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Peter F. Drucker has been widely read ever since his End of Economic Man was published in 1939. His management books and his analyses of economics and society have been translated into more than twenty languages. He has also published two novels, an autobiography, and several volumes of essays, and he is a frequent contributor to many magazines and journals. His editorial columns for the Wall Street Journal are among that publication's most reasonable offerings.
Although none of Drucker's books should be taken lightly, I strongly recommend his management books to the interested reader. The volume under review I also recommend--not so much for its conclusions, with which I quarrel, as for its ambition. In Post-Capitalist Society, his twenty-seventh book, Drucker follows in the tradition of G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, and Oswald Spengler in attempting to develop and document what is essentially a metatheory of history. More specifically, he posits for all of human activity what Thomas S. Kuhn asserted for scientific thought in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions--a process by which the prevailing mode of behavior and belief gives way to a new mode. Kuhn called this process the succession of paradigms; in Post-Capitalist Society, Drucker, using Polanyi's term, calls it the "transformation" of society. In the transformation, says Drucker, which takes just a few decades, "society rearranges itself--its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born" (p. 1).
Right now, Drucker says, we are smack in the middle of such a transformation--from the Age of Capitalism and the Nation-State to a Knowledge Society and a Society of Organizations. In the emerging post-capitalist society, knowledge will displace capital as the primary resource, and the leading social groups will be "knowledge workers."
In each of its three major sections, entitled "Society," "Polity," and "Knowledge," Post-Capitalist Society looks both backward and forward, discussing the Industrial Revolution, the Productivity Revolution, the Management Revolution, and the governance of corporations. Drucker explores the new functions of organizations, delineates the economics of knowledge, and characterizes productivity as a social and economic priority. He examines the transformation from Nation-State to Megastate, the new pluralism of political systems, and the role and use of knowledge in post-capitalist society. Drucker states his thesis as follows: "That knowledge has become the resource, rather than a resource, is what makes our society "post-capitalism." This fact changes--fundamentally--the structure of society. It creates new social and economic dynamics. It creates new politics" (p. 45).
For Drucker, the meaning of knowledge itself has shifted. An academic discipline converts a craft into a methodology. Physics becomes engineering. Scientific method …