Ropke: Caligula’s Wish

“Apart from many other insights which the centrist lacks, the decentrist also knows that it is always easier to centralize than to decentralize and to widen the powers of the state than to curtail them. There is yet another thing which the decentrist knows better, and this is that the centrist’s path is bound to lead to regions where the air of freedom and humanity becomes thinner and thinner, until we end up on the icy peaks of totalitarianism, from which nations can hardly hope to escape without a fall. The trouble is that once one takes this road, it becomes increasingly difficult to turn back. Centrism is in danger of encountering no check any more, least of all in itself. The obsession of uninhibited centrism can, like so many other things, be illustrated by a story from the world’s store of legends. It characterizes with exaggerated symbolism both the direction of the march and the secret wishes of its leaders. I have in mind the story of Caligula, who is reported to have expressed the wish that the people of Rome might have but a single head so that it could he decapitated with one stroke. Caligula’s wish has always remained the symbol of a kind of centrism which is tyrannical because it knows no limits and also a symbol of the inevitable end to which centralization must lead.”

– Wilhem Röpke, A Humane Economy (p. 234)


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