With this essay I venture into uncharted territory linking past and present fields of social sciences in order to solve a metaphysical puzzle. This relates to the nature of a subliminal person known as the corporation and how this artificial person was able to sponsor a surreptitious belief system. The following essay offers an hypothetical interpretation on how the corporation evolved into a deity and its doctrine into a quasi-religion.
In the later days of the Roman Republic the word corporation was used in documents in the same sense as collegium. The term referred to a form of legal association consisting of at least three persons. The collegium was also described as a body –corpus habere. The corporation possessed the legal right to hold property in common. It shared a treasury and could sue or be sued. The property of the corporation was liable to be seized and sold for its debts.
The Roman concept of corporation was adopted by the early Christian churches as a legal form of protection in periods of persecution. It was mostly used as a legal means of holding and transferring the churches’ property. Corporations were later used by varied religious monastic orders. In the Middle Ages life was largely corporate, in the sense that religious institutions were defined by corporations of monks and friars. It was considered a secure way of protecting ecclesiastical property especially in times of feudal warfare. These corporations in the course of history survived and prospered.
The concept was improved with the introduction of “corporation sole” by English law, where a sole or single religious office holder could transfer the same position with identical powers to his successor.
Mussolini had been an active socialist member until he abandoned the idea of class struggle in favor of stati corporativi. A similar concept was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. It was issued to counter the growing influence of socialism and class struggle. Instead, the Church promoted its own Catholic trade unions or “corporate bodies” as an alternative to class conflict into social system that integrated groups that shared social functions, acting in matters of common economic interest, all coordinated by the state. This was also defined as corporatism.
Mussolini’s change of heart made him appealing to a greater number of voters and powerful institutions. Under his leadership business owners, workers, trade unions, professionals, and other economic groups were organized into 22 associations—or guilds. They were given representation in a legislative body known as Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni. The symbol of the fascio, or bundle, was meant to indicate the unifying strength of all the guilds and corporations. The unifying body helped to integrate a geographically fragmented and diverse Italy into one greater market area. The idealistic union led to a totalitarian political system known as fascism.
The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question [whether corporations are persons]. We are all of the opinion [that they are].
Chief Justice Waite, 1886
In the U.S. the corporation is defined as a person, more precisely as an artificial person. The idea of person has a dual and misleading meaning. The ambiguity is attributed to a deceptive confusion between artificial and natural person (a human being). Adding to the misunderstanding is the fact that the Latin origin of corporation is corpus or body. The word body in this sense does not mean a physiological organism commonly understood as a human body, but refers to a society or an association. In addition, the original Latin meaning for person is persona, a mask worn by an actor. One must keep in mind that the mask of a person, his or her personality, does not mean the essence of being, his or her soul.
The misconception around the meaning of person is exemplified by the oxymoron of corporate citizen. Although the corporation is defined as an artificial person, it cannot be a citizen. Citizenship is granted either by birth or through the process of citizenship, a ceremony that involves taking the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment’s first article
The corporation is an association defined by civil law as an “artificial being”. The legal interpretation of the Constitution is that the corporation is a body “existing only in the contemplation of law”: Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court describes the corporation as follows:
A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs, and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with qualities and capacities, that corporations were invented, and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.
The corporation defined as invisible, intangible and immortal, supersedes ordinary human attributes. This artificial person is larger than its constituent parts, with a power greater than the individuals comprising it. The body of corporations as we know it today surpasses many countries in power and wealth. Although corporations are identified with a variety of brands they nonetheless all have a similar legal definition, structure and accounting standards. This body of unfathomable artificial persons sharing a similar doctrine, has evolved into the “Investor State”.
A portrait emerges of a body that is invisible, immortal and endowed with supernatural qualities above and beyond ordinary qualities found in a human being. It has attributes that are typically associated with supernatural beings and deities. As such, this super-natural person has inspired a belief system that shares some unintended but similar attributes with religion.
During a conference delivered at Columbia University in 1961, theologian Paul Tillich used the term quasi-religion to describe the encounter of world religions and the challenges of secularism faced by Christian churches. Paul Tillich was a theologian but also a philosopher. The definition of religion that follows is based on philosophy of religion, one that is more open and inclusive.
Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life. Therefore this concern is unconditionally serious and shows a willingness to sacrifice any finite concern which is in conflict with it. The predominant religious name for the content of such concern is God -a god or gods. In non-theistic religions divine qualities are ascribed to a sacred object or an all-pervading power or a highest principle such as the Brahma or the One. In secular quasi-religions the ultimate concern is directed towards objects like nation, science, a particular form or stage of society, or a highest ideal of humanity, which are then considered divine… Even the mutual relations of the religions proper are decisively influenced by the encounter of each of them with secularism, and one or more of the quasi-religions which are based upon secularism.
The term quasi-religion has been having a resurgence of popularity. It was used in an article in The Economist to describe people’s adulation for iPads. Since Tillich wrote his essay many other types of quasi-religions have emerged. Among the more surreptitious example is the subject of this essay.
Tillich further explains that the attribute quasi is meant to “indicate a genuine similarity, not intended, but based on points of identity” with religion. Some examples given by Tillich of secular quasi-religions are Nazism, fascism, communism and nationalism. He explains that the first two examples are “demoniacal” and “radicalized” forms of quasi-religion. They nonetheless reveal points of identity with religion by embracing a belief system that effectively functions like a religion, even though they are a shift away from what is typically understood as normal forms of religious expressions.
Burdened by unmanageable amounts of debt after World War I, and saddled by a lingering economic depression, Germany opted for militarism and conquest as a path to recovery. The birth place of Martin Luther became engulfed in a nationalistic fervor of “one state, one nation, one leader”. Germans surrendered their ancestral moral character and succumbed to a vision of a mythical superiority of the Aryan race. Nazis followed blindly a Fuhrer who promised an eschatological vision of a Third Reich as means of salvation encompassing the world and all history.
Italian fascism shared many aspects of Nazis ideology. Its anti-democratic political philosophy placed the corporate body above the individual. Both ideologies attributed a god like power to their leaders who preached redemption through political means. Every aspect of society was bundled into a system that did not tolerate any form of dissent. Both examples share a quasi-religious faith in a totalitarian state that effectively controlled all aspects of life.
The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the Fascist regime fail to realize that Fascism is not only a system of government but also and above all a system of thought.
On the opposite side of the planet, Japan shared a similar political philosophy. Its people surrendered to a sacred devotion to the nation. The figure representing the empire of The Rising Sun was symbolized by the Emperor perceived as a deity endowed with divine powers.
The above examples show that economic recovery was accomplished through the arms industry, political militarization and war. It eventually led to the collapse of these political systems. However, the collapse did not destroy the corporations that took part in the militarization. After the war many major corporations survived and thrived.
Another example of quasi-religion given by Tillich is communism. This example reveals that the social aspect rather than the nation becomes a matter of ultimate concern. Marxist political doctrine promulgated myths of an idyllic classless society devoid of exploitation of the workers. This system was also based on the state effectively controlling all aspects of life of its citizens.
Fascism, Nazism, and communism share one thing in common. They were radical responses to the sweeping changes brought about by The Industrial Revolution and moneyed corporations. In retrospect, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan reveal the excesses of munition industrialization that signaled the apotheosis of the modern era. Post WWII resulted in a metamorphosis in the basic components of modernity. During this period we begin to see a slow but steady shift away from a production based economy to a consumption oriented culture.
Secularization began during the Enlightenment: A period where science and technology became the predominant driving forces behind the economic growth and development of the western world. They played a major role in providing answers and solutions to the problems of the world, a prerogative previously held by religion. This period came to be known as the modern era.
The Reformation, the Enlightenment and the advent of modernism inspired a greater role in individual responsibility for one’s personal economic salvation. This ethic of responsibility was outlined by Max Weber in his seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Individual moral responsibility and industry eventually resulted in The Industrial Revolution. Keeping in mind that secularism throughout the development of modernity had religious undertones influenced by centuries of Christian religious teachings.
Secularism is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by religion in society. Jacques Ellul explains that this idea about secularism is misleading and is the result of an improper assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. The author contends that secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. He explains that in periods of cultural change the sacred proliferates elsewhere. Furthermore, Ellul dispels the notion that the sacred is an exclusive prerogative of Christianity or any particular religion.
The increase in urbanization and immigration during the second half of the twentieth century resulted in Christianity’s encounter of world religions. It exposed society to religious pluralism and secularism. An example to illustrate this type of shift of the sacred from being an exclusive prerogative of the Catholic Church to a profane sphere is the secularization of the French speaking population in Quebec during the nineteen sixties. This period reveals how sacred objects of devotion do not die but metamorphose into other forms of ultimate concern.
The québécois had been religiously sheltered by the Catholic Church and lived in relative cultural isolation for almost two centuries until the nineteen sixties. In less than a decade the majority of the people abandoned the Church leaving behind decades of priestly moral directives. Many of them took up the nationalist cause of the Independence of Quebec. The separation from Canada became a quasi-religious quest. For many, independence was perceived as a matter of ultimate concern.
The political upheaval in Quebec and the emancipation of its people coincided with the incursion of television in people’s living rooms. In a matter of years a new medium was implanted in all homes feeding viewers a culture made in New York and Hollywood. The québécois were no longer captives to the preaching of the Church. Secularization took hold of a predominantly French Catholic people. As a result, the priestly hierarchy was no longer viewed as the sole guardians of the sacred. The Church was dismissed as a dominant sacred organization and relegated as a religious institution like any other. A shift occurred in the power scheme of things.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the U.S. In the nineteen sixties America was still a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holiday. In a few decades this would change. Eventually Sunday was phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The seventh day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became a celebration dedicated to the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of this holy-day has switched back and forth between different religious belief systems. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time. The sacred was proliferating elsewhere.
The United States was undergoing a cultural transition. The country was changing from production based economy to a more consumption oriented culture. From a predominantly Christian country to a more open and secularized society. During that period, declining church attendance to traditional religious denominations was matched with conversion to evangelical churches. Some left the churches to embrace Buddhism, Islam, Hare Krishna, Jews for Jesus and other New Religious Movements (NRM). This transition was occurring in conjunction with the growing role played by the media in shaping culture at home and abroad.
Secularization also led to the appearance of various forms of quasi-religions. Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock stars phenomenon and the professional sports system. All endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media.
The Medium Is the Message
Eisenhower was among the first presidents to use TV to address the nation. His televised farewell speech on The Military Industrial Complex was made during media’s growing influence over US’ economy, culture and politics. The paradox is that Eisenhower’s speech was televised. It might be inferred that the warning about a “misplaced” power was not only about a complex relationship between the military and the arms industry but about the nascent power of the media and how it would alter the character of the nation.
A few years after the speech Marshall McLuhan wrote: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium.” That is to say that behind TV is another medium and this other medium is a corporate entity embodied by the networks and corporate sponsors.
The fact merely underlines the point that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.
At the time of Eisenhower’s speech, the Big Three were still independent networks committed to independent journalism. In the sixties and seventies the U.S. press corps functioned closer to its ideals of skepticism toward power. Back then the networks were strictly in the business of providing news and television programming. Through mergers and acquisitions and the advent of Big Four the networks evolved into conglomerates more inclined to preach the corporation’s ultimate concern of privatization and maximization of profits.
In a postmodern era, corporate media has imposed itself as the provider of the good news. It displaced the priesthood as the mediator between the religious hierarchy and the believers and imposed itself as a technological medium to the people. It provided televised models of conduct setting new grounds for acceptable behavior. In time the media became the new opium to the masses, the gateway to an unlimited source of worldly gratification: A technological go-between between a sacred power source and the profane viewer.
The Sacred and the Profane
Tillich’s definition of religion is helpful to understand quasi-religion as it appears in secularized society. However, his definition does not disclose the full spectrum of a quasi or religious experience. Although Tillich links his idea of ultimate concern to the sacred, he does not elaborate on this most crucial principle.
Evidence of a spiritual dynamic between the sacred and the profane has been documented by scholars such as Emile Durkheim and Roger Caillois in the field of sociology of religion, Rudolf Otto and Gerardus Van der Leeuw, in the field of phenomenology of religion and Mircea Eliade in the field of history of religion, just to mention a few. These scholars revealed that the sacred/profane dynamic is present in many and perhaps most religions.
This long scholarly tradition of research on the sacred has been carried on by intellectuals like Jacques Ellul, known for his discourse on the proliferation of the sacred in culture. He explains that once a religion looses its predominance in society the sacred may disappear temporarily but only to reappear elsewhere in places one did not expect to see it flourish.
The concepts of the sacred and profane existed long before prominent scholars wrote about them. They were central to Roman religio. Contrary to popular belief, Romans were scrupulously religious people. Citizen undertook a priestly role corresponding to his level of authority and status. For instance, magistrates performed important civic rituals, whereas the paterfamiglias, the father of the family, performed domestic rituals and ceremonies. Romans did not have religious doctrines or dogmas to speak of. And they did not have a predominant priesthood. This lack of dogma and a powerful priestly hierarchy may explain why people do not perceive the Romans as being religious. As Ellul explains, the lack of strong and powerful priestly order does not exclude religiosity or the presence of the sacred.
The Romans introduced two important concepts to describe a dynamic inherent in religion: The sacred and the profane. Trebatius, a contemporary of Cicero defined it as, “all that is the property of the gods was sacer”. Sacred is not to be understood as a power possessed by a being or an object, but as a status attributed to them. Sacer was not a magical force but a juridical quality defined by property. Any violation of the gods’ property was met with dreadful divine wrath. Hence, the meaning of sacrilege was defined as the infringement of the gods’ property. Divine property, and by extension private property, was considered inviolable. It could be said that the gods also instituted and were guarantors of mortals’ property rights.
The opposite of sacer was profanus. Any sacred object that was ritually removed from the realm of the gods and moved to the sphere of the mortals was profane. Profanare meant “to bring out” the offering from where the sacrifice was performed. And profanum meant what was “in front of the temple precinct”. The temple being a location set apart by a wall and surrounded by a space available for profane use.
Different religions have varied sacred objects or holy beings. Anything can be sacred as long as there is a marked separation with the profane. This discriminating force establishes a systematic order of things: The rule that keeps the profane at a distance from intruding into the higher hierarchy of power.
There are two main spheres involving a spiritual dynamic of the sacred and the profane. This is best illustrated by the categories of sacred space and sacred time. Sacred space is a place of worship like a temple, a shrine or a stage. Outside the boundaries of the sacred space lies the profane, the believers or an audience. Whereas inside the sacred perimeters stand a holy place reserved for cultic purposes dedicated to a god or holy object, accessible only by a priest. The sacred space is dedicated to the celebration of rituals, rites of initiations and festivals. Sacred time constitutes the holidays that celebrate the sacred rituals distinguished from ordinary time. Sacred space and time integrate the individual to a group, set status and rank and provide order, meaning and harmony. Both principles establish boundaries and parameters between good and evil, pure and impure, member and non-member, holidays and ordinary time.
The most important principle in the dynamic between the sacred and the profane is a fuzzy opposition and a distance that the first imposes on the second. And as a rule, the sacred systematically discriminates against the profane located outside its jurisdiction, perceived as “other” and potentially chaos.
In a post-modern world the media plays a similar role of separating the stars and idols from the viewer. The same can be said about a rock concert and the separation between the stage and the fans. In a sport event the spatial separation is between the field, the players and the spectators. The game representing the opposition between a local team held as sacred by the fans and the opposing team considered as outsiders. The ultimate goal of the game consists in victory, and ultimately the quest of a world cup. In mythology a cup has an important symbolic significance. It is synonymous with bowl, chalice and Holy Grail.
A Quasi-Religious Medium
Since the mid twentieth century the implantation of TV in people’s living rooms has diverted the power of the word away from priesthood. It surreptitiously displaced the temple as the center for the propagation of identity and solace. The preacher is no longer the sole medium between the sacred and the believer, the single provider of the Gospel, i.e., the good news. The insertion of TV in people’s living rooms created a captive audience. It converted homes into postmodern sanctuaries. While outside the homes the theater replaced the temple as the purveyor of the supernatural. Churches were suddenly competing with malls for a faithful gathering. A fuzzy mutation was occurring in the sacred allocation of space and time.
In religion the priesthood acts as an intermediary, a mediator of sorts, between the sacred and the profane, a deity and the believers. The higher the priest’s status the closer he is to the holy, to the divine. As a ritual officer his role is to manage and enforce the separation between the sacred a profane. It also consists in the promulgation of doctrine and dogma implemented in rituals and varied religious practices, setting the boundaries between the pure and impure, good and evil and dictating rules of moral conduct.
Similarly in the star system, actors inaugurate new rules of conduct. Screen idols provide new models of behavior and changes in moral conduct to the masses. As such it challenges ethical standards and encroach on a function previously held by religion. Progressively a technological medium claimed control over viewers’ souls. Seeing is believing became a new mantra in a postmodern world, and material consumption its ultimate concern.
The media’s predominance in culture eventually evolved into an inconspicuous quasi-religious medium. This is evidenced by a separation between the screen and the viewer, analogous to separation involving the sacred and the profane. In a theater the separation is even more dramatic. The audience sits aligned facing one direction in total darkness surrounded by thundering sound. The viewer is immersed in a rapturous absorbing experience captivated by stars living in another worldly sphere inaccessible to ordinary mortals.
Media was instrumental in consecrating words of the common language, systematically copyrighting and subjecting idioms to legal protection. Logos and trademarks are cast as untouchable sacred symbols. Flashing bright lights on billboard elevated in visible fashion in central squares of New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong are signs of the ever prevalent quasi-religious shrines dedicated to a corporatist agenda and globalization.
Since the advent of the newsreel and silent movies, actors and actresses have been projected as inaccessible beings living in a separated sphere from the ordinary spectator. Part real and part unreal they are rendered immortal by video and film. Celebrities share a dual nature like super-heroes. They are part human and part supernatural rendered sacred by the medium. Stars live in a separate time zone distinct from ordinary time. When stars die they are rendered immortal by their cinematic roles.
In his book Les Stars, Edgar Morin explains that actors participate in both human and divine arenas, similar to Olympian pantheon of heroes, gods and goddesses. According to Morin the mythology of the stars is always in the making, non-categorical. It is part esthetic, part magical and part religious, never being completely one or the other. In Greek mythology, heroes are mortals that entertain a relationship with the gods and are in the process of deification. These mythical characters play an essential role in culture not unlike religion. Movie stars like Greek heroes live in two worlds: In a real world on one hand and in a perfectly edited self-enclosed and inviolable time capsule on the other.
Fans demand to know everything about their idols. Endless amounts of data are readily available for consumption about every aspect of the star’s intimate life. Marilyn Monroe’s personal life was scrutinized and her public life idolized. In American mythos she represents a contemporary version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, renamed Venus by the Romans. The movie industry has been instrumental in immortalizing Charlton Heston as Moses. The media was influential in portraying Lady Di as a saint and as a sinner. In music, born this way, Lady Gaga is shown as an embodiment of a contemporary centaur, half motorcycle and half human.
Today many children are named after stars rather than saints or biblical figures. The love a fan feels for their idol is akin to devotion reserved for deities. It is not reciprocated. It is a one-way love, akin to worship. The fan is not jealous. He doesn’t mind sharing his idolized star with millions of other viewers. This type of love fills a deep human need for devotion previously reserved to saints and religious figures.
The Myth of Super-Inc
Super is a prefix meaning above; elevated in status and rank, higher up than the ordinary person, than the masses; i.e. above the law. The affix is used to represent supernatural beings, deities and super-heroes. These super beings share special powers not available to mortals. These powers include the ability to break and create new rules, supervise orderly management of the world, restore order and harmony when needed. And keep out alien elements from intruding and disrupting the harmony of an orderly belief system.
Several essays on super-heroes have been posted on this web site. Their content reveals several examples of mythical heroes. All have one thing in common. These characters have a dual personality, one mundane and the other supernatural. They alternate between public and secret identities, similar in fashion to the ambivalent meaning of person: One is natural and human and the other artificial and super-natural. Keeping in mind that corporations are created by human beings. The creation allows mere mortals to become part of an immortal entity bigger and more powerful than its constituent parts.
The following quote from Claude Levi-Strauss captures the surreptitious role myth plays in our cultures:
We are not, then, claiming to show how men think in myths, but how myths think themselves in men, an unknown to them.
Levi-Strauss infers that myth works in subtle and covert ways. Its symbolic significance undetected by the people who live by its scheming power. Analogies shown thus far reveal a myth-making process of a mysterious super person, one that is elusive and prevalent in our cultures, a character that has become global in stature. Since its creation this mythical person has overtaken its human creator and used its power to misplace the legitimate influence of the citizen in the government of human affairs.
To subject myth to criticism, to lay bare the symbolics of its process, is to engage in the most comprehensive criticism of a culture. Whereas to control the myths in which a culture believes —to govern its symbolism—is to control the hearts and minds of a people, to allow the criticism of myth is to dilute that power, to loosen sedimentations of thought and belief that may be harmful to a community or, positively, to reaffirm beliefs and values that are indeed helpful. The task of critical semiotic is not to replace one dogma by another, but simply to disclose the rules of the symbolic processes by which symbols become such —to place control on that control—leading, as Peirce suggests, to self-control.
The Semiotic of Myth, James Jakob Liszka
On August 23rd 1971, Louis Powell, a corporate lawyer and board member of Phillip Morris, and future Supreme Court Justice, issued a confidential memo to his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was released in response to President Nixon’s signing of the National Environmental Policy Act that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Shortly after, Congress passed amendments to the Clean Air Act. The legislation was enacted to protect the environment and set air pollution standards by the EPA. Powell viewed the new laws as an “attack on the American free enterprise system” not only by extremists of the left but by “perfectly respectable elements of society”.
Within two years of the release of the memo, the Chamber of Commerce formed a task force involving powerful business executives to organize a campaign targeting universities, the courts and the media. The media became the anointed medium for the propagation of corporate agenda, channeling the subliminal message of an artificial person. The intricate connection between the media, advertising and the star system materialized into a crusade preaching the gospel of the corporation.
This mythical person has overtaken many aspects of our lives. It has been set free to grow in a world unaware of its existence.
It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works… What is this thing? Ostensibly it’s the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile…The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected. The mayor of London’s mandate stops at the boundaries of the Square Mile.
George Monbiot, Guardian.co.uk
Powell’s memo inspired what William Simon defined in his book A Time for Truth, a “veritable crusade”, anointing CEOs as high priests of a quasi-religious movement. It established the grounds of the supremacy of the corporation as a sovereign body, whose ultimate concern is maximization of profits. Generating unlimited amounts of money geared toward the propagation of its doctrinal personhood.
A direct consequence of the crusade can be illustrated by a recent Supreme Court decision. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down limitations on “outside spending”, the money spent outside an official campaign. The verdict consecrates the power of money in the media, granting corporations greater access to free-speech. It makes it easier to fund “electioneering communications” and made it much harder for citizens to know who’s actually behind the political contributions.
The Supreme Justices ignored a warning made by Justice Rehnquist in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti in 1977, who explained that it is one thing to grant property rights to corporations but to grant political rights belonging exclusively to human beings “poses special dangers in the political sphere”.