Interview: Dooyeweerd's Ideas on Business, Enterprise

(This page contains a transcript of an interview with Herman Dooyeweerd supplied by Magnus Verbrugge, in which we can see how Dooyeweerd would apply his thought to specific issues within a single aspect. We can see this as tier-3 ideas that may be validly criticised, and at the foot I have included comments by Albert Gedraitis.)

See also interview with Herman Dooyeweerd on Co-determination in the Enterprise.

The Interview

Interview of Dr. H. Dooyeweerd with a few friends at the home of M. Verbrugge, in Vancouver, 1974, concerning co-determination by employees through share ownership (ESOP), as translated from the transcript by M. Verbrugge,.

Q. There is always the problem of how to draw the line in the enterprise between where we serve society at large, and where the enterprise. And what is the place of the workers? May we have your views on this?

A. There is no sharp line between the enterprise and society at large. An enterprise is only good when it serves the interests of society. The limited company has called the enterprise into being. The workers are the natural partners of the capital owners. But workers are not members of the company as long as they have no shares. And that is why you, and I too, propagate the idea to give the worker a sufficient part of the shares, so that the workers as a group in its entirety can have influence in the entire management of the company.

Q. Not just because they work there, but also because they share in both risk and reward?

A. Certainly, since then they are not only members of the workers’ community, but also of the corporation of shareholders. They are then entrepreneurs in the exact sense of the word..

Q. Some tend to think that shareholders should have no say in the operation of the enterprise. All they do is to supply money. How do you see this?

A. Yet, that does not correspond to the real issue. The individual shareholder has influence, their majority determines the decisions. We can never say that the shareholders have no real function. But that is advocated by, for instance, the Christian Labor association (in the Netherlands, M.V.)

Professor Gerbrandy also advocated that the workers in the enterprise be given a very important voice in management, without the need for them to buy shares. And that is the problem.

From the beginning I have advocated the idea that the workers get shares. And once they have shares, they are completely entitled to have their voice in the whole management of the enterprise. Some claim that to say "it is necessary to buy shares" is a materialistic idea.  But that is not right. The shareholders have their voice since they have taken the initiative and called the whole thing into being. This should stay so, as long as we don't have a socialist society, which is a tyranny.

Q. Would you say that in order to have a voice in the real management, and the major decisions, the employees, including management, should own shares, because, if they did not own shares, and had no economic responsibility  for their own actions, they would destroy the whole thing?

A. Yes. I could tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. I have the firm conviction of workers becoming shareholders. From the year 1926 I have defended it in different articles. This has not been well received by the Christian trade union. It is said that capital in the capitalistic society would always have the power, and that to have workers owning shares would foster a materialistic attitude.

The question was discussed in the Anti Revolutionary party, to which I belonged, and a colleague of mine, prof. Gerbrandy, was running for office. He was a sharp man, a good man, and he appreciated my work. But, he said, in the question of co-determination in an industrial enterprise, I cannot agree with you.

The following year I saw that in a big industrial enterprise in The Netherlands, a glass factory of which Gerbrandy was its advisor, the workers were given shares. Well, this was clearly surprising, but I must say that this experiment was not very successful. The reason was that the common workers were not interested in shares, in having a voice in the management of the enterprise. They were only interested in wages. This was money .... and only that money counted. They sold their shares!

Nevertheless, since that time in different instances the same idea has been applied - giving workers co-determination by giving them shares. And it must be realized that at that time there were favorable results.. So my idea, which my son-in-law put in his book (After capitalism and socialism, An overhaul of democracy) , will not be completely new. I hope that this idea can be used favorably by a growing multitude of persons who are interested in this question.

Q. Could you tell us whether  the employees of the glass factory did not understand what a share is, or why they would not be interested, since a share represents money as well as a voice in management? Why did they not accept it, why did they not like it?

A. It seems they didn't like it because they considered that once you get the shares you will also participate in the risk of the enterprise, and they cannot do so.

Q. Was the enterprise not successful?

A. It was successful as a business, it had good economic results, but the idea of co-determination has not been successful. This occurred because the workers themselves did not accept it.

Q. Is it not sad that a man could refuse a gift,  share of a company,  because it is money?

A. Yes, but you should consider that the whole question of their gift of shares was set in a certain context. What was said was: "we do so in order to get you interested in the enterprise." So the whole stress was placed upon the interest in the partnership. And as long as you see share ownership only as a question of money, since you can you can sell the shares, then this whole idea is not done justice.

When the question of co-determination in the business from the side of workers is at issue, you should see that it is not a question of money. It is in the first place a matter of partnership. Workers should participate because they are members of the community - the enterprise - because they work there. But the mere fact that you work there is not sufficient to give you authority, because every enterprise has also workers who only work there on a brief contract; they don't feel that they are participants in the community; they are interested only in the money value of their wage. And then the whole idea of co-determination is lost.

Q. Would you say that from a Christian point of view it is not only a norm for a work community that there be humane relationships, that workers and managers concern themselves with the welfare of each other as fellow human beings, and that working conditions be as good as can be had, humanly speaking. From this Christian point of view that, in order to also function as an economic unit as an enterprise, the workers should also have the right to become partners and owners? Would you put it that strongly?

A. Yes. But then I would say: "on the condition that they also become members of the company which has called the whole enterprise into being."

Q. In other words they get shares in the company?

A. Yes. Only that can make them full partners. Yes, that is my standpoint from a Christian point of view.

All the italicized sections are mine, M.V.
It is obvious that D. distinguished between two communities: the  “worker’s community”, or “enterprise”,
and the “corporation of shareholders”  or “limited company”  (and also called "enterprise") who financed its incorporation. The terminology is still somewhat confusing, since this separation of the two types of communities with overlapping memberships is not commonly done. But this distinction offers the solution for the conflicts between socialism, liberalism and a Christian evaluation of economic human activities. More of this later.

Magnus Verbrugge


The following is a slice of email received from Albert Gedraitis in response to this page. I include it because it can help show how a tier-3 debate might go.

"Please don't leave us stuck with only D's remarks on the enterprise, thereby occupying all the conceptual space on the subject at hand in your increasingly important Dooyeweerd Pages. We need Goudzwaard's painstaking reconsideration as an option alongside that of our common mentor and his masterwork. Actually, Dr. Gerbrandy's position mentioned by Dooyeweerd, was followed up by the younger Dr. Albeda who was the socioeconomic research director for the Christian National Labour Central (CNV), also a reformational scholar who followed Dooyeweerd's lead, but radically considered key factors in depth that Dooyeweerd never got around to. As it turns out, Goudzwaard was raised under the formative influences of both Dooyeweerd and Albeda and became an ARP Member of the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament during the party leadership of philosopher Prof. Dr. S.U.Zuidema. Goudzwaard on key issues within his zone of expertise is today the key figure to carry on D's work in that realm. Dooyeweerd's view on the enterprise was not adequate for the three economics thinkers closest to him: Gerbrandy, Albeda, and Goudzwaard.

"When you think about it, whether workers own shares or not is no panacea nor a necessary disaster either. It could all vary from place to place, industry to industry, company to company. It has to do with a whole culture that the people of the area would share (something perhaps akin to "the Protestant work ethic" in general). To fetishize the technical factor of legal ownership of a trivial amount of stock really solves no issue of normativity; it's so culturally specific and variable that one feels Dooyweerd and Verbrugge are enshrining a cultural trait not at all central to the structure and direction of the enterprise in the most generalized sense in a differentiated society."

This response of Gedraitis, citing Gerbandy, Albeda, and Goudzwaard in regard to Dooyeweerd's entrepreneur-centered approach to the philosophy of economy and society, could be improved, no doubt. Is the overall characterization of the dynamics between the entrepreneur-approach of Dooyeweerd, with its implicit criticism of workers uninterested in purchasing shares in the company which employs them, in contrast to the different emphases of the "socioeconomic" conception of Gerbrandy, Albeda, and Goudzwaard: has this difference seemed to you to have been cogently outlined here? Even a confirmation or revision of reported small details would be most helpful: from birth dates of those mentioned to a few lines on relevant important books of each? Email us

Interview transcript is Copyright (c) The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, 2001.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome to Dooy @ basden . u-net . com.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: Last updated: 10 June 2002 added Intro para and Gedraitis. 25 November 2002 added invitation to comment on Ged's cmt.