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Long-term Business Success and 'Quaker Capitalism'

'Quaker capitalism' is the term coined by Deborah Cadbury in her 2010 book 'Chocolate Wars From Cadbury to Kraft: 200 Years of Sweet Success and Bitter Rivalry' (publ. HarperPress). It refers to the forging of a new way of doing business that is grounded in faith and ethics. Most of what follows is from a discussion with Deborah Cadbury on BBC Radio 4 'Start The Week' on 1 November 2010; that which is added is enclosed in [square brackets].

This page is an example of how Dooyeweerd's aspects can make sense of the long-term success of business.


Quakers Values Driving Business

Two and three hundred years ago, there were 40,000 Quaker families in the UK. The Quakers were barred from many professions, including law, university lecturing, the military, etc. So, if they were to be true to their faith [pistic aspect] (look Quakers up on Wikipedia etc.) they needed to find other spheres in which to make their contribution, and they found this partly in trade, commerce and manufacturing. They were forced back on their own resources [economic aspect].

[Such openings were deemed of low status at the time; is there an interesting point here: opportunities of low status are likely to be the growth areas of the future?]

They founded firms in many areas which are still functioning today, including for example Barclays and Lloyds banks, Huntly-Palmer and Reckitts in food, Clarks and K in shoes, Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry in chocolate. Other firms were influenced by Quaker principles, including John Lewis Partnership, Scott Bader [and Lever Bros].

Their approach to trade and business was not like that of today. As Joseph Cadbury put it "The real goal for an employer is to seek for others the best life of which they are capable." As someone else said "Wealth generated for personal gain is shameful." [ethical aspect] As evidence of this ethos, one finds in the archives manuals on codes of ethics. That they are beautifully bound shows that they do not just add ethics onto business, but are open to a variety of aspects [aesthetic aspect] and weaving them together.

[Contrast this with "the purpose of business is to create and keep customers" (Peter Drucker), or "The sole purpose of business is to increase owner [shareholder] value" (Friedman, Sternberg).]

Quaker Success

The Quakers were no airy-fairy do-gooders, however, but practical and even tough in business, though always fair and generous. They put community at the heart of everything they did and decided [social aspect]. So they would see survival as part of their responsibility [juridical aspect], and found innovative ways to achieve this [formative aspect], including advancing technology [formative aspect]. So these firms came into profit very speedily after their formation. But survival and profits were not an end in themselves: As soon as they started turning in profits, they diverted those profits into helping their staff [ethical aspect], such as giving Saturdays off and providing leisure facilities [aesthetic aspect], building good housing [juridical aspect], looking after employees' health by providing dentists and doctors [biotic aspect], providing education and encouraging attendance at evening classes [lingual aspect] and interest clubs like sewing and Roman history [aesthetic aspect]. They generated aspirational communities [pistic aspect]. After a full week's work, many employees would get up early on Sunday mornings to drive the Birmingham literacy programmes [ethical aspect aimed at lingual].

All these 'generosities' are assumed today to be harmful to the viability of the business, especially in times of recession. What is often overlooked is that they did all this at a time of savage competition and general economic downturn.

The Quaker conception of ownership [juridical aspect] was very different from today's. They had a good apprenticeship system [formative aspect] whereby employees moved around between different firms (e.g. George Cadbury went to Rowntree for a time). Though rivals, firms were willing to help each other in this and other ways [ethical aspect], [probably at least partly because of their shared faith [pistic aspect]].

The Need For All Aspects

These firms prospered over the long-term. This is evidence in support of Dooyeweerd's contention that the various aspects do not work against each other but work in harmony with each other, and that for full success we need to function well in every aspect. And that functioning well in every aspect is conducive to success and blessing in the wider sense. Especially the ethical and economic aspects ('values and efficiency') work in harmony. This is the Shalom or Salaam Principle.

[Note: It is conducive to long-term success and blessing, not necessarily to maximization of short-term profits. But which would a firm prefer?]


Though these firms survived longer than many of their competitors, not all of them survived to this day. For example, Cadbury has just been taken over by Kraft. Why did this happen? For a variety of reasons, but most of them can be seen as departing from good functioning in some aspects. According the the Shalom/Salaam Principle, dysfunction in one or more aspects jeopardizes overall success and blessing especially in the long term.

For example, Fry of Bristol did not modernise [dysfunction in formative aspect]. Some became enamoured with commercial success and abandoned Quaker principles [dysfunction in pistic aspect: being enamoured, disloyalty].

Cadbury suffered a couple of times in its history, but especially by its eventual takeover by Kraft. The reason for this, according to Deborah Cadbury, was that at that time hedge funds owned 30% of Cadbury and were interested only in short-term profits. The cause of this particular problem thus lies some years earlier, in the decision to make it possible for hedge funds to buy shares in Cadbury. Such fundamental decisions are pistic in nature: a belief about the proper role and destiny of the firm, which is expressed in changing the types of ownership that is allowable. [dysfunction in the pistic aspect]

If we can learn anything from their experience, it is that - as Dooyeweerd maintained - the various aspects do not work against each other but work in harmony with each other. Especially the ethical and economic aspects work in harmony.

[Why might this be? Is the conventional logic wrong? How might it be modified?]

How Can We Establish These Values Today?

"Where will Quaker values come from without their religion?" was a question discussed. Various suggestions were made, such as maintaining the importance of community, as the Quakers had, maintaining good employee conditions, reconnecting 'values and efficiency', reconnecting politics and economics, and finding ways to replace religious with "political values" or "civic values".

In my view, this will not work. Even though morals are not reducible to faith, they affect each other. Everything we do and are is affected, and even determined, by what we most deeply believe, and believe together. So Quaker faith cannot but affect values and lifestyle. Moreover, it is faith that keeps us committed to our values, especially when these are under stress or attack, such as during economic recession. It is faith that keeps things going for the long term. If we have no faith apart from the values themselves, they will be weak and are likely to be either set aside or distorted during times of stress. Quaker faith is what shaped all their other aspects and made them recognise the diversity of aspects and try to harmonise them.

So Quaker (or any other good) values cannot be disconnected from their religious foundation. To try to bolt Quaker values onto present business approaches is not likely to work in the long term.

A Personal Philosophical Footnote

Not just any faith (religious, ideological belief) will do. It has to be one that does not allow any aspect, including the pistic, to be absolutized. It must recognise the part each aspect plays. The Scholastic (mediaeval Roman Catholic) view was that the religious aspect should dominate all others, including those of rationality and economics, and this led to oppression. Political ideology likewise assumes it has the right to hold sway over other aspects and expects them to to fulfil its requirements.

Is there any kind of belief-system that allows the other aspects to play their role without being over-dominated? This is a philosophical challenge because pistic functioning always involves some degree of absolutization (treating something as the ground for all else, and accepting it as given, even if only on a temporary basis). It would have to fulfil at least two conditions:

It must offer a basis for diversity, so as to treat all the various aspects as irreducible to each other, treating each with due respect. It must do this while acknowledging an absolute (as we do when functioning pistically), so it must find something other than itself or any other aspect as absolute.

As far as I can see so far, I know of only one approach that satisfies this: what is called the Biblical Ground-motive of Creation, Fall and Redemption. (See Dooyeweerd's theory of ground-motives. The other three Western ground-motives that Dooyeweerd delineated (those of Form-Matter, Nature-Grace and Nature-Freedom) treat as absolute some aspect of experienced reality. This leaves only the Biblical ground-motive, which recognises a transcendent Creator, and Eastern ones, which treat experienced reality as part of a transcendent greater Whole (Brahman). But the Eastern ground-motives have no basis for diversity, being largely monistic in orientation. Diversity is possible, however, under the notion of a Creator that creates something apart from itself. It is this ground-motive that Dooyeweerd presupposed as he explore the aspects as spheres of meaning.

This page provides examples illustrating various things within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden.

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Created: 1 November 2010 Last updated: