Do companies dream of the SS? It will be that not

A book, “Free to Obey,” by Jean Chapoutot, traces current business management methods back to the Third Reich

The Nazi origin of certain objects, technology or styles is the order of the day; even certain modes of mass political communication are inspired by Goebbels. If you take a Fanta, for example, you should know that she was created by the Nazis. And what about certain cars with which some politicians show off, even the self-styled “anti-fascists”. Technology perfected during Nazi Germany and which served the Third Reich. Johan Chapoutot , a French historian specializing in National Socialism, a columnist for the left-wing newspaper “Libération”, says that current business management owes much to the Nazis. During the twelve years of the Third Reich, he assures him, a matrix of managerial theory and practice was created, devised by the SS and practiced with relish by all.

The extension of this mode of management was thanks to the fact that, according to Chapoutot, the Nazis were welcomed in the Federal Republic of Germany, the truly democratic one with a free market. This is where the protagonist of the book emerges: Reinhard Höhn, an economist from the Nazi party, incorporated into the SS, who worked closely with Himmler and Heydrich, and who became a general in 1944 . After the war, in 1956, he created the German Society for Political Economy, where he trained hundreds of thousands of future managers. Höhn published nearly 40 books on business management. The secret was the decentralization of command, which amounts to the delegation of responsibilities to trusted middle managers. It is a system copied from the Prussian Army, inspired in turn by Napoleon’s army.The model requires officers and non-commissioned officers with sufficient training to make decisions in their field without having to consult with the high command. Their training allows them to be “free to obey”; that is, to decide in real time within the previously established parameters.

Is this Nazi? It doesn’t look like it, frankly . Transferring a method of military operation to other social spheres is not new in the history of humanity, and that does not make anyone a Nazi. Nor is “freedom to obey” Nazi, which has been the maxim since the existence of the first political communities with norms. That is why there are crimes and the Penal Code for those who do not comply with the law. For example, following the author, the Treasury would be a Nazi body: we are free to obey (and pay).In addition, in the United States the delegation of responsibility method was applied in Alfred Sloan’s General Motors and other large corporations since the 1920s. It was a different system from that of Henry Ford, another automobile manufacturer. I am talking about the same General Motors that bought Opel in 1929, transferred its work system there and later collaborated with the Nazis. Namely; that the method that Höhn brought to West Germany was not an SS invention, but had been applied before.

Chapoutot blames the Nazis for wanting the destruction of the State to privilege the “freedom” of the Aryan community. The plan, he says, was to replace public action with business corporations. He is wrong. Not only were these corporations not free, but they worked according to the objectives set by the Nazi government. Chapoutot confuses the public with the state, the origin with the result. Furthermore, National Socialism, like Communism, merged the State, the Government and the Party . They were the same thing. Consequently, if the public administration ceases to be independent of the Executive in power and the party in power, the State does not exist. This is one of the problems of countries emerging from a dictatorship: rebuilding the State as an objective subject by removing the single party from its entrails.

Other extravagances of the author perplex the reader. He says that concepts such as “productivity” and “competence” should not be used because the Nazis used them. And if we do, we must “reflect on what we are, think and do”. The truth is that the book leaves an aftertaste of occurrence. Calling big companies “Nazis” sounds very old. It is a trivialization of evil out of place. Let us not forget that Nazism was based on racism, genocide, the denial of human rights, legal insecurity, the annulment of freedom and pluralist democracy, or the prohibition of non-Nazi trade unionism in companies, for staying within about the topic.

Chapoutot’s essay, clearly unsuccessful, could have been redirected to a biography of Höhn on the teaching of business management, how he used concepts and systems created by others, not precisely the SS, to set up his teaching business in Germany Federal.

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