Management guru, economist, and social theorist, Peter Drucker is best known by most for his management and organizational theories that were central to the development of the modern corporate model. Lesser known, but equally prescient is his first English language book, “The End of the Economic Man: The Origin of Totalitarianism,” written in 1939. Drawing on his years working for a German newspaper, this Austrian born, naturalized American had a unique vantage point to the early rise of fascist totalitarianism in Germany. In his book, Drucker is attempting to describe this rise of the totalitarian state in modern Europe.
Quoting from Drucker’s book:
“In 1939 fascist totalitarianism had assumed the proportions of a world revolution. It had become the only effective political force in Europe, and had reduced democracy to impotent defense internally and externally . . . The reasons why all resistance to the fascist menace has proved unavailing is that we do not know what we fight . . . The masses joined fascism not because they believe it its promises, which takes the place of a positive creed, but because they could not believe in them ( i.e. “ when enough people despair because of the failure of any rational system to meet their expectations, as a mass they become irrational and expect miracles. People no longer really believe that anything will work, but out of desperation they will follow a charismatic leader anyway, no matter how absurd his statements might be.” ). . . Fascism is the result of the collapse of Europe’s spiritual and social order . . . At first glance it might appear that the “science” of economics has never been more dominant than just now and that, therefore, the belief in the society of Economic Man could never have been stronger. Nation after nation has entrusted the management of its affairs to the trained economist. He is in demand as business executive and as a business leader, as lecturer and as radio commentator. But this superficial appearance is deceptive . . . It is not that the standard of knowledge of the economist has deteriorated. It is the belief in the desirability and in the necessity of the sovereignty and autonomy of the economic sphere that is disappearing; and with the belief, the reality.
The masses have realized that the exercise of free economic activity will not and cannot lead to the establishment of the free and equal society . . . He can no longer explain or understand his existence as rationally correlated and co-ordinated to the world in which he lives; nor can he co-ordinate the world and the social reality to his existence. The function of the individual in society has become entirely irrational and senseless. Man is isolated within a tremendous machine, the purpose and meaning of which he does not accept and cannot translate into terms of his experience. Society ceases to be a community of individuals bound together by a common purpose . . . , and becomes a chaotic hubbub of purposeless isolated nomads . . . The threats of sudden permanent unemployment, of being thrown on the industrial scrap heap in one’s prime or even before one has started to work. Against these forces the individual finds himself as helpless, isolated and atomized as against the forces of machine war . . . economic progress no longer appears to them as the supreme means to a supreme goal . . .”