Review of Johann Chapoutot, Free to Obey : How the Nazis Invented Modern Management, translation by S. Rendall, New York, Europa Editions, 2023 (Libres d’obéir. Le management, du nazisme à aujourd’hui, Paris, Gallimard, 2020). Review originally published in French in the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, Vol. 3, no. 67, 2020, pp.171-187.
Johann Chapoutot’s new book makes two main claims : not only that Nazism was a “managerial moment,” but also that it was “one of the seedbeds of modern management.” He fails to prove either of these hypotheses. The first part of the book describes a Nazism that is not particularly managerial, while the second describes a management that is not particularly Nazi. Regarding the “managerial moment” claim, Chapoutot focuses on just a handful of SS jurists whose ideas had more to do with military command than management, and whose influence on management seems minimal. As for the second claim, it relies on a flawed syllogism : an SS jurist becomes an influential management instructor in postwar Germany ; some elements of his managerial theory were already present in his pre-1945 writings ; therefore, management is tied to Nazism. In attempting to tackle a vast question, Chapoutot offers a history that is riddled with blind spots, partial, and sometimes even tendentious. (Article original en français.)