The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
The alarming parallels between modern
FREE TO OBEY: HOW THE NAZIS INVENTED MODERN MANAGEMENT
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