The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

The alarming parallels between modern


- By Paul Lay

by Johann Chapoutot, trans Steven Rendall

128pp, Europa, £10.99 (0844 871 1514), RRP£12.99, ebook£7.99


The insult “Nazi” is bandied around too often, but if you mutter it beneath your breath when an “objective” is demanded of you by an uninspirin­g manager, you may be closer to the mark than expected. For in this short, eye-opening study, the French historian Johann Chapoutot traces “an impressive continuity of ideas” between the fervid technocrat­s of the Nazi regime and the methods employed by modern business management.

Chapoutot begins – to his “great astonishme­nt” – by claiming that the Nazis, totalitari­an by most definition­s, were opponents of the state. As advocates of social Darwinism, the Nazis, and Hitler in particular, believed a strong state “hinders or even wholly blocks the logic and the dynamics of nature”. Unprofitab­le activities, along with “unproducti­ve” minds and bodies, were expendable. The state denies the true, pitiless dynamics of life: “It is the dead seizing control of the living.” Let what must die, die.

What filled the vacuum created by a retreating state was a dynamic – often wasteful – between potentates in the regions and principles in Berlin. The Holocaust became the barbaric apex of this system of “administra­tive Darwinism”: an industrial genocide fed by local initiative­s that competed to seek the approval of the Führer by proposing ever more radical, ever more vile, schemes. “Loosening the state’s straitjack­et,” Chapoutot writes, “ensuring the reign of nature and respect for the law of blood, and liberating the good initiative­s with necessaril­y lively force would bring about a full and complete ‘Germanic liberty’.”

The idea had deep roots. Tacitus portrayed the Germanic tribes as forest peoples, free of the shackles of civilisati­on that hindered others. They had never, so the subsequent myth went, witnessed despotism

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