Ropke: Centrists vs. Decentrists

“Clearly, we are faced by two types of social thought to which most specific conflicts may be reduced without difficulty. We seem to be standing on a ridge from which we have a wide view into the valleys on both sides. Here is the parting of minds. Some are attracted towards collectivity, the others to the members which compose it. The former look at the structure of society from the top downwards, the latter from the bottom upwards. The first seek security, happiness, and fulfillment in the subordination of the individual and the small group to a deliberately and strictly organized community, which, from this point of view, is all the more attractive the larger it is; the others seek these benefits in the independence and autonomy of the individual and the small group. The difference in social outlook closely resembles another difference between two modes of thought: one which has a strange predilection for everything contrived, man-made, manufactured, organized, and intricately constructed, for the drawing board, blueprint, and ruler; and another which prefers what is natural, organic, time-tested, spontaneous, and self-regulating, and which endures through long eras.

Still another difference in outlook is connected with this. On the one side are those who believe that society and economy can be reconstructed from above and without considering the fine web of the past. They believe in radical new beginnings; they are reformers inspired by an optimism that is apparently proof against any failure. On the other side are those who possess a sense of history and are convinced that the social fabric is highly sensitive to any interference. They deeply distrust every kind of optimistic reforming spirit and do not believe in crusades to conquer some new Jerusalem; they hold, with Burke, that the true statesman must combine capacity for reform with the will to prudent preservation.”

– Wilhem Röpke, A Humane Economy (pp. 227-228)

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