A Corporation is No Place for Democracy

Dec. 21, 2004
At least by today's definition of the word.

Some would say we are in the midst of a decline of democracy in the United States. Others would say today's permissive society embodies democracy. As a chief executive, this split in thought should concern you. Why? Because the traditional principles associated with democracy are also those that support your corporation. If the new definition of democracy permeates your company, you will have a bunch of employees who don't support your company's mission. Author Allan Bloom explained it well a decade ago, and his theories remain current. In Closing of the American Mind (1988, Touchstone Books), Bloom observes: "Over the history of our republic, there have been changes of opinion as to what kind of man is best for our regime. We began with the model of a rational and industrious man, who was honest, respected the laws, and was dedicated to his family. Above all he was required to know the rights of doctrine; the Constitution, which embodied it; and American history, which presented and celebrated the founding of the nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Bloom writes that to understand the Declaration of Independence (our county's mission statement) requires an understanding of what constitutes a democratic society. Two views prevail: first, the old view, which recognizes and accepts one's natural rights to be fundamentally equal in all respects. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear under the klieg lights of natural rights. In this view, people with common interests become brothers and sisters. The second view is more forward-thinking. It pays no attention to natural rights or to the historical origins of our country's culture. It demands neither common interests, fundamental agreement nor the abandonment of beliefs in favor of the natural rights. It welcomes all people, all lifestyles, and all ideologies. There is no enemy other than those who cannot accept new thoughts or constantly changing paradigms. What we are witnessing is a steady march toward indiscriminate freedom. Freedom to think as we wish, do as we wish, and live as we wish as long as we do it within the scope of the nation's laws. If we meet these criteria, then others must leave us alone, however distasteful our beliefs or actions might be. The appetite to live as one pleases thrives in America's culture of modern democratic thought. Liberalism without natural rights teaches us that the only danger we face is from those reluctant to accept these manifestations of progress. It says quite boldly that no one needs to heed the fundamental principles and moral virtues of the past. It should come as no surprise that the second theory is predominant in today's marketplace. We have only to look at our television screens, newspapers, news magazines, and movies. They are daily reminders of the abandonment of old standards. They vie to be "first with the worst" in reporting news. Radio and local television have become nightly litanies of each day's crimes of passion, crimes of need, crimes of convenience, and crimes of fun. Explicit sex is now a staple in American movies. This was rarely the case twenty years ago. Best-selling fiction now borders on the pornographic. This was a no-no twenty years ago. And best-selling nonfiction is dominated by lurid exposures of celebrities, families, institutions, and dynasties. Is it any wonder, then, that when Americans are asked "Which is more important, (a) a president who is a faithful husband or (b) a president who does a competent job, they vote overwhelmingly for (b)? If your company's workforce is made up of a majority of individuals who say (quite boldly) that no one needs to heed the fundamental principles and moral virtues of the past, your job may be at risk. Why? Because America is a democracy. Corporations are not. Democracies, in today's terms, permit the freedom to think, feel, live, and love as you like. A corporation works best when its people "buy in" to the ideas articulated in a well-conceived company mission statement (does that sound like "common interests"?) that speaks about loyalty, teamwork, empowerment, adherence to company standards and policy, striving for product excellence, and serving the customer first and best. Mission statements should always set forth the company's goals, objectives, and values. If a company's values differ from those of its employees, companies fail. Companies that survive do so because a wise chief executive communicated what the company stands for and what it will not stand for.

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