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4. January 2010

Corporate personhood, the individual, and the state

Filed under: philosophy,politics — admin @ 16:09

When people want to get something important done in a democratic republic, chances are they’re going to have to find others who feel strongly about the same issue(s) and organize, which empowers them to live freely, happily, and effectively.  An active and moral citizenry is, after all, crucial to the survival of a free state.  But after looking at Western history over the past 50 years, we find that a dangerous trend has been adopted toward the regulation of groups: the civil liberties of the individual, which are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, become severely restricted as soon as those individuals join hands with others to accomplish goals according to their consciences.

For instance, the first amendment–which protects freedom of speech–is strangely absent when people organize in political action committees.  As an individual, you are entitled (for the most part) to speak your mind according to your conscience, but when people who believe in something want to make a political difference in their world, rules suddenly appear for what can be said, when they can say it, and who they can accept money from.   To our government, freedom of speech and the liberty to raise capital matter, but only when you’re alone and don’t want to affect your country.

As another example of the group’s restricted liberties, Fair Housing Law currently prohibits a person from determining whom they will sell their home to, which makes the protection and organization of the neighborhood through moral assessment almost completely impossible: the list of protected classes is large enough that any seller could be prosecuted for refusing to engage in a contract.  Not only is this a severe reduction of property rights, but it is an even larger reduction of contract rights because a contract formed under duress is supposed to be legally void.  Furthermore, Fair Housing Law is a violation of the constitutional right to peaceably assemble because the government allows others to determine whether they will associate with you and your group, without giving you the right to refuse association with them or choose your neighbors. These violations are all “legitimized” under the guise that the organization of the ethnic/racial/religious/ideological group is not healthy, and that society is progressing when the dismantling of social structure takes place.

When we look at the religious organization, we find that Americans have become increasingly skittish about the right to organize and act meaningfully.   Moral values deemed to be “religious” in any way (laws prohibiting abortion/divorce, mandatory marriage upon childbirth, adultery laws, etc), regardless of their proven benefit to society, have been banned from the legal framework of most states on the grounds that the religious group–because they are religious–should not be allowed to set laws according to their consciences unless the irreligious concur.  This is bizarre, first because all moral standards are never for the people who have them, but rather for the people who either break them or do not agree with them.  Second, it is illogical because the entire purpose of a democratic republic is to allow citizens to shape their society according to their conscience.

Even more undemocratically, when laws such as these are not repealed through the conscientious will of the populace, they are repealed through court systems (as is the case in the abortion debate and issues of homosexual “liberty”).  Religious organizations are also silenced with tax codes: pastors and leaders of churches cannot openly endorse candidates without risking the loss of their tax-free status, and some churches have even lost this status by simply refusing to perform services like homosexual marriages on their church-owned grounds.  Because of fair-housing laws, churches also cannot maintain the cultural cohesion of their neighborhood or engage in freedom of speech simply because they belong to a religious group.

Thinkers of all persuasions must ask themselves what exactly the first amendment guarantees for those practicing religion.  Since it can’t be ensuring the right to engage in polygamy or other acts deemed offensive by the state (as Mormons and Muslims taught us), and it can’t be the ability to discriminate and vote from our consciences, and it can’t be the right to endorse candidates without penalties, or to organize our neighborhoods or businesses according to religious preference, what exactly does it guarantee?  To our government, the constitution guarantees the state’s liberty from any sort of organization based upon religious conscience, but not the church’s liberty from the state, a concept considered laughably restrictive to falsely labeled “deists” such as Benjamin Franklin.

Strangely enough, one of the last bastions of organizational liberty that Americans truly enjoy is the corporation, and these liberties are under assault under the movement to abolish corporate personhood.  For the uninformed, corporate personhood means that the corporation–because it is run by people–should enjoy the same liberties that people enjoy, such as the right to lobby the government, the right to privacy, freedom of speech, and the right against self-incrimination.   Without these protections, the people involved in a corporation would be denied their constitutional rights simply because they engaged in business, similarly to how people involved in religious or political organizations are denied their liberties because they engaged in organization.

Ever since the legal effectiveness of corporate personhood began in a legal battle in 1886, it has come under assault because it has not been without its problems.  For instance, the American people need to make sure that if a corporation files for bankruptcy, the board of directors and all that they own should be affected, since there is simply no reason to keep a corporation’s bankruptcy from affecting its holding company and board of directors only because they have different names than the corporation. In an open-market democratic republic, people absolutely need to be responsible for their actions.  But aside from this, the corporation is one of the last places you can organize with the majority of the individual’s liberties while functioning as a group, and so its corporate personhood must be defended at all costs.

Lastly, although most of these crucial democratic organizations are denied constitutional rights, there is a kind of organization the government specifically protects and supports.  What we find is that unions, which are scavenger organizations created for the purpose of combating non-governmental power structures (also known as “power structures which don’t have the legal ability to dispense violence”), are protected and specifically supported by our government at the economic expense of the majority. And this blatantly displays the government’s approach to power structures: if you’re willing to do something which hinders the organizational power of citizens, you are encouraged by the government.  If you’re organizing to change your government and community, you can expect quite a bit of trouble.

But then again, the last thing a person in power would ever want is to have to deal with people in groups, isn’t it? Why it is that Americans–Americans, the supposedly free people–refuse to recognize this timeless truth is a mystery that will most likely be hidden until the republic no longer exists.

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