‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’: moral entrepreneurship, or the fine art of recycling evil into good

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Abstract

Moral entrepreneurship is the fine art of recycling evil into good by taking advantage of situations given or constructed as crises. It should be seen as the ultimate generalisation of the entrepreneurial spirit, whose peculiar excesses have always sat uneasily with homo oeconomicus as the constrained utility maximiser, an image that itself has come to be universalised. A task of this essay is to reconcile the two images in terms of what by the end I call ‘superutilitarianism’, which draws on the lore of both superheroes and utilitarianism. After briefly surveying the careers of three exemplars of the moral entrepreneur (Robert McNamara, George Soros and Jeffrey Sachs), I explore the motives of moral entrepreneurs in terms of their standing debt to society for having already caused unnecessary harm but which also now equips him with the skill set needed to do significant good. Such a mindset involves imagining oneself a vehicle of divine will, which would be a scary proposition had it not been long presumed by Christians touched by Calvin. In conclusion, I argue that moral entrepreneurship looks most palatable – and perhaps even attractive – if the world is ‘reversible’, in the sense that every crisis, however clumsily handled by the moral entrepreneur, causes people to distinguish more clearly the necessary from contingent features of their existence. This leads them to reconceptualise past damages as new opportunities to assert what really matters; hence, a ‘superutilitarian’ ethic that treats all suffering as less cost than investment in a greater sense of the good.

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