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Hitler Would Have Hated Workplace Democracy
The pragmatic case for workplace democracy is that it works. Is there an ethical case, too?
When talking about workplace democracy, SMU professor of business ethics, Josh Crabill makes an unusual reference—to a speech by Adolph Hitler.
In that 1932 speech, to a group of industrialists, Hitler pitched his nihilistic vision of authoritarian politics. In capitalist markets we allow the strong to dominate the weak. Why shouldn’t it be the same in politics? If concentration of power in a small number of hands (authoritarianism) is good for business, why isn’t it good for government, too? When Hitler gave his speech, he believed that democratic governments were too slow and ineffective to function, much less win a war against leaner, meaner, authoritarian models.
Crabill uses this unorthodox example to make what is called the contrapositive argument to Hitler’s claim: Democracy (as anti-authoritarianism) is the least bad form of politics. Might it not also be the least bad way to organize a business? As U.S. Senator John Sherman put it way back in 1890:
“If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade.” - John Sherman
I asked Dr. Crabill to share the syllabus for his business ethics course, which covers a range of topics including social enterprise and B Corps. Here are pieces he assigns on specifically on workplace democracy:
How Bosses are (Literally) like Dictators, a 2017 Vox article by University of Michigan philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, based on her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It
First, Let’s Fire All the Managers, an HBR article by London School of Business professor Gary Hamel, co-author of Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them
We the Owners: Employees Expanding the American Dream, a documentary funded by the Beyster Foundation for Enterprise Development—which also funds the Rutgers Center for Employee Ownership and Profit-Sharing, which in turn gave me a fellowship in 2022-2023 that helped kick-start EO+WD
What Do We Really Know About Worker Co-operatives?, a 2018 report by Leeds University Professor of Economics Virginie Pérotin
For extra and non-democracy-focused fun, also check out Crabill’s article on the ethics of Westworld, HBO’s artificial intelligence dystopian period piece.