John Zmirak's introduction to the life and work of Wilhelm Röpke, written with the touch of an accomplished writer and journalist, weaves an analysis of Röpke's economic and social philosophy around the story of the momentous events in which Röpke took part and helped shape. Forced from his German academic post by the Nazis in 1933, Röpke eventually landed in Geneva, where he became a fierce foe of Hitler's regime. Drawing on his understanding and appreciation of the Swiss traditions of decentralized government, widespread property ownership, mediating institutions, bourgeois virtues and self-sufficiency, religious tolerance, and constitutional democracy, Röpke formulated a social critique that constituted a fundamental challenge to the Nazis' legitimacy.
He also forged a unique economics. Realizing that the debased and corrupt capitalist order that predated the war had little to recommend in it, Röpke refused to shill for corporations or the fabulously wealthy. He instead put forth a free-market economc theory that simultaneously recognized the force of socialist and traditionalist objections to capitalism. Röpke's "Third Way" provided a way to make principled distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate government interventions in the marketplace and became the basis of the Christian Democratic political movement.
After the war, Röpke and his economic ideas played a leading role in facilitating the rapid reconstruction of the German economy, often referred to as the German economic miracle. One of his most famous followers was Ludwig Erhard, chancellor of West Germany from 1963 to 1966, who later praised Röpke for providing "to those trapped in socialist-collectivist thought…words of transformation, offering them once more firm ground under their feet and an inner faith in the value and blessings of freedom, justice, and morality." By the end of his lifetime, Röpke had become a celebrity in his adopted Swiss homeland and a major figure within the American conservative intellectual revival.
With the growing concern, across the political spectrum, with the corrosive effects of nationalism and unrestricted globalization, Röpke's economically informed localism has emerged again as a potent political position. This volume, the third in ISI Books' Library of Modern Thinkers series, will be valuable to anyone interested in the development of a humane economics and just social order.
What They're Saying...
"This work offers a sensitive and nuanced account of [a] free-market hero…"
— National Review
"Now, in the shape of John Zmirack, [Röpke] boasts a new biographer who, it is good to report, has done him proud. The two are indeed well matched. Röpke possessed a supple intelligence, a superb pen, and a keen sense of the fundamentally moral purposes served by economics. Zmirak is similarly gifted. His monograph deserves, and will surely receive, a wide and grateful readership."
— First Things
"This is a fine introduction to Wilhelm Röpke's work."
"John Zmirak's book chronicles the intellectual development of Röpke, who started out as an Enlightenment liberal who believed in social progress and ended up a critic of the damage wrought by the excesses of modernization."
"If any person in our contemporary world is entitled to a hearing it is Wilhelm Röpke."
— New York Times
"A pleasure for anyone interested in the economic history of the twentieth century."
— Victoria Curzon-Price, University of Geneva