Joe’s Journal: On Tyranny and the Organization

“Man in his social and political existence must have a functioning society just as he must have air to breathe in his biological existence. However, the fact that man has to have a society does not necessarily mean that he has it. Nobody calls the mass of unorganized, panicky, stampeding humanity in a shipwreck a ‘society.’ There is no society, though there are human beings in a group. Actually, the panic is directly due to the breakdown of a society; and the only way to overcome it is by restoring a society with social values, social discipline, social power and social relationships.

Social life cannot function without a society; but it is conceivable that it does not function at all. The evidence of the last 25 years of Western civilization hardly entitles us to say that our social life functioned so well as to make out a prima-facie case for the existence of a functioning society.”

 — Peter F. Drucker

This passage, from Drucker’s 1942 book The Future of Industrial Man, was published in the midst of World War II. It is looking back to a period when the institutions of society had broken down, making way for totalitarian governments in Germany, Russia and Italy.

The cry from the people was for security and relief from chaotic economic conditions that included the twin evils of unemployment and inflation. The dictators promised security, and the people accepted totalitarianism as a price for that promise. But Drucker did not believe totalitarianism was the answer to the dysfunctions. Rather, he saw the answers in strong, functioning institutions led by executives with integrity.  [EXPAND More]

He made this case later, in the preface to the hardcover edition of his 1973 book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices: “If the institutions of our pluralistic society of institutions do not perform in responsible autonomy, we will not have individualism and a society in which there is a chance for people to fulfill themselves. We will instead impose on ourselves complete regimentation in which no one will be allowed autonomy. . . . Tyranny is the only alternative to strong, performing autonomous institutions. …It substitutes terror for responsibility.”

Sometime later, I noticed that this passage was dropped from the paperback edition of the book. At a dinner party for a visiting professor from Tel Aviv, I asked Drucker if he still believed in what he’d written. He said yes, and surprised me by adding that the passage was edited out of the new edition to shorten the book some. What an incredible edit! The heart of Peter Drucker’s book was taken out!

Then on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. That evening, our faculty met at a social gathering. Remembering that Drucker predicted the fall of Communism in his book The New Realities, which was released earlier that year, I asked him as he was coming up the stairs with his cane, “Peter, what do you think about the Wall?” He smiled broadly. “I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “I just did not know it was going to happen so fast.”

May each of us learn these lessons and accept responsibility to keep our organizations, and our people within them, free and performing.

— Joe Maciariello [/EXPAND]