ebeling shows that Röpke’s ideas can also be applied to the contemporary dilemma of the continuing growth of the welfare state, the controversy over European economic integration, the crisis of international migration, and the new dangers from religious fanaticism.
Richard Ebeling
Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits