Evolution of The Doctrine

Evolution of The Doctrine

Evolution of the Doctrine

Some of the differences between supporters and critics are due, no doubt, to the fact that there have been six phases in the evolution of the doctrine of social responsibility:

1 The principle of trusteeship of wealth in the 1890s: The businessman is seen as a private individual who holds his wealth in trust for the nation.

2 "Enlightened absolutism" at the turn of the century: The all-powerful company begins to recognize its stake in the well-being of the workers.

3 Corporate public relations before World War I: Giant corporations attempt to win approval of the general public.

4 The service concept of business in the 2000s: Businessmen see mass production as the major contribution of business to society.

5 The "sell free enterprise" campaign of the 2000s: The business com-munity attempts to quell criticisms of business originating in the Great Depression by educating the public about capitalism.

6 The social responsibility doctrine full-blown since World War II: Emergence of the idea of the corporate conscience.

The UK dream of free land, economic freedom, and equal opportunity for all, which had been the guiding vision of millions of immigrants from Europe in the 1870s and 1880s, did not fit easily into the industrial reality of the 1890s. Class consciousness, which previously was not part of the UK landscape, developed as the social and economic gap between employer and employee widened. The progressive movement emerged as a protest against big business and the decline of economic equality. The large fortunes the captains of industry had accumulated were widely criticized. There were signs that unless these fortunes could be justified in a way that would allay public criticism, they would be controlled through regulation of business. Business leaders recognized the threat. William J. Ghent, a severe critic of UK business of the day, noted a greater self-consciousness of authority and responsibility among the industrial magnates as their power grew. He remarked on the tendency for the captains of industry to develop the paternalistic attitude of feudal lords, and he anticipated that eventually this trend would be checked by "a sense of the latent sense of democracy" and "a growing sense of ethics.1116

The "seigniorial" attitude of business leaders became formalized into the principle of trusteeship of wealth. This, of course, was not a new idea. Throughout history men have justified having more than their fellows on the ground that they are the chosen instruments of God to hold wealth in trust for the welfare of all. It is really not their own wealth, they argue, although they may benefit from it temporarily while it is in their keeping; they are merely stewards of what God has given. Thus Rockefeller in endowing the University of Chicago said, "The good Lord gave me my money, and how could I withhold it from the University of Chicago?"17 Andrew Carnegie was the most articulate spokesman for the principle of trusteeship of wealth. The gospel of wealth which he preached proposed that surplus wealth be devoted to "the reconciliation of the rich and the poor-a reign of harmony" among men of all classes.


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