Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.
President Grover Cleveland, State of the Union Address, December 3, 1888
We live in a corporatized world. Most of us either own stocks, have an IRA account, are a member of a union or church, live in an incorporated city, work for an NGO, own or work for a small, medium size business or a transnational corporation. These are different types of corporations. Some are non-profit (501c3), like unions, churches, NGOs, etc, and other are for profit corporations. The non-profit bodies are organized for public good and don’t have earnings as an ultimate concern, whereas moneyed corporations are comprised of shareholders who have an interest in profit oriented enterprises. That being said, moneyed corporate power has increased consistently ever since court challenges brought into question the nature of a human being, a natural person, versus that of a corporation, an artificial person. This began during the era of the robber barons with legal battles that have created a favorable environment for corporations eventually leading to the emergence of the Investor State. An outcome made possible by promoting an ambiguous understanding of the term person.
Many of the legal challenges began in the nineteenth century by lawyers who filed successive legal challenges on behalf of dominant railroad corporations, arguing that a corporation is a legitimate person with similar Fourteenth Amendment rights that were granted to former slaves. Since then, moneyed corporate influence has increased in proportion to its economic power as evidenced by successive Supreme Court victories in favor of corporate rights. These victories were matched with the successful corporate lobbying of congress. All of this has led to a corporate doctrine that has permeated our cultural mindset and changed the social, religious and political landscape of power.
Keep in mind that a corporation is invisible, immortal and in the case of the body of the transnational corporations, it is omnipresent and omnipotent. These attributes endowed this emerging power as a quasi-religion, making the transnational corporations, that has transcended into the “Investor State”, the most powerful economic body in the world. As a result it functions like a subliminal deity. In that capacity it has replaced institutionlized religions as the major purveyor of mediated doctrine settings the standard for human models of behavior. Role models that were typically managed by traditional religious institutions.
The following is a brief interpretation of how it happened.
Prior to his nomination as Supreme Court Chief Justice in 1874, Morrison Remick Waite was a successful attorney representing large corporations and railroads companies. In 1886 he presided over the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company supreme court case involving unpaid property taxes by the Southern Railroad Company. The case was ruled in favor of the defendant based on the argument that the Santa Clara county had no jurisdiction including the value of fences siding the tracks in its tax assessment of property value levied on the railroad company.
Nothing about this ruling is remarkable in itself and would have been lost in the annals of jurisprudence, except for a controversial comment made by Chief Justice Waite which has been used as legal justification in favor of moneyed corporations ever since. The statement was not part of a ruling, nor part of the opinion of a majority or minority of the Court; nonetheless it’s been accepted as quasi-legal precedent. Keep in mind that the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company case was not about a ruling on the meaning that any person, including a corporation, had equal rights protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The chief legal adviser for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company was a lawyer and former judge named S. W. Sanderson. He was know for his view that a corporation was a person under the Constitution and should be treated the same as natural person ̶ a human being. He used this argument to prove that the provisions of the Constitution and laws of California are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, an opinion that was most likely shared by the Chief Supreme Court Justice who made this comment in the case:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.
The lead lawyer for the Santa Clara County was a man named Delphin M. Delmas, also known as the silver-tongued orator of the west. He made a passionate plea against the fallacy put forth by the defense:
To my mind, the fallacy, if I may be permitted so to term it, of the argument lies in the assumption that corporations are entitled to be governed by the laws that are applicable to natural persons. That, it is said, results from the fact that corporations are [artificial] persons, and that the last clause of the of the Fourteenth Amendment refers to all persons without distinction.
One of the reasons the quote by Chief Justice Waite gained accepted legal status is because it was recorded by a court reporter named J. C. Bancroft Davies as a head note and published in a collection of Supreme Courts Reports (1885-1886). Davies held several jobs throughout his career. Among them he was a journalist, an assistant secretary of State and a US diplomat. He was also the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company. In 1883 he became the Reporter of Decision of the Supreme Court of the United Sates. In his capacity of recorder he published and interpreted Waite’s statement above as follows:
The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
To this day the non-ruling head note of corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment has been inadvertently accepted as a matter-of-fact.
I leave it to the reader to interpret Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and make his or her own mind as to the meaning of any person which is believed here to refer to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
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.
In order to redress what is considered to be a misinterpretation of the meaning of any person, various semantic and literary analogies are used to help clarify essential differences between a natural and artificial person.
Dr. Frankenstein and the creation of a person in his own image
In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the author recounts the story of a science student named Victor Frankenstein who creates a person in his own image; an Adam of his labors. This creation turns out to be a vindictive killer responsible for the murders of Victor’s brother and his childhood friend. The killings were committed by the creature as an act of revenge for being lonely and rejected by society because of his hideous looks. As a result the monster demands that Victor create a female companion to cure his loneliness and to enable him to procreate like a human being. Feeling threatened, Victor at first agrees and proceeds to create a mate, but then relents and destroys the female companion out of fear that they will procreate and create havoc in society. The monster finds out the doctor’s action. In retaliation he murders Victor’s newly wed wife Elisabeth. The story ends with Dr. Frankenstein in pursuit of the monster in order to destroy his wretched creation. After a long chase Victor dies in the North Pole without completing his mission. Upon finding out of his creator’s death, the creature wanders in the freezing wilderness seeking death.
Shelley’s book is a literary creation and the creature is a fictional person. In a similar fashion a corporation is a literary creation, more precisely a juridical artifact described as an artificial person. Both of these creations are fictional and are made in the image of man. The term man here does not relate to gender but to the creative properties of an individual being.
There is an essential distinction between a naturally born being and an artificial person, a creature of the law. The first is a unique individual while the second consists of two or more individuals, referred to as a “body” which is synonymous with corporation.
The original meaning of person -persona- is a mask used by an actor playing a role in a drama or in life. Hence, it is a guise played by a character in a play or movie. This sense has somehow changed since the nineteenth century when the term person came to be understood as a human being. The period corresponds to the growth of moneyed corporations during the Industrial Revolution exemplified by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company legal case.
The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called the corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they posses, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out money-making policy.
William Jennings Bryan
What relevance does a quote from a congressman who lived in an era when it was acceptable to make Christian references to God to a world that is overwhelmingly secularized? Foremost, it shows how far secularization has unfolded in our cultures today.
Secondly, a corporation is man’s creation. In this sense it is a legally modified organism that is challenging the premise of creation described in Genesis that God created Adam and Eve in his image. He created them male and female in order that they procreate the divine essence of life to reproduce, multiply and take dominion over the world. The argument here is that although the corporation is comprised of human beings, and as such is a body, it is not an individual and does not have the biological capacity to reproduce.
For the purpose of this analysis, I rely on basic functions of religion as they are appear in our cultures. They relate to the Roman experience of religio centered on a dynamic attribute of the sacred that establishes a separation, a buffer zone if you will, between beings and things that are sacred from beings and things that are common and ordinary. The word religion has many definitions and varies with various religious perspectives and experiences. The function of separation between the sacred and the profane is nonetheless found in most religions past and present. As a parenthesis, there are several examples of separation between the chosen/holy/sacred, and the common/unclean/impure in the Jewish holy scriptures, but there is no Hebrew word for religion. Whereas, in the New Testament the term is used as the scriptures were written in Greek by people who lived under the influence and control of the Roman empire.
Let’s steer away from a Judeo-Christian concept of procreation and use a more pagan example of fertility. We owe the Romans the terms for religion, person, corporation and Genius. The meaning of soul ̶ animous/anima ̶ is closely related to the word Genius, meaning to cause to be born. Genius is a specific attribute of male fertility distinct from the female property of giving birth represented by the goddess of childbirth Juno/Lucina. Genius is a unique personality, a physical and moral sum each one of us embodies at birth. According to the Romans, this essence of life has a divine origin. Hence, Genius signifies two converging principles, life common to all human beings and the unique aspect of life each individual incarnates when we are born. Every human being is unique yet part of the whole mystery of life. The essence of life is immortal. And although the individual dies, life goes on after his or her death through the natural and human capacity to procreate.
In a more related context, the Declaration of Independence is considered a sacred text. It is sacred precisely because it is set apart from other ordinary documents on the grounds that it outlines the creation and the historical foundation of the United States of America. In similar fashion to our analogies of religion, the text describes the act of Separation from the Political Bands of the king and corporations that have abused and usurped the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of We the People. More to the point the document was signed by the Founding Fathers. In terms of literary criticism the term Fathers is a metonymy: A figure of speech that refers to procreating fathers and mothers having children born in the United States constituting the people.
A metonymy is a figure of speech that uses one word of one thing for another of which it is an attribute; like, the White House for the people working in the oval office; or, church as the physical building referring to the worshipers in the temple.
Before we go any further, the meaning of secularization needs clarification. It is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by institutionalized religion in society. This idea about secularism is somewhat misleading and is the result of an assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. However, secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. What the term implies is that the core function of religion has morphed elsewhere. In periods of cultural change the sacred inconspicuously metamorphoses in other hierarchical power schemes.
The following are some examples of the sacred from one religious/sphere to another. They show how corporate empowerment was made possible by the conversion of language. Words and symbols that are the creative endeavor and human heritage are being converted into highly protected logos and corporate trademarks that are legally protected with unlimited financial resources.
The first Olympiads were essentially a religious ceremony created in honor of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon. Today the Olympiad is an international sporting event involving most countries on the planet. They have been taken over by official sponsors consisting of the biggest transnational corporations in the world. The games have the same function as they did originally; namely celebrating competition, victory, and instituting order and hierarchy. This is accomplished by not only separating the contestants from the audience, the victors from the competition, but also separating the special status of the gods and winners from the masses. Mainly, the Games were a ritual to commemorate the status of the gods. Today the separation consists in elevating corporate trademarks and logos from the masses of ordinary words and symbols. Nike for instance, who was the Greek god of victory, is today the name of a powerful transnational corporation.
December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became the date of the celebration of 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 a holiday switches back and forth between different religious belief systems. It is not the intrinsic nature of certain beings and things or their representations that are sacred, it is the underlying incursion of power established by hierarchy that proceeds to separate and confer different levels of status of sacredness on beings and things.
The word economy has evolved from a theological meaning of the divine government of the world to the art of managing the resources of the people and of its government. The conversion is attributed to renowned anti-clerics like Voltaire and his contemporaries who were successful business men. Following the aftermath of the Reformation and the development of the Renaissance, a wave of freethinkers and monarchs from various countries challenged the moral and political power of the Church in Rome. During the declining power of the Holy See, kings felt justified in confiscating the Church’s vast property in order to finance their conquests and wars. Hence, the original meaning of secularization was the confiscation of Church property by potentates or worldly powers for monetary ends. This confiscation also applies to religious language, symbols and icons.
In most minds Santa Claus is an American Icon. This notion overshadows the fact that Santa is a conversion of Saint-Nicholas. The result of fictional alterations of an historical figure created by advertising, framing the image of the Santa as we know him today. Only since 1773 has he been known as Santa Claus and perceived as a secular figure rather than a saint. The transformation of Saint-Nicholas was made possible with the help of various media; newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. Santa became a mythical icon conjured from a patchwork of different sources no longer Saint-Nicholas or Sinterklaas. He is an entirely different person transformed into a venerated icon by the media. His mission is no longer to help children in distress but to be a consecrated agent of marketable goods.
From its early settlement and until the nineteen sixties, the US was 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 holy-day. Like the Sabbath, it was set apart by God for a time of worship and rest, separate from the other ordinary days. With the spread of TVs in people’s living rooms the sacred attribute of Sunday would slowly change and be phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Market forces and secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time and worship elsewhere.
The decline of institutional religious influence over the population was made possible by the advent of media. The preaching of the good news shifted from the clergyman in church to TVs in people’s living rooms and in temples like the theaters. This event promoted a proliferation of new religious movements (NRM). Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock star phenomenon and the professional sports system, endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media. The important thing to remember is the function of the sacred: To separate and establish a boundary between the sacred sphere of the promoters/idols/stage and the followers/fans/audience. In Kanye West’s song I am a god. It is not West who is a god but his image consecrated by the the media that is a god.
Marshall McLuhan explained: “The “content” of any medium is always another medium… the “medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and forms of human association and action.”
The content of mass-media is a myriad of moneyed corporations. Its message shapes human association that eventually evolved into the Investor State. Although a new comer, the the legal notion of Investor State is the result of consistent legal battles, political lobbying and media promotion of the artificial person impersonating a human being. The corporate empowerment has currently assumed a dominant function in the economy and in politics as evidenced by the involvement of the Investor State in trade agreements with countries around the world.
As we conclude, we as citizens have a civic duty to question the incursion of transnational corporations in the public sphere and inquire about the impending challenges posed by the Investor State. Among the questions we need to ask is: What legitimacy does this Investor State have? A state is by definition an organized political community living under a single system of government. On whose authority did the Investor State become a state? Who are the members of this corporate body and who are its financial backers?
It is important to stress that transnational corporations are indispensable and have an essential role to play in the world economy. However, their role is to be the servant of the people not the people’s masters. A public debate is needed in order to clarify the function and limits of the Investor State in respect to elected governments to establish a balanced and healthy relationship between the rights of human beings and those of corporations.