Saturday, March 19, 2016

Be Wary of the Businessman as Politician

If I were capable of writing a book it would be titled Untapped: Michael Oakeshott and the American Conservative Movement. You may have noticed that Oakeshott’s thought appears disturbingly often (is this guy obsessed?) around here. It’s because his thought clarifies to a degree I haven’t found anywhere else.

In his magnum opus, On Human Conduct, Oakeshott distinguished between civil association and enterprise association in regard to political activity. Conceptually this is far better than left/right (a low bar), liberal/conservative, or negative/positive liberties.

Civil association rules or laws are neutral and are in Oakeshott’s words “subscribed to” rather than carried out. They are purposeless except in the sense that they minimize the clashes that occur as free people pursue their own choices. The rule that we drive on the right side of the rode belongs to civil association. It merely specifies that if we decide to drive we do so on the right side, but it is indifferent as to where we go or whether we drive at all.

Enterprise association is of a completely different character. As its name suggests it is government as enterprise. An enterprise (think of business) is directed to a goal and everything it does is with that goal in mind. You are hired if you can contribute to the enterprise’s goal and you’ll be fired if your contribution is inadequate.

Oakeshott argued that neither civil association or enterprise association was possible in pure form but that civil association was compatible with free people, a populous who enjoy and value making their own decisions. He also believed that viewing government as enterprise association has regrettably become the dominant way of thinking about government (for Oakeshott, what the government should do was the critical question not its form).

Now with the above in mind it should surprise no one that men and women who have spent most of their adult lives in business and are running for office on the back of their business success will naturally view government as an enterprise association. Immersed in a world of getting things done, delivering results, of the constant pursuit of efficiency they cannot but see the idea of government as a neutral activity, one that values checks and balances, and one that deliberately sets up impediments to action as an absurdity.

In short, at least from the conservative perspective, there is much in the businessman’s outlook that should make him wary. Unless the businessman is that rare person who views government as a wholly different activity, he or she is likely to be more of a progressive/rationalist than a conservative.

No comments:

Post a Comment