The Abolishment of Corporate Personhood is Necessary

The Abolishment of Corporate Personhood is Necessary
Jonathan Gillis
14 December 2011 (Updated 15-20 December 2011)

 We have hitherto proceeded on the idea that representation
related to persons only, and not at all to property.
But is this a just idea? Government is instituted no less for protection
of the property than of the persons of the individuals.
The one as well as the other, therefore, may be considered
as represented by those who are charged with government.
–– James Madison, the Federalist Papers[1]

 Corporations have become so much a part of our daily lives, that within the present cultural framework, it might seem intimidating and perhaps even somewhat pointless to question the legitimacy and function of a corporation, let alone the wealth, power, and influence of a corporation. Incidentally, the same might be said of congress, at least on the latter point of wealth. Actually, one might argue, though it hardly seems disputable, that our lives revolve around corporations in this technologically dominated super-society. What would our lives be like, without the corporation? At any rate, in the interest of human, social, and environmental rights and wellbeing, it is of great importance to not only question the legitimacy of profitable corporations, considering that corporations are arbitrarily deemed persons and enjoy the rights of a person far exceeding human beings––an example being, that money has essentially become a toxic mimic of freedom of speech––and also bearing in mind that monopolies abound. In terms of actual and functional democracy, the governable authority of state governments is largely impotent to that of the federal government, and in turn, the governable authority of the federal government is largely impotent to that of the unchecked and self-serving power of the corporation. Insofar as any governable authority is functionally democratic and executed in the interest of a truly egalitarian society. Suffice to articulate, arguably, such a society has not been hitherto pursued at all, or with nearly enough tenacity to merit the pursuit thereof, and certainly is an immeasurably far distance from fruition. Surely such a society was never intended by the elites who constructed the United States out of the rebellious colonial powers; akin to how it is not even in the elites’ realm of possibility today.

Without precedent in western civilized history, more of what we see, hear, read, eat and so forth, is manufactured and controlled by for profit corporations for our mass consumption. Indeed, virtually every aspect of our lives is in some way fashioned, influenced, or controlled by corporate power. The very air we breathe is poisoned by corporations; and yes, we also poison the air, though arguably our impact pales in comparison to that of the corporation, and is made possible, to the extent that it overwhelmingly matters, by the corporation. Most of us purchase food manufactured by corporations, live as tenants to landlord corporations, utilize transportation produced by corporations, work for corporations, enjoy leisure time through corporate ventures, be they Hollywood films, television, or football games, and so forth and so on. The U.S. government, from the municipal to the federal level, is largely a corporate dominated enterprise. Is it progress, in a morally acceptable way, that long ago, corporations use to be municipalities, and now they’re so large and powerful, they dominate entire nation-states? Questionably, the U.S. Empire is one in the same with that of the corporation. Is it progress, again, in a morally acceptable way, that our personal identities––even our subcultures, should we choose not to identify with the so-called “mainstream”–– that every niche that caters to personalities that are in many ways fabricated, are, by and large, constructs of, and dominated by, corporations out to make as much money as they can, with a hunger that inherently can never sated? It’s little wonder that many of us human beings, at least in the western dominant culture, seem to identify more with corporations than with our relative human beings, let alone the natural or real world and all of our nonhuman relatives. How many hours do we spend behind a machine? Contrastingly, how many hours do we spend immersed in the companionship of others, conversing face to face, or visiting as it were, the natural world? When we do speak with one another, how much of the conversation is about general culture, i.e., the episodes of our favorite “reality” shows, the performance of a team or statistics of an athlete, a purchase we made, and so forth? How much of our conversation is informed by political culture, i.e., Mitt Romney’s retirement deal, or the U.S. military communicating with the Taliban via Twitter, and so on? When we do visit, as it were, nature––meaning of course the real world, not the one of illusions that imperial humans have created and are cocooned in en mass––on what premise, by what means, and to what end do we do so? One might suppose that our alienation from each other is compensated, to a degree, by method of the national “holiday”. Though what of say, Columbus Day? Imagine if the German people had Hitler Day, and every year the federal government and schools were closed in commemoration and the retail stores had sales for all the gizmos and gadgets available; with nobody of course questioning how all those gizmos and gadgets came about, i.e., the impact on the environment, the suffering of wage-slave workers and so on. Might the contemporary distinction made of Hitler and German citizens, be a distinction that is made of say, George Bush Jr. and the United States citizens in future generations? Surely such a reality would be dystopia. Interestingly enough, when one earnestly contemplates, for instance, economic equality, in many cliques and circles, one runs the very high possibility of being dismissed, or worse, manifesting a deeper alienation, as subscribing to some utopia which would never be possible, and so is not worth the energy of thought or discussion, let alone action. It is important to understand exactly what a corporation is, considering, by and large, our way of life, our very lives, and increasingly the world, certainly including nonhuman species and the natural environment, is altogether created, directed and oppressed by the corporation and its enterprises.  

What precisely is a corporation? According to one dictionary, a corporation is quite simply, either “a company or association chartered to act as an individual”, “a governing body”, or “a fat belly”.[2] An older Webster’s Dictionary defines a corporation as “a group of people organized, as to operate a business, under a charter granting them as a body some of the legal rights, etc. of an individual.”[3] The connotation of an individual within the fundamental context of the corporation is denoted as that of a person. In order to deduce a precise definition of a corporation, let us look elsewhere. states that a corporation is “an association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existence of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members.”[4] Insofar as one might ascertain, at least in the realm of observable and quantifiable reality, human beings, individual persons as we are, cannot exist continuously, for we experience death, nor can we exist independent of ourselves, we are biologically born––not created by law or under the authority of law, save perhaps Natural law, which it seems humans are particularly keen on trumping, even, and maybe especially so, through science––and finally, our powers and liabilities are not distinct from ourselves. Certainly this is true of nonhuman beings; in fact, arguably, no living beings meet the criterion mentioned in the definition above.  

Yet another definition declares that a corporation is “a group of people authorized by law to act as a legal personality and having its own powers, duties, and liabilities” which might also be referred to as a “municipal corporation [as in] the municipal authorities of a city or town”. [5] The etymology of the term corporation might be traced to around the 1530s.

"persons united in a body for some purpose," from such use in Anglo-Latin, from L. corporationem, noun of action from corporare "to embody" (see corporate). Meaning "legally authorized entity" (including municipal governments and modern business companies) is from 1610s.[6]

Similarly, the origins of the term corporate:

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