On the impossibility of business ethics

Leadership, heterogeneity and politics

Authored by: Gerard Hanlon , Matteo Mandarini

The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415821261
eBook ISBN: 9780203566848
Adobe ISBN: 9781136746246


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The problem with business ethics is that it is business ethics; that is to say, it seeks to remove the politics of the working class and install what we, following David Harvey, will call the ‘restoration’ of (ruling) class power – and, hence, the concomitant reinforcement of capitalist social relations as ‘natural’. 1 Thus, before you can get to ethics you must deal with business and business always aims to be organized from above, to be top down, to seek individualization or acquiescent aggregated units, to enable some (and not others) to set the tone, to lead, to be reasonable; and the prioritization of business is advanced by the turn to ethics, an ethics understood as the self-regulation of the individual, a responsibilization of the individual according to values drawn from above and interjected to and away from a politics from below. This ‘from above’ is true for all the essential elements of business: the state, the market or the work organization. In what follows we will argue that business ethics’ emphasis on the ethical is largely about its desire to limit, to stifle and contain the formation of a certain homogeneity of interests, which are formed and self-organized in the struggle of the collective working subject; it is a desire, in short, for the excision of the antagonistic political subject – the worker – upon which business depends but which it must subordinate.

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