George Bull, editorin-chief of the Director, the newspaper of the Institute of Directors, looks at the Christian rule of business
COMMERCE — in a wider context business is often talked about in terms of Mammon. Not a pleasant thought. And to see how unpleasant just consider this famous painting of Mammon by G. F. Watts: the bloated. wicked face, the huge, cruel limbs and the evil throne. This is commerce," G. K. Chesterton said in his book on Watts. "This is the home of the god himself."
Almost immediately, however, Chesterton stood this thought on its head. Commerce. after all, included a million motives. What Watts was getting at was rather the "blind and asinine appetite for mere power." That is the spirit of Mammon and you might find it in a trade union headquarters or around the Cabinet table as well as in the boardroom.
Businessmen's motives are as myriad as those of any other group from politicians to prelates. And if there is to be a Christian judgement about the morality of any form of human activity. it has to be about the motive. At this point, it is hard to resist quoting Dr Johnson: "There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money."
Getting money is undoubtedly one of the motives of business but by no means always the chief motive and rarely the single motive. However. let me quote Johnson just once again, to take the argument forward: "A man cannot make a bad use of his money. so far as regards society. if he do not hoard it; for if he either spends it or lends it out, society has the benefit, It is in general better to spend money than to give it away; for industry was promoted by spending money .
The Institute of Directors has thrown itself energetically into the campaign to boost the spending of money, in the form Dr Johnson praised, for the creation of new wealth and by the forming or expansion of smaller cornpanics. Among the steps which its 30,000 members is taking (and with which I am directly concerned) is the publication this autumn of a new monthly magazine to put (entrepreneurs ready to invest up to £25.000) in touch with businessmen seeking finance for their companies. It is an imaginative initiative.
The Government is on the same track. It is meant to encourage all forms of business — manufacturing, service companies, commerce — and it is as 'Christian' an endeavour as I can think of at the present time.
A few weeks ago, I gave an after dinner talk to a group of students in their last term. It was a social and. to put it mildly. rather relaxed occasion. Several all the same, mindful of where I came from, scribbled on my menu as it was passed round for signing: 'Find me a job ...' More business means more jobs and it will he a long time before the large companies in Britain take back the number of employees they've shed in recent years. We must look to the smaller and middle sized companies.
The sort of "mixed" economy I think most compatible with Christian attitudes (and civilised values) includes all sorts of companies, with commerce run of all kinds of lines, from the small private company to the producer cooperative, the "multinational", and the decentralised State industry. From this you can see my bias in favour of diversity. Whatever the business. it must have directors of one kind or another. and the important point about directors is that they have very special legal and moral responsibilities.
Most of the chairmen and directors I have known over many years are aware of this and responsive to it. "A man who takes on a directorship without realising the trust which the office automatically implies may sometimes be a knave, but is always a Fool." the Institute of Directors has said (in its boardroom bible Guidelines for Directors). And all commerce has in the end to be based on trust.
Whether Christianity can not only be in harmony with commerce but provide a special motivation for business is a question of fascination for both the historian and the theologian. I am certainly not sceptical about the historical importance of the Protestant "work ethic" (though with many reservations about the conclusions that have been drawn). I feel sure that the European idea of "professional conscience" is intertwined with historical Christianity. Just as I am sure that the idea of the "life to come" has had an ambivalent effect on human ambitions. Christianity and the greed for power? There's another subject.