State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells lies too; and this lie crawls out of its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” That is a lie! (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)
There is quite a lot of talk today about the “State” and the “Corporate State” specifically. Critiquing it mercilessly, Chris Hedges finally asks plaintively, “When did the dead hand of the corporate state become unassailable?” Let us gingerly explore the concepts of the State, the body-politic, and the Corporate State in some detail.
While the primal and intimate bonds of egalitarian kinship find their proper home at the cradle of human social organization, it is difficult accounting for the rather cold and calculating systems of hierarchy that firmly (yet often quietly) manage and manipulate our daily lives: from kinship, through kingship, to the modern State. Whether we consider the marketing marvel of American corporatocracy, the modern Islamic theocracy of Iran, the late Libyan dictatorship of Col. Gaddafi, or a host of other kleptocratic regimes now peopling the globe today – abuse, belligerence, control, corruption, and condescension seem to run rampant. Similar scenarios are repeated, more or less, in one international venue after another. Whether it is revolution in Libya, protests in Syria, riots in Italy, Greece or England, Occupations in the USA, or a military coup in Egypt, the State appears in each case as a source of conflict demanding resolution.
The State (Etat), then, is our first and immediate concern – and yet not always such a clear and present danger. But, what exactly is this entity? Most significantly for our present inquiry, the State is a mechanism dedicated to breaking down (destroying) the primary nurturing bonds of kinship (Plato), in order to replace them with new bonds of citizenship. As Professor Marvin Bram observes,
[In a ‘post-kinship’ world] the nuclear family by itself cannot resist the impingements of modern political and economic institutions… In fact, those modern political and economic institutions could not have been created in the first place unless the original protective body of persons, the clan, was broken into its constituent and susceptible parts, its nuclear families. The first emergence of civilization in the Middle East, and all subsequent civilized nations, were constructed on the break-up of their pre-urban clans. (Recovery of the West)
Or, as Rousseau has suggested, the principal function of a the State (civil society) is deconstruction of the natural man in order to reconstitute him or her with a new nature. In The Social Contract (II, 7), he writes:
[The Legislator must] so to speak change human nature, transform each individual, who by himself is a perfect and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which that individual as it were gets his life and his being; weaken man’s constitution to strengthen it; substitute a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence which we all have received from nature. He must, in a word, take man’s own forces away from him in order to give him forces which are foreign to him and which he cannot use without the help of others. The more the natural forces are dead and annihilated the greater and more lasting the acquired ones…
The reconstitution of the person in the image of a loyal and dependent citizen is the primary concern of the State. Never forget your pledge of allegiance, folks.
Second, the State is itself a legal fiction, an entity given life by some presumed and often implied social contract or arrangement. Under the best of circumstances, such agreement might result in production of an actual document, perhaps one composed by the would-be legislators themselves. Witness the white-wigged, landed, aristocratic gentlemen-attorneys at the Constitutional Convention who founded of our own fair Republic and produced its social contract.
Finally, the State maintains a monopoly on the use of physical force, of police and military powers, to create public order while expanding its own authority and regime (empire). As the principal executive power over the body-politic (corps-etat), the State alone has license to utilize force in achieving compliance with its demands, domestically or internationally. In this respect, it thrives on a condition of “permanent war and fear” (Hedges), leading to ongoing “conquest abroad and repression at home” (Diamond).
And what precisely is the body-politic? While Rousseau, among others, has sometimes referred to the Sovereign or autocratic ruler as the body-politic, it is more appropriate in terms of our current discussion to understand the term as referring to the governed, the citizen-body of the State, the electorate, if you will. Indeed, in key respects the nation itself has often been regarded as a “corporate entity” (OED3) — a corps or body — analogous in many respects to a human body, with the State Sovereign or Legislator as its head. It is the body (corpus) of citizenry comprising the State – “le corps-etat.” These citizens — persons legally subject to the controlling authority of the State — are parts of the body, obliged to perform according to its rule of law. Moreover, as citizen-subjects these persons are educated/indoctrinated according to State curricula, insuring “ideological conformity” (Hedges) and harmonious performance as integrated members within the complex web of politically sanctioned relations. Accordingly, the citizen-subjects serve inadvertently to maintain the State, its legislative authority, as well as their own conditional bondage to the institutional, legalistic, and executive powers of the head. But, as Stanley Diamond clearly notes, we must never confuse the rule of law with the primal authority of kinship-based custom:
[L]aw is symptomatic of the emergence of the State… and cannot be defined as the simple passage of custom into law. Passage…to the legal order represents a transition [radical break] from the primitive kinship-based communities to the class-structured polity. (In Search Of The Primitive: A Critique Of Civilization: 255 -260)
Quoting Paul Radin, Diamond concludes:
[C]ustoms are an integral part of the life of primitive peoples. There is no compulsive submission to them.” (256)
This is a fundamental differentiator between the inherited values of a pre-civilized kinship-based egalitarian clan and those of the civilized State with their enforced imposition and legally binding demands upon a “corporate” body-politic.
And what of the modern corporation? The word “corporation” also derives from the Latin corps (body); it too is a legal fiction, representing a “body” of persons authorized to act collectively as an individual vis-a-vis the State. This legal fiction embodies (corporare) and, hence, serves to protect those persons or actors hidden beneath the cloak of its corporatio, while providing them leeway within the world of the unincorporated masses. The modern corporation, then, is nothing more than an avatar, an apparent manifestation or incarnation of powers lurking behind the corporate veil and its logo, the visible symbol of the corpus or corporate body.
I would argue, however, that the modern corporation, in both its basic structure and functionality, was prefigured in the origins of the State and its relation to the body-politic; the grades of personnel on the corporate organization chart reflective of classes of citizens, and the degree of personal alienation among its employees reflected in the degree of specialization. The embracing of hierarchy, the status-based and largely top-down organizational structure, the focus on unambiguous institutionalization of corporate culture, the inculcation of personnel to the rules of corporate policy and procedure, the flow of ‘corporate politics,’ the re-socialization and full integration of employees as members of the corporate team (corps-etat); these are all elements derived originally from the State.
It is no wonder, then, that the State should now be seen as a corporate entity, in fact, the Corporate State may be the final flowering of its very nature, perhaps signaling the end of history itself, as Francis Fukuyama clearly celebrated in his book of that title. Indeed, power and the accumulation of wealth have always been twin hallmarks of civilized political hierarchy. It only stands to reason that the eleventh-hour union of politics and capital in the creation of modern corporatocracy would take place, so that now the world’s most powerful State military would be clearly and unambiguously under the control of corporate money, doing the bidding of their commercial interests.
Furthermore, it is not so strange to consider corporations as artificial persons. After all, as individual citizens of the State, we too are artificial persons – reconstituted subjects – created by diverse impersonal institutions of indoctrination and socialization. The real difference between “natural” citizens and “corporate” citizens is that the persons – egos and superegos – hiding within the corporate body have extraordinary protections from normal judicial and legal sanctions, just as do those who occupy our State Houses and our federal hierarchies. Us unincorporated members of the body-politic are not so advantaged.
Finally, in some respects, there may be a traceable resemblance between our uncritical allegiances to the modern corporation, the body-politic, or the State, and those more intimate relations obtaining between archaic humanity, their totems and clans. We tend to identify in some manner with corporate sponsors, employers, nation-states, or our favorite football teams, although perhaps not as comfortably as our progenitors once identified with their tribes, bands, and totem animals. Maybe these civilized associations are too abstract and, therefore, somewhat hollow replacements for the participatory relations that once held us comfortably and customarily within a kinship group of real consanguine and egalitarian relations. In any event, such associations seem to survive as remnant transformations of much more primitive conditions, providing us with some strange comfort in the current storm. Go, Tim Tebow and the Broncos! LOL!