The Social Crisis Of Our Time, by Wilhelm Ropke
In times of crisis like our own, it is a useful thing for us to ponder the relationship between our own crisis and those crises that have come before. By understanding the past and the recognition of the problems of the past by wise people who have come before us, we can avoid having to re-invent the wheel or depend on our own limited personal insight by recognizing that the problems we face have antecedents and that people were shrewd enough to recognize what was going on beforehand and help us to see what needs to be done if we wish to avoid the same disasters that have come upon us before. So is the case with this book, as the author wrote this book in the period of World War II and was gratified to find it translated into English where it has reached a larger audience than it had before. The author recognizes the continual temptation that people have in viewing a false dilemma between a harsh “rational” capitalism and a totally ineffective collectivism while neglecting the via media that allows for the avoidance of these extremes to those who are savvy enough to recognize it.
This book is about 250 pages long and is divided into two parts and six chapters dealing with the crisis of the Depression-era world. The author begins with an introduction that encourages the third way between a godless supposed rationalism and a spiritual collectivization that has impoverished the world. After that the author discuses an interpretation of the crisis of his time and an inventory of what is going on (I), with chapters on the seed and harvest of the past two centuries since the Enlightenment (1), including the revolutions of those times, the aberrations of rationalism and liberalism, and the cult of the colossus in business, a discussion of political and economic systems including democratic liberalism and the collectivist state (2), and a discussion of the splendor and misery of capitalism and of the failures of socialism (3). After that the author discusses what action is to be taken (II), including chapters on various aberrations and blind alleys (1), including social welfare, socialism, and other forms of loose thinking, some basic questions of reform and the moral and political and economic prerequisites of it (2), as well as some avenues of approach and examples including peasants, artisans and small traders, the deproletarization and decentralization of industry, and the search for a just international order (3).
In a way that the author could not have predicted, this book serves as a reminder to the crisis of our own time, as the author’s discussion of the problems that faced Depression and World War II era Europe are precisely the same sort of problems that contemporary America has to wrestle with. Are liberal regimes capable of handling the anarchy of our times or are they destined to fall prey to collectivist political and economic structures that will destroy the well-being of the people even as they mouth pious platitudes of good intentions? This is by no means an obvious question, as the author correctly recognizes that there are conflicts of interest in the economic systems and that for the well-being of a nation to endure, it must have a political and economic system that avoids the cult of the colossal and provides an opportunity for free peasants and petit bourgeoisie to thrive. Not all people are fond of such classes on whom the economic well-being of nations relies, but the author’s experience with the Swiss certainly helped him to recognize the value of smaller peoples in the world whom the larger systems of power have tended to overlook at the peril of the world as a whole.