Governmental Personhood

 

The Right is known to profess, correctly, that corporations are people. They are made of people and thus have the same rights. But corporations are also beholden to the same responsibilities as people.

When a corporation does something that would be morally or ethically wrong in the case of an individual, the people and the corporation involved are rightly punished. They may have broken a law, or they simply may lose business because of unsavory practices. Either way, we know when a corporation has done something wrong because it has violated a tenet to which we hold each individual. The rules for corporations don’t change simply because of the label “corporation,” because it is still a “person.”

There is another entity made entirely out of people that is rarely, if ever mentioned — the government. Identically to corporations, the government should be held to the same responsibilities and constraints as any other person. The government is nothing but people, so it too is a person, just like a corporation. Nothing changes its moral and ethical responsibilities by slapping on the label “government.”

The only difference is the perception of the requirements we expect the government to follow. This perception doesn’t change the reality that when the government does something that would be wrong for an individual or corporation to do, that it is actual people doing morally and ethically false acts.

This reality has far-reaching implications, but it is a reality that should be widely known because when people are faced with reality, changes in perceptions tend to follow.

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  1. PHCheese Member
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Mike H, Thanks for your post. It makes so much common sense. Now we must find a way to make it happen. I always have vigilante fantasies after leaving the DMV.

    • #1
  2. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Excellent post Mike H.  I have thought much the same, however the thought has not crossed my mind recently.  Yours is a good reminder to all that action, whether they be performed at an individual level, or within a group, are both subject to scrutiny, validation, or punishment.

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  3. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Whoops.  I must’ve liked my own thoughts so well, I posted them twice.  :)

    • #3
  4. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    I’m reminded that the government is made up of people any time I go to the post office. Then I reflect that these surly, lazy, incompetent people probably (at least some of them) earn more than I do.

    The NY DMV in NYC is actually quite well organized. I’ve had two experiences there: first, getting a driver license (including getting my picture taken), which took about 30 minutes total; and second, registering a vehicle, which, I’m not kidding, took 15 minutes. Both times I went during the week in the middle of the day.

    • #4
  5. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Leftist Charlton Heston: Listen to me, Hatcher. You’ve gotta tell them! Corporations are people! We’ve gotta stop them somehow!

    • #5
  6. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Mike H: The only thing that changes is the perception of the requirements we expect the government to follow. This perception doesn’t change the reality that when the government does something that would be wrong for an individual or corporation to do, that it is actual people doing morally and ethically false acts.

    This reality has far reaching implications, but it is a reality that should be widely known because when people are faced with reality, changes in perceptions tend to follow.

    Rather more seriously, what’s an example of an implication.  Not arguing, just clarifying.

    • #6
  7. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tom Meyer:

    Mike H

    This reality has far reaching implications, but it is a reality that should be widely known because when people are faced with reality, changes in perceptions tend to follow.

    Rather more seriously, what’s an example of an implication. Not arguing, just clarifying.

     This is the thing I was really trying to get at, but I have this problem about being too subtle. I want people to see the radical conclusions for themselves instead of me spelling it out for them and then disagreeing with the whole obvious premiss because they don’t like where the logic leads.

    In this case, the radical conclusion is that government is a kind of legitimized mafia, and just because many people like the status quo and accept it because they assume there are no better alternatives, the consequence is there are people involved in acts that if a regular citizen did the same they would be locked up. To me this is a logical contradiction that means something’s wrong with the status quo.

    • #7
  8. Pilli Member
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Mike H:

    Tom Meyer:

    Mike H:

    This reality has far reaching implications

    Rather more seriously, what’s an example of an implication. Not arguing, just clarifying.

    In this case, the radical conclusion is that government is a kind of legitimized mafia, and just because many people like the status quo and accept it because they assume there are no better alternatives, the consequence is there are people involved in acts that if a regular citizen did the same they would be locked up. To me this is a logical contradiction that means something’s wrong with the status quo.

     You mean like changing the rules about how land is used, causing the value of the land to tank, buying it all up and selling it to someone else for great profit?  Or condemning the land, stealing it from the owner and selling it because it will bring more tax money?  Or stealing someone’s cows because you want the land for another use?  All these examples mean that you no longer own anything the government wants.  Are these the “far reaching implications”?

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  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Pilli:

    Mike H:

    In this case, the radical conclusion is that government is a kind of legitimized mafia, and just because many people like the status quo and accept it because they assume there are no better alternatives, the consequence is there are people involved in acts that if a regular citizen did the same they would be locked up. To me this is a logical contradiction that means something’s wrong with the status quo.

    You mean like changing the rules about how land is used, causing the value of the land to tank, buying it all up and selling it to someone else for great profit? Or condemning the land, stealing it from the owner and selling it because it will bring more tax money? Or stealing someone’s cows because you want the land for another use? All these examples mean that you no longer own anything the government wants. Are these the “far reaching implications”?

    Exactly, people shrug their shoulders because they assume it’s a necessary evil for stability. It would be nice if people simply understood the need for an alternative, even if no one has presented them with a convincing one.

    • #9
  10. twvolck Member
    twvolck
    @twvolck

    “A corporation has neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned.”

    • #10
  11. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: The government is nothing but people, so it too is a person, just like a corporation. Nothing changes its moral and ethical responsibilities by slapping on the label “government.”

    Man is a political animal, as Aristotle said.  We are a social species, we live together in communities, and such communities always and everywhere require both laws and enforcement mechanisms to maintain peace and order.  Hobbes was correct when he said life outside such a community is “nasty, brutish, and short.”

    As our Founders put it, in order to protect our rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  “Government” is not a mere label, it is a real institution with just powers.  It is made up of people, obviously, but our elected officials have a just and legitimate authority to make laws that all citizens are then morally obliged to obey.

    • #11
  12. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    C’mon, Mike.  You should know better.  They’re not crimes when the government does them.

    Might makes right, and the government has a monopoly on might.

    • #12
  13. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    Man is a political animal, as Aristotle said. We are a social species, we live together in communities, and such communities always and everywhere require both laws and enforcement mechanisms to maintain peace and order. Hobbes was correct when he said life outside such a community is “nasty, brutish, and short.”

    As our Founders put it, in order to protect our rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. ”Government” is not a mere label, it is a real institution with just powers. It is made up of people, obviously, but our elected officials have a just and legitimate authority to make laws that all citizens are then morally obliged to obey.

    That’s not what I’m arguing here. Elected officials make laws, fine. It’s perfectly legitimate to punish someone when they steal, but it is not legitimate to steal, as Pilli illustrated. No matter how large the contribution ancient philosophers and the Founding Fathers made towards developing and enforcing objective morality, it doesn’t make them ultimate authorities on all things government.

    Conflating community with government is disturbingly close to “government is the only thing we all belong to.”

    • #13
  14. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I take issue with both major premises of this post.
    First things first: the entire purpose of government is to create an institution with the moral authority to carry out acts which would be immoral if carried out by citizens. Take taxation: assume that food stamps were only given to those who truly needed them. If a needy person stole $20 out of my wallet to feed themselves, that would be immoral. But if the government forces me to fork over $20 of my income which is then transferred to that needy person in the form of food stamps, most of us would not consider that action immoral (although we might disagree with it on a policy matter).
    Certainly we should try to constrain government’s actions to only those we consider reasonably just. But in the end, any government will by necessity have the authority to carry out acts we as citizens cannot. And since our world is imperfect, the execution of some of those acts will always be unjust.
    The logical conclusion of holding government “to the same responsibilities and constraints as any other person” is anarchy.

    • #14
  15. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I also think the notion that “corporations are people” is not only very wrong, but politically dangerous (as shown by the reaction to Mitt Romney’s statement).
    First, the logic that since corporations consist of people, they must be people, is puzzling. Since when is something the exact same as its individual components?
    Furthermore, if corporations are people, why do we have thousands of pages of corporate law?
    The reality is that corporations are not interchangeable with persons, yet do maintain many of the rights of persons. That may make arguments about freedom of religion or campaign spending more difficult, but gross oversimplifications don’t do us any good, either.

    • #15
  16. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: Conflating community with government is disturbingly close to “government is the only thing we all belong to.”

    I did not conflate community with government, I said communities “require both laws and enforcement mechanisms” (i.e. government).

    If I say that humans need water to live, I’m not conflating people and water.  

    • #16
  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    Mike H: Conflating community with government is disturbingly close to “government is the only thing we all belong to.”

    I did not conflate community with government, I said communities “require both laws and enforcement mechanisms” (i.e. government).

    If I say that humans need water to live, I’m not conflating people and water.

     Apologies. We agree on that point, where we disagree is that we must to put up with rights violations (i.e. crimes) in order to have laws and an enforcement mechanism.

    • #17
  18. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: We agree on that point, where we disagree is that we must to put up with rights violations (i.e. crimes) in order to have laws and an enforcement mechanism.

    I don’t think any such thing.

    Let’s start with the enforcement mechanism.  If a man is accused of murder, arrested, convicted in a fair trial by a jury of his peers, and sentenced to life in prison, are the guards who keep him locked in jail violating his rights?

    • #18
  19. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    Mike H: We agree on that point, where we disagree is that we must to put up with rights violations (i.e. crimes) in order to have laws and an enforcement mechanism.

    I don’t think any such thing.

    Let’s start with the enforcement mechanism. If a man is accused of murder, arrested, convicted in a fair trial by a jury of his peers, and sentenced to life in prison, are the guards who keep him locked in jail violating his rights?

     Of course not. Everything the government does is not immoral, but plenty is. For instance, eminent domain when there isn’t an overwhelming general public benefit. Even if it’s technically legal, and all the right people sign off on it, taking someone’s property because you can conceive of a better use of it is wrong, just as it would be wrong for me to take something of yours because I don’t think you’re using it right.

    • #19
  20. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: For instance, eminent domain when there isn’t an overwhelming general public benefit.

    I agree with you on that particular issue (as I think most conservatives would), but I don’t see how your principle that “governments are people” applies or helps us make this case to moderates.  

    It’s always wrong for me, as a private citizen, to seize your property w/o your consent even if I subsequently use it to build a lighthouse or hospital or whatever for the public benefit.  Once you agree that there are some cases, any cases, where eminent domain is justified you’ve agreed that government officials can do things under certain circumstances that private citizens cannot.  How then does the principle help distinguish between the rare cases where use of such government authority is just vs. the many cases where it oversteps proper limits?

    • #20
  21. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    It’s always wrong for me, as a private citizen, to seize your property w/o your consent even if I subsequently use it to build a lighthouse or hospital or whatever for the public benefit. Once you agree that there are some cases, any cases, where eminent domain is justified you’ve agreed that government officials can do things under certain circumstances that private citizens cannot. How then does the principle help distinguish between the rare cases where use of such government authority is just vs. the many cases where it oversteps proper limits?

    Because to not allow the possibility of an exception, we become dogmatic. And when we become dogmatic we open ourselves up to lifeboat and trolley problems that have no real world moral relevance. To allow the possibility of an exception does not mean the requirements will be met.

    Joseph Stanko: I agree with you on that particular issue (as I think most conservatives would), but I don’t see how your principle that “governments are people” applies or helps us make this case to moderates.  

     I alternate between policy and theory posts. This is theory. I’m playing the long game here.

    • #21
  22. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H:  I alternate between policy and theory posts. This is theory. I’m playing the long game here.

    I understand that, and that’s why I’m disagreeing with you.  Our policy views here aren’t that far apart, but I think your theory is wrong.

    • #22
  23. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: Because to not allow the possibility of an exception, we become dogmatic.

     So?  What’s wrong with that?

    Mike H: To allow the possibility of an exception does not mean the requirements will be met.

    The problem with exceptions is that they disprove the theory. 

    • #23
  24. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    Mike H: Because to not allow the possibility of an exception, we become dogmatic.

    So? What’s wrong with that?

    Mike H: To allow the possibility of an exception does not mean the requirements will be met.

    The problem with exceptions is that they disprove the theory.

     Pragmatism can’t be part of a theory?

    • #24
  25. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H: Pragmatism can’t be part of a theory?

    Pragmatism is useful when applying a theory to real life, acknowledging that no theory is perfect and even the best theories are provisional.

    But when discussing theories as theories, exceptions show a flaw in the theory and the need for a better theory to replace it.  And in this case, it seems to me that the political theories I alluded to earlier from Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and the Founding Fathers all account for the exceptional cases while your proposed theory does not.

    • #25
  26. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Joseph Stanko:

    Mike H: Pragmatism can’t be part of a theory?

    Pragmatism is useful when applying a theory to real life, acknowledging that no theory is perfect and even the best theories are provisional.

    But when discussing theories as theories, exceptions show a flaw in the theory and the need for a better theory to replace it. And in this case, it seems to me that the political theories I alluded to earlier from Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and the Founding Fathers all account for the exceptional cases while your proposed theory does not.

     Must be nice to be so unbiased as to be able to determine that. Seriously though, I think the disconnect is that you didn’t realize I was saying it wouldn’t be immoral for an individual to violate another’s property rights in some fathomable extreme case. Property rights are not (completely) absolute. They’re close though.

    • #26
  27. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Liberals’ discomfort with regarding corporations as legal persons should also make them uncomfortable applying personal moral standards to corporations.  But of course it doesn’t.

    • #27

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