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Peter F. Drucker - conservative-christian Anarchist

A dialogue between Peter Paschek and Winfried Weber

Summary Drucker called himself a conservative-christian anarchist. Conservative because he saw reform as a decisive political principle and did not believe in a heavenly society on earth. Christian because for him there was something that was above society, and anarchist because he considered order and form to be essential as elements of human coexistence in a society, but profoundly rejected order as an end in itself.

To be published in: Civilization and Management, Tokyo, Vol. 18, 2021

  1. (WW) Peter, you just published a book with the title “Peter F. Drucker - conservative christian Anarchist”. Can you explain us this conflicting self-description of Peter Drucker? (PP) It may sound conflicting on first sight, but as I fortunately shared a deep friendship with Peter, it never came up my mind to see his self-description that way.

But let me explain it in detail. - In our book titled - Cardinal Virtues of effective Leadership - which Peter and I edited in 2004 (unfortunately it wasn‘t published in Japanese, but in Korean and Chinese) we both had a dialogue instead of an epilogue at the end. In the beginning I asked Peter, that he once in an interview at the age of 70 referred to Henry Adams’s to be a conservative christian Anarchist, saying that he is getting close to this. Peter answers as follows:

A conservative christian Anarchist, yes, that‘s what I am, more or less! The older I get, the more I become sceptical towards the the promises to save mankind through society.

I think, that one of the most important experiences we made within the last fifty years, is, that we aren‘t able to build a paradise on earth. There is no perfect Society, but only a bearable one. We can improve, but not perfecting - and this is a conservative concept. But it is also a christian one, because it puts its focus on the Individual and because of its belief that, there is something beyond Society. Therefore I am christian-conservative and Anarchist in the sense, that I more and more distrust power. For me the basic sin of mankind is the lust for power, not sex, sex is not a sin. In this sense I am an Anarchist. But unlike the Anarchists, I accept the need for a political order (the Justice State). Wilhelm von Humboldt, the political philosopher, I most respect, wrote a wonderful book on the myth of the French Revolution, when he was 23. In it there was an essay titled - Ideas on a trial to define the limits of the effectiveness of the State - This is the center of my interest. This question was the reason for me to concentrate my work on the enterprise and on the other autonomous institutions of our Society, which had taken over social tasks and thus limiting the power of the State. Therefore I call myself a conservative christian Anarchist, however in the special sense, as I described it above.

  1. (WW) The world’s reception on Peter Drucker is focussed on his work on management. But when we take an overview management was neither his first nor has it been his foremost cause. Is Peter Drucker’s work completely misunderstood? (PP) I used to say: Peter Drucker- often quoted, partially read, barely understood! But more and more, I thought, that this was too arrogant, till our friend Timo Meynhardt told me about his meeting with Henry Mintzberg at the Global Drucker Forum in Vienna 2018. Timo cited from the introduction of Peter Drucker‘s book - A functioning Society. There Peter wrote: I am best known, especially in the United States, as a writer on Management.: But Management was neither my first nor has it been my foremost concern. I only became interested in it because of my work on community and society.

Hearing this Henry Mintzberg was taken by complete surprise and he said to Timo:

Thank you so much! Now I finally understand Peter Drucker! - Since the day Timo told me about his meeting with Henry, I resumed saying: Peter Drucker - often quoted.......

But I wouldn‘t say that Peter Drucker‘s work was completely misunderstood.

The problem is, that the Management Teaching and Management Thinking in the US but also in our country and in the most countries of the West does not view Management as social function, as social Institution. Contrary to this Management in Japan always was seen as societal institution.

  1. (WW) Since decades Peter Drucker‘s work finds its most resonance in East-Asia. The first Peter Drucker Society has been founded in Japan. There seems to be a soulmate relationship between Peter Drucker and the Japanese civil society. Drucker had his first lectures at Bennington College on Japanese art in the 1940ies, long before he travelled there. Later he published books on management and its function for society which Atsuo Ueda translated in Japanese and who was one of the world’s renowned authorities on Drucker’s philosophy. In 1959 Drucker gave his first speeches in Hakone Spa and then came back to Japan every year for several weeks, until 1996 when he was 86 years old. Drucker foresaw the potential of Japanese economy, see his Harvard Business Review article “What we can learn from Japanese Management” (1971). His relationship to Japanese executives he explains in the foreword to the Japanese edition of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (1980): “Great time has passed since I started minute observation of Japan. I visited Japan regularly for more than 25 years. (…) Corporate executives whom I got to know in Japan are my friends, not my clients.” What is your comment on the fact, that Drucker’s books were bestsellers first in Japan (long before the US and Europe) and the deepest understanding of Drucker’s entire work came and comes from East-Asia?

(PP) Peter Drucker always stressed, that the Japanese have been the first, who listened to him. One Answer why, I already gave above.

And there is another important reason. Let me put it this way - Peter once wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled - Don‘t change culture, use it! - This is exactly what the Japanese did with Peter Drucker‘s ideas. They didn‘t change their traditions.

They improved them. They developed their culture through integrating Peter‘s concept of management as social task. And exactly this was a major reason for Japan‘s outstanding economic performance in 1970ties and 1980ties. Remember Richard Pascale‘s best-selling book: The art of Japanese Management.

But viewing Japans current situations, which seems not far away from ours, I would like to recommend, that it‘s time to reinvent these Japanese strengths - reinvent in the meaning of bring into use again.

  1. (WW) One chapter of your book is titled “Between skepticism and hope - a conservative christian Anarchist and the wasted 20th Century”. How would you summarize Peter Drucker‘s thoughts for a functioning society and for the responsibility of today‘s Management? (PP ) Peter Drucker once said - I‘m not a pessimist and I tried to become an optimist. I haven’t achieved in yet, but I won’t give up. What would be his guiding principle for us, you ask:

First of all: to improve our Society towards a functioning Society which for Peter is a bearable Society for nearly everyone, a Society, in which everyone respects the right of a livable life of the other. A Society of social cohesion. A Society of Fair Unequality!

And the responsibility of management as Society‘s major leadership group in aiming at this functioning Society?

In 2001 Peter Drucker wrote: In the half century after the Second World War, the business corporation has brilliantly proved itself as an economic organization, that is as creator of wealth and jobs. In the next society, the biggest challenge for the large company, especially for the multinational may be its social legitimacy: its values, its mission, its vision.

For Peter Drucker, the enterprise is not only economic tool, but as a social institution, it is also a political tool. As a consequence of this, he defines the Manager‘s social responsibility as follows:

The manager is a servant. His master is the institution he manages and his first responsibility must therefore be to it. His first task is to make the institution, whether business, hospital, school or university perform its function and make the contribution for the sake of which it exists.

The institutional performance of its specific mission is also society‘s first need and interest. Performance of its function is the institution‘s first social responsibility. Unless it discharges its performance responsibility, it cannot discharge anything else. A bankrupt business is not a desirable employer and is unlikely to be good neighbour in a community.

And then Peter Drucker asks: In a society of one-purpose organizations who takes care of the common wheal? - and his answer:

This particular problem, which has been central to pluralism at any time, underlies the new demand to be socially responsible. In a pluralist society every institution becomes a political institution and is defined by its constituencies: A constituency is a group that can impede an institution and can veto its decisions: It cannot as a rule get an institution to act, but it can stymie and block it.

In a pluralist society, all institutions are of necessity political institutions. All are multi- constituencies institutions. – The Reform managers of all institutions will have to think politically in such a pluralist society.

According to Peter Drucker the manager‘s political responsibility therefore has to imply the following:

The manager of institutions must establish himself as the representative of the common good. He can no longer depend on the political process to be the integrating force, he himself has to become the integrator.

And this means that the manager of any institution (but particularly of business) should think through what the policy should be in the general interest and to provide social cohesion. He has to do this before there is a problem, before he reacts to somebody else‘s proposal, before there is an issue. And then he has to become the proponent, the educator, the advocat.

And it is top management above all that will have to concern itself with the turbulences in the environment, the world economy and the need for the enterprise in its care to take the lead in respect to political process, political concepts and social policies.

  1. (WW) Peter, thank you so much for sharing your insights of Peter Drucker’s legacy on the major challenges of today‘s societies. We are inviting our Japanese friends to start a discussion with us on Peter Drucker’s work and the strenghtening of a bearable society.

The Authors:

Peter Paschek, a management consultant, has been a close friend to Peter Drucker for more than thirty years. Together they published and edited the book “Kardinaltugenden effektiver Führung” (Frankfurt, 2004 - translated in Korean and Chinese). Peter is a member of Mannheim’s Peter Drucker Society and a lecturer at Technical University of Munich and University of Leipzig.

Winfried Weber is a professor of management at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences and director of Mannheim Institute of Applied Management Research. In his 2004 dissertation he worked out that Peter Drucker is the most influential management thinker in German speaking countries and congratulated Peter Drucker on that fact. Winfried is founder and president of Mannheim’s Peter Drucker Society and a honorary member of Japan’s Drucker Workshop.


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