Religion & Liberty Online

Drucker on the church that puts economics in perspective

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

In The End of Economic Man, Peter Drucker was impressed (not pleased, but impressed) with the ability of fascists and communists to gain the support of millions of people by offering an alternative to economic status within a society.

In both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, a person might not have status within their profession, but he or she could have great status and possibly some real power through his or her position in the party apparatus. Drucker noted that the most fundamental feature of German and Italian fascism of the period was “the attempt to substitute noneconomic for economic satisfactions, rewards, and considerations as the basis for rank, function, and position of the individual in industrial society.”

That state of affairs can be appealing because people naturally sense that one’s economic value very likely won’t approximate his or her value as a person. The ideological construct, then, seems to repair the damage done by a money orientation.

Drucker expressed his surprise that churches had not become the dominant players in modern society because “they are the only independent social body to which people of all classes owe allegiance, and which is not built upon the economic as the constitutive element of its rewards, ranks, and distinctions.” In other words, churches should have already succeeded in giving people a sense of worth beyond that of income and ownership.

There is a valuable insight available to us here. The economy is extremely important. It provides a way to generate wealth and to meet needs in a deeply necessary way. The economy is a system through which we exchange value and make a contribution that benefits both ourselves and others. Accordingly, it would be tempting to arrive at some judgement of our own value as a person based on the rewards that arise through our economic participation.

Of course, that isn’t true or even mostly true. A person who stays out of the commercial economy to raise children and manage a household or someone who cares for an aged parent receives little economic reward. It would be foolish to see oneself as having low worth or being seen by others as having little worth because of a lack of pay. We might say the same of a special education teacher who works with the most challenging students while receiving a small salary. It would be silly to read a paycheck to evaluate that person’s merit.

The church is an institution to which people of all races, sexes, ethnicities, and wealth levels belong. It should be the exemplar in helping us to understand that reality that runs deeper than dollar signs. As a body of believers, we can help people look beyond economic figures to have a much fuller and more satisfying account of what it means to be human.

We will have a more accurate account of ourselves and of what matters. More importantly, we can help curb our tendencies to seek happiness through either consumption or leveraging government to bring about some utopia by planning and controlling our lives.

Image: djedj (Pixabay License)

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.