Preface – Peter F. Drucker on Nonprofits and the Public Sector


These twelve essays have a common author and a common point of view. And though their topics are diverse, all are concerned with “social ecology,” and especially with the institutions—whether governments or organized science, businesses or schools—through which human beings attempt to realize values, traditions, and beliefs, and through which most people—and especially today’s educated people—gain access to livelihood and achievement, to careers, and to standing in society. All these essays also share the conviction that sometime in the last decade there have been genuine structural changes in the “social ecology,” most pronounced perhaps in population structure and population dynamics in the developed countries; but also in the role and performance of old-established and seemingly stable social bodies, such as government agencies or boards of directors, whether of businesses, hospitals, or universities; in the interface between sciences and society; and in fundamental theories that are still widely taught as “revealed truths.”

This is thus a “contemporary” book that addresses itself to current concerns such as the environment, retirement policies in aging populations, or the impacts of technology. Yet, in selecting the pieces for this volume from my writings of the last ten years, I have excluded whatever might be called an article, that is, topical journalism, and have tried to confine myself to essays. To my mind, the difference is not one of style or length or level, but of intent. A good article catches the reality behind it, but it is concerned with the “here and now.” The concerns to which these essays address themselves are those of the time in which they were written—our time. The intention in every one was however to use the moment to gain understanding, to project, to see to the permanent through the transient. This, I believe, is most apparent in the two essays that open and close the book, “Toward the Next Economics” and “A View of Japan Through Japanese Art.” But the others are also informed by the same intent, and, I very much hope, convey to the reader the experience of self-knowledge, of immediacy, of direct understanding that a good portrait conveys, even though its subject may have been dead for centuries.

Most of the essays deal with concerns and challenges that are worldwide, or at least common to all developed non-Communist countries (and by and large to developed Communist countries as well). But since they were written in America, by an American and for publication in American journals, they heavily use American examples or figures. Only one piece however might be a little strange to non-American readers: the essay “Science and Industry: Challenges of Antagonistic Interdependence,” which was delivered to the 1979 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In writing this essay, I became aware of the extraordinary differences in the way in which various countries have structured the relationship between organized “big” science and society. To a German, the friction between the two in today’s America must appear childish; to an Englishman or Japanese, on the contrary, the constant interaction between the two, however friction-laden, almost beyond belief. And all three might find it hard to accept that in an America renowned for its pragmatism, organized “official” Science has for a century indulged itself in an extreme of virginal purity. Yet the concern of the essay: the growing divergence between the mind-sets and value systems of the producers of scientific knowledge, the scientists, and the users and consumers of scientific knowledge, government and industry, is just as pronounced in all other developed countries and presents just as great a threat, especially to science.

Two of the essays deal, however, with a special area rather than with worldwide developments and problems: the last two essays on Japan. It is a country in which I have been interested for almost fifty years and which I have now visited more than a dozen times. One fascination Japan holds for me is precisely that it is so different, that it is indeed sui generis. It is no more “Asiatic” than it is “Western”—and yet sometimes it is both. Few of what historians, sociologists, or theorists consider “universal laws” hold for Japan. Alone of all civilizations, it knew no property in land (except by temples and the Emperor) until a hundred years ago; it knew only rights to the land’s products. Alone of all civilizations, it voluntarily closed itself off from intercourse with the outside world for more than two centuries, while yet maintaining the liveliest interest in the arts, the learning, and the technology of the outside world, and the greatest respect for it. Alone of all civilizations, it knew no wars, whether external or internal, for more than two centuries, even though being governed during that period by a military dictatorship and living under a code of martial ethics. Above all, of all countries and civilizations I know of, Japan alone is accessible primarily through the eye rather than through the mind—and this despite being, for long centuries, from 1600 until the late nineteenth century, the country of the highest literacy rate. The last essay in this volume thus represents an attempt at gaining through perception, via design and the visual arts, the same access to Japan and the same understanding that one gains to other nations and other cultures through analysis, whether of philosophers or of institutions. Whether the attempt is successful, the reader must judge; but it is surely important—Japan is too important in the world today not to be perceived by us in the West. And if this essay will move even a few Western—or Japanese—readers to look at Japanese paintings, either when next they visit a museum or in one of the many excellent art books now available, I—and they—will be amply repaid.

Essays 2 to 10 are reprinted in chronological order; it seemed the easiest and least contrived. The opening essay is quite recent, however. My long-time editor at Harper & Row, Cass Canfield, Jr., suggested it be put first, as it deals with a subject likely to be of most interest to the widest spectrum of readers and yet normally rendered unintelligible, even to the highly educated among them, by the economists’ propensity for technical jargon. And essay 11 is more recent still. It was written after my last trip to Japan in the summer of 1980, to answer all the many questions in the West about Japan’s sweep into industrial leadership, all the questions about the “secret” of Japan’s success. And it seemed only logical then to put essay 12, “A View of Japan Through Japanese Art,” next to Essay 11 and at the very end.

In an essay volume there is always a temptation to rewrite. I have resisted it. All I have done is to clear up a few ambiguities. Where, for instance, an essay written in 1978 talked of “last fall,” I have changed this to “1977,” but have not changed anything else. I think it only fair to let the reader decide how well the author’s opinions, prejudices, and predictions have stood the test of time. One essay, however, I have had to revise extensively: that on “A View of Japan Through Japanese Art.” Originally, this piece was my contribution to the catalogue “Song of the Brush,” which John M. Rosenfield of Harvard and Henry Trubner of the Seattle Art Museum edited for a major exhibition of Japanese paintings shown in 1979 and 1980 in New York; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Denver; San Francisco; and Seattle. The essay contained numerous references to paintings shown in the exhibition and illustrated in the catalogue, which have had to be deleted. The words that replace them are a poor substitute for pictures in a singularly beautiful catalogue, but the meaning still comes across, I trust.

This is my third volume of essays; the two earlier ones, containing selections spanning thirty years of writing each, were published respectively by Harper & Row in New York and by William Heinemann in London: Technology, Management & Society in 1970 and Men, Ideas & Politics in 1971. Both volumes were well received and gained a wide circle of readership, in the original hard-cover editions and, more recently, as paperbacks. I can only hope that this present volume will similarly renew many old and make many new friendships for me. For to a writer, even the most critical reader is a friend.

Peter F. Drucker

Claremont, California

New Year’s Day, 1981