[This article appeared in the Summer 1972 issue of the Alpha Kappa Psi Diary, the national publication of Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity.]

 

 

The Businessman and Intellectual Culture

 

By Dwight D. Murphey

 

  • Dwight D. Murphey (G. Upsilon 68F, Wichita State) is an assistant professor of business law at Wichita State University and faculty advisor to Gamma Upsilon chapter.  He is the author of Emergent Man and The Principles of Classical Liberalism.  This article was the subject of his talk to the senior members of the chapter in May at its Demit Ceremony.

 

            As the members of Alpha Kappa Psi graduate and enter business or the professions related to business, they enter a life that is full and active—a life that will undoubtedly absorb their minds and energies.

            I cannot, however, avoid calling out after them as they leave their university an admonition that I take to be both profoundly important and difficult: Do not, as you become absorbed in a life of business, lose your contact with the intellectual culture by which you have been surrounded during your college years; do not permit yourself to lose your interest in culture, in history, philosophy, music and art.

            I say that this will be difficult.  We all know how pressing the demands of life are on the few hours that make up a day.  A business or profession by itself can be all-consuming; a family not only demands, but deserves, immense attention, given undividedly without preoccupation elsewhere; the many worthwhile organizations to which one comes to belong each expect their due, as indeed they must if they are to carry on their good work; and finally the pursuit of wholesome recreation necessarily takes time.

            In all of this, reading becomes the last priority.  To ones wife, one is often thought to be “taking it easy” or “doing nothing” if one spends an hour reading.  The painting of the carport, even the emptying of the trash, can seem more pressing.

            But, Marshall McLuhan to the contrary, books are the great repository of the human mind and soul.  If a man studies and thinks about a subject over a period of years, or has extensive experience in an area, how does he most fully communicate that to his fellows?  Over a cup of coffee at the club?  Or in a book?  Books are the immortal side of men, as is music and art.  Thucydides has been dead for over 2,000 years; I doubt whether anybody even knows where his remains are buried—but he is alive, a member of this generation, in his writings.

            There is a tendency to remark that “this is all right for a professor to say, but I’ve got to be practical.”  But the real question is whether a practical man, a man of business, cares deeply about his life as a man.  Are there human values that are important to him?  Does he consider himself a responsible part of the civilization in which he lives?  If he answers these in the negative, I can have nothing further to say to him; we do not talk the same language.  If, however, he answers in the affirmative, I can only say that there is a profound social tragedy if the businessmen in a business culture do not concern themselves intimately with matters of intellect and sensibility; it is vitally important that they take such an interest.  In a large sense, though perhaps not in the individual’s short-run perception, it is of immense practical significance whether the active man participates in the aesthetic and speculative affairs of the human race.

            To the ancients, the businessman was a cultureless nonentity, never looked upon with much respect by the aristocrats of Greece or Rome.  In the Middle Ages, he was thought to be the seeker after worldly values, when, in fact, men’s eyes should be diverted to the “city of God.”

            Most importantly, the man of commerce has been the primary mover in western civilization since the Renaissance—but still he has failed to win the world’s respect.  A primary fact about European and American history in the modern period has been the alienation of the intellectual from the man of commerce.  The Left and the New Left are characterized by an intense cultural disaffection from commercial and industrial civilization.

              In some measure, this has been the fault of the alienate himself.  But in addressing future businessmen I will not pause to emphasize that.  The man of commerce must understand the role that such men as himself have played—and that it has been disappointing to many of the most sincere defenders of capitalism and commerce.  John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century English philosopher, was a man who was well disposed to look favorably on men of business, and if he had seen vibrant human material about him he could perhaps have built a philosophy that could have gone far to turn the tide away from socialism in Europe.  But instead he found occasion to write of the “present low state of the human mind” among the English middle class, and reiterated views already expressed in the United States by Emerson and Thoreau when he wrote of the exclusive preoccupation of the middle class with business.

            The intellect of Europe turned to socialism, and from Europe socialist ideology has been exported to much of the world—a fact that is fundamental to the crisis of the Cold War.  And for its part, the United States, viewed by the Founding Fathers as the noblest experiment in history, has historically failed to capture the imagination and receive the emulation of idealists either at home or elsewhere—a fact, again, that is basic to an understanding of the cultural and philosophical crisis in which America finds itself.

            Accordingly, I see the businessman’s historic lack of interest in matters of intellectual culture as a primary deficiency in western civilization.  And I do not see how that civilization can be placed on an ultimately satisfactory footing until this deficiency—which is akin to a great metabolic deficiency in an individual—is overcome.

            Recently I have been reading the lives of Richard Cobden and John Bright, whose nineteenth century crusade against the tariff on corn [grains] in England was one of the great high points in the history of liberty.  Cobden and Bright were both businessmen.  And yet they saw fit to turn their high intelligence, abundant energy and level-headed compassion toward lives of dedication to the ideals of a commercial civilization.  In all honesty I must point out that it was not without considerable sacrifice to their personal fortunes.  But capitalism and a free society cannot be expected to survive unless there are many men like them.

            If the time comes when businessmen give of themselves with such devotion, there will be a new departure for the human race and many of the problems plaguing mankind today will then be transcended—as neuroses in general are often not cured, but transcended.