June 24, 2007
Institutions: They Came from Somewhere!
Institutions such as the school, the family, the joint stock company, the political party, the state and its bureaucracy owe their robustness and proclaimed timelessness to the fact that we cannot tell who ‘invented’ them. In that sense, ‘fatherlessness’ is an asset, as is the myth of parthenogenesis in the case of the founder of Christianity. Similarly, human reason itself, rather than some personal founder, is held to be… the source of the state as an institution.
The corporation (nee joint stock company) has actually not quite achieved that kind of timelessness yet, I don’t think, but it’s getting close. There’s a short, sharp book called The Company by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge that describes its development from the earliest, lamest incarnations to present day multinationals, and when you see it all laid out it seems anything but inevitable. Micklethwait and Wooldridge are Economist writers and unabashed fans of the corporation, but their telling of its tale is fair.
Anyway, I’d love to see comparable books for some of those other institutions: The School, The Family, The Party, etc.
I actually do know one of at least one other, which I’ve plugged here before: Home: A Short History of an Idea, by Witold Rybczynski.
P.S. The link is to the blog I read that somewhere, a new favorite.