This should be a no-brainer: corporations are fictional entities created for the economic benefit of individuals. Yet as the recent Supreme Court decision made clear, our nation has made an incredible mistake in granting legal personhood to these amoral institutions. And the legal personhood of corporations is both a cornerstone of the erosion of American liberty that conservatives (and liberals) decry, and a cornerstone of conservative and Republican policy. It is not a coincidence that Bush II's nominees, Alito and Roberts, both voted for corporations at the expense of people and freedom.
While it's obvious that corporate personhood is an emperor-with-no-clothes, the establishment of it has been a long time coming. The 1886 case, Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad, opened the floodgates. Note in the preamble to the text from the link that corporate personhood was never argued or discussed by the Supreme Court; it was simply an assertion by one single justice, which completely changed the law and the course of history. The author goes on to say:
"The doctrine of corporate personhood creates an interesting legal contradiction. The corporation is owned by its shareholders and is therefore their property. If it is also a legal person, then it is a person owned by others and thus exists in a condition of slavery -- a status explicitly forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. So is a corporation a person illegally held in servitude by its shareholders? Or is it a person who enjoys the rights of personhood that take precedence over the presumed ownership rights of its shareholders? So far as I have been able to determine, this contradiction has not been directly addressed by the courts."
In his book, "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," (buy it here) Thom Hartmann does an excellent job of analyzing the costs and consequences of this great conservative fallacy, so I won't go into detail here. (I highly recommend reading this book – especially if you vote Republican!) Suffice it to say that the nominations of corporate lawyers Roberts and Alito to SCOTUS were not accidents. Their opinions on abortion were nothing but a sop to social conservatives; their unlimited support for the uber-rich and corporate personhood were the keys to their nominations. This is what makes Justice Sotomayer such a great choice, and is the strongest evidence to date that Obama may not be the corporate flunky his policies usually indicate.
The obvious consequence of corporate personhood is the establishment of an entity that is arguably a slave to a position of prominence over free men and women. It is a tool whereby, by amassing resources, a small cabal of individuals can exert overwhelming influence on political and economic policy. Note the resource base of the huge, multi-national corporations shown in the graph on the link to "corporations" above: what individual has any chance of matching that? Or even group of individuals? Yet these entities – some of them not even American corporations (Shell Oil, BP, DaimlerChrysler) – are granted the protections of personhood – but not the responsibilities. Individuals – persons – are fully liable for their actions; corporations, almost by definition, have limited liability.
The outcomes of this travesty are legion, but just to name a few:
- Corporate censorship: the news media are owned by multi-national corporations, and they choose what news gets printed or broadcast. Regardless of liberal journalists, it is corporate boards who choose content. Thus the appearance of liberalism in the news media veneered over bedrock economic conservatism. The corporate elite don't care shit about the degradation of culture seen in Hollywood, or abortion, or family, morals, justice, etc. They care about maintaining their power and privilege. The news that's printed/broadcast is chosen to protect those specific economic interests. Corporate shill Rush Limbaugh's rants about liberal media are just part of the package, as deeply cynical and hypocritical as you can get. Note that General Electric, a major defense contactor, owns NBC, a major news outlet – an inherent conflict of interest. The Christian Science Monitor is one of the last relatively independent news sources of any reach, which is part of the reason for its good reputation.
- Employment of the US military to defend the interests of corporations overseas and extend economic hegemony over the world; to defend American Empire. This is the real issue in the so-called "War on Terror," and the unsustainability of our military budget and adventurism, along with Peak Oil, is the reason we will ultimately lose. The all-volunteer military is part of this package. People who have chosen to sign a contract and make an explicit agreement to obey orders feel it is their duty to do so even when it is contrary to the best interest of themselves and their nation; draftees resist when told to do unconscionable acts.
- The degradation of the US military and abdication of humanitarian responsibility and accountability by the hiring of mercenaries.
- The inevitable degradation and erosion of American liberty, and growing irrelevance of both the Constitution and the federal government.
- The degradation of our food supply, including loss of topsoil, animal abuse, etc.
- The merger of State and Corporate power.
To quote Benito Mussolini: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."
In other words, yes, Virginia, corporate personhood is the key to fascism. By adopting the cause of corporate personhood, the Republican leadership – though not Republican membership – has unreservedly committed to fascism. You won't find any of the Republican leadership accepting this claim, however. That would be political suicide. Instead, they hide their corporate agenda under popular moral platitudes, and extend support for a cynical, perverted Christianity as a means to deceive and manipulate their own political base. In his book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," Chris Hedges explains how this works.
Corporations are not persons, and they should be carefully controlled, granted limited charters, and restricted from political influence. I stand unreservedly opposed to fascism and the continued erosion of American liberty and secular government. I am a liberal.
*Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.