Fire of Invention: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation


Many Americans today consider the corporation to be public enemy number one. Downsizing, corporate greed, an exclusive focus on the needs of shareholders at the expense of workers - the list of complaints is long and growing. In this powerful new book, prominent scholar Michael Novak argues that these critics ask the corporation to be something it is not, and they overlook the functions that it performs best - the cultivation of civil society, the fortification of democracy, and the elevation of the poor. ...
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Many Americans today consider the corporation to be public enemy number one. Downsizing, corporate greed, an exclusive focus on the needs of shareholders at the expense of workers - the list of complaints is long and growing. In this powerful new book, prominent scholar Michael Novak argues that these critics ask the corporation to be something it is not, and they overlook the functions that it performs best - the cultivation of civil society, the fortification of democracy, and the elevation of the poor. Borrowing a phrase from Abraham Lincoln, Novak shows how the corporation weds "the fire of invention" to the "fuel of interest" to generate a creative, dynamic, and civic minded citizenry. The Fire of Invention examines and illuminates many crucial debates: What is the purpose of the corporation? How should a corporation be governed? How much corporate independence from government regulation is desirable? How can businesses prepare for the complex economic and ethical challenges of the next century? This important book will fundamentally change the way Americans think about big business.
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Editorial Reviews

Robert L. Dilenschneider
This book must be read by anyone serious about the future of America. Its ideas will change the lives of millions.
Daniel P. Moynihan
A profound experience awaits the reader.
William J. Bennett
In The Fire of Invention, Michael Novak does what we have come to expect of him: write on matters of capitalism and corporate governance in an eloquent, illuminating and morally serious manner. He understands as few others do the great promise, as well as the limits and temptations, of democratic capitalism.
Francis Fukuyama
In The Fire of Invention, Michael Novak reminds us that the business corporation is not merely a necessary evil to be tolerated, but an integral part of our democratic order critical to both civic and public life. He forthrightly rejects trendy attempts to recycle socialist ideas from the 'stakeholder society' to strictures against downsizing, while pointing us to the true sources of creativity in the postindustrial world.
Roberto C. Goizueta
A must-read book for every CEO.
John M. Templeton
This book is a must for every student of freedom, every public policy maker concerned with economic progress, and every business person concerned with the interests of consumers and shareholders alike.
William E. Simon
Novak's trenchant observations, well-grounded and well-argued, draw upon his vast knowledge of American history and corporate America, and will be an education for business and political leaders alike.
Brilliant, succinct analysis of the American corporation today. Novak convincingly portrays its much-reviled institution as an unparalleled creator of wealth, mobilizing people and capital to perform innovative, complex tasks, its very independence from government making it a vital bulwark for democracy and liberty.
Kansas City Star, Dec. 97 - Victoria Sizemore Long
The Fire of Invention is a highly readable book.
First Things
The most welcome paperback edition of a book that has been widely and justly lauded for its moral evaluation of the contemporary corporation. It will also challenge and inform those who are uncritically enthusiastic about the corporation.
The Freeman
One of the best introductions to the subject of the morality of the corporation that one can find. Its brevity is an asset, not a liability; it makes The Fire of Invention a perfect gift for that busy corporate executive you know who needs to understand more clearly why what he does is socially beneficial and morally just.
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847686650
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 7.34 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Novak is the author of more than twenty-five books, a co-founder and former publisher of Crisis, and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Forbes. Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize. He lives in Washington DC.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction: A Spirit Born from the Sea Part 2 Part One: The Future of the Corporation Chapter 3 What Is a Corporation? Chapter 4 The Corporation and Civil Society Chapter 5 The Stakeholder Society Chapter 6 The end of the Republican Experiment? Part 7 Part Two: The Fire of Invention, the Fuel of Interest Chapter 8 The Grand Historical Adventure Chapter 9 From Lincoln to John Paul II Chapter 10 Some Clarifications Chapter 11 Five Disputed Questions Chapter 12 But Isn’t Genetics Different? Chapter 13 Does a Patent Regime Protect Private Interests or Public Good? Chapter 14 Conclusion Part 15 Part Three: On Corporate Governance Chapter 16 What Is the Business Corporation? Chapter 17 Executive Energy Chapter 18 The Ant and the Elephant Chapter 19 Why Do Firms Exist? Chapter 20 Pirates! Chapter 21 Mutual Funds and Pension Funds Chapter 22 Looking for the Right Stuff Chapter 23 A Well-Lighted Place Chapter 24 On Envy: "Thou Shalt Not Covet" Chapter 25 Two Types of Inequality Chapter 26 Justifying Unequal Compensation Chapter 27 Against Appeasement Chapter 28 A Cheerful View at the End of a Sorry Century Chapter 29 Appendix: The Legend of the Bay Steed Chapter 30 Notes Chapter 31 Index

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