What Arnold Toynbee Taught McDonalds; Is the Church Listening

Arnold Toynbee wrote his magisterial twelve volumes A Study of History beginning on a train ride through Thrace (Macedonia) arriving at Istanbul.  This was long before the beginning of the First World War, a time of sound money, where the book remained the fulcrum of learning and the idea of the nation state stolid.  Riding for weeks on the Orient Express out of Paris, he would arrive at Istanbul seeking to resolve an ambitious agenda: the rise and fall of Civilizations.  Here’s what he discerned.

For Toynbee, the sole criteria of growth is self determination.

For Roman Catholics, we call this moral agency.  For those with a literary turn of mind, its a bildungsroman.  For any ethicists out there who read this blog, the reality is termed the specificity of Christian ethics.  Why is this significant?

We’ve simply lost the meaning of humanness, because we no longer conceive of human life as being in constant relation with God.  By abandoning sacramental realism for positivist autonomy, we’ve permitted our entire lives to be shaped mechanically.

What does this have to do with McDonalds?

Having lost over 500 million orders over five years has bludgeoned management to close franchises, reduce levels of management, effectively bringing executive leadership closer to customers; but even changing how its meals are cooked, the marketing alone hasn’t delivered anything.

By any standard, McDonald’s has failed.

When Thomas E. Ricks wrote The Generals he wanted to examine why a private who drops a rifle is severely punished, but a General losing a war isn’t.

Because we live in an age of digital disruption, old silos have fallen apart; we’re now autonomous nomads living without an informing center.  What digital life procured is the unity of labor and capital.  This isn’t something that our current social, political institutions can handle.  This means we’re returning to an earth, a social ecosystem without hierarchies.

For McDonald’s it means returning to what you do best:  it means affirming your identity. If you’re lucky to have had the ability to discern IT.  Chasing new customers with new extended product lines broke McDonald’s.  Now they’re focusing on core customers.

Time will tell IF this strategy works.  McDonald’s has little time to fail anymore, having the world’s best, most aggressive marketing will help management discern through tacit leadership, what works.

The Pentagon actually has less time.  Possessing greater consequences, we’re witnessing collapsing hierarchies throughout procurement.  Even the Army has decided that advanced infantry will remain the apex of war.  This wasn’t always the case, in the 50’s through September 11, nuclear missiles and aerial dog fights supplanted both counter-insurgency doctrine and infantry.  The U.S. Army is now witnessing the complete total collapse of previous domains.

Regarding vocations to the Church, is Rome listening.  Here’s a hint:  a besieged mentality cannot overcome the need to sustain an un-interrupted tradition.  I suggest a reading of Toynbee or a trip to McDonald’s for those charged with procuring vocations.  If McDonald’s and the Pentagon can procure, so can those charged with vocations.

Don’t plan on the clerics getting it right.

McDonald’s latest commercial on the Big Mac 2017.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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