Solving The Social Crises Of Our Time
It is clear from an objective analysis of history that we have lost much of what makes a strong society. We have abandoned the moral and ethical fiber of our culture, and the "progress" we have achieved is merely a rejection of all that makes us great.
Although we might find some success, through a return to a promotion of economic liberty or a resurgence in traditional values, we are still plagued by the champions of the very policies that have laid us so low. Influential economist Wilhelm Röpke tried to determine the root cause of the destruction of society's foundation in his great work, The Social Crisis of Our Time, to explain how to best combat it.
Röpke begins by discussing society's decay, "What we learn here tends to strengthen in us a feeling which divides us as much from the nineteenth century, drunk with progress, as it links us with the eighteenth... a feeling, namely, that we represent by no means the dizzy summit of a steady development; that the unique mechanical and quantitative achievements of a technical civilization do not disembarrass us of the eternal problems of an ordered society and an existence compatible with human dignity"
He continues, "That these achievements complicate rather than facilitate the solution of these problems; that other civilizations have come nearer to the answer than we, and that throughout the centuries and civilizations the range of human potentialities has remained surprisingly small notwithstanding radio and motion pictures."
After all, reality itself does not change, only the decorative outfits we dress ourselves in: "The sun which shone on Homer is still smiling on us, and all the essentials around which life revolves have remained equally unchanged--food and love, work and leisure, religion, nature and art. Children still have to be born and raised, and we may surely be permitted to presume that other times, without radio and motion pictures, have done better than we in this respect."
Our technological advancements have only come with more strife, and advances in the name of equality and justice have only divided people further. Röpke explains, "We shall then realize with astonishment that this unique period between 1814 and 1914 was predominantly a century of peace and at the same time the century of liberal capitalism, and this century, whose spirit of progress, order, stability,a nd increasing prosperity is unequalled in history, is succeeded by a period of disruption which in turn surpasses most of its historical predecessors."
To those who might doubt that it was society's decline that led to our century of war, Röpke declares, "Unless we choose to look upon the World War and all its consequences up to the present as an utterly stupid historical coincidence, there can be no doubt that it was the result of conditions created in the period immediately preceding it, and during the final quarter of the last century the atmosphere had indeed become more and more stifling. But how, we may well ask, was it possible that the calamitous conditions for a world crisis would arise in such a period of order, peace, freedom, and general prosperity?"
All people inherently understand right from wrong, even if they don't always pursue what is good. Naturally, people conform to the feelings and moods of their fellow man, which undermines the socialistic theory that class divisions are more important than any other consideration: "we also have to learn again... that men's actions are not exclusively, and not even predominantly, determined by their class interests, but at least as much be general and fundamental emotions and concepts of value which unite them beyond all barriers of class and group interests and without which society and state could, in fact, not exist".
Röpke considers the current time one of a "spiritual and moral vacuum which was brought about by the dissolution and disintegration of all traditional values and norms, by the drain of one whole century on the cultural reserves. The old conceptions have been worn out or devaluated, everything has become soft and flabby, what used to be absolute has become relative, the firm fundament of norms, principles and faith has been undermined and is rotting away, scepticism... has done its work."
After discussing the importance of Christianity to the stability of society and the ramifications of increasing secularization, Röpke describes a "general loss of a natural sense of direction": "Men, having to a great extent lost the use of their innate sense of proportion, thus stagger from one extreme to the other, now trying out this, now that, now following this fashionable belief, now that, responding now to this external attraction, now to the other, but listening least of all to the voice of their own heart."
The destruction of society, beginning economically and moving to a great secularization, affects all other aspects: "The effects of this process of disintegration have, however, been particularly striking and disastrous in the case of sciences, for influenced by inward instability it has increasingly become a prey to the misunderstanding that all opinions whatsoever and all decisions based on concepts of value are incompatible with the dignity of science."
This loss allowed for relativistic, false ideas to hold sway, "In this way a vacuum arose... which was finally filled by a form of pseudo-sciencea nd political pseudo-theology, a political theology of the state which in turn in many countries forcefully transformed science into a political institution."
Röpke blames the promotion of collectivization as the reason for destroying the foundation that society needs to stand upon. This led to people becoming individualized to the point that they no longer feel connected to each other, isolated from others while radically redefined as a person: "The place of a genuine integration created by genuine communities, which requires the ties of proximity, natural roots and the warmth of direct human relationships, has been taken by a pseudo-integration, created by the market, competition, central organization, by 'tenementing,' by ballot papers, police, laws, mass production, mass amusements, mass emotions and mass education, a pseudo-integration which reaches its climax in the collectivist state."
The problem is compounded by the urbanization of society: "The more tightly individuals are packed together and the greater their dependence on each other, the greater is their inner isolation and loneliness, and there is a direct connection between the grinding down of society into the sand-heap of myriads of individuals and its conglobation into unorganized, structureless and amorphous mass formations, which provide a luxuriant breeding ground for the mass instincts and mass emotions which are responsible for the befuddled and hysterical instability of present day society."
The greatest source of this instability is from an education system perverted to deny true learning to students: "A century of is interpreted democratization of learning as well as of predominantly intellectual training has, in conjunction with the crumbling of the hierarchical structure of society, resulted in a product of all whose features are ultimately traceable to a lack of reverence, that... is perhaps the most fundamental element of every civilization."
The great writers, thinkers, and theorists of the past would no longer be respected for their intellectual achievement but only for their political ideology. Expertise is no longer defined by actual understanding, and there is no longer respect for tradition. The "proletarization" of society, Röpke puts it, was only possible through redefining life by "economic and social dependence, a rootless, tenemented life, where men are strangers to nature and overwhelmed by the dreariness of work."
Vast population increases, advancements in society, and "certain political and social measures taken by the state... are responsible for proletarization having become the fate of the masses, a fate which threatens the life of our society more than anything else and condemns millions to an existence which prevents the positive development of their faculties either as human beings or as citizens."
The problems created by the socialistic devaluing of individuals and society "cannot be improved upon either by higher wages or by bigger cinemas... In brief, this is a mode of life, work and habitation which in the physiological sense is unsatisfactory to the highest degree, and which has never existed before to this extent."
Röpke warns, "Let us also not forget that every time an independent livelihood is destroyed, this process is accelerated and that socialism of whatever kind merely marks its climax, and this is in a twofold sense: it is nurtured by this process and at the same time it carries the process to its final conclusion. This holds good to such an extent that the term proletarism can be substituted for socialism, and that term has, moresoever, the advantage of demonstrating how much socialism is essentially only the extremist continuation of a development which has already progressed far under a degenerated capitalist system."
Socialism is only an extreme, but every step along the same path of relativism is a poison that destroys what allows society to be great. Only objective values empower the individual to truly feel at place in society. True humanism cannot use false notions of equality or justice to remove the liberty of the individual and to deny reality.
Liberty can only be obtained by allowing virtue to flourish. Policies that actively divide people by sex, race, and class undermine the individual, not help. Many set different groups against each other in hope that the fighting will destroying the current system and forge a new one where they have the power. But such behavior is unnatural, and the human spirit will always reject it.
Although people can be conditioned through a perverted education system and a dysfunctional society to believe in socialistic relativism, it will never lead humanity to happiness. There will always be a part of the individual, even the most fervent of believers, to reject it even if they do not realize their rejection.
The socialists might pursue their path further, overturning economic systems and destroying communities, but it won't be enough. The wage will never be high enough, welfare will never be accessible enough, and there will always be some other group to envy. Their quest will never end because they will never obtain the satisfaction they seek. They are empty inside. Instead of helping others, they will only drag them down to their level.
Jeffrey Petes is an Annapolis, Md.-based writer and political consultant.