The Blasphemy of Corporate Personhood
Anytime you wish to listen to a RightWing TalkshowHost scream and rant directly at you and all the worthless sniveling Liberal sheep like you, call him up on the air and tell him that you love living in the United States of America because we are granted so many wonderful Rights and Freedoms by our Founding Documents, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and additional amendments.
“WHAT !?!?!? YOU SNIVELING NANNY-STATER FOOL!” He/She (well, almost always 'He') will shout. Then he'll hang up the phone (they aren't very big on conversation, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) and for the next 30-60 seconds or so he will call you all kinds of names and say that our Declaration and Constitution do not give or grant us any rights and freedoms at all. Instead, what our founding documents do is recognize and proclaim that we are all BORN with these Rights and Freedoms inherent to us (or 'we are endowed by our Creator' with them, for the believers among us) and no other person or any form of Government has any business trying to take away these Rights and Freedoms from any of us. The listing and enumeration of description of some of these Rights and Freedoms is to make clear and explicit everything that the Government can not take away, not what it gives.
Now, the typical RightWing TalkshowHost is an obnoxious as----- (well, I did say to myself that I was going to try and watch my language) but that does not alter the fact that what their ranting and screamings on this issue are the Truth, and a very important, vital, central truth at that. The President and the Congress and the Supreme Court did and do not give us our Rights and Freedoms. We were all born with them. As a practical matter, our Government recognizes that we all have (or 'are endowed with') these Rights and Freedoms and as best as it can our Government protects and defends our Rights and Freedoms. But the Government did not give these Rights and Freedoms to us, God did (I'm a believer). The Government therefore has as little right as anything or anyone else to take any of them away.
This is an important thing for a free, responsible citizenry to understand, and I'm grateful to the folks in RightWing Talk Radio for emphasizing the concept like they do. As is typical, they could stand to be a little less obnoxious about it, but I suppose one cannot have everything. It is an important thing to realize, I suspect many of us do unconsciously believe and behave as though our rights and freedoms have been given to us by the Government. After all, we learn about them as children in school, we are taught about them by authority figures, we learn how they are described in our Government's documents, and it's natural to assume that they come from that Government.
Folks who call themselves “Constitutional Originalists” often cite this misconception about the Government granting us our Rights as the first, or the most fundamental, perversion of the Founder's intentions, perpetrated (of course) by all those Big-Government Liberal/Progressive/Nanny-Staters who think that Government and more Government is the solution to every problem, and who would diminish the individual by growing and exalting the state, and who view our Founding Documents as an antiquated bunch of bromides unsuited for the modern world. And a few sentences later they'll be off and running on the Income Tax, Social Security, Medicare, and most recently Obamacare.. (Oh, and don't forget the EPA.)
I don't know, maybe they have a point, sometimes. It certainly seems like there are a lot of foolish and unnecessary components to our Government, especially at the Federal level. Everyone's got their favorite stupid Government story. OTOH, it's an obvious truth that as our Society gets bigger and bigger and more and more complex, the minimum amount of Government necessary to Govern it does not get smaller and it does not stay the same, it gets bigger. (I defy anyone to get a RightWing Talkshow Host to admit to this obvious truism.)
But for me, this important truth of the innate-ness of our God-Given Rights and Freedoms leads me to a very different conception of the first or most fundamental perversion of the vision of our Nation's Founders and I have our (lately and thankfully rejected) 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, one Mitt Romney, to thank for the realization. Mitt crystalized it all for me late last fall (2011) when he responded to a heckler at one of his rallies by saying “Corporations are PEOPLE TOO, my friend!” And he meant it. Boy did he ever...
And what exactly did he mean by that? People have two arms, two legs, a brain, a heart, a soul. OTOH a legal corporation is just a legal abstraction, an idea, really. The closest thing it has to a body is a bunch of papers filed in a drawer someplace. Hell, these days even that may be completely digitized, including the signatures. Now, I didn't vote for the man, but I give Mitt credit for understanding that distinction.
No, what Mitt was talking about was the fact that in the United States of America, legal corporations are regarded as people, sort of. We often hear the term “Corporate Citizen”, and less often the more ominous “Corporate Person”. It is the law of the land that these Corporate Citizens have at least some of the same Rights and Freedoms enjoyed by us old-fashioned flesh-and-blood-type citizens. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find any concrete instance of a particular Right or Freedom enjoyed by Human Beings that is explicitly not granted to Corporate Persons. As I Google about the Web I find abstracts of court cases in which this or that Railroad Company, or Electric Utility, or what-have-you have successfully invoked the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th amendment, the speech guarantees of the 1st amendment, etc in various court cases.
Now, this may seem commonplace and a foolish thing with which to even concern ourselves in these times, when the majority of the money spent in most any election campaign comes from corporate funds. Yet it was not always this way. In fact, things started out very, very different in the United States. Our Declaration of Independence, Our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and all the Subsequent Amendments make no use of the term or the concept of “Legal Corporation” or “Corporate Citizen”! There was just no such thing.
What we did have was the entire body of Common Law of English, European and ultimately I suppose Roman Origins, whose principles inform our own law. For at least a couple hundred years previous to the creation of the United States of America, that body of law included the concept of “Limited Liability”. Under it, members of organizations like monasteries, Guilds, and to some extent chartered Companies like the East India Company, were protected from losing all of their property and personal wealth if the organization to which they belonged was found liable in a lawsuit. (Yes, there were such things as lawsuits and court actions even back then.) Typically the member's Liability was Limited to the value of his investment in the organization.
It is the common wisdom, oft repeated whenever subjects like Capitalism and Entrepenuerism and their many blessings are discussed, that this notion of “Limited Liability” is a good and wonderful thing, without which there would have probably been far less investment, innovation, wealth, and general advancement and development of civilization than that which we enjoy today. People would have been more afraid and less inclined to take risks and engage in business ventures if all their property would be put at risk thereby.
Well, I have my doubts, lots of them. But I'm disinclined to argue with the notion, it's difficult to be anything other than extremely speculative when doing so. The World we live in is the only one we have, and it is what it is largely due to over two centuries of exploding science and technology, commercialism and industrialization, all fundamentally driven by capitalistic profit-driven investment underpinned by various notions of limited liability. It's very hard (for me anyway) to imagine the shape of any world without it.
But having said all that, the “limited liability corporations” of the Founding Father's era were far, far different creatures than those that roam the planet today. They were defined at the State Government Level and therefore different from state to state, but in general their chartered existence was strictly finite in time, their activities were closely limited to those required for the narrowly-stated purposes of their charters, they were in almost all cases expressly forbidden from political activity, they had to be headquartered in the state of their incorporation, they were forbidden from holding shares in other corporations, and they were subject to many other restrictions as well. They were vehicles for the Limitation of Civil Liability incurred in pursuit of some specific business endeavor, period.
The Genesis of today's American Corporate Person from these beginnings is a long, fascinating, and profoundly disputatious story and is far beyond the scope of this essay. It is also surprisingly and suspiciously difficult to learn about, certainly one is exposed to very little of it in a typical American K12 education. I could wallow in black-helicopter paranoia wondering why, I suppose, but I wont. I think we can safely say it was a very gradual process, court-case by court-case, and I do not think it was driven by any grand design or shadowy cabal or any such thing. It's just (I believe) a matter of wealthy, powerful people trying to get for themselves every advantage that they can get.
And now we have the modern 'Corporate Person'. No soul, no conscience, immortal, and no natural limits to it's growth and power. In fact a Legal Corporation, an idea embodied in a set of paper and/or digital documents, but in the practical estimation of the Legal Framework of the USA a Citizen, a 'Corporate Citizen' enjoying many (if not all) of the Rights and Protections enumerated and guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and our Constitution. Rights, I remind you once again, NOT granted by our government or any other earthly agency but by the Omniscient, Omnipotent Supreme Ruler of the Universe, who in his infinite and divine wisdom saw fit to bestow them upon us Human Beings.
I find it surprising, disappointing, maybe even upsetting that the following question seems to have occurred to nobody but me. I'm especially disappointed in our brethren of the AM RightWing Talk Radio Dial, they of the (continually self-)vaunted clear-headedness and objectivity that so escapes the mainstream media outlets. I'll pose the question to you myself:
When the Almighty rested on the Seventh Day, how many Legal Corporations or 'Corporate Citizens' were there upon the face of the Earth??
There were NONE! The Legal Corporation and it's latest flowering as the American 'Corporate Person' are works of Man! They are NOT works of God, save in the derivative sense that Man is a work of God.
And how must it appear to the Almighty, that we his wayward Sorcerer's Apprentices have so meddled with all the Pots and Potions as to take what even we recognize as among the most precious gifts that almighty all-knowing God has given to us, his most prized (by our own reckoning, anyway) creations and turned around and assigned them to – what? A construction of our own, a pile of documents, a vehicle used by clever people to make more money with less risk, a pastiche, a Golem?
What would God call this act?
Maybe even – Blasphemy??
I'm not God, I do not want to put words in God's mouth (there's way, way WAY too much of that going on these days already) but I call it WRONG. More than that I call it fundamentally wrong, an original, seminal wrong, a wrong that underlies and generates all kinds of other things that we think are wrong as logical consequences. What's wrong with 'Corporate Personhood'?
The term and concept of Legal Corporations appear noplace in our original founding documents. Not in the Declaration, not in the whole original Constitution, and not in the original Bill of Rights. This alone should be sufficient for all those Constitutional Originalists out there to condemn and reject the concept.
It's Contrary to the Founders Intentions.
In Grade School we are taught, typically, that the Founders of our Nation rebelled against the Royal Monarchy and King of England. But in fact the Government against which our founding ancestors rebelled included a powerful Parliament, most of whose members gained their membership with the wealth they gained from the Corporate entities of their day, such as the East and West India Corporations. What we'd call Corporate Executives these days were the people who ran things all over the British Empire, appointed by the Crown, in places like India, the Middle East, etc. They bought their way into power and supported the British Government with their Corporate profits to the point where some might say they owned that Government. They certainly exerted powerful influence/control on that Government. I believe that the Founders would be appalled by the extent to which we can truthfully say the same thing about our nation's government today.
It Causes Big Government
Imagine with me for a few moments a frontier town out there in the wild, wild west of yesteryear, and in it two persons are standing for election as the sheriff. They are both good, upstanding, Church-Going citizens. The difference between them? One is an elderly Grandfather who hobbles about with a cane, and the other is a large, burly Rancher in his mid-forties.
Which is more likely to be elected Sheriff, and why?
Obviously, the big Rancher, because the people of the town have more confidence that he will be able to enforce the law and keep the peace in town. All the rough-and-tumble Cowboys who ride into the Saloon come the weekend are more likely to respect the law as enforced by the big Rancher as opposed to the elderly Grandfather, because the big Rancher better projects the ability to Kick Butt if it comes to that. Even though we are an elected, democratic government under the rule of just laws, that government needs to have the power as well as the moral authority to enforce the law. A government much weaker than even some of it's individual citizens will not be able to enforce the law.
Well, in today's America some of the citizens are (as I noted above) Immortal, unburdened by soul or conscience, and in many cases have more wealth and power than many other entire nations! How big must the Government be to enforce the just rule of law over this brand of Citizen? Would we really need the EPA, the SEC, OSHA, etc etc without BP, or Goldmann-Sachs, or GM? Would those agencies have to be as huge, expensive, and powerful as they are now?
Corporate PersonHood is How the Wealthy & Subvert Freedom & Democracy
Monarchy is out of style, and we recognize dictatorship as the evil that it is. With those options off the table and faced with a system of Government designed to give each person an equal opportunity and an equal voice, how are the wealthy and the powerful to work their will upon the governing process, and secure for themselves all the advantages they desire? Simple! They make more 'people', corporate people with the power to exercise many of the same rights and freedoms that you and I were endowed with by our creator, save that they are unrestrained by conscience or mortality, and can grow to outsized powers far beyond what a Human Being could imagine. And from behind the curtain of each such 'great and powerful Oz' the wealthy individual manipulates the various levels and controls, and multiplies the exercise of his or her own Rights and Freedoms to the point where they drown out and overwhelm any Human Citizen.
This is the United States of America of today. And there is not even any real debate about Corporate Personhood and it's many ill effects on the nation. Largely, it's regarded as an abstraction debated by academics.
I sure as hell don't know where to start to try to do anything about it. All I hope to do here is point out this contradiction, this inconsistency that on the one hand our Rights and Freedoms as Human Beings are among our most precious gifts from an infinitely wise and benevolent God, and on the other hand we feel free to willy-nilly hand out some of these same God-Given Rights and Freedoms to collections of documents, and expect there to be no consequences.
Other people have written about this, and I'm curious to see if I can cut-and-paste a URL into this OpenOffice.org document, save it as HTML, upload it to thelberalresponse.com, browse it, and click on the link. So, here's some interesting discussions on this issue:
Hey, I think it works! While I'm at it, you can download and install Open Office and do most anything you can do in MSWord, for free!
There, a small blow for Open Source in defiance of corporate control of thought and communication. (Psst! Did you know you can read & write Word docs in OpenOffice?)