The Nazis were not aliens. They were men and women of flesh and blood, like us. Not exactly monsters. They are our contemporaries. As the French historian Johann Chapoutot writes in reference to a figure of National Socialism that later prospered in democracy, some biographies “have almost the value of a parable to read and understand the world in which we live.”
The study of those 12 years – between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, persecuted minorities, initiated World War II, tried and almost achieved the total extermination of the Jews of Europe and ended with the defeat and destruction of his country— it is inexhaustible. And in France, which was occupied and collaborated with Hitler’s Germany, a recent approach is the exploration of the actuality of Nazism. The last example is Chapoutot’s essay, Free d’obéir. Le management, du nazisme à aujourd’hui (Free to obey. The management of business, from Nazism to today, not translated, published in French in January by the Gallimard publisher).
It is a short, dense book, written with nerve and documented: 142 pages of text, 18 bibliography and notes. It tells the story of Reinhard Höhn (1904-2000), a respected jurist and military historian, and general of the SS. At the end of the war, and after a brief period of ostracism, he founded the business school of Bad Harzburg, where the business elites of the Federal Republic of Germany (RFA) would be formed. And so he contributed decisively to modeling German post-war capitalism.
Free d’obéir It is a dissection of continuity between the organizational methods of National Socialism and the world of contemporary business and liberalism.
Free d’obéir It is not a biography of Höhn, nor an attempt to demonstrate that business management has Nazi origins, which would be false, according to the author, since it existed for several decades before. Yes it is a dissection, through the figure of Höhn, of the continuity between the organizational methods of National Socialism – methods and ideas that Höhn theorized before the war – and the world of contemporary business and economic liberalism.
Chapoutot denies a common place: that Nazi totalitarianism was a statist, that is, it gave the State a preponderant role. It maintains the opposite: that the State identified itself with an old, bureaucratic and seized world. And that it was the overcoming of absurd regulations and the liberation of the creative forces of the community that, in a Darwinian struggle, allowed the triumph of Germany. This idea had an administrative translation: the creation of a multitude of public agencies that, outside the state mammoth, competed with each other. And it translated into a new organization in the world of work that sought to combine rigid objectives with the flexibility and autonomy to apply them.
Höhn, ideologist of management German under Nazism, it was again from the fifties in the Akademie für Führungskräfte, where 600,000 leaders of the main companies of the country passed. He fell out of favor in the seventies, when its past is revealed and new management methods appear, but its imprint did not disappear. He remained active until the 1990s.
The Bad Harzburg method he prescribed “the management by delegation of responsibility, ”writes Chapoutot. The employee was not a “subordinate” but “a collaborator,” “a person who acts and thinks autonomously,” he adds, quoting Höhn. And it puts it in relation to the so-called “ordoliberalism” and the “social market economy” of the RFA. And with one of its pillars: the Mitbestimmung or codecision, which allows workers to have a voice in the management of the company: the search for consensus – and the consent of the subject or the governed, the “freedom to obey” the title – is key, according to the author, both before and After the war
Chapoutot’s operation — look at one detail, amplify it with a magnifying glass and show the “contemporary” or “modernity” of Nazism— It’s similar to what Eric Vuillard did in the novel The order of the day (Tusquets Editores, 2018), awarded the Goncourt. Vuillard dissected a scene: the meeting, on February 20, 1933, between Hitler and the main German businessmen. Many of these companies did not disappear among the ruins of 1945. “We do not believe that all this belongs to a distant past,” writes Vuillard. And he explains that the son of a 1933 pro-man, Alfried Krupp, “will become nothing less than one of the most powerful men in the Common Market, the king of coal and steel, the pillar of European peace.”
Vuillard is a subtle novelist, an exquisite stylist and Chapoutot, a rigorous and respected historian. Little to do with Philippe de Villiers, leading figure of Eurosceptic sovereignty, creator of the Puy du Fou historical park and author of the essay J’ai I shot south the fil du mensonge et tout est venu (I stretched the thread of lies and everything came, not translated, published in 2019 in French by Fayard). Your registration is another. Try to discredit the European project and, for this, denounce – between half truths and falsehoods, as several historians pointed out in Le monde– to the founding fathers of the European Union as ex-Nazis or collaborators (Walter Hallstein and Robert Schuman) or CIA agents (Jean Monnet). “The deconstructor gene that undermines the European Union was in the DNA of the founding fathers,” he told Le figaro.
With rigor and style, or using skewed interpretations and bordering on conspiracy theories, a common feature emerges: the association of more or less explicit ideas, between the world of yesterday and today, between Nazism and liberalism, between Nazism and the EU.