Ropke: Mass vs. Tradition

“The question that faces us is frighteningly clear. It is the question of whether the fight for existence in which the European cultural tradition is now engaged is not so desperate precisely because it is simultaneously a fight against the most powerful and menacing forces of our social development. This tradition has, in the eyes of our mass epoch, two things against itself: the fact that it is ‘tradition’ and that, necessarily, it is not within everybody’s reach, or better, that it presupposes an intellectual hierarchy of people who are able and willing to make a determined effort to acquire it, develop it, and partake in it. It is as much a challenge to the unstable reforming spirit of the rerum novarum cupidi as it is to social resentment, which cannot tolerate a minority being in any way privileged in relation to the mass, least of all when the privilege rests on the inexorable exclusivity of personal talent, gifts, and aspirations and is, as such, far more embittering than sheer material wealth, which is not, in principle, out of reach in the contest and lottery of economic life. To all this we must add modern technical and pseudo-scientific pragmatism and utilitarianism and their total inability to grasp that the achievements of the natural sciences, important and formative though they are, cannot change man’s nature as primarily a spiritual and moral being.”

– Wilhem Röpke, A Humane Economy (pp. 62-63)

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