Sort-of-a-Rerun: Drucker and Chesterton on the Individual and the Community

Two related posts…first, Peter Drucker:

Originally posted 11/13/2005

In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker writes about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.

One recent example. My family and I lived in rural Vermont only fifty years ago, in the late 1940s. At that time the most highly popularized character in the nation was the local telephone operator in the ads of the Bell Telephone Company. She, the ads told us every day, held her community together, served it, and was always available to help.

The reality was somewhat diferent. In rural Vermont, we then still had manual telephone exchanges…But when finally around 1947 or 1948, the dial telephone came to rural Vermont, there was universal celebration. Yes, the telephone operator was always there. But when, for instance, you called up to get Dr Wilson, the pediatrician, because one of your children had a high fever, the operator would say, “You can’t reach Dr Wilson now; he is with his girlfriend.” Or, “You don’t need Dr Wilson; your baby isn’t that sick. Wait till tomorrow morning to see whether he still has a high temperature.” Community was not only coercive; it was intrusive.

And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century. The serf who managed to escape from the land and to be admitted into a city became a free man. He became a citizen. And so we, too, have an idyllic picture of the city–and it is as unrealistic as the idyllic picture of rural life.

For what made the city attractive also made it anarchic–the anonymity; the absence of coercive communities. The city was indeed the center of culture. It was where the artists and the scholars could work and flourish. Precisely because it had no community, it offered upward mobility. But beneath that thin layer of professionals, artists, and scholars, beneath the wealthy merchants and the highly skilled artisans in their craft guilds, there was moral and social anomie.


The city was attractive precisely because it offered freedom from the compulsory and coercive rural community. But it was destructive because it did not offer any community of its own.

And human beings need community. If there are no communities available for constructive ends, there will be destructive, murderous communities…

Next, G K Chesterton:

Originally posted 9/18/2004

Lead and Gold passes along this interesting passage from Chesterton:

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique….The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment like that which exists in hell,

…and, having pondered: I think that Chesterton’s words represent an important truth, but by no means the whole truth. It is true that much is lost in modern society to the extent that people only associate with others like them. But it is also true that much is lost in traditional societies to the extent that people are denied the opportunity to seek out others of similar interests. And also, in traditional societies, the “fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences” of which Chesterton writes are often to a large extent mediated by standardized and ritualistic behavior.

Previous Worth Pondering

(The chain of Worth Pondering posts begins here)

4 thoughts on “Sort-of-a-Rerun: Drucker and Chesterton on the Individual and the Community”

  1. When I was president of the county medical society, I had read every one of Drucker’s books, even his autobiography. He was alive then and still teaching at Clairemont. I tried to get him as a speaker for a seminar as he had just written his book on non-profits. His fee was $10,000 for one hour or one day. Needless to say, we couldn’t afford him.

  2. A guy who worked for me had taken a class from Drucker in college. Not business, but Oriental Art.

    Drucker was a man of very broad interests. He’s not very popular in American business schools these days, but apparently is very popular in China.

  3. “He’s not very popular in American business schools these days, but apparently is very popular in China.”

    Edwards Deming was unknown in the US when he was very popular in Japan. How’d that work out ?

  4. I need the wilderness. I live on the edge of it in the BC bush. I can walk away from the human world and it’s only a few miles till I am in pretty well untouched country. I do have to climb out of the logging areas we have in BC but they are constrained by what’s profitable to easier areas.

    I have lived in London England, Manchester England, Montreal Canada, Toronto Canada and Vancouver Canada, the larger cities I have inhabited. I don’t mind them but I would never move away from edge again.

    There is still magic where the humans never go.

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