Saturday, July 28, 2007


by: David B. Brooks

One hundred and thirty years ago was the beginning of the end of American democracy. It has been that long ago, and shortly after the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, that a legal precedent was inadvertently set giving corporations the status of a person under the law. Any reasonable, thoughtful American human considering the idea a corporation is the equivalent of a person, a citizen of the US, on first hearing of it is appalled at its absurdity – doesn’t the 14th amendment guarantee each of us ‘the equal protection of the law’? How on earth can you equivocate a legal entity created through state legislative charter for the purpose of doing business being comparable and fairly matched today with even the most lofty of persons, considering the immense size, wealth and resources in the hands of corporations?
But that is the reality we live with and its consequences were brought to our attention by the same court that set us on a course of democratic dissolution by also affirming recently these corporate “persons” are also endowed with some of the people’s Bill Of Rights like free speech. The US supreme Court, forever dominated by elite, old, patrician, white men whose only passion remaining is what money affords, has proclaimed in our most important discourse, political debate, corporations are free to drown out every citizen with a cacophony of deleterious denouncements blaring in our ears right up to our entry through the door of a polling place. The inequality of that undeserved freedom of speech should be so shocking an affront to the people to make them speechless, in fact that is what it does by giving the bullies with loud voices virtual control of political speech.
So am I now going to claim there is a grand secret conspiracy of corporations to take over government. No, even as much insight as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and the science fiction writers that followed them in the last century fearing corporate power would dominate the world, they really did not look very critically into what corporate insiders think. Most of the corporate elite are not at all interested in running this country or any other, they just aren't that ambitious or do they want the responsibility. In fact when corporate charters were first made available by state governments the conditions of those charters very often included the requirement the corporations should be held socially responsible for their actions. But that onus was too burdensome to business people and they turned their lawyers loose on the courts and the halls of state legislatures and obtained a reduction in charter responsibilities to the simple concept that the only obligation a corporation should have is to try to make a profit for the share holders.
Then you might ask, why have corporations had such a diminishing affect on the freedoms of the people, of reducing the protections of the Constitution as understood by the likes of Abraham Lincoln for instance, that this is a government of, by, and for the people. It is because people who are motivated by profit and acquiring economic power, want as much advantage bestowed on them as possible and as little as possible given to competing interests. In other words corporate types have a Libertarian and minimalist view of what government should be, and particularly abhor having the people's interest result in the regulation of corporate activity. But when they get their wish for de-regulation and it results in excesses on the part of some businesses, causing economic instability and loss, where do the corporations turn to be bailed out of their self-inflicted miasma, but to government and the peoples tax money, that great pot of wealth corporations have no right to on any pretext.
The ill effects of corporate activity, like the way insurance, pharmaceutical and healthcare corporations have driven up the cost of healthcare, that if it continues will bankrupt the entire economy, is not seen as the responsibility of the involved corporations, but a necessary and logical outcome of inadvertent consequences of the application of free market forces, or what used to be called laissez faire economics in the past century, until it became synonymous with 'robber baron'. Corporations have no intention of causing harm because they believe the theocracy of Milton Freidman and the other lower priests of the dollar dominion, that a free market is self regulating, so how can they be held accountable for people's suffering? Isn't it the responsibility of every individual, functioning as free agents in this competitive world, to accept what their efforts reward? To corporate doublethink individuals are responsible for themselves and neither the corporations nor the government should be accountable.

Just about every working person in America knows the conditions of employment, particularly by a corporation, that they involve the suspension of much of what you have learned as a citizen are our rights as an individual in a democratic society. Employers do not consider employees as equals, but as subordinate to the business, and business of course cannot be run efficiently and profitably by any other means than the autocratic rule of the owners and their delegated factotums – executives, managers or whatever polite term required to distinguish workers from the elite of the corporate culture. Isn’t the litany of corporate hegemony in this country that the business of America is business, and what’s good for General Motors is good for the country? Well that’s maybe the way it used to be, but little by little historical events have played into corporate hands, like the need to build planes, guns and ships in the 40’s to win the War, brought wage and price controls, particularly limiting the power of labor unions, which never fully recovered as the 2nd WW, slid into the Korean conflict, and the Cold War and then Vietnam; national security became the perennial rationale of business lobbyists and corporate lawyers to continuously tilt the balance in favor of more profit by reducing the cost of labor even if it requires undermining unions and the collective leverage of workers to negotiate equitably.
The US Constitution’s Framers provided protection of property a similar status as other democratic rights. But in that era when written, property was seen differently, particularly by Thomas Jefferson, than it is today. Property in 18th century America was considered the means of production, and provided the owner of a farm for instance, the ability to be productively self-sufficient and independent. In fact this concept was acted on shortly by the Federal Government in the Homestead Act and its many renewals over a number of years, which was intended by a gift of land to citizens to fulfill each Americans ability to be independently self-sufficient and produce value for himself and the nation. Now we have a neo-con, libertarian ideology of an “ownership society” based on the mortgage of a costly house which produces nothing and consumes a great deal, and usually remains the property (the mortgage that is) of a faceless corporation for most of a citizen’s life time, if he or she is unlucky, all of it.
How did the ideas and concepts of democratic values relative to property change while the cultural values of American society have held onto much of the traditional values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? How did Americans come to be so accepting of a corporate culture that is decidedly authoritarian and hostile to democracy? I think in part because American public education goals have changed and have been skewed to favor only teaching those subjects businesses value in employees like reading, writing and math, and at the expense of those democratic value laden subjects like civics, government and US history. Americans are encouraged by a mass, corporate owned media, to be mindless, passive consumers of conventional “wisdom” in lieu of ever thinking for themselves. This is reflected in a recent PEW social survey that indicates since the advent of the internet in ’89, American have actually gotten dumber and dumber.
In a review of a recent documentary film called The Corporation it is pointed out corporate culture in America since 1877 has acquired a perverse character:

Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation is a 'person* in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV. the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.

Self -interested, amoral. callous and deceitful, a corporation's operational principles make it anti —social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis- the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.

That corporate culture is anathema to democratic values and humanistic ethics is a lesson that should have been realized as the most critical legacy of the Second World War. But instead Americans reveled in their military prowess, daring do, and post-war pursuit of pent-up materialism, blithely forgetting the free world narrowly escaped a regression into a dark era of authoritarianism that would obliterate all of the gains individuals and societies had built on the ideas of the Enlightenment. As a reminder as well as an insight into the parallels between corporatism and fascism we need only go back to the 1932 published definition of Fascism by Benito Mussolini with the help of Giovanni Gentile:

Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism -- born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision -- the alternative of life or death....

...The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others -- those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after...

...Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production.... Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied - the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society....

After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage....

...Fascism denies, in democracy, the absur[d] conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of "happiness" and indefinite progress....

...iven that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority...a century of Fascism. For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State....

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State....

...The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone....

...For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose this spontaneous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century, and would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century - repudiated wheresoever there has been the courage to undertake great experiments of social and political transformation; for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Fascism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.

Later on after Benito Mussolini had secured his power in Italy, he was comfortable providing a more candid and much more to the point definition of Fascism “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Just substitute “corporation” for the word State in the above definition and the nature of modern corporate culture acquires an understanding of why corporatism as “globalism” has been denounced and reviled by mass protests in recent years at every meeting of the WTO or G8.