Consider the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The word “person” denotes a body. We have many names for what we are, both individually and collectively, but when we speak of a person, we mean a body. That is why a performer advertises a concert as “Live and In Person.”
Furthermore, a corporation (corpus being the Latin word for body) is “a person in the eyes of the law.” Thus, says the Supreme Court, a corporation’s right of free speech cannot be trampled by campaign finance laws. Though a corporation’s decisions and actions may be taken by the men and women who are its officers, it is the corporation that has legal standing and legal rights and responsibilities. Jamie Diamond (may he rot in hell) may be the Chief Executive Officer, but it is Morgan Stanley Chase that stands before the law and must pay the penalties: Diamond himself gets off without losing a penny of his billions in “compensation” for his O-so-valuable service to the great person, the corporation.
So what exactly could a Clinton or Bush or Obama or Reagan mean when they carry on about “personal” responsibility? They must mean that the banks should pay to the government some fraction of what they have stolen from the people. Certainly the officers of the corporation – or the politicians, generals, et al. – are not the “persons” to be forced to pay. The welfare recipient to whom the State sends an extra check by mistake, and who (“FRADULENTLY” they cry) buys food with that money, must be made to pay full restitution for the welfare recipient is the person responsible.
Rumsfeld sat before a Senate committee and said that he took “full responsibility” – and nothing happened.
“I’ll believe that a corporation is a person,” goes the joke, “when Texas executes one.”
The Supreme Court has struck down limitations on the amounts of money individuals can waste by contributing to political campaigns. The Left is up in arms, wailing over the corpse of “democracy”, but I think that the Court has indeed ruled in accordance with the Constitution. The Constitution is not the Declaration of Independence, that troubling bit of romantic rhetoric.
The Constitution is the Law of the Land. Enshrined therein are a couple of principles that the Left would rather forget. The first is that only men who own real estate should be able to vote. The second is that, for the sake of counting the population represented by each such landowner, Negroes owned by the landowner should each be counted as three-fifths of a “person.” If you are worried about buying votes, you might consider that the Constitution allows that anyone who buys more slaves thereby buys more representation in Congress.
Unpleasant as it may be to hold these principles in view while considering the meaning of the Law of the Land, anything else is dishonest. And holding them in view one must admit that the government of these United States has been since its inception an institution for the wealthy – in the 18th Century for the landed gentry and in the 21st for the moneyed. After all, a government exists to regularize the affairs of and adjudicate disputes among the owners of things (including, in the case of our constitution, the owners of people.)
Folks on the Left are fond of pointing out, rightly, that one cannot legislate morality. Indeed, the morality of a nation is not the provenance of its government but rather of its church or (again in our case) its churches. On a still lower plane, customs, mores, and etiquette govern most daily interactions among men and women, and disagreements about these things are usually hashed out within the disputants’ circles of family and friends. The mechanisms which regulate everyday social behavior are ones of reputation, shame, gossip, and “the court of public opinion.”
It is often said that “possession is 90% of the law.” Many take that sentence to mean one who has hold of something is 90% of the way to establishing his or her rightful ownership of it. In fact it means that 90% of the laws on the books concern questions of ownership: how it is established, maintained, and transferred and what an owner’s rights and obligations are vis a vis that which is owned. The Constitution sets forth the rules by which laws are enacted, executed, and adjudicated in the United States. As such, the document really governs only the affairs of the owners of things. In short, our government exists to act as umpire or referee in conflicts that might arise among those who control of wealth of our society.
Put another way, “capitalist democracy” is a system in which all capitalists have a vote. The government does not concern itself with the lives of the poor; so why should they have a voice in running the government? And thus shouldn’t the wealthy be free to use their wealth to shape the government?
Once again, I have reconnected with a friend from my youth whom I have not seen or corresponded with for decades thanks to this blog. Today I had lunch with CH, a friend from my high school and college days, who informed me of the origin of the personhood of corporations. “It seems,” my friend said, “that in the 1890's (I think the case was Santa Clara v Southern Pacific) a judge in the pocket of Southern Pacific bought the argument that the 14th Amendment should be construed to define corporations as "persons" and therefore to grant them the protections afforded by the Bill Of Rights.”
[I note that Southern Pacific was at that time the personal possession of Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins. So the Big Four, as they were known, were well served by their judicial creature, who created a “person” by the name of Southern Pacific who could be liable for everything the four did, leaving them immune to prosecution. ]
“What's also odd,” CH went on to say, “ is that the current court considers themselves to be "originalists" yet they buy the argument that the 14 Amendment, which was enacted to protect the recently freed slaves, should be interpreted to allow to give personhood to corporations.”
And I might add another oddity: the word "person" comes from the Greek word for "mask". The corporation as a mask behind which individuals can hide and thereby escape liability for their actions --
As I said at the beginning, "Ever and always look at the language."
See also “Democratic Capitalism”.