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“Corporate Personhood” Highlights Misunderstanding of The Role of The People vs Constitutional Government

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This comment was posted by ML-Implode founder Aaron Krowne in reply to the January 20, 2012 article “Is Reversing Citizens United or Corporate Personhood Enough?” on AlterNet, by Shannon Biggs. The article (in my view) correctly argues for more local control of government and the economy, but errantly demonizes “others” for “causing the problem” through the vehicle of the Constitution. I argue that society must take ultimate responsibility and that what is essentially the search for a scapegoat (an age-old foil) is misplaced, if not dangerous.

I agree with the spirit of this article (more local control), but the argument that the Constitution was in effect a “rights-free coup of the 1%” is nonsense. There is an important lesson in recognizing this (bear with me a minute as I illustrate).

For example, the commerce clause has not even remotely been used in the original intended form, but has been abused and distorted from its original meaning in the extreme. The original meaning of “interstate commerce” was business between the STATE ENTITIES themselves. Nowhere is it indicated in the debates and discussions accompanying the Constitution that any economic activity between individuals (or corporations) residing in different states would fall under the purview of federal regulation (indeed, “commerce” used in this manner had a meaning more like “interaction” or “discourse” in the bureaucratic sense, not “trade”). That would be sheer nonsense, held up against all the other clauses in the Constitution, and more importantly, the principles embodied therein.

That brings me to the broader point: it is quite clear the Constitution put in place a strict hierarchy that went (in order of MOST power/rights to LEAST): the individual, the states, the federal government. How do we know this (and that it’s not “up to interpretation”)? Because the Constitution set out a SPECIFIC, ENUMERATED set of powers (more like responsibilities) of the “general government” FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, then said “everything else (except a few no-no’s like printing money) is up to the states”. To emphasize that, even with this proviso, the individual was still the MOST sovereign, the Bill of Rights was added to underscore specific INDIVIDUAL rights that NEITHER the several states nor the federal government could usurp. In addition, and very underappreciated, is the fact that “privileges and immunities” are referred to TWICE in the Constitution and the Amendments, and intentionally NOT DEFINED. That’s because this is a specific reference to what we would now call “unenumerated individual rights” (nowhere is something similar mentioned for the states).

Now, since we’re so far from following the Constitution, why even bother pointing this out?Because we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we can just write “the rules” on a piece of paper, and expect the most powerful institutions in society (not only government, but any corporate entity, for profit or so-called “nonprofit”) to BE NICE and obey the limitations placed on them, with virtually NO ongoing work or oversight on our part.

I know there is a neo-Articles of Confederation movement out there that argues “the Constitution went too far,” i.e., “it was a coup of the rich land-owners,” blah blah blah — but when you understand what I just said, you see this argument is irrelevant. The Constitution only created a more formal LIMITED role for a central/general government; it didn’t author 95% of what that entity has ARROGATED onto itself today, so it is therefore the VIGILANCE OF THE PEOPLE that is the problem, not the piece of paper they are failing to ENFORCE.

If the people truly believe a central government does not have unlimited, god-like power (which it can then bestow onto corporations and other institutional neer-do-wells), they might want to start acting like it, and move outside their “comfort zones” — like some “Occupy” AND “Tea Party” people have started to do.

There Is 1 Response So Far. »

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful response to my article. I agree with you that the Commerce Clause has far exceeded what the framers intended. However, it is not irrelevant that the framers (who were in fact a small minority of very wealthy landowners) intended the Constitution to set up a system to ensure that decisionmaking would remain in the hands of this monied elite. That the Commerce Clause has been altered “as needed” to suit the monied group is not an accident, it is by design. It does in fact matter what the framers intended the Constitution to do, if we are to seek a governmental structure that represents a majority, what we do to get there matters very much — reform or rewrite is a big question that can only be adequately answered when we understand how its put together and why it was put together as it was. Madison’s verbatim notes from the closed door Constitutional convention expose the agenda of this group. And a read of the Articles of Confederation (which were not a draft, but the original “Constitution” will show that in fact, the process followed by the founding fathers ignored the process for amending the structure — leading many to call the Constitutional process a “coup”. Is that too strong a word, perhaps. But the anti-federalist majority were prescient in their projections of what kind of government the Constitution would lead to, including how the Supreme Court would weigh liberties against elite prescriptions.
    Best, Shannon@globalexchange.org

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