Concept of the Corporation, by Peter Drucker
It’s been a long time since I read this 1946 book by Peter Drucker. I recently pulled it down from the shelf and thought it worth a reread. I’ll be excerpting some passages I think are particularly interesting, not necessarily in sequential order. For starters, under the heading the corporation as a social institution:
Americans rarely realize how completely their view of society differs from that accepted in Europe, where social philosophy for the last three hundred years has fluctuated between regarding society as God and regarding it as merely an expression of brute force. The difference between the American view of the nature and meaning of social organization and the views of modern Europe goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During that period which culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) the Continent (and to a lesser degree England) broke with the traditional concept of society as a means to an ethical end–the concept that underlay the great medieval synthesis—and substituted for it either the deification or the degradation of politics. Ever since, the only choice in Europe has been between Hegel and Machiavelli. This country (and that part of English tradition which began with Hooker and led through Locke to Burke) refused to break with the basically Christian view of society as it was developed from the fifth to the nineteenth century and built its society on the reapplication of the old principle to new social facts and new social needs.
To this social philosophy the United States owes that character of being at the same time both the most materialistic and the most idealistic society, which has baffled so many observers…The American who regards social institutions and material goods as ethically valuable because they are the means to an ethical goal is neither an idealist nor a naturalist, he is a dualist.
To this philosophy of society this country owes its great political insight. The Federalist is a classic of politics precisely because it manages to be profoundly pragmatic and deeply moral at the same time. But to this philosophy America also owes its worst political blind spot: a refusal to see the existence or an irrational, emotional, or naturalistic basis of allegiance…It was almost impossible for an American to comprehend that, for instance, a German soldier would fight well even though bitterly opposed to Naziism. The proposition–elementary to every European whether German, French, or Russian–that you owe allegiance to your country and nation as the permanent facts of human life rather than as to the creed adopted by them for the time being, sounds like blasphemy to American ears. ..
Refusal to accept the inevitable shortcomings of any society is responsible for a good deal of what is best in political life. The demand that society be made to live up fully to its promises and beliefs underlies the activity of the reformer and accounts for many social and political advances and improvements…At the same time refusal to understand that society and social institution cannot be perfect, and that by the very nature of human activity their efficiency is low (although no lower than that of any other man-made things such as, for instance, a steam engine) accounts for some of the worst mistakes in political analysis and political action…To paraphrase words of Edmund Burke, it is not enough to prove a society to be less than perfect to justify its overthrow; one must also prove that a new society or new institution is likely to do better.