The spirit of enterprise is embodied in the great deeds and attitudes of entrepreneurs. In an earlier issue of this journal, Peter Heslam called for the restoration of thrift as solution to the economic crisis. Here he argues for the re-discovery of the equally timeless yet forgotten virtues of agnanimity and magnificence. Entrepreneurs who display them can help restore our ailing economies.
Robert Peston, the BBC’s Business Editor, has become almost synonymous with the financial crisis as millions around the world have seen or heard his daily updates. Once the purveyor of dry financial reports, he landed a scoop when he discovered that Northern Rock was seeking emergency help from the Bank of England. With characteristic intonation, he announced to an unsuspecting world that the UK economy was hurtling towards a precipice.
The scoop won him journalistic awards but also a reputation as a prophet of doom. In one newspaper cartoon, a man with eyes closed and hands over his ears tells his wife next to him on the sofa watching the BBC News: ‘Let me know when Peston’s gloom and doom show is over!’. Since then, the situation has got well beyond the joke. Indeed, many of us have undergone ‘capital punishment’ as the crisis has dealt savage blows to our cash flows and bank balances.
But entrepreneurs are made for such a time as this. During the Great Depression, when declining patent applications reflected a widespread reluctance to invest in new technologies, the company DuPont continued to develop neoprene, a synthetic rubber. By 1939, just two years after the company launched it, every car and aeroplane manufactured in the US contained neoprene. DuPont’s entrepreneurship ensured it reaped the benefits of the kind of future-mindedness and responsible risk-taking that lie at the heart of what in a previous article I call the virtue of thrift (Vol 12.1).
Yet in this crisis there are two other virtues that are as overlooked and as ripe for recovery as thrift: magnanimity and magnificence. Both can be found in the tradition of virtue ethics represented by such thinkers as Aristotle and Aquinas.
Magnanimity is about greatness of soul. It denotes nobility of character in the face of adversity; its chief opposing vice is timidity or faintheartedness. We are magnanimous when, for instance, we are gracious towards a colleague who becomes a rival by stealing our ideas and seeking the support of those prepared to invest in them.
The virtue of magnificence is about making and doing great things, not to frustrate our unscrupulous colleague-turned-rival, nor to win esteem, but because they are noble tasks that need to be done. An…