03 December 2010

The Inhumane Businessman - An Essay by Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk wrote a very interesting article in 1957 for Fortune magazine called The Inhumane Businessman. Kirk makes a number of poignant points that are even more relevant today. As the title of the essay is The Inhumane Businessman, 'inhumane' being the operative word, this is not a criticism of business or businessmen in general but of those business people describe in his words as,
American businessmen, like most other Americans, are deficient in the disciplines that nurture the spirit. They are largely ignorant of the humanities, which, in a word, comprise that body of great literature that records the wisdom of the ages, and in recording it instructs us in the nature of man. The humanist believes in the validity of such wisdom.
The next section could describe a number of our current billionaires, such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc., who have recently gotten together 40 fellow billionaires who have committed to give half of their respective fortunes to philanthropic causes.
Let us be quite clear about the difference between humanism and humanitarianism. In common usage, humanitarianism has simply come to mean generosity or charity; but strictly defined, as a system of thought, humanitarianism is a belief that mankind can be improved through the application of utilitarian principles, without divine aid; this is the idea that Rousseau pursued ecstatically and Stalin ruthlessly, while they overlooked the human law. Now there are a great many benevolent humanitarians among us who are neither ecstatic nor ruthless. The American businessman by and large is a benevolent humanitarian. In fact, probably no class of businessmen in all history has been so openhanded and so full of social conscience. So I do not mean to say that the American businessman is selfish when I say that he is not humane. But he misunderstands the limited virtues and even the profound hazards of humanitarianism so long as he neglects, as he does, the wisdom of humanism.

The rest of the article can be read at The Kirk Center.

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