Patriotic Businessmen

2 12 2016

In the eyes of some of  people, the term “patriotic businessman” might seem like an oxymoron. It’s not, however. When asked about the Trump-Carrier deal (which is a terrible deal in many respects), Bernie Sanders call for the return of an “ethic of corporate patriotism.” That’s terminology that was used by Hillary Clinton and other speakers at the 2016 DNC. Readers will recall that the 2016 involved the appropriation of flag-waving borderline jingoistic patriotism by the Democrats: war hero speakers in uniform were interspersed with calls for (multinational) corporations to be more patriotic. One journalist quipped at the time that the Democrats were learning to “speak Republican”.

The neologism “corporate patriotism” is a new one but the term “patriotic businessman[men] is much older. I was curious to see what pattern emerge when one searches for in the Google corpus of English-language books. Here’s what I found.


Note the surge in the middle years of the twentieth century, a period associated with total war.





2 responses

2 12 2016
((Jonathan Weisman)) (@JJWeisman)

It’s only fair, Andrew, to bear in mind that geography DOES still matter. So long as we need to eat, sleep, work, and be somewhere, we have an interest in making that somewhere the place we would like it to be.
It may not be true that, historically, local bigwigs’ largesse remained local, but I do know that people around here are hard to interest in the many volunteer and philanthropic activities on which a thriving local community depends. There seems to be an assumption that these facilities (from community centres to youth groups to theatre) are adequately provided by government. Private philanthropy and volunteerism seems to be gravitating towards “big issues”, borderless or foreign (among which I would count environmentalism, middle-eastern politics, and human rights unrelated to homelessness). Lots of folks are keen on building houses in Africa, but we can’t get a critical mass to cross the street to read to/spend an hour with an older local blind woman. It places increased strain on local resources, from which both diversity and quality suffer.
If Sanders is calling for a reengagement with geography, I’m all for it. Your point, I take it, has more to do with exclusivity, which I agree needs condemnation. But the growing ability to disengage from local community is a dangerous trend.

6 12 2016

I agree that we should focus on what Burke called the little platoons, starting with our neighbourhoods, then our cities, counties, nations, and then finally our responsibilities as citizens of the world. Clearly many businessmen as individuals continue to contribute to local communities and to national project. I suppose what Bernie was getting at is at an apparently declining sense of patriotism among corporations. An organizational culture can be non-patriotic even when it is composed of individuals who are individuals who are engaged in their communities and nations. There appears to have been a shift in the culture of many US corporations that has encouraged many managers to believe that their fiduciary duties to the shareholders trumps loyalty to the nation state. The way Delaware law is now interpreted reinforces this idea. (The situation is different in Canada and the UK because there corporations are supposed to be run in the interests of a socially “enlightened shareholder” rather than a shareholder who simply wants to maximize profits). Justice Rothstein’s recent and wonderful talk to the Canadian Business History Association touched on this subject!

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