[P]eople in the literary, academic and media worlds rarely understand business. It is nearly impossible to think of a novel that accurately portrays business success. That’s because the virtues that writers tend to admire — those involving self-expression and self-exploration — are not the ones that lead to corporate excellence.
For the same reason, business and politics do not blend well. Business leaders tend to perform poorly in Washington, while political leaders possess precisely those talents — charisma, charm, personal skills — that are of such limited value when it comes to corporate execution.
Fortunately, America is a big place. Literary culture has thrived in Boston, New York and on campuses. Political culture has thrived in Washington. Until recently, corporate culture has been free to thrive in such unlikely places as Bentonville, Omaha and Redmond.
The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatilloes and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter who is a beekeeper will tend two hives for honey.
Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.
The plots will be in raised beds fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.
By living in a spirit of forgiveness, we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom. It comes from sacrifice: that is the great message that all the memorable works of our culture convey. The message has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but we can hear it once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices resentment and thereby renounces something that had been dear to his heart.
The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible. That is also why we must be suspicious of capitalists. Capitalists are by definition not only personal risk takers but, more to the point, cultural risk takers. The most creative and daring of them hope to exploit new technologies to the fullest, and do not much care what traditions are overthrown in the process or whether or not a culture is prepared to function without such traditions. Capitalists are, in a word, radicals. In America, our most significant radicals have always been capitalists—men like Bell, Edison, Ford, Carnegie, Sarnoff, Goldwyn. These men obliterated the 19th century, and created the 20th, which is why it is a mystery to me that capitalists are thought to be conservative. Perhaps it is because they are inclined to wear dark suits and grey ties.
I trust you understand that in saying all this, I am making no argument for socialism. I say only that capitalists need to be carefully watched and disciplined. To be sure, they talk of family, marriage, piety, and honor but if allowed to exploit new technology to its fullest economic potential, they may undo the institutions that make such ideas possible. And here I might just give two examples of this point, taken from the American encounter with technology. The first concerns education. Who, we may ask, has had the greatest impact on American education in this century? If you are thinking of John Dewey or any other education philosopher, I must say you are quite wrong. The greatest impact has been made by quiet men in grey suits in a suburb of New York City called Princeton, New Jersey. There, they developed and promoted the technology known as the standardized test, such as IQ tests, the SATs and the GREs. Their tests redefined what we mean by learning, and have resulted in our reorganizing the curriculum to accommodate the tests.
A second example concerns our politics. It is clear by now that the people who have had the most radical effect on American politics in our time are not political ideologues or student protesters with long hair and copies of Karl Marx under their arms. The radicals who have changed the nature of politics in America are entrepreneurs in dark suits and grey ties who manage the large television industry in America. They did not mean to turn political discourse into a form of entertainment. They did not mean to make it impossible for an overweight person to run for high political office. They did not mean to reduce political campaigning to a 30-second TV commercial. All they were trying to do is to make television into a vast and unsleeping money machine. That they destroyed substantive political discourse in the process does not concern them.
Every preacher who has been around a while finds consolation in the promise of Isaiah that “the word shall not return void.” To preach well is success. I recall rallies when, in the course of his preaching, King would hold forth on the theological and moral foundations of the movement. The klieg lights and cameras shut down, only to be turned on again when he returned to specifically political or programmatic themes. “Watch the lights,” he commented. “They’re not interested in the most important parts.”
Barack Obama won in November largely because he convincingly represents stability in economic affairs and foreign policy. On questions of culture, however, he will have a very difficult time. The progressive ideal of liberated desire—like all progressive ideals—requires us to fundamentally remake culture. This means aggressively intervening into education and the family in order to destroy the sources of traditional sentiments about sex, gender, and religion. . . .
Yet, because conservatism is based in traditional realities rather than progressive ideals, it need not revolutionize culture and suppress dissent. Put concretely, nobody who wants to change our laws about abortion needs to censor the pro-choice idea. Nobody who wishes to prohibit gay marriage wants to prevent anyone from feeling offended or oppressed by the opinions of those who think otherwise.
Because conservative political goals are limited, they don’t require trying to take control of the San Francisco school system. . . . The conservative has no need to gain control of the state in order to remake culture—a shockingly arrogant, willful, and invariably tyrannical project. He already has one.
To have an effective cordon sanitaire against terror would require India to inject a degree of efficiency, alertness, and performance into an administrative apparatus that simply has not delivered on these scores for decades. For many interesting historical reasons (that need not detain us here), government and public institutions in India gradually ceased to be effective deliverers of goods and services, beginning in the 1970’s. There is much that democracy in India has achieved, including the famous overturning of the autocratic Emergency Rule that Mrs. Gandhi once imposed and the sense of participation many low-caste communities have in the country’s governmental institutions. But democracy in India has also become predominantly a means of electoral empowerment of different groups—low-castes, dalits, minorities, or even majoritarian Hindus who claim to have been “weakened” by the “privileges” accorded to minorities.
The growth of this politics of identity has made elections into the mainstay of Indian democracy. It has distanced politics from issues of governance, and has gone hand in hand with a deepening degree of corruption, financial and otherwise, on the part of politicians and officials. A large number of the elected members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them, and media reports suggest an elephantine, unaccountable, inefficient bureaucracy mired in the self-indulgent use of resources (corruption and inefficiency often going together). There was, as last week’s events made clear, no effective coast guard force on the Indian seas, in spite of the government having been warned of possible terror attacks on Mumbai from the sea. When the Taj Hotel caught fire, it took the first lot of firefighters three hours to respond. The commando force had to be dispatched from Delhi and it took about nine hours to mobilize them, as they are usually kept busy providing “security” to politicians, many of whom see such security as a matter of status and prestige.
It is no longer shameful to lust after power so long as one lusts for the good of the people. In the words of Boromir, speaking of the One Ring, “For you seem to think of its power only in the hands of the enemy: of its evil uses not of its good.” The only rejoinder, in Frodo’s words to Boromir, is that “we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.” Yes, it’s that simple. And as you ascend the levels of authority, from city to state to nation, it only becomes more true.
There are several reasons. One, already alluded to, is the corruption of power. No matter for what noble ends power may be sought, at some point it always becomes an end in itself, and then the jig is up . . . but the power and its abuses live on. This is why even the most flagrantly failed government programs are nearly impossible to kill.
Another reason that centralized government social engineering simply doesn’t work is what F.A. Hayek called “the knowledge problem.” Hayek was the only Austrian economist ever to win a Nobel Prize. He won it partly for a brief essay called “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in which he explained that government is intrinsically helpless before most social and economic problems because the knowledge needed to solve them is too widely dispersed among the members of society. It cannot ever be made known in a timely fashion to a central authority, and even if it could, that authority would lack the godlike coordinating ability needed to use that knowledge effectively. Adding to the difficulty, much of this knowledge is tacit knowledge, not consciously known or articulated by the individuals who have it.
What can make effective use of the knowledge distributed locally among the members of society? Only the free market system and its accompanying structure of voluntary trades and changing prices. Freely determined market prices are what send signals to individuals telling them how to best use their unique knowledge to their own, and ultimately society’s, advantage. Without a free market, the only way to allocate resources is by government fiat–a few, far-removed individuals making choices for us all, perhaps with the best of intentions but in near-total ignorance.
In this age, and this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. He makes possible the inforcement of these, else impossible.
—Abraham Lincoln, 1858, via Richard John Neuhaus
Steele’s deepest worries about Obama are not about his political chances but about his personal authenticity. Whether as bargainer or challenger or some creative mix of the two, Steele thinks, a black leader must don a mask, forging a persona that will charm or manipulate whites. In taking on this task, Steele contends, black leaders lose themselves, for they are never able to locate what they themselves really think. Steele wonders: Is Obama running for president because of his deep convictions or simply because he is aware of “his power to enthrall whites”?
But questions of authenticity can be raised about every politician. The peculiar job of a politician is to fashion repeatedly points of agreement between people with different and shifting points of view and to project a public persona that can elicit action and be the vehicle for people’s hopes. If personal authenticity is your quest, politics is the wrong medium. We can wish for congruence between the inner and the outer person of the politician, but in the end what matters for the voters is the direction of the policies chosen and the decisions made.
The next time you hear a commentator credit “All politics is local” to Tip O’Neill, impress your friends by mentioning that the line appeared in The Frederick (Md.) News, July 1, 1932, when the future speaker of the House was only a teenage proto-pol.