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The nation in arms: Drucker on government’s ultimate tool for social control

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This is the third in a series of essays on Peter Drucker’s early works.

As I explained in an earlier post, Drucker recognized that fascists were able to take advantage of the dissatisfaction that many experience in a society dominated by money. They substitute party organization as a parallel social existence and then elevate it into a superior status-granting mechanism. In this way, the party exploits anger over inequality. I also discussed Drucker’s sense that the church should have been the one to offer the basis of a noneconomic society in productive tension with the economic one—helping people escape materialism.

Drucker saw that perhaps the ultimate tool of a government in providing a noneconomic basis is a military one, or “the nation in arms.” A totalizing or authoritarian government can organize society on military lines, abolish economic distinctions, and give at least the appearance of full employment.

The authority of command takes the place of economic privilege. Military rewards will supersede economic ones. The honor code will prevail over the profit motive. People find all of this highly palatable. It probably sounds good to the reader. But understand the underlying lesson: the perennial military organization of society is a tool of social manipulation and control. Any relatively organic organization of society is replaced by a mechanistic one completely dominated by the government. It would be difficult to imagine a greater threat to social, political, and economic freedom.

As we reflect on this analysis, it is not hard to understand why totalitarian and authoritarian regimes so often rely on militarization. One can grasp why the leaders so often wear military garb (consider Fidel Castro in his fatigues and berets). And one can better grasp why a nation such as North Korea nurtures a constant sense of being actively at war at all times. In order to deprive a people of fundamental freedoms, it is necessary to offer a spectacular threat as the justification.

More practically still, we might consider that in the age of modern warfare, a leader who controls the military simply can control a country through force of arms. For example, no matter how bad things get in Venezuela, it seems the regime will remain in power as long as it makes sure to feed and pay the army.

Image: Venezuelan National Militia in Caracas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is a professor of political science and the dean of arts and sciences at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in religion & politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.

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