by Nova Spivack
July 28, 2004
Permission granted to distribute or reproduce freely.
Should there be a Separation of Corporation and State?
Today our American democracy faces a new threat to its integrity, a threat even greater than terrorism in the long-term. This threat is the corporation. In this essay I propose that it may be time to introduce a new principle into our democracy and a new amendment to our Constitution - a formal "Separation of Corporation and State."
To illustrate this point, consider an earlier "separation" that has been essential to our democracy -- the Separation of Church and State. What would America be like if the Constitution did not provide for the separation of Church and State? Would it be a nation that protects and celebrates freedom, equality and pluralism? Or would it be a nation, not so unlike those presently under the sway of fundamentalism, run by religious lobbies, religious police, and fanatical extremists?
I have nothing against religion - in fact I am religious myself - but I don't think religion should have anything to do with government, or vice-versa. This is in fact one of the key ideas in our Constitution. Many of our Founding Fathers were deeply religious, but they recognized the need to make a clear distinction between their religious ideals and their political ideals. Thus over time a Constitutional separation of Church and State was formed -- a separation that would not only protect the integrity and objectivity of government, but also that of religious institutions.
However, although they were well-aware of the risks of mixing politics and religion, our nation's early Constitutional scholars were not as concerned with the risks of mixing politics and business. And why should they have been? At the time corporations were not nearly as independent or influential as monarchies and the Church. They were not considered threats. It would not be until the much later advent of the Industrial Age that corporations became a serious political force to reckon with. But one might well wonder whether our Constitution would have included protections against corporate influence had corporations been more of a force at the time it was devised.
Today corporations are becoming the single most powerful forces shaping our societies and governments. While corporations have great potential to benefit society and even governments, they are entirely selfish entities - they have no accountability to the public, and no responsibility to ensure the public good. A government that is influenced by corporations can easily become a government that caters to corporations, a government that is effectively run by corporations. Such a government is not representative of its people anymore. It is therefore not a democracy.
Corporate influence on government, if not carefully regulated, is a threat to democracy. It is a threat to the American way of life. This threat to democracy may not be as dramatic as terrorism, but in the long-term it may be far more damaging to society. In fact this threat was foreseen by some of our most visionary leaders:
"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong it's reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." -- Abraham Lincoln
"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Because this threat was impossible to envision at the time our nation was formed, our Constitution was not designed with specific countermeasures and as a result our leaders, our government, our democracy, and our citizens, are presently without protection from political influence and manipulation by corporate interests. The danger of this is that our government may be run by corporations, or at least key decisions may be based on commercial interests. But is it democratic for national decisions to be driven by corporations that are only responsible to their shareholders? Are We The People represented by the corporate decision-makers and politicians they fund?
Are we living in a true democracy when many of our highest elected officials continue to receive salaries and bonuses and hold stock in, large corporations they formerly worked for? Are we living in a true democracy when our leaders are able to award lucrative no-bid contracts to their former employers? Are we living in a true democracy when public policy is influenced by corporate-backed political lobbies that spend millions of dollars to influence key decisions? Are we living in a true democracy when the same people who start our wars benefit financially from weapons sales and reconstruction contracts? Is this ethical? Is this what our Founding Fathers intended? Is our Shining City on the Hill starting to get a bit tarnished?
I ask you then: Is it time to modify the Constitution to specifically provide for a formal "Separation of Corporation and State" in our democracy? And if we don't take action, can our American democracy survive?