What If We Didn’t Believe Corporations Existed?
It is axiomatic that the beginning of ideology is perception. If I do not perceive, for example, continuous identity (see Parfitt), then the concept of personal responsibility is at least troubled. If I perceive God to exist–with good intentions–some other beliefs flow from that. If I perceive a difference between acts and omissions, the ideology of “first, do no harm” is sensible; if I perceive no such difference it is not. And, within the realm of law, if I perceive markets and government as opposite, or private and public as distinct, various possible sets of ideologies flow from that. One cannot protect markets from the government if markets are the government, and one cannot protect the public sphere from the private if there is no difference. Some of these kinds of perceptions can be tested for their truthiness–others are neither true not true, just sets of perception categories.
It becomes easy, then, to support ideologies we are skeptical about by using the rhetorical framework which assumes a set of perceptions.
Something I’ve been wondering about recently: the role of the perception of the existence of corporations in ideology. Corporations can be described as existing–as most modern ideologies do–or there is no such thing as corporations, there are merely rights and obligations and liabilities that attach to people due to rules. The collection of rules can be corporate law without having to reify the corporation as a particle of the political and economic imagination. I haven’t fully worked this out yet, but my general, background guess is that the language of “corporations aren’t people,” much like “don’t think like an elephant,” actually creates the personification of corporations, which helps maintain and strengthen the sense of their existence–their inevitable existence–and the strengthening of the set of rights related to individuals because of corporate law. ”Corporations are evil,” or “are profit maximizing”–all do the same thing–they anthropomorphize a set of rules. That anthropomorphizing both condemns and naturalizes at the same time.
Inasmuch as some corporate rules might be socially beneficial, and others not, some de-naturalization of the corporate descriptor seems like it would be useful. In other words, trying to talk about corporate law without reifying corporations might actually do more to open up our imagination about corporate law.