The ‘Societal Crisis of the Present’ as a Neoliberal Leitmotif

History of Economic Thought and Policy 2/2014; 77-109

39 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2014 Last revised: 7 Jul 2015

Date Written: October 1, 2014


The ‘societal crisis of the present’ (Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart) is defined by the German neoliberals Eucken, Röpke and Rüstow as a state of ‘massification’ (Vermassung), proletarianization and disintegration – accompanied by a far-reaching moral decadence, an ethical nihilism and a religious-spiritual vacuum. Apparently, all major spheres of the ‘life world’ are affected by the various crises appearances: the political sphere, the economic sphere, the religious-cultural sphere as well as the academic-scientific sphere. Following the three neo- or Ordoliberals, the present situation requires a new social way of life and a religious-spiritual reformation, one which allows for overcoming the spiritual crisis and to fill the ethical-religious vacuum. It also requires a new scientific methodology, a new way of economic-ethical thinking (combining elements of a Kantian ethics with an Aristotelian virtue ethics) and a (revolutionary) new type of economic policy. That is, a ‘third way’ between laissez-faire paleo-liberalism on the one hand and Hobbes’ authoritarian and totalitarian Leviathan (e.g., in the form of Soviet-type ‘communism’) on the other hand is required – one which is (closely) linked with the model of a Social Market Economy. The following paper analyses the ordoliberal crisis topic and its crisis appearances at the politico-economic, cultural-religious and scientific levels. It becomes apparent that the crisis topic is one of the central ordoliberal leitmotifs and at the same time argumentative starting point of German neoliberal economic ethics. The paper also critically evaluates the politico-economic implications of the ordoliberal crisis-topic as well as the reform measures proposed by Ordoliberalism. The paper, in particular, reviews the (partially) radical and revolutionary tendencies of Ordoliberalism as well as its limits in a globalized (post-Westphalian) world order.

Keywords: Ordoliberalism/German neoliberalism; Freiburg School of Law and Economics; Walter Eucken; Wilhelm Röpke; Alexander Rüstow; societal crisis of the present

JEL Classification: B2, B3, B25, B52, P0, Z1

Suggested Citation

Wörsdörfer, Manuel, The ‘Societal Crisis of the Present’ as a Neoliberal Leitmotif (October 1, 2014). History of Economic Thought and Policy 2/2014; 77-109, Available at SSRN: or

Manuel Wörsdörfer (Contact Author)

University of Maine ( email )

Orono, ME 04469
United States

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