Commentary

The Most Important Book I Read This Summer

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 9, 2016

The most important book I read this summer happened by accident, picked off the shelf since I liked the author. It wasn’t a novel — or a biography, my normal summer/beach fare. And it wasn't a business book.

However, one of the greatest business writers and thinkers of all time, Peter Drucker, did write it. It’s a political book written while Drucker was living in Europe as a journalist and student.

The book, “The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism,”  chronicles a period of great instability in Europe, centering on the rise of the massive political movement totalitarianism, and two individuals whose marks on history would be profound and horrific. Yes, Peter Drucker was there, watched and wrote as a first-party observer to the rise of Mussolini and Hitler.  It was published in 1939 and it offers chilling parallels to the U.S. presidential election today.

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Like many of you, I suspect, I've been a bit bewildered by the amount of popular support for Donald Trump and his rhetoric. After reading the book, I have a much better understanding of Trump’s rhetoric and the reception he’s been given by portions of the American populace today.

Peter Drucker, Austrian born, started his career as a writer and observer of politics and political movements and spent time in his early 20s covering speeches by Mussolini, Hitler and Goebbels. He wrote the core thesis of the book in 1932 about Mussolini’s rise to power, suggesting that it was a sign of a bigger movement. Hitler’s rise confirmed it, and the complete book was finally published in 1939 after a challenging search to find a publisher courageous enough to release the book and its controversial conclusion: that Hitler and Mussolini were not products of unique, nationalist conditions in Germany and Italy, but were rather the result of a broader set of sociological conditions present across all of Europe, conditions that could surface elsewhere and at other times.

None other than Winston Churchill reviewed the book when it was published, writing that Drucker was “one of those writers to whom almost anything can be forgiven because he not only has a mind of his own, but has the gift of starting other minds along a stimulating line of thought.” Still, Churchill criticized Drucker’s prediction that Hitler and Stalin would form an alliance as naïve. History soon bore out Drucker as prescient.

Drucker wrote that those supporting democratic governments did not understand how to fight fascism. They only saw fascism’s symptoms — its hateful rhetoric, obvious propaganda, self-centered characters and demagoguery — and never understood its causes. In his chapter titled “The Despair of the Masses,” Drucker found contributory factors in the decline of Europe’s spiritual and social order, the widening chasm between factory owners and workers, the failure of political elites and new doctrines like Marxist reforms to fill the void for the working class — and a desire to believe in miracles, no matter how irrational they might be.

In his chapters “The Totalitarian Miracle” and “Miracle or Mirage?” Drucker observed that even the most illogical rhetoric of Hitler and Mussolini and their surrogates was lauded and accepted by many as gospel because of the populace’s base desire to want to believe that anything other than the status quo would be better for them. While it may have been illogical, they had no problem “believing beyond belief.”

Those disaffected by the post-World War I in Germany and Italy wanted someone or something to blame for what they perceived as desperate and worsening conditions. They gave their allegiance to anyone who delivered a claim to make it better, appeared to understand their problems and pain, and to speak their language. As the world soon learned, that blind allegiance didn’t end well.

It may seem strange to turn to a virtually unknown 1930s book to better understand an election in 2016. However, if you read it, I promise you that you will be both surprised by the eerie parallels — and have a better perspective on the drivers in this election.

15 comments about "The Most Important Book I Read This Summer".
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  1. Randy Kirk from Randy Kirk & Associates, September 9, 2016 at 11:38 a.m.

    Very sad. You just lost me.

  2. Tom Mannion from Consultant replied, September 9, 2016 at 2:42 p.m.

    Randy, I fear you were lost before Dave's illuminating article.

  3. David Mcmurtrie from Google Media Platforms EMEA, September 9, 2016 at 12:01 p.m.

    Great parallel Dave, equally worrying is the rise of extreme nationalism across Europe.

  4. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, September 9, 2016 at 2:44 p.m.

    Excellent point David. Thanks you. With my US election myopia I forgot to draw parallels to the extreme nationalism were seeing in Europe today.

  5. Ted Mcconnell from Rocket Fuel, September 9, 2016 at 12:10 p.m.

    Wow. Eloquent, and timely. 

  6. Nicholas Fiekowsky from (personal opinion), September 9, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    One's rage depends on one's political viewpoint. Democracy or dictatorship?

    - No penalties or consequences when Justice Department does not produce documents for inquiry into "Fast and Furious" program providing powerful weapons to drug-runners.

    - IRS continues to obstruct approvals for non-liberal advocacy groups. No penalties for email destruction and false testimony to congress. "Investigator" had been program coordinator.

    - EPA illegally coordinates regulatory actions with environment advocacy groups behind the scenes and with private email. No penalties or discipline.

    - Former Secretary of State faces no penalties or consequences for unapproved  private email server, failing to safeguard confidential information, incomplete document production, destruction of evidence after subpeona is issued, failing to comply with "transparency" commitments regarding foreign donations to family foundation.

    - Strong incentive for banks to donate to left-oriented "community action" groups to reduce their penalties.

    - Attempts to make "non-consensus" scientific climate inquiry illegal.

    - President makes international commitments without Senate approval.

    Acceptable if the referees don't whistle when your team fouls. Doesn't look like democracy and rule of law when your team is on the other side.

  7. Tom Mannion from Consultant replied, September 9, 2016 at 2:48 p.m.

    Wow pazowie!

  8. Philip Rosenstein from MediaPost, September 9, 2016 at 12:55 p.m.

    Fascinating how history repeats itself and we are none the wiser. Thanks for bringing this book the fore, Dave! Does Drucker give any practical suggestions on how to combat fascist rhetoric that could be applied today, beyond appearing to understand their problems/pain and speaking the language of the disaffected masses?

  9. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, September 9, 2016 at 1:20 p.m.

    Just bought the Book, thank you. One more thing the power of digital, one quick link and one tap shopping. That's peer advertising and native to the 9s.

  10. Tom Mannion from Consultant, September 9, 2016 at 2:52 p.m.

    Those who ignore the past are doomed to relive it. 

    Compelling post Dave. Valuable insights for all time.

    Tom

  11. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, September 9, 2016 at 2:59 p.m.

    Thanks Tom!

  12. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, September 12, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    Trump is certainly an irrationality and the notion of him as miracle-maker for the masses demonstrates how riven we are as a nation and international community. The current global economy centered on profits for the wealthy rather than fair value for exchange of goods and services is unsustainable and has created discontent eerily reminiscent of the anarchy movements that precipitated WWI and by default the fascism that followed. 

  13. Sue Harris from Harris, September 14, 2016 at 12:41 p.m.

    How fascinating Dave.  I have been writing, posting, Facebooking, Tweeting just on this subject, but, unlike your allusion that to understad Trump you need to read the book, let me say that the book, as you describe it fits 100% with the Progressive ideology since pre 1776...and since the Progressives merger with the Democratic Party in 1938, the book spookily points to exactly what the Progressive aka dem/lib nee marxists have been promulgating since that merger.  They came to understand, after their loss to Lincoln and the Wilson failure that it was necessary to enter the Anerican ystem covertly into its underbelly beginning with journalism, education, local, state goverments and most importantly, judiciary...they succeeded and Obama was to finish the "transformation"....the Progressives look to a new era of totalitarism..or whatever their choice of words authoritarian is today....Too bad that the author didn't point out that the DNC was, is and has always been a party of liars, cheats and America haters....too bad tikkun olam took root!

    In addition, please let me know when in the 25-50K history of homo sapiens has it ever been any other way until the creation of the only experiement searching for freedom from tyranny, the founding of America.  Today, after more than a half century of paying attention tells me we are quietly marching towards l984 on the entire planet!!!

  14. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, September 14, 2016 at 5:58 p.m.

    Sue Harris: I'm 100% positive that we'll never agree, but I want to point out that a more contemporary example of "covertly tapping into the underbelly" of American institutions was begun shortly after Nixon resigned, and promoted by those close to him. We all know the names.

    During the period between Nixon and Reagan, the GOP long-term plans included suggestions to their grass-roots faithful to "run for any office, from dog-catcher on up" (an actual quote), and to become involved in community organizations, including 'Little League baseball and the Boy Scouts", another actual quote from newsletters I received. I won't bore you with the "why" behind it, since you won't believe me, but some who are reading this won't need to be told that it worked.

    And on the subject of the rise of Fascism before WW2, and the blind-eyes involved, especially in the USA, my grand-dad-in-law was very involved in national youth programs in the 1930s as the head of a major American university department.

    He traveled to Germany during that time, with the full blessings of our own government, to study the national youth fitness programs that Hitler was developing during the early days of his regime, way back when he was still seen as a benevolent leader. Some of the American newspaper articles that resulted from those visits would curl your hair, since Hitler was still seen as an enlightened visionary, pursuing what was probably referred to as a move to "make Germany great again", or something to that effect.

    The bottom line is that you think you're correct, and I think I'm correct. One of us is very wrong. In any previous presidential election, the real differences, while sometimes major, were never potentially fatal to the American Experiment. I'm very afraid that this time, it's different.

  15. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, September 14, 2016 at 9:32 p.m.

    Thank you Chuck. Wonderful comment. Well said.

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