Dec 23 2013, 4:47pm CST | by Forbes
“… [T]he chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.” –Calvin Coolidge, 1925
And we increasingly know about the thick and thorny tangle of related issues:
Against this backdrop, there’s the matter of clashing values that have historically guided most Americans. These values are often frighteningly contradictory when it comes to business and money.
Stewart Davenport, a history professor at Pepperdine University, bravely addressed the elephant in the room a few years ago in Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism 1815-1860:
Americans are and always have been some of the most voluntarily religious people in the world as well as some of the most grossly materialistic. In other words, Americans simultaneously and paradoxically subscribe to both the Christian ethic of humility and selflessness, and the American liberal-capitalist ethic of competition, success, and self-promotion.
It is almost as if many Americans have gone about trying to understand themselves and their world with the Bible in one hand and John Locke in the other. Reconciling the two, however, has never been an easy task. One told them that ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ while the other unabashedly encouraged them to pursue lives of material happiness.”
In Unrighteous Mammon, Davenport observed three different groups in America’s past wrestling with what economic development meant:
I find the first group to be at times morally tone-deaf. I admire the second group’s moral resolve, but I suspect it’s too hopelessly naïve to affect how people live.
The third group, in the time of Adam Smith and today, may be the one that has something meaningful to bring to the discussion of how morality and prosperity intersect.
Principled … But Pragmatic
These people are principled but pragmatic. They know they’re living in a complicated world. They try to make peace with that complicated world, and they try to make that complicated world a little better, knowing that a perfect world is beyond their reach.
Unlike the first group, they don’t pretend that the structure of this complicated world is ideal. Unlike the second group, they don’t keep closing their eyes and imagining utopian fantasy realms in which there are no winners or losers.
In that sense, good Christians (and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Wiccans and, yes, secular humanists) can be good businessmen and women, combining a sober sense of humility and duty with the “moving impulses” that Calvin Coolidge ascribed to Americans. In fact, all of them may need to be both “good” and “good at business,” if our current concept of an American lifestyle is to remain a viable model in the coming years.
Source: Forbes Business
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.
blog comments powered by Disqus