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Chapter 14 Business Ethics: Kindred Spirit or Idolatry? Michael Goldberg Editor's Introduction One of the perennial problems for Christian ethicists has been that of finding an adequate basis for speaking to the business world. One typical approach relies on the assumption that unethical business practice can be corrected by the presence of a suitable number of morally upright individuals holding strate­ gic positions of corporate power. This view treats moral obligations as though they are first determined in the religious sphere and only subsequently carried by individuals into the morally unstructured marketplace. Rabbi Michael Goldberg wonders whether the business world is, in fact, as amoral as we imagine it to be. If corporations have the same shape as moral communities - unified in the pursuit of a common te/os, constituted by mem­ bers standing in interdependent and mutually embedded relationships, driven by a common master story, evaluated by a set of virtues which are exemplified in the lives of its paradigmatic heroes - then Maclntyre's approach to ethics can be applied directly within the business world. For example, a corporation can determine what sort of character it ought to be, by simply reflecting on its mas­ ter story or "creed." Further, if corporations have become surrogate communities in an otherwise fractured and individualistic age, then it is conceivable that, by virtue of the fact that they share with religious communities a basic commu­ nal shape, corporations have ears to hear what religious communities have to say about moral obligation in communal life. If Goldberg is correct in this, then Christian ethics has the hope of going beyond moral instruction for individuals to tutelage of corporations themselves. Goldberg's essay compares the biblical nation of Israel with General Electric in order to show the way master stories (the Exodus; the biography of Edison) impart moral vision and propagate certain practices (remembering; inventing), and esteem in the performance of these practices particular virtues (faithful­ ness; persistence). However, Goldberg's job of teasing out similarities between corporations and religious communities is made difficult by Maclntyre's own ex­ plicit claim that corporations have contributed determinatively to the fracturing 3 06 Business Ethics: Kindred Spirit or Idolatry? 307 of moral life. Westerners in the corporate age struggle to inhabit two incommen­ surable roles: that of employee, and that of family member/citizen. Yet Goldberg asks whether corporations, rather than contributing to the demise of commu­ nity, might not represent the last bastion of community in the secular world. The middle section of his essay systematically dismantles four objections Macintyre might raise against this thesis. However, just when it seems as though Goldberg has sewn up the case for similarity, he turns the tables. If there are reasons for thinking Maclntyrean ethics applies directly within corporate culture, there are limitations to this similarity which, from the religious perspective, are not merely unfortunate but downright evil. Granted, modern corporations, for the most part, emerged in an era after Western civilization had already lost sight of the common good. Therefore, it is not surprising that corporations overlook what virtually everyone misses. What is surprising are examples of companies that offer a creedal version of the "common" (that is, corporate) good and tenaciously abide by the creed even at great cost. That we readily recognize such companies as "excellent" shows Maclntyre's claim that all business ethics is merely utilitarian to be wide of the mark. Nevertheless, there is a demonic side to excellence. Goldberg notes that no story to which corporate culture demands "religious" fidelity is, in fact, gen­ uinely biblical. Neither is the moral vision that corporations cultivate any wider than the boundaries of their financial market. Nor are the goods that corpora­ tions seek anything but partial and conflicting ones. U nder these conditions, the corporation that demands total allegiance is idolatrous. Goldberg applies Macl ntyre's analysis of the moral life to draw attention to the tension that Christian ethicists face when addressing the business world. On the one hand, there is enough similarity for Christian ethicists to hope that our moral prescriptions can be heard and understood by the quasi-communal corpo­ ration. Yet, on the other hand, that the comparison can be made at all means that the business "community" is a distinct species, and therefore in competition for that devotion which we insist ought to be rendered to God alone. BRAD J. KALLENBERG Corporations as Community As American business enters the last decade of this century, its corporate watch­ word...


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