Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 October 2022
The state, society and community
In the courtyard of the district court in Altona, which is now part of Hamburg, lies a memorial to four men falsely accused of murder. On 17 July 1932, a major confrontation between thousands of extremists took place leaving 18 dead as a result of police intervention with firearms: 16 were communists and two were fascists. Street fighting between radical left-and right-wing groups by the late 1920s had become an increasingly common occurrence in large urban conurbations across the country (Rosenhaft, 1983). When the Nazis took power, four communists were sentenced to death and beheaded for the alleged murder of the two national socialists.
These violent skirmishes are to a certain extent the epitome of the massification that Rüstow and Röpke railed against. The breakdown of community ties along with the rise of mass production, anonymity and the onset of high levels of unemployment left workers unfulfilled and resentful of the liberal system of the Weimar Republic. Many turned towards embracing the faith of a greater nation or towards class war to fill this vacuum.
Rüstow and Röpke attempted to counteract the threat of societal alienation by arguing that communities had to be the foundation for social and economic development or Vitalpolitik. This community would be based on individuals and their families in a decentralized economic system, taking into account the natural environment. To support individuals and their families, the state had to provide a basic level of welfare to all citizens given that individual insurance was not always practicable. This foundation would also serve as a basis for closer international economic interaction with other like-minded states. This chapter explores how the ideas of communitybased living provide a positive theory of a liberal state, and help inform the contemporary debate on the built environment and relationship with the natural world. It also explores questions on the nature of the welfare state, and how liberal states might decide to enter into voluntary arrangements to legitimate supranational organizations such as the European Union.
The state, therefore, has a positive role to play in equalizing power to maintain freedom and equality across different communities and can be understood as a rejection of a centralized polity.