THE FIRE OF INVENTION: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation by Michael Novak

THE FIRE OF INVENTION: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation

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Glimpses of a fruitful discussion can be found here, despite the effort to hide them behind erudite claptrap. Unfortunately, Novak (Business as a Calling, 1996, etc.) appears to have fallen prey to the post-communist conservative's infatuation with manufacturing enemies. Explaining the business corporation and its role in modern society would be an important contribution. But, given the realities of wealth, power, and popular values in this country, unleashing Novak on corporate critics, as occurs here, is a waste of intellectual energy, like using nuclear weapons to fend off kids with pea-shooters. In the initial section of this slim volume, war is declared against those who would destroy ""public enemy number one, the business corporation."" An enlightening but somewhat misplaced discussion of patent and copyright laws follows. The issue of corporate governance is taken up in the final section, however, and here a distinction between the nature and purpose of corporate associations and those of governmental associations is genuinely useful. Novak argues that the benefits of corporations flow from pursuing specific goals through dynamic organizations, whereas the benefits of government flow from pursuing general goals through relatively static organizations. Imposing the norms appropriate for the latter will only prevent the former from providing all that society needs from them. Novak calls for a ""philosophy of business"" to clarify the purpose of corporations, but rather than proceeding to develop it he reverts to attacking leftists, who are characterized as expecting ""employees to receive diamond rings on the day they are hired."" Closing with a claim that the ""one main purpose"" of the corporation is ""to create new wealth for the whole society"" rather than for stockholders, he confuses his argument by expanding expectations of corporations in precisely the manner he finds objectionable. This is not the serious work we have come to expect from Novak.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 168pp
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield--dist. by NBN