Candidates without qualities
|Coming soon: Volume 2|
I thought of this last night as I finished reading volume 1 of The Man Without Qualities, the high-minded business tycoon Arnheim holding forth to the title character, Ulrich, on how a modern corporation operates ("modern," in this case being just as operative today as when Robert Musil worked on the novel, from 1930 to 1942):
"Wherever you find two such forces, a person who really gives the orders and an administrative body that executes them, what automatically happens is that every possible means of increasing profit is used, whether or not it is morally or aesthetically attractive. When I say automatically, I mean just that, because the way it works is to a high degree independent of any personal factor. The person who really wields the power takes no hand in carrying out his directives, while the managers are covered by the fact that they are acting not on their own behalf but as functionaries. You will find such arrangements everywhere these days, and by no means exclusively in the world of finance. You may depend on it that our friend Tuzzi would give the signal for war with the clearest conscience in the world, even if as a man he may be incapable of shooting down a dog, and your friend Moosbrugger will be sent to his death by thousands of people because only three of them need have a hand in it personally."It's not hard to see why any high official would shift uncomfortably in his or her seat reading that, whether a Republican from Haliburton or Bechtel, or a Democrat sending troops to war or overseeing the execution of a mentally deficient prisoner. (That is predicated on the assumption that the candidate's involvement in the execution was calculatedly and morbidly unreal.)
Here's another bit from the same chapter, this time Arnheim on the film industry:
"`Do you ever go to see a film? You should,' he said. `In its present form, cinematography may not look like much, but once the big interests get involved—the electrochemical, say, or the chromochemical concerns—you are likely to see a surging development in just a few decades, which nothing can stop. Every known means of raising and intensifying production will be brought into play, and whatever our writers and aesthetes may suppose to be their own part in it, we will be getting art based on Associated Electrical or German Dyes, Inc."With the possible exception that Musil did not anticipate the extent to which the movie industry would itself become a big interest, I'd say there's not much to quarrel with there.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013