Joe’s Journal: On Work and Human Nature

“Management always lives, works, and practices in and for an institution, which is a human community held together by a bond: the work bond. And precisely because the object of management is a human community held together by the work bond for a common purpose, management always deals with the nature of Man and (as all of us with any practical experience have learned) with Good and Evil, as well. I have learned more theology as a practicing management consultant than when I taught religion.”

— Peter F. Drucker

At a social event for students in Claremont, Peter Drucker once asked me what I was working on. I told him, “Work and Human Nature,” and to my surprise it seemed to stun him. Drucker had the tendency to promote the work of other faculty members. So, it was it was not unusual for him to ask. But his response to my answer seemed to strike something very deep in his life. Little did I know just how deep it was.

As I later learned, Peter Drucker told his friend Bob Buford at Estes Park, Colo., in the summer of 1993 that “What we have now is not an economic problem but an existential problem.” What did he mean? Czeslaw Milosz, one of Drucker’s contemporaries and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980,sheds light on what Drucker might have had in mind with this comment about our “existential problem.” I quote from his Nobel Lecture as he struggles with the fascist ideas of his youth in Lithuania and Poland, where people were treated as “objects of dominion” rather than as beings created with dignity who yearn to be nourished:

“And yet perhaps our most precious acquisition is not an understanding of those ideas, which we touched in their most tangible shape, but respect and gratitude for certain things which protect people from internal disintegration and from yielding to tyranny. Precisely for that reason some ways of life, some institutions became a target for the fury of evil forces, above all, the bonds between people that exist organically, as if by themselves, sustained by family, religion, neighborhood, common heritage.”

Drucker’s discouragement with the breakdown of community within business organizations, and the ineffectiveness of government in delivering on its promises, led him to place more faith in social sector institutions where personhood could be realized. He was looking forward not only to the Post-Capitalist Society but to the Post-Business Society. As our attention is focused on America’s current economic problems, it might be useful to reflect on our existential needs for personhood and try to re-capture what we have lost as a society. The opportunities presented by this crisis should not be discounted.

— Joe Maciariello