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Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.- Michel Foucault
Chronology of Court Rulings Toward Corporate Citizenship
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886)
The substance of this case (a tax dispute) is of little significance, but this fateful case subsequently was cited as precedent for granting corporations constitutional rights. Several articles linked above detail how this happened.
Lochner v. New York (1905)
States cannot interfere with “private contracts” between workers and corporation — marks the ascension of “substantive due process” (later mitigated after President Roosevelt threatend to add Justices to the Court).
Nike v Kasky (2002)
Nike claims California cannot require factual accuracy of the corporation in its PR campaigns. California’s Supreme Court disagreed. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case on appeal, then issued a non-ruling in 2003. See our comprehensive archive on this case.
Randall v Sorrell (2006) While this case dealt with the legality of Vermont’s contribution limits, not corporations directly, it carried important implications for corporate political influence, as Daniel Greenwood detailed in our amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.- James Madison, Federalist Papers.
“The more the conditions of men are equalized and assimilated to each other, the more important is it for religion, while it carefully abstains from the daily turmoil of secular affairs, not needlessly to run counter to the ideas that generally prevail or to the permanent interests that exist in the mass of the people.” – Alex de Tocqueville
Some experts like to say that the ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, and the “natural” (inalienable) rights on which the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based, were endowed by a god. That issue aside, it is inescapable that the vast majority of the citizenry at the time of the founding and, it follows, the same majority of those making the decisions about how the above documents were written, were, though multi-denominational, deeply immersed in religious observance.
Given this entrenched deism, it is still somewhat astonishing that after much consideration they decided that it was critical to officially separate the government they were creating from religious practice. It is said that this was as much due to their fear that the government might ultimately begin to affect and dictate matters of observance as it was for reasons of religious belief interfering with matters of governing. The salient point in all of this is that regardless of any statement in the founding papers, the U.S. began its tenure as a democracy behind a deeply entrenched position in religious moral belief, and that position continues today in various public ways: in the pledge of allegiance, in the swearing in of witnesses in court, and in the swearing in of elected and non-elected public servants – regardless of whether these officials are or are not actually religious.
We are aware that moral ideas inherent within the doctrines of traditional belief may be applied by believers in ways that are sometimes considered questionable, and it appears to me that within this contradiction lies the moral dilemma that has hounded the USA, and the practice of democracy, from its inception – the fact that an overreliance on inconsistent moral values can instill limitations in terms of how one assesses and processes indeterminate change.
This is not to cast religious belief itself in any negative loom, but is to say that preordained moral beliefs originating from an entrenched and formidable attitude weigh heavily on the growth of a polity. As an observation, recent readings on this subject seem to find little questioning about the appropriateness of religious teaching as it applies in this area. Religion continues to be the untouchable cow of political discussions. I don’t see a similar hands-off approach to arguments about corporate belief and involvement or that of unions. It seems to be in a singular class with regard to the tolerance (toleration) of its engagement.
But again, the right of religion to participate in the political body and to speak equally is not the issue here (though the effect of its inherent size and power, along with other types of large, activist organizations, to my mind, is one); rather it is our awareness that religion’s continuing contemporary involvement does reinforce the historical weight pressing on our consideration of moral issues.
The success of a system, such as there is in the United States (and I know this reeks of an idealist imperative), requires the maintenance of a common belief based on the goals (and notice I don’t use the word missions) of the society as expressed in and stemming from its constitution and bill of rights. And it is the ability to freshly reassess our moral precepts in relationship to these goals and our knowledge of a dynamic world, that is preeminent to an evolving democracy.
“Many economically successful nations — from Russia to Mexico — are democracies in name only. They are encumbered by the same problems that have hobbled American democracy in recent years, allowing corporations and elites buoyed by runaway economic success to undermine the government’s capacity to respond to citizens’ concerns.” – Robert B. Reich
25 Stock Exchanges 2010
There seem to be two general ways of looking at the relationship between capitalism and democracy, besides those people who actually confuse or conflate the two. There are those who see them as inextricably intertwined in some symbiotic relationship wherein each supports and embellishes the other – or even to the point where they cannot exist without each other. And there are those who see democracy as having been created by white men of wealth who, while somehow building in certain rights for, well, at the time just themselves, also created a system whereby they effectively built in a veto over the critical issues that affect the maintenance of their estates. In addition it is stated that a democratic government, because of its dependence on economic growth, and because of the system of campaign financing which basically has no oversight, eventually becomes subservient to and dependent upon, capitalism’s priorities.
25 Stock Traders 2011
Additionally, it appears that the global economy is in certain ways taking this debate out of the hands of national governments. The commingling of funds, dispersal of production, and diffusion of accounting systems make it difficult for national governments to maintain oversight of these international companies. It is possible to visualize a time when global capital will have created its own quasi government that would be independent of national, and perhaps international, popular control. One does not even have to straighten one’s arm to reach back to the first Obama administration’s quizzical enchantment with Goldman Sachs alumni to have reason to ponder such questions.
25 Credit Default Swaps 2011
Still, the citizenry within this particular national entity, the United States, do have, through their use of the vote, the capability of taking control in such a way that wealth can be more equitably distributed even while maintaining a viable capitalist structure. This restructuring has been approached a few times historically and, while sometimes falling back, it is the awareness that some success has occurred that can lead to its further achievement.
25 Sweatshops 2009
“It fell, therefore, to the working class itself to fight for its right to vote, and a long fight it was, passing through many momentous battles such as the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, the great Chartist campaign from 1838 to 1859, the revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, the Belgian General Strike of 1893, the campaigns for votes for women, and right down to the US Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.” – John Molyneux