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On Freedom and Responsibility in Business in the United States

This country was founded by people who were into the philosophers and political thinkers of the day. One notable philosopher that influenced them was John Locke. Locke was a daring writer of his day, developing a philosophy which justified why those in his calls (who had some money and education) deserved the freedom to be able to make money and participate in civil society as equals – at that time, if you weren't of the aristocracy or nobility, you didn't count. So the freedom Locke was calling for made a lot of sense to many in England. His thoughts were considered so subversive that he had to publish much of his writings anonymously.

The founding fathers were influenced by Locke's ideas, and the general idea that all should have freedom to participate in society, in commerce and the competition to freely buy land (or purloin it from the indigenous population).

In any case, this concept of Freedom was enshrined in the Constitution and the American psyche.

Freedom to engage in commerce, and freedom to give the English the boot. Made sense at the time.
Today, the society takes Freedom as its primary principle. Although this concept has been used to create greater equality in the U.S. – appealed to by Martin Luther King, etc. – it is not sufficient as a general principle.

As Emanuel Levinas points out time and again, the principle of freedom is lacking. Freedom can be (and often is) interpreted as freedom to be as acquisitive as possible, freedom to get one’s own way, freedom to push others out of the way, freedom to invade other countries (in order to give them a taste of the wonderful essence of freedom) and so on …

Where is the notion of responsibility? Responsibility for the other. A caring for the other.

Maybe if the U.S. adopted this principle, seriously, alongside its notion of freedom, then the plight of the people in New Orleans, living near poorly maintained levees, will be considered BEFORE the floods hit. Maybe then the security at airports won’t be dished out to incompetent and greedy companies who aim to make as much money as possible by exploiting their workers as much as possible – contracts awarded, no doubt, by a politician with his hand out for contributions from those awarded that ridiculous contract.

Money and profit may be important motivators to do better, but the untrammeled rush to make money by any means possible – including giving large “donations” to favored (and not very bright) politicians who will agree to do your bidding once in office …. Shouldn’t that be regarded as criminal?

I noticed several of David Nadler’s points (in his article in Harvard Business Review and in his recent talk at our Institute) concerning consulting to CEOs were ethical ones, rather than psychological ones!

Maybe America needs more thoughtful philosophers? For this day. Who guides the present administration? The likes of Fukuyama, who with the complex justification (appealing to Hegel and Marx, etc.) for his “End of history” and “Last man” ideas provides the intellectual backing for the neo-conservative arguments that democracy must be brought to the Arabs – until they see the error of their ways, and the right-ness of ours.

But all is not lost. We DO have thoughtful thinkers, consultants, psychoanalysts, anthropologists, certain religious figures, etc. who do see the problems of freedom-as-license-to-do-whatever-the-f..k-we-want for the future of this country.

What can be done? Keeping up the conversation is perhaps the beginning of being responsible (i.e. responding).

I hope we hear from others on this issue.

In love and peace,


© Copyright, Murray Gordon, Living Philosophy, murray@LivingPhilosophy.org