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Reviving The "Moral Sciences": A Conversation with Peter F. Drucker

Peter W. Schramm, Ken Masugi and Larry P. Arnn

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Author of twenty plus books covering subject matter from Naziism to management, from American politics to Japanese art, Dr. Peter F. Drucker, Clarke Professor of Social Science at Claremont Graduate School, was one of America's prominent observers of political and social affairs. Born and raised in Vienna, Dr. Drucker was a banker, a journalist, a teacher of political theory, and the developer of the discipline of management (for which he is most famous), but, as the interview discloses, he considered himself to be primarily a writer on human relationships. "Adventures of a Bystander", a series of essays on men and women he has known, is a kind of autobiography. He published his first novel, "The Last of All Possible Worlds", in 1982. Dr. Drucker was interviewed at his home in Claremont in February, 1984 by Mr. Larry Arnn, Resident Fellow of The Claremont Institute: Dr. Ken Masugi, Editor of the Review, and Dr. Peter Schramm, President of The Claremont Institute. The following interview appeared in the February, 1984 issue of the first incarnation of the Claremont Review of Books:

Claremont Review: When I was a graduate student in political science I read your first book, The End of Economic Man (a 1939 study of Naziism), and I was very surprised to learn that this was the same Peter Drucker who writes so much on management.

Peter Drucker: And on everything else, or most everything else, but not physics.

CR: What would you have to say on physics?

PD: I never know that until I start writing. You are used to scholars, and I'm not; I'm a professional writer. Very different.

CR: What is the difference?

PD: A writer finds out what it's all about by writing, and if he does any research at all--and very few of them do--he does it afterwards when he knows what he's writing about. Let me say, thank God scholars don't know how one writes, or us poor writers wouldn't be able to make a living at all. A writer starts out with something definite that interests him, and basically formulates (if that's the right word) as he goes along. Now, a good historian, say, a really good one, is both. And there are not very many good ones. Few historians are really good writers. A good historian has a key image in his mind, and so he is a writer. But I'm clearly not a scholar, I am a writer. I've never pretended to be a scholar.

CR: That's an interesting thesis because it's exactly opposite, I think about how everybody thinks of the famous Peter Drucker.

PD: I have no idea what people think.

CR: Well, I'll tell you what they think. When Forbes magazine wants someone to write a reflective and general article on economic trends--.

PD: No, that's not the way it went.

CR: How did it go?

PD: I said we need to celebrate economist Joseph Schumpeter's 100th anniversary, and nobody, except Forbes, was interested in a piece on Schumpeter. Of course, I never was an economist, and if I had ever had the slightest ambition to be an economist, I eschewed it very fast in the Keynes seminar in Cambridge in 1933-34 when I was the youngest of the invited guests, and they and I very rapidly concluded that I was not an economist. I'm not a bit interested in the behavior of commodities, and only interested in the behavior of people. That's not an economist. I do not believe there is such a discipline as economics because the fundamental axiom of economics is the autonomy of the economic sphere. And I never believed it. I believe that there is such a thing as an economic approach, but not an independent discipline of economics. This is just a branch of moral science.

Read the entire interview on the Clairmont Institute website (new window will open).

Posted: 16-Nov-05

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