Ropke: Aristocratic Distribution

“[T]he deeper – we might say here the conservative – meaning of decentrism is that it behooves us to bethink ourselves of the indispensable conditions for a sound and happy society. These are a certain stratification of society, respect for natural developments, a modicum of variety and of horizontal and vertical social articulation, family traditions, personal inclinations, and inherited wealth. From this point of view, it is, for example, by no means foolish if a country’s townships or districts try to preserve their character to some extent by not immediately granting every newcomer the same rights as are enjoyed by the original inhabitants.

It is not good if all the sons of peasants and bakers should become, or wish to become, physicians, clergymen, or clerks. It is true, now as always, that it is highly desirable that men should have the happy feeling of being in the place where they belong – indeed, it is truer than ever in our age, when this feeling has become so rare because of the ideal of the race of all against all. Frederic Le Play, the nineteenth-century engineer and sociologist, was not so stupid when he discovered an important mainstay of society in the familles-souches, the families in which profession and economic and social position are handed down from father to son. Finally, it deserves to be stressed that if equality of opportunity is to be achieved by socializing education, envy and resentment will only be acerbated. If everybody has the same chances of advancement, those left behind will lose the face-saving and acceptable excuse of social injustice and lowly birth. The weakness of mind or character of the overwhelming majority of average or below-average people will be harshly revealed as the reason for failure, and it would he a poor observer of the human soul who thought that this revelation would not prove poisonous. No more murderous attack on the sum total of human happiness can be imagined than this kind of equality of opportunity, for, given the aristocratic distribution of the higher gifts of mind and character among a few only, such equality will benefit a small minority and make the majority all the unhappier.”

– Wilhem Röpke, A Humane Economy (p. 232-233)


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