The Way of Hilton: Esprit de Corps in The UK and the USA in the Twentieth Century

Edinburgh University Press and myself are delighted to offer you in open access the chapter 7 of my book Ensemblance. Feel free to download – the introduction is also open access.

A happy phrase is sometimes coined, so humanly expressive that barriers of language are swept aside and like music it becomes a universal sentiment. To the French we are indebted for such an expression, ‘esprit de corps’, which our English tongue has adopted and naturalized because it visualizes, as no idiom of our own does, the essence of co-operation. ‘Esprit de corps’ is the common spirit pervading men associated in business or social activity, implying sympathy, enthusiasm, devotion and jealous regard for the honor of the body as a whole. In concrete form it symbolizes the story of co-ordinated effort that has gradually raised humanity from the brutish isolation of history’s dawn to the intensive inter-relations of today’s high civilization. In proportion as‘esprit de corps’ becomes a motivating force in men’s lives do they transcend the narrow bounds of selfishness and become social beings, for it brings into action forces potent to lift men’s thoughts from their own petty affairs to the contemplation of wider horizons. On this great co-ordinating emotion each of the component factors – sympathy, enthusiasm, devotion and jealous regard for honor – taken separately would be sufficient to elevate standards of conduct; taken together, they are the stuff that wins forlorn hopes, founds empires and conquers the world. A great business is very much like the human body, many different parts working together in close harmony. The human factors in business, each allotted to different tasks, are as dependent one on the other as are the organs and tissues of the body – one cannot do the job to the utmost if others fail to work to the same end. In a large organization ‘esprit de corps’ must be the soul that animates the body if the business is to function with the vigor of healthy growth, inspiring every one associated in the enterprise to pride in the purpose and value of his work, and to resolute determination to add his full quota to the total of achievement. A task of real importance devolves upon each one of us – so to imbue our associates by precept and example with ‘esprit de corps’ and all that it implies that we may work together as a great harmonious whole for the common welfare which, in the end, must be for the greatest good of each.

John Scofield Rowe, ‘Practical Philosophies: Esprit de Corps’, The Monroe Monitor, 9 August 1929, p. 2.