Radical, Conservative, and Reactionary Business

Radical, Conservative, and Reactionary Business

Radical, Conservative, and Reactionary Business Ethics

Politically speaking, "An ideology is a program for organizing the re-sources, institutions, purposes, and power relations of society."2 Every group in society has an ideology.

The AFL-CIO has a labour ideology, the NAM has a business ideology, and the National Farmers' Union has a farm ideology. Each stresses the values, goals, and interests of the members of the group. When the existing social, political, and economic order is favourable for the protection and furtherance of a group's values, goals, and interests, it has a conservative ideology. The term "conservative" refers not to the content of the ideology but to its relation to prevailing institutions. A conservative ideology explains and defends existing institutions.

A group which considers itself disadvantaged may have a revolutionary ideology which attacks existing institutional arrangements. Following a revolution a group which has lost ground may have a reactionary ideology that calls for a return to earlier institutional forms.

The ideology of a group is an important source of the solidarity of its members. By believing in the same things they are able to identify with each other, cooperate, protect common values, and work toward common goals.

The ideology of a group may be so important to the integration of its members that ideological distortions of the real world become institutionalized. A source of distortion is the fact that "the members of a group need some sort of common cognitive orientation in order to cooperate; since social reality is complex, this common cognitive orientation is likely to be oversimplified from a scientific point of view."3 The group regulates the ideology of its members to maintain solidarity. Sanctions are invoked against members of the group whose beliefs deviate substantially from the ideology. Through such social control, the norms of the group are maintained and a united front is mobilized against threats to the welfare of group members.

The business community is an interest group, and it strongly influences the ideological content of business ethics. It protects the prevailing ideological ethic against defections from within the ranks of business. Businessmen clearly are in a favourable position to influence adoption or rejection of new ideas about business and economics. Whether they support or oppose new ethical concepts will depend to a great extent on whether in their judgment those concepts will have a favourable or unfavourable effect on their own welfare. Thus the term "business community" refers to the largely unorganized vested interest group of business. There is a consensus in the business community regarding the ideological aspects of business ethics, and sanctions are invoked against any member of that community who deviates from them. Thus the ideological content of business ethics safeguards the interests of businessmen as a socioeconomic class.

An ideological business ethic is conservative (i.e., supports the status quo) when businessmen believe their interests are well served by the existing social order. The business community advocates a radical ideological business ethic when businessmen want to improve their situation in some way. When they believe the tide of social change is running against their best interests, businessmen back a reactionary ideological ethic.

All this has nothing to do with operational business ethics. Business practice changes over time in response to changes in technology and organization. Operational ethics necessarily are consistent with business practice because they arise out of day-to-day problems in running the firm's affairs (e.g., should the civil rights movement influence hiring practices, should industrial espionage be used, should a manufacturing process be automated if it results in unemployment). Whether it is implicit or explicit and well-thought-out or intuitive, whatever guideline is followed constitutes an operational ethic.

Ideological ethics, on the other hand, may be radical, conservative, or reactionary compared to business practice and the operational ethic. Historically, the profit ethic has passed through all three phases: In the Industrial Revolution it was radical; in the Age of Enterprise it was conservative; today it is reactionary. The social responsibility ethic is presently radical. When it becomes conservative in the future, there no longer will be a moral crisis in management.


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