# 383: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “The Future of Industrial Man”

Drucker, Peter F. (2006/1942). The Future of Industrial Man.

Story behind the Book Choice

It is winter in Germany. It is winter everywhere in this part of the world. The sky is grey. The air is cold. The mood is not different from the mood we have become familiar with in the past two years during the pandemic. If I were living in an industrial jungle with grey concrete walls surrounding me, I would probably feel much worse. But that depends on individual preferences, of course. Many people like cities. I like trees and birds and peace. Yes, you might find the latter in cities as well. But I do not look for this there.

The Future of Industrial Man was written when industrialization was still at a different stage. That is why the book is so contemporary, even if this might sound counter-intuitive. When we look at the past, we discover the present. That is not limited to industrial topics. It refers to all kinds of developments which are bothering us — or not. The present stage of industrial society is occupying our minds because of climate change and economic disasters. Both seem to be getting worse with even more deteriorating consequences for the people.

But who cares about people anymore?!

As my readers know, I love Peter Drucker. But this book is a bit un-Druckerish in a way because the language is very plain. At last, I feel it is. Maybe this is because it is one of the very early books of Drucker. And he used to work as a journalist for a while. Maybe this had a lasting impact on his writing, even more so at the beginning of his “academic” writing career. Maybe not. I do not know. What is Druckerish is the connection between business, economics, and political science. This is how I discovered Drucker once upon a time. This is what makes me come back to him time and again — even on days when I do not feel like reading.

  1. Society

What Drucker is writing here about the impossibility of defining what society is is not just a logical problem. It is a psychological one too, if one wants to use this word. It is simply very easy to always use the label “society” for talking about the indefinable collective which is supposedly responsible for some good but many bad developments. I think, especially in Germany, we do have the tendency to blame society for many things that can go wrong. We do not look at the things that can go right — if WE, INDIVIDUALLY, do something about them.

This only works, of course, if we do care a bit about “society.” Given the fact that Drucker was describing the industrial society at a time when there were no smartphones and mobile internet, this might have been even less easy than today. At least, one might assume this. In realiy, the opposite seems to be true. People are preferably thinking about themselves and about their own money in particular. This is what industry is all about: making money with machines. In the past, people were working with the machines. Today, machines are working with humans. Tomorrow, humans will increasingly abandon machines because they are disappointed with their own unrealistic expectations of what machines can do.

Did I not warn you that I am a bit negative today?

2. Management

Studies on corporations are Drucker’s hallmark. This is also why he comes to link social contract theory with corporations and management here. In fact, all are closely intertwined, as he shows. And corporations are indeed an important part of industrial society — as entities, as power conglomerates. It just seems that things have gone a bit out of hand by now. Even though I love management — the activity — I am gradually learning to also dislike the term. That is not because of the term itself. It is because of the people behind the term. I often wonder how an entire society can give up its dignity and pass it on to an entire social cast of brainless assholes.

In fact, I do think Drucker was too optimistic about this…

3. Freedom

This is Drucker at his best. It is so sharp and deep that one starts mourning about the fact that the present of industrial man does not have a Drucker. But I know, I am biased when it comes to him. Still, the debate about freedom is one of the most fundamental ones in political philosophy. Or, in other words, it is the only debate in political philosophy. Everything is about freedom in the end. It is just that most people want freedom without thinking about it. And when they think of it, they do not want it anymore. Nobody wants duties anymore. All people want fun. But as Drucker rightly states:

“Freedom is not fun.”

Maybe the most unpleasant thing about freedom is the “doing” part which Drucker adds. Doing something means making a decision to do it. And that takes courage. Germans are not really great at this. They like talking about decisions and calculating scenarios. They have unlearned to use their gut feeling and heart to see what is right and wrong and then simply go from there. Industrial men have really just become industrial slaves. They think they are free because the money on their bank account belongs to them. In fact, their bank accounts are the masters. And their bosses in the corporation are the gods.

How wonderful it would be if the “real” gods had some more authority again,

If they helped people understand,

that “the essence of freedom lies elsewhere.”

Reflection Questions

1) What do you associate with the term “industry”?

2) What are your thoughts about the role of companies in the larger political system?

3) How do you think about the statement “freedom is not fun”?



Founder & CEO of Companypoets

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