Mandeville, LA – “I myself had a characteristic experience in this respect. Some years before his death, I had the privilege of a discussion with Benedetto Croce, one of the greatest minds of our age. I had put forward the proposition that any society, in all its aspects, is always a unit in which the separate parts are interdependent and make up a whole which cannot be put together by arbitrary choice. I had maintained that this proposition, which is now widely known and hardly challenged, applied also to the economic order, which must be understood as part of the total order of society and must correspond to the political and spiritual order. We are not free, I argued, to combine just any kind of economic order, say, a collectivist one, with any kind of political and spiritual order, in this case, the liberal.
Since liberty was indivisible, we could not have political and spiritual liberty without also choosing liberty in the economic field and rejecting the necessarily unfree collectivist economic order; conversely, we had to be clear in our minds that a collectivist economic order meant the destruction of political and spiritual liberty. Therefore, the economy was the front line of the defense of liberty and of all its consequences for the moral and humane pattern of our civilization. My conclusion was that to economists, above all, fell the task, both arduous and honorable, of fighting for freedom, personality, the rule of law, and the ethics of liberty at the most vulnerable part of the front. Economists, I said, had to direct their best efforts to the thorny problem of how, in the aggravating circumstances of modern industrial society, an essentially free economic order can nevertheless survive and how it can constantly be protected against the incursions or infiltrations of collectivism.
This was my part of the argument on that occasion, during the last war. Croce’s astonishing reply was that there was no necessary connection between political and spiritual freedom on the one hand and economic freedom on the other. Only the first mattered; economic freedom belonged to a lower and independent sphere where we could decide at will. In the economic sphere, the only question was one of expediency in the manner of organizing our economic life, and this question was not to be related with the decisive and incomparably higher question of political and spiritual freedom.” – Wilhelm Röepke, On A Humane Economy