Founded in 1921, the Mendoza College of Business earned its place in our Catholic university in affirming marry business and ethics. Its slogan, “Grow the good in business”, aims to differentiate Mendoza from other schools that focus solely on profit. At first glance, this is a commendable undertaking.
But who is really responsible here? Can Catholicism really dictate business or is it the other way around? The University has never really tackled this question. For example, Catholic Scripture and Tradition are full of condemnations of secular wealth and possessions. Meanwhile, the overwhelming status quo in business is the endless pursuit of profit. The idea seems to be that the students of Mendoza will somehow ignore the selfish logic inherent in everything they learn and become humble servants.
In reality, most business careers are socially irresponsible. Some jobs produce tangible goods for society, especially working-class jobs, and other jobs produce intangible goods, such as artists, educators, and priests. Once you look at careers in business, such as investment banking, consulting, and marketing, it suddenly becomes very difficult to trace work for social good. In fact, these types of jobs serve above all to perpetuate our dominant economic order, the very one that functioning our planet in the ground. Still, Mendoza says a course or two in business ethics, plus the basic curriculum, is enough to give business a Catholic spin.
Beyond these potential contradictions, Notre-Dame has rather double on its marketing, and with great success. Forbes, in his profile on Mendoza, strong points the college’s commitment to “promote[ing] concern for the common good”. American News writing, “Integrity is the theme of… Mendoza College of Business.” The University has built a simple yet powerful brand image for Mendoza. Mendoza is a shining city on a hill overlooking the utilitarian pagan schools.
There’s just one small flaw in this narrative: hardly any real-life students buy it. Whether it’s cynicism about capitalism, doubts about the rigor of college, or just plain baseless disbelief, apparently everyone mocks or disdains Mendoza. A popular stereotype is that all of the students in Mendoza are white, wealthy frat-boy types who drink their fours and then get a job at Goldman Sachs. Another joke is that students in Mendoza can’t read or only care about money. These potshots stand in stark contrast to the idea that Mendoza students are superb Catholic entrepreneurs.
So why didn’t Notre Dame sell the student body on Mendoza’s brand image, like it did in the rest of the world? Friedrich Nietzsche used psychology to answer questions like this. A concept that Nietzsche helped pioneer is resentment — the condemnation of a superior which arises from the painful recognition of inferiority. For example, a closeted homosexual might condemn loud and proud homosexuals because of his own self-loathing. Furthermore, resentment rises up, claiming “if they’re bad, I must be good.” In this case, the locked up man might decide that he is in fact superior for knowing how to keep his secret, even if the opposite is true.
Back to Notre Dame, could resentment explain the hatred of Mendoza? Well, it’s true that American culture measures value in terms of profit. Perhaps students who can’t or won’t do business develop a sense of inferiority, which escalates into resentment towards Mendoza. These people are trying to reverse the hierarchy of values in our culture by condemning the very lifestyles they desire.
resentment cannot explain each person’s attitude towards Mendoza. For example, what about students who expect to make a lot of money and still don’t like business school? It may help if I describe other critiques of Mendoza through a Nietzschean lens. I suspect many people will resonate with these ideas, even if they have never met Nietzsche.
Let’s start with Mendoza’s slogan, “Grow the good in business”. Nietzsche might call this slogan an example of slave morality, or the idea that humility and kindness are good while strength and power are bad. According to Nietzsche, slave morality is the legacy of oppressed peoples who sought to justify their inferior position using lofty terms. Over time, these moral concepts have taken on a life of their own across the world, even among the already powerful.
Slave morality may seem out of place in Mendoza, one of the most prestigious business schools in the country. Yet he actually plays an extremely clever role. Calling business “good” justifies Mendoza’s presence on a Catholic campus, simultaneously obfuscating Mendoza’s existence so that Notre Dame can be a profitable and competitive university. Mendoza skims over the tough questions and plays to the general comfort of the audience with capitalist logic. That’s the thing with slave morality – Nietzsche thinks it’s a front for self-interest.
Another angle of criticism relates to performativity. Nietzsche argues that all humans are artists who wear different masks to fulfill their personal and social roles. Therefore, Nietzsche encourages us to use play as a source of joy. In contrast, Mendoza graduates tend to spend their lives playing without joy. Businessmen endlessly network and cultivate their public image to climb the ladder, crawling to strangers for career-related rewards. They voluntarily put on a mask that they are eager to take off, but rarely (or ever) really can.
Worse still than acting without joy is forgetting that one is acting completely. Most people end up internalizing their careers to some degree, but business people take it to a different level. Just take a look at a LinkedIn Feed and you’ll find people who believe, for example, that Walmart’s numbers change the world. These people make their work their whole life, not just a means to an end, thus losing their creative and individual powers.
Despite the cringe factor of these life-cancelling acts, selling might be worth it. If you graduate from Mendoza, you will likely live one of the most comfortable lives in human history. You will give some change to charity, as Our Lady taught you, giving you a clear conscience.
But is working in a company really the good life? In “gay scienceNietzsche calls the new European businessman “an overworked slave.” He cleverly predicts our present time.
“More and more,” writes Nietzsche, “work puts all good conscience on its side; the desire for joy is already called ‘need for recovery’ and begins to be ashamed of itself. Shame of joy! What monsters capitalism has made of us! Worse still, hatred of the joy of capitalism has seeped into everyday culture. Our schools, homes and workplaces have become obsessed with the nihilistic cult of empty productivity. Institutions like Mendoza serve to maintain this tragic status quo.
Despite all these criticisms of Mendoza, other colleges have similar problems. In many ways, Mendoza is actually a microcosm of Notre Dame as a whole: rich, seamless, ambitious. Perhaps the student body sees itself in Mendoza and uses the college as a scapegoat for its inner capitalist. The Arts & Letters major thinks: “Of course, I’m going to become a consultant, but I was studying anthropology! I don’t dedicate my life to capitalism like the students of Mendoza.”
It should also be noted that Mendoza has outliers, people who do business to put their family and community first. It is comforting to know that such people exist. Nietzsche is not a fan of comfort, however. He challenges us to look at the big picture, however unpleasant, and it presents itself clearly. The Mendoza College of Business has created a slave morality to hide its selfish goals, reinforcing the socio-economic order that tortures us all. Mendoza says that if you work hard, pretending to uphold Christian morality, you will be generously rewarded in this life – and the next! If only it were that simple.
Jim Moster is a senior from Chicago who majors in the liberal studies and political science curriculum. He spends his days chasing serotonin and sleeping. For comments and inquiries, you can reach him at [email protected] or @jimmoster on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.