"THE Folklore of Capitalism," by Thurman Arnold, is a brilliant and useful book. Its essential point has been stated by Justice Brandeis but the atmosphere of the court did not permit him to say it so wittily or with so many challenging paradoxes.
Arnold shows that despite the sweeping technological changes which have transformed the character of economic enterprise, much of America is still thinking in terms of myths applicable to the days before the giant corporation became the dominant economic unit. He shows us that the folklore of individualism built around a creature fast becoming extinct makes us look upon huge corporations as individuals, and government regulation of these organizations as invasions of private rights.
Nor does the author, as one reviewer has suggested, always "invent arguments for his opponents that not even the stupidest of them has used." The beauty of Arnold's book is that he quotes freely from Dorothy Thompson, Walter Lippmann, and Westbrook Pegler. Perhaps Arnold does pick the more stupid of their writings, but at a casual glance these excerpts seemed rather typical.
Arnold's concern for the immediate practical effects of government actions rather than for their ultimate tendencies has caused him to be criticized as an irresponsible opportunist. But one feels that the author's insistence on immediate considerations springs from his dislike for those who vaguely concede the need for some sort of action, but who, when confronted with actual government measures usually oppose them. These people take refuge behind inapplicable symbols resurrected from our own past, and equally inapplicable symbols imported from Europe, warning that any tendency to forget Jefferson's statements about the benefits of limited government will ultimately produce a Fascist dictatorship. Arnold should have distinguished more clearly between his dislike for the ultimate tendency argument of those opposed to any government action, and the degree to which he is concerned about ultimate tendencies.
In stressing the influence of symbols Arnold does not, as has been claimed, fail to see the enormous strides men have made through rational thinking. He realizes that the progress of physical science has been aided by the existence of a symbol like "men in white" which, in conflicts between tradition and modern methods, has thrown the balance in favor of rational thinking. Arnold's point is that there has been a delay in developing a symbol in the field of social science that enables rational thinking to break down the logictight compartments of a Jeffersonian Democrat.
The value of Arnold's dissection of the myth of the business man, the value of his criticism of superficial thinking that arbitrarily separates the forces of government from those of business, is that the destruction of symbols which prevent a successful integration of these forces would be of permanent aid in enabling us to discharge the responsibilities of the machine age.