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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 47
31st August 2008
I. 'The Business Virtues' by Geoffrey Klempner
II. 'Homosexuality and Business: New terms for old customs' by Maximiliano
III. Review of Lisa H. Newton 'Permission to Steal' by Anne Maguire
Philosophy for Business is back after a longer than normal summer break with an
extract from the last unit of the Business Pathways program on Ethical
Dilemmas, first announced in issue 39. The ten units have been an exciting
voyage of exploration, giving rise to fertile lines of thought which I hope to
pursue further in the future.
My next objective is an article on the interface of philosophy and business
which I have been commissioned to write for issue 10:1 of Practical Philosophy,
the Journal of the Society for Philosophy in Practice
I would like to express my thanks to the students who have joined me in this
on-going quest. The Ethical Dilemmas program has now been added to the range of
courses offered by the Pathways School of Philosophy. If you would like to get
on board, more details can be found at http://ethicaldilemmas.co.uk.
In our second offering, Maximiliano Korstanje from the University of Palermo
Argentina, develops what might seem at first a minor topic in tourism studies,
the provision of amenities for lesbian women, into a deadly critique of naive
assumptions about the nature of capitalism. Far from it being the case that
business trends merely reflect changes in culture, our culture is itself being
constantly formed and reformed by the never-ending quest to 'expand the circuit
Finally, Pathways student Anne Maguire has written a review of a provocative
short book by Lisa M Newton which argues the case that ordinary citizens are as
much to blame for corporate scandals like Enron as the executives put on trial,
because of our failure to exercise vigilance where vigilance is needed. We are
ultimately all responsible for the way that corporations behave, and not just
CEOs and Boards of Directors.
I. 'THE BUSINESS VIRTUES' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
The focus on persons
To pose the question, 'What is a wise judge in matters of business ethics?' is
to shift the focus from individual acts to persons. Even if we cannot always
say, for certain, whether or not a particular action is ethically right, there
is much that we can say about what makes a person good, or wise, or -- to use
the jargon increasingly favoured by contemporary ethicists -- what is it to
'possess a virtue'.
Virtue ethics traces its lineage back to the Ancient Greek philosophers, and in
particular Aristotle. Alasdair MacIntyre in his seminal work After Virtue names
Nietzsche, diligent student of Aristotle, as one of the foremost philosophers
of virtue ethics. Nietzsche, who abominated talk of 'morality', who argued
ceaselessly against the idea of a Kantian Categorical Imperative pithily
describing the Platonic concept of the Good (in his brilliant short book
Twilight of the Idols) as 'the last fumes of evaporating reality' seems a
strange choice for an ethical authority. It is not coincidental that
Nietzsche's thought is also held to be one the influences on Ayn Rand's 'virtue
In business ethics, those of a more conservative inclination have latched onto
the idea of the 'virtues of the business person' as somehow offering a
justification and vindication of business activity -- as if one were needed.
The business ethicist Tibor Machan has offered the suggestion that the primary
'virtue' of the business person is the virtue of prudence (Tibor Machan, 'A
Brief on Business Ethics', Philosophy for Business Issue 1, 2 November 2003).
In my article 'The Business Arena' I remark:
Tibor Machan argues the case that the good which commerce
strives to fulfil 'is the virtue of prudence, which
requires of us all to take reasonably good care of
ourselves in life.' This seems to me a rather narrow and
instrumentalist view. The business arena provides the
opportunity to practice all the Aristotelian virtues --
including temperance, justice, courage and magnanimity.
Geoffrey Klempner 'The Business Arena'
Philosophy for Business Issue 5, 7th March 2004
However, I then go on to contrast the Aristotelian virtues with 'ethics in the
Ethics, as I understand it, is based on the I and thou
relationship, on unlimited obligation and unconditional
love and respect for the other. This tension cannot be
resolved by attempting to cobble together a 'business
ethics' in the accepted sense of this term. There can be no
compromise between unconditional obligation and the limited
obligations that hold between players in the business arena.
That hasn't stopped philosophers from trying anyway. The
only result that can be achieved by adopting this
muddle-headed strategy is an ethics which is too demanding
for the business arena, and insufficiently demanding
outside that arena. While those who have seen clearly that
compromise is impossible have either gone the hopeless way
of Karl Marx -- or, at the opposite extreme, Ayn Rand.
The point here is not to contrast the self-interest of the player in the
business arena with the alleged 'altruism' of the non-player. We all have the
right to be self-interested, regardless of whether or not we regard ourselves
as players in the business arena. In any case, we are all players to some
extent, simply by virtue of the fact that by accepting gainful employment or
making purchases for our needs we recognize the institution of money, and all
that that implies.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that ethics is unlimited, while the ethics of
the business arena is limited by the boundary line that we ourselves have
created in order to make the activity of business possible. You can't do
business -- any more than you can participate in a sport -- unless you are
prepared to accept the possibility of victory or defeat, and all that victory
or defeat brings. The essence of business is contest: to the winner go the
spoils. In the business arena there is no room for saints -- only for heroes.
Skills and virtues
In standard texts on ethics, the category of 'saints and heroes' falls under
the heading, supererogatory actions, actions which are not required as a moral
duty but which show exceptional moral virtue. As my remark about saints and
heroes implies, there is scope for acting 'above and beyond the call of duty'
both outside and inside the business arena. Whether you find yourself on the
outside or on the inside, there are opportunities to demonstrate exceptional
virtue by your actions. But on an everyday level, how important are virtues in
the business arena, really?
It is prudent to realize that sometimes you have to do things which you don't
like or which you find unpleasant in order, in Tibor Machan's words, to 'take
reasonably good care of ourselves in life'. It is prudence which reminds us to
visit the dentist for our routine checkup, or which prevents us from splurging
on an expensive consumer item while the gas and electricity bills remain
unpaid. Entering into business is a way of making a living, because everyone
needs money to live. In these terms, the prudent choice when deciding between a
well-paid position in business and a badly paid position doing work that you
enjoy is to bite the bullet and choose the well-paid job.
It would seem to follow from this reasoning, that the best that can be said of
the business arena is that it is a necessary evil. Is that true? Or can there
be such a thing as a vocation to be a business person?
The truth is, that both attitudes are equally possible. You can enter the
business arena reluctantly and stoically, or gladly and enthusiastically. There
is no common denominator. And for whatever reasons that you find yourself there,
you will encounter the same ethical dilemmas. You will be judged -- and, if you
care, you will judge yourself -- on your ethical performance as well as your
financial success or contribution to the financial success of your company.
This tells us something. Being a good negotiator or communicator, being an
effective organizer, being an inspirational team leader, knowing how to win the
confidence of a potential customer or how to close a sale are all valuable
attributes of a business person. Relatively few persons have them all, but
thanks to the division of labour one solid business attribute is enough to
enable you find your niche. They are skills and accomplishments to take pride
in. But they are not in and by themselves ethical 'virtues'.
Curiously, the very same alternative -- or dilemma -- can be found in those
called upon to fight for their country. You can join the armed forces as a
conscript or as a volunteer. It is tempting to go so far as to say: in both
arenas, business and war, you can be good at what you do and yet lack the
attributes of a wise ethical decision maker.
On second thoughts, surely not. So long as what you do includes making ethical
decisions, you can't do your job well if you fail ethically. It is not as if
being a good soldier is just being good with a bayonet or a gun. The primary
imperative of the soldier, as one British General bluntly put it, is to offer
yourself up to be killed, to put yourself in the line of fire for the sake of
what you believe. Courage, stoicism, temperance, obedience, loyalty are
essential to good soldiering. Of course, possessing these ethical virtues is
not sufficient. You need some skill as well. -- The same can be said, mutatis
mutandis, about those who choose to join battle the business arena and place
themselves in the firing line.
The business virtues
We have leaned rather heavily on the analogy between conducting business and
soldiering. But are there any distinctive business virtues? I said that the
skills and accomplishments listed above -- negotiating, communicating,
organizing, leading, winning confidence, selling -- are not 'in and by
themselves' ethical virtues. Yet they all have a prominent factor in common:
they are all people skills.
You can display the virtues of a soldier in isolation from the rest of humanity
-- as the stories of Japanese soldiers stranded on Pacific islands for years
after the end of World War II testify. Isolated from human contact, you can
still display a soldier's courage in surviving against the elements. You can
keep a diligent watch for the enemy, even if no enemy is in fact there. But you
can't be a business person on a desert island, at least, not without a Man
The people skills may not themselves be virtues, but they connect directly to
virtues. If you are an effective communicator, you can use that power of
communication to tell the truth or spread lying propaganda. You can win a
person's deserved confidence, or you can play the confidence trickster to your
benefit and their detriment. Even this does not tell the whole story, because
it can be argued that the ability to relate effectively to other people, even
if it does not logically imply ethics, is greatly facilitated by the capacity
for entering into ethical relationship. It is much harder, other things being
equal, to set out ruthlessly to use people and succeed in doing so, than it is
to set out to treat people ethically. Most of the time, and in most situations,
human beings have a finely tuned capacity for detecting when they are being
exploited or used.
Mark McCormack in his best-selling book What They Don't Teach You At Harvard
Business School makes a powerful case that business is all about people:
Whether it is a matter of closing a deal or asking for a
raise, of motivating a salesforce of 5000 or negotiating
one-to-one, of buying a new company or turning around an
old one, business situations almost always come round to
people situations. And it is those executives with a finely
tuned people sense, and an awareness of how to apply it, who
invariably take the edge.
Mark McCormack, What They Don't Teach You At Harvard
Business School, p. 11
Though McCormack consistently advocates the view that success goes hand in hand
with treating others ethically, we have already conceded that the truth is that
success does not always go to the ethically virtuous. There are unethical ways
to 'gain the edge' as well as ethical ways. The gangsters of the business world
continue to prosper. But the point is, we don't have to be like them.
The debate between the advocates of 'virtue pays' and 'virtue for its own sake'
is beautifully illustrated in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise plays the
idealistic sports agent fired from his firm for daring to circulate a memo
urging his colleagues to be 'more honest' in their dealings with their clients.
Thrown out in the cold and reduced to representing one client, a difficult,
argumentative American football player under threat of being dropped by his
team, Maguire is determined to succeed the ethical way. And he does.
McCormack started out as a sports agent in the 60's. His first client was the
star golfer Arnold Palmer. McCormack's business grew into the major
international sports and entertainment empire IMG as the result, he argues, of
practising the principles of honesty and respect towards all those he did
business with. The sports men and women he represented knew that he would never
act against their best interests for the sake a quick profit. (There has been
some speculation as to whether the fictional character of Jerry Maguire was in
fact inspired by McCormack himself, although McCormack denies any knowledge of
this, and was not consulted at any stage during the making of the film.)
Jerry Maguire is heart-warming and also inspiring because we all like to
believe that the business person who accepts the challenge of ethical
relationship -- who sees the people they collaborate with, compete with, sell
to as real individuals worthy of respect rather than mere objects to be
manipulated -- will succeed in the long run. Outside of Hollywood, sadly this
does not always happen. Virtue doesn't always pay. Nevertheless, a lot of the
time, enough of the time, it does. If you are determined to succeed the ethical
way, you have a good shot at success. Surely, that is sufficient motivation.
Business ethics for ordinary people
Nietzsche would have looked askance at the democratic and egalitarian spirit of
modern business. In our defence, we could point out that the egalitarianism is
largely based on pragmatic considerations rather than the ideology of 'herd
morality'. Meritocracy is a better, more efficient system for generating
profits than aristocracy. Indeed, in recent times business people have become
increasingly obsessed with performance evaluation. Those who know and those who
only think they know are quickly sorted out. The dead wood is thrown overboard.
The high performers are rewarded strictly according to results.
This is cruel in a different way from Medieval times, when the lowly born lived
a life that was indeed, 'nasty, brutish and short'. The serfs who worked the
land were slaves to their occupation. But at least they knew they would eat, so
long as the corn grew in the fields. Now we have mortgages and wage slavery, and
flustered managers struggling to achieve performance targets.
Life is cruel. The gifted and talented get struck down with cancer, or mugged
in the street. There is no antidote or cure for the brute fact of luck, which
decides the success or failure of many a business venture, which governs the
distribution of natural talents, and which ambushes us when we least expect it
just when everything was going so well -- or badly.
Ethics is for all. And business ethics -- ethics as applied to the business
arena -- is for all business people. Most of those striving to carve out a
career in business will never make it to the top, or anywhere near the top. The
chances for great virtue in the Nietzschean or Aristotelian sense are not that
frequent. But it is the small virtues that determine the atmosphere of
day-to-day business life: treating people decently and with due consideration,
being generous with your time and your advice, patience when others less
skilled than you make mistakes, a preparedness to tolerate people whose
attitudes you dislike but whom you must get on with in order to get the job
Not because it is efficient, although it may well be; but because it is right.
When the lives of human beings are involved, it is against the spirit of
business ethics to strive for efficiency at all costs. For all that means is
that nothing ultimately has any value for you or your company except making a
profit. Economic thinking is always important and indeed indispensable, but it
is not the be-all and end-all. Enough profit is enough.
The rewards are not just financial. Earlier, I somewhat rashly remarked that
the 'prudent' thing to do is choose a well-paid job over an badly-paid job that
you enjoy. But that begs the question how important happiness in your work is to
your sense of well-being. If gaining enjoyment and a sense of fulfilment from
what you do is very important to you, then consulting prudence in the widest
sense you will not go for the money.
Loyalty is one of the business virtues, but we have a duty to remain loyal to
our friends and colleagues, no less than to our company. Many business people
make life-time friends through their work. Accept, then, as a necessary
consequence of this fact that sometimes your loyalties will be split, and there
is no magic solution which will get you out of that fix.
We are all decision makers, even if our decisions have relatively minor
repercussions compared to decisions made in the Board room. Minor they may be,
but in our world and from our perspective they are significant for us. There is
no walking away. If it is your bad luck to be faced with a dilemma then accept
that you are being put to the test and make your best judgement -- or, failing
that, your best guess.
It is a gift to be able to discern the simple structures underlying the
appearance of complexity. I have argued that ethics is complex in reality and
not just appearance, yet it is complex in a way which does not put it beyond
the comprehension of ordinary people. We don't need ethical authorities to hand
down rules or codes of conduct from on high. We have it within ourselves to act
and judge things from an ethical point of view, to strive to be good in
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2008
II. 'HOMOSEXUALITY AND BUSINESS: NEW TERMS FOR OLD CUSTOMS' BY MAXIMILIANO
In old Rome a man who declares his love for a woman in a public sphere would be
catalogued as an effeminate and excluded from any political or commercial
appointment; however, any man or woman would very well practice sex with the
same and other gender without any kind of prejudices. Moral sanction did not
fall over the action but over the expression (Veyne, 1985). We see a similar
picture in Greece or Hellenic culture where men confined women to inside the
home. In fact, the old Greeks allow love regardless the gender. Family and sex
election are not always were conceptually united in classic Antiquity. How we
can understand that such a male chauvinist society did not have any preference
about sexual election?
Following these explanations, we may also admit that sexual election is an
aspect which seems not to be developed in depth. At a first glance, each time
and culture strongly declared which practices were permitted and which were
not. Nowadays, lesbians and gays are considered a new market for tourism
development. Like the Roman concept of otium a couple of millennia back, modern
tourism shapes the limit concerning what is or is not allowed in relation to
sex, sometimes by promoting specific places where certain practices are kept
isolated, but also by prohibiting child prostitution, or drugs abuse and
traffic (Wickens, 1997) (Valdez and Sifaneck, 1997) (Hershatter, 1999) (Ryan
and Hall, 2000) (Clift and Carter, 2003) (Uriely and Belhassen, 2006).
Paradoxically, this system promotes some practices for foreign tourists at the
same time as it imposes several restrictions for local residents.
Whatever the case may be, this brief essay is intent to discuss critically an
interesting approach published on 2006 in Tourism and Hospitality Research
Journal by Howard Hughes. From a general perspective, Hughes initially writes,
This paper states the case for further research into
tourism by lesbians. Besides making good a gap market
knowledge it may contribute to further understanding of
diversity of society, issues of sexual orientation and
inequality. Related literature that may contribute to an
understanding of holidays by lesbians is reviewed and it is
postulated that holiday profiles will differ from those of
gay men and of heterosexual women.
For Hughes, tourism studies reveal increasing diversity and new kinds of
tourist experience. As a result of this, the classic massive tourism has been
replaced by at least of five new segments of consumers including the gay
market. The article in question begins by exposing all available published work
regarding homosexuality in relation to choosing a holiday destination. From this
point of view, Hughes maintains,
There is little published material available that would
provide a basis for a detailed discussion of holidays
undertaken by lesbians. The determination of the holiday
needs and experience, and significance of the holiday for
lesbians, may be justified at a simple level of arguing
that it is likely that the holiday motivation and
experiences of homosexuals (both male and female) are
different from those of heterosexuals... as a consequence,
there will be an imperative to determine those differences
by academics and practitioners and not continue dealing
with tourists as an undifferentiated homogeneous mass.
If we take as valid that there are particularly distinctive quests and patterns
in holidays for gays and lesbians, then diverse strategies would also be
followed by one or other. In UK and USA more of companies are investing in
increasing the homosexual market. However these actions come across several
obstacles since they do not take into consideration a division between lesbians
and gays. In this sense, there is a evident relationship between consumption and
power since motivations are build on social realities of the participants lives.
As tourism is based on human transactions, it impacts and also is impacted by
the expression of sexual orientation.
Following this explanation, the author says,
Tourism has become another dimension of the tension between
the ascendancy of heteronormativity and the requirement that
sexuality be confined to the private sphere; it is another
aspect of the struggle for acceptance of gays and lesbians
by the rest of society. Tourism therefore has particular
implications for various aspects of gay and lesbian life,
some of which are positive and others arguably less so.
In other words, even though the bibliography related to gay male consumers is
extensive, Hughes supports the studies of lesbian profiles because tourism is
'an ideal vehicle' to resolve interaction conflicts and prejudices. For
example, the idea that women and men experience tourism differently; the author
reminds us historically men have been travelers and the female role was
submissive to the patriarchal power:
The fear of violence, sexual harassment, and rape is a
constant and all-pervasive restriction upon the action of
women... monitoring and avoiding these risks takes on a more
unknown character whilst traveling.
On another hand, sometimes women found independence by traveling far way from
masculine power. Finally, Hughes intends to prove that gender association or
election has something to do with social practices and holiday perspectives. A
consideration of lesbian leisure may also help to understand lesbian vacations.
Spaces generated by specific practices are important due to symbolic identity;
additionally, lesbian identity is not aimed at taking part of gay men's
The lack of commercial representation of lesbianism may
also be partly explained by feminist anti-capitalist and
consumerist elements. It may be too that women have lower
discretionary incomes than men or are not as interested in
territorial presence as men.
Furthermore, surveys have been undertaken which appear to show that lesbians
are less likely to have a passport than men (57 per cent compared to 88 per
cent of men); and indeed spend less on holidays than men (39 per cent spent
over 2500 USD per capita though 64 per cent of men did this).
After presenting some convincing statistical support, Hughes concludes his
article confirming that,
There are differences in the tourism of heterosexuals and
homosexuals, especially in the case of gay men, which are
explained in large part by sexual orientation. These
differences are discussed in more detail elsewhere... but
the differences have been less obviously demonstrated for
lesbians than for gay men... lesbians will be subject to the
dual influence of being both female and homosexual and
their tourism can be expected to reflect and be explained
by this... with respect to type of holiday, lesbians will be
more likely to seek holidays that are less focused on the
commercial gay scene and that facilitate the development
and nurturing of relationship in a relatively private
Although Hughes has contributed to the study of tourism and gender he makes
assumptions which can be criticized, and require more analysis in depth. It is
unclear that there is a reliable correlation between gender election and social
consumption; secondly, the author assumes the object which he then seeks to
explain. In other words, Hughes did not study the history of gender, comparing
scientifically the role of women or men in the production processes of
capitalism; neither has he identified how the emergence of gay and lesbian
culture influences heterosexual organization.
In old Rome, the election of sex was subordinate to the fact that one is a
rational human being; regardless of gender a citizen would be considered a
human or not only if he or she proved to be part of 'oikoumene'. How are they
part of this privileged circle? For Roman citizens humankind was determined by
the rational use of mind. To be more exact, anyone able to write and read was
considered human, and all who lacked this accomplishment were taken as 'savage'.
As in Rome, in western modern society consumption accentuates not only the
difference between men and women or gays and lesbians but also all aspects of
humanity. For that reason, we strongly believe Professor Hughes is wrong if he
expects to find a scientific correlation between gender and consumption. From
our point of view, he should reverse his thesis by showing how the economic
structure (system) creates diverse roles which it inserts in culture, which are
functional to the main interests of that system. Promoting consumption, the
system prevents all possible disruptions or self-defeating reaction, including
Relating to this concern, Bauman explains that part of the hegemonic aspect of
modernity is not the division of labor (as was believed little more than a
couple of decade back) but rather constant and liquid consumption (Bauman,
2007). To be more precise, modern business in general and not just tourism
lacks any ethic or moral perspective. Every person is taken as a part of a
broader system whose sole aim is to perpetually expand the circuit of
consumptions, becoming consumers of ever more goods capable of being consumed.
Bauman, Z. (2007). Vida de Consumo. Buenos Aires, Fondo de Cultura Economica.
Clift, S. and Carter, S. (2003). Tourism and Sex: culture, commerce and
coercion. Editorial Pinter, London.
Hershatter, G. (1999). Dangerous pleasures. prostitution and modernity in
twentieth Century Shanghai. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Hughes, H. 'Lesbians as tourist: poor relations of a poor relation'. Tourism
and Hospitality Research. Vol. 7 (1): 17-26.
Uriely, N and Belhassen, Y. (2006). Drugs and Risk-taking in tourism . Annals
of Tourism Research. Volume 33. Numero 2. Pp: 339-359.
Ryan, C and Hall, M. (2000). Sex tourism: marginal people and liminalities.
Routledge Editorial, London
Valdez, A and Sifaneck, S. (1997). 'Drugs tourists and drug policy on the
US-Mexican border: an ethnographic investigation'. Journal of Drugs issues.
Volume 27. Pp: 879-898.
Veyne, P. (1985). Histoire de la Vie Privee. Paris: Editions Du Seuil.
Wickens, E. (1997). 'Licensed for Thrill. Risk taking and tourism'. In Tourism
and Health. Clift S and Gabowski, P. London: Ed. Printer. Pp: 151-164.
(c) Maximiliano Korstanje 2008
University of Palermo
III. REVIEW OF LISA H. NEWTON 'PERMISSION TO STEAL' BY ANNE MAGUIRE
Permission to Steal
Lisa H Newton
Blackwell Public Philosophy Series
This is a short book (100 pages) written in the style of a political pamphlet
from an earlier age. Lisa Newton argues strongly that the morality of business
is tied into the morality of the community and society and that the Enron and
similar collapses are due to society 'allowing' people to become more immoral.
When we have various philosophical ethical theories -- contractarian,
deontological, teleological etc., -- it is understandable that a writer might
call upon something higher and metaphysical as a source of persuasion and
Newton is no exception. This book has a bias towards biblical quotations.
On first reading the book is quite shocking as each scandal in isolation might
seem an unusual occurrence only to be expected in the business world but, when
there are several pulled together and comparisons are drawn, it is a shocking
read. This seems to be because of the similarities and the lack of lessons
learned. It becomes obvious that the magnitude of unethical behaviour needs to
Newton, who is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in Applied
Ethics at Fairfield University, Connecticut, starts by describing the Enron/
Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Adelphia Communications, Tyco and HealthSouth
scandals in broad brush terms to explain her premise that,
We have watched the disgrace, conviction and imprisonment
of people who were not necessarily bad, they just needed
watching -- they needed us to be watching, and we were not.
We must not make that mistake again.
Why did 'we' need to be watching? Would a community have stopped these business
disasters? These are the questions that Newton examines by using theory from
Aristotle through Marxism and Darwinism to see if they apply to this era of the
The first part of Newton's argument is established in the first third of the
book which looks at the concept of community and the village. She describes
this as the 'natural human community that placed limits on human vice by the
simple mechanism of transparency and moral consistency'. If we are all being
watched and judged by our neighbours, friends and family, who are all fully
aware of what we are doing, then the likelihood is that we will adjust our
behaviour according to the cultural standards and mores of that community.
Newton states that she believes 'the fundamental error was made when our
culture, the culture of the west, embraced liberalism'. Liberalism is defined
as adults being allowed to pursue their dreams wherever they lead even if this
includes the pursuit of wealth beyond all limits and without any adverse
comments. Against Newton, it might be said that there is no logical or
practical reason why liberalism could not have arisen in a small village.
Newton's thesis implies that liberalism can be stemmed by friends and
neighbours. But you really only need one ideologist.
On the current state of affairs she describes a world where 'ordinary citizens
are cheated out of their savings while the capitalists take home millions as
the value of their shares rise'. This seems a bit biased. Many people hold the
view that a lot of ordinary people milk the capitalist state.
Newton has a strong manifesto which is made clear by her ideological statement
that 'we were put on this earth to take care of the earth and to take care of
each other and, frankly, we're doing a very bad job of both'. The justification
for this is explored using various writers and issues and is obviously very
As a solution to the violence and greed, the author proposes 'Seven Tasks':
1. To gather the conviction to start on the path to an integrated and healthy
2. To rebuild our public life. For starters, we can create or re-create our
3. To reacquaint ourselves with reality. 'Denial' of reality means a
determination, probably but not necessarily subconscious, not to believe
something what is clearly before your face and in your line of vision simply
because the belief would be too painful for you. (So this is a tricky one!)
4. To rearticulate and recommit to a sense of stewardship.
5. To regain the confidence to articulate a notion of the common good and the
energy to work for it. A restatement of the Republic (perhaps as envisioned by
6. To return to the matter of corporate scandals, our task is to end the
crime, especially the inexcusable crime of those in the most privileged
positions in the nation. To the best of our ability we must recreate a society
where we are not ashamed to affirm and reinforce moral ideals and to hold even
the paragons of business accountable to them.
7. To articulate a contemporary version the good life, the life that we
actually want to live that does not rest on injustice to others. Its roots are
ancient 'Know yourself' and 'Nothing in excess'.
There is nothing concrete here, which is surprising, given that Newton works in
How does Newton's thesis sit with modern business in the West today? There are
examples of businesses and businessmen who operate within her parameters (Bill
Gates philanthropy, Body Shop [when owned by the Roddicks] and the Traidcraft
logo system) but is this realistic in the modern capitalist world where
shareholders seek the best returns to put creating profits?
Darwinism, Newton argues, encourages the weak to ally themselves to the strong,
as service in return for protection, but will the weak ever be heard if they
protest? Newton argues that if the weak band together in a 'community' then
this community 'watching' big business will stop another corporate scandal. It
is an interesting treatise but in the 21st century unlikely to ever be tested.
How can these slightly abstract ideas be drawn together -- is there a need for
a Chartered body similar to that of Accountants and Engineers, where regular
professional updates are required if people are to keep their qualification? Is
it possible that companies who have shareholders could be made to employ a
Chartered Ethicist? They could then be bound by external moral codes, but
written by whom?
Newton seems to by-pass this difficulty by making the village members the
watchdogs, so you don't have to choose or elect persons, but that doesn't
ensure you get good moral overseers. The problem with non-experts is that they
do not have sufficient corporate knowledge to be custodians of corporate ethics.
This book doesn't solve anything and some could argue it is idealistic,
although perhaps this is something to aspire to. This book is an interesting
contribution to the debate on corporate ethics.
(c) Anne Maguire 2008