Entrepreneurialism As A Way of Life
I want to scrutinise and interpret this type — the Entrepreneur — who is promoted as the ideal type, and most favoured and desired type, in economistic society and commercial civilisation. In effect, “capitalism” could just as well be referred to as “entrepreneurialism”, and neo-liberalism, as previously mentioned, a schema of utopian capitalism for producing a society of entrepreneurs, ie, “everybody an entrepreneur!” which, in any event, is often considered synonymous with “innovator”. Free trade deals so often favour this type, the Entrepreneur, that they, too, must be considered projects of a utopian cultural and social engineering in which the entrepreneur (or “producer”, or “investor”, or “innovator”, “capitalist”, and so on) is promoted as the ideal and progressive social type. It’s just assumed that social progress depends upon the entrepreneur and entrepreneurialism and that, therefore, this type should be in the driver’s seat and should be making the rules, and so every effort is made to ensure that he or she does.
But what is this “entrepreneur” really, who is promoted as the most favoured model, ideal, and progressive type?
Well, the word, which is French of course, means “go-between” or “middle man”, so originally a merchant, trader, or salesman and man of commerce who served as the nexus between a primary producer and a consumer. Over time, though, the word has become synonymous with “innovator”, amongst other meanings, and therefore with notions of creativity and even individuality. In capitalist society, then, entrepreneurialism has become the only acceptable, perhaps even the only permissible, outlet for creativity. The Entrepreneur has become the model and dominant type — the archetype of the artist that takes this particular form within the matrix of commercial civilisation. This is what is meant by “bourgeois civilisation” and “bourgeois values”.
Today, even film-makers, artists, writers, and so on, are expected to be entrepreneurial first, and creatives secondarily. They are supposed to create for “the market” moreso than for a readership, an audience, a public, and so on. The farmer, too, is now expected to be a businessman or entrepreneur first, and a farmer secondarily. Whether, for example, the farmer is a good farmer or a bad farmer is now quite secondary to whether he or she is a good businessman or a bad businessman. And so, too, for the artist, writer or film-maker, a successful work is measured in its market value — how much it brings in at the box-office in its opening week, or whether it’s a best-seller, and so on. One is expected not just to have a brand, but also to be a brand.
The entrepreneur, in economistic society, is cast as the heroic type, whereas in the Renaissance period, it was the artist as heroic type, and before the Renaissance and Reformation, it was the saint as heroic type in the context of Christendom. Almost invariably, a myth or legend of rags to riches accompanies the curriculum vitae of the successful entrepreneur, as exemplified, for example, in the film The Big Lebowski where the entrepreneurial type is contrasted with the “slacker” type in the two Lebowskis — the Big Lebowski and the Little Lebowski. The Big Lebowski berates the Little Lebowski — the Dude — for his lack of initiative while regaling him with the almost mandatory entrepreneurial narrative of his own triumphs over adversity, “competitors bested”, over obstacles swept away, and so on. It has become part of the “brand” — the mythic narrative of heroic entrepreneurialism. The Little Lebowski, the “Dude”, doesn’t possess the entrepreneurial chops, and this is counted against him as a defect of character, lack of industriousness, or even as a deficit of intelligence.
There is no necessary connection at all between industriousness and creativity, though. Productivity and creativity are different issues, although I’ve encountered plenty of entrepreneurial types who are “industrious” to the point of work-aholism, and who confuse their mere busy-ness with being productive, and being productive, with being creative.
The Entrepreneur as “innovator” and therefore assumed to be the most “progressive” social type, is also deemed to be the most creative social type, then. But the talent of the Entrepreneur lies not so much in creativity as in commercialisation and marketability. To a certain extent, the Entrepreneur is a also a creative type. I have nothing against the Entrepreneur. It’s a socially useful talent, and often involves to some extent its own measure of creativity and imagination. But I object to the elevation of the Entrepreneur to top dog, which could only happen in a society that had become completely commercialist and economistic, and dominated by dogmas of “market fundamentalism”. That is to say, a commercial civilisation and its ideal of the man or woman of commerce.
The fundamental assumption in commercial society (or what is called “economism”) is that social progress accelerates when the Entrepreneur is elevated to the dominant and privileged social and cultural type. Even a good many scientists today think of themselves as entrepreneurs primarily and as “truth-seekers” secondarily, the idea being to discover something or invent something that they can patent and commercialise — biotechnology and biotech companies, for example, and in effect what is referred to as being “market driven”. The Entrepreneur is essentially that — one who is market driven.
If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments. The invention of commerce has arisen since those governments began, and is the greatest approach toward universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles. — Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
In that statement from the liberal revolutionist Tom Paine’s Rights of Man lies the original rationale for elevating the Entrepreneur, or man of commerce, to the status of legislator of society and now the globalised cultural model and ideal that is promoted by free trade agreements. It is also the core rationale of neo-liberal globalisation. Yet, Blake denounced this particular vision of commerce as the guarantee of “universal civilisation” as being “Universal Empire”.
When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold,
And Commerce settles on every tree
Commerce is so far from being beneficial to Arts or to Empire, that it is destructive of both, as all their History shows, for the above Reason of Individual Merit being its Great Hatred. Empires flourish till they become Commercial & then they are scattered abroad to the four winds
In contrast to Paine’s somewhat utopian liberal idealism based on a universal commerce (or “free trade” as we would say today), Blake saw a strictly commercial civilisation as an anti-civilisation, and denounced what we would today call “entrepreneurs” as “fiends of commerce“. A commercial civilisation ends in nihilism. “The Arts, and all things in common” was his political formula hurled against commercial culture and an entrepreneurial civilisation, and his objection to the man of commerce as privileged social type. For Blake, entrepreneurialism as a way of life was ultimately destructive of the very thing it pretended to promote — civilisation and authentic individuation. And, indeed, in the main, the liberal and liberalising Entrepreneur of old has degenerated into the contemporary technocrat.
Blake, by making the Arts and the Artist the heart and soul of any civilisation worthy of the name, rejects the two extremes represented by Burke and Paine — the Monarch or Aristocrat and the Entrepreneur, or the conservative and the liberal, as ideal types, represented by Edmund Burke on the one hand (Reflections on the Revolution in France) and Tom Paine on the other (The Rights of Man) — the contending poles of the modern malaise. The notion that Blake was a “theocrat”, as I’ve read in some places, is utter hooey. But, indeed, for Blake a commercial culture was no culture at all, and was certainly not the way to a planetary civilisation or “Universal Humanity”. This was the work of the artist. And this idealisation of the Arts and the Artist is also something Blake shares with Nietzsche.
The Entrepreneur as ideal, and even heroic, type, and entrepreneurialism as a way of life, only makes sense within the greater context and matrix of a commercial civilisation. So, to that extent, all free trade deals imply a blueprint for a measure of human and social engineering to recreate societies and cultures in the image of commercial civilisation and the Entrepreneur, which is presumed as final telos of all civilisation — “the end of history”