a contemplative approach to politics

Two Specimens: Corporations and Government

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 13, 2012

I like Elizabeth Warren. She’s energetic, smart, and refreshing. I think she offers a level of academic insight and contemplation that’s often missing with other senate hopefuls. Her recent comment that has sparked some news got me a thinking. She’s smart and she clearly shows that here:

“No, Mitt, corporations are not people,” Warren said, to applause. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they love, they cry, they dance, they live and they die. Learn the difference.”

The words sound good to me. Of course corporations aren’t people; how could they be? But her phrasing also reminded me of something else: the other side of the coin, the missing link between the Tea Party patriots and those Occupy folks: Government. If the institution was a virtue, then corporations and government would be on opposite ends of Aristotle’s golden mean; the former promoted for profit, the latter for truth. In actuality, however, the comparison is far more nuanced.

Government matches Warren’s truthful critique of the corporation. Our state is not an organ; live, breath, love, it does not. Rather, government is dynamic, shifting in form from one majority party to the next, like a new face on the board of directors. Corporations and government are both institutions commanded by men, not men in and of themselves. They neither have  good nor evil other than that brought to them by the actions of subjectivity.

A democratic government can encourage its citizens to sacrifice no more than a corporation can make its employees embrace a pay cut. But, then again, what can? Well: mothers, fathers, pastors, monks, friends; people we know and love and trust; not the abstract; not a form of virtue or good intentions, as so many flickers on the walls of the cave.

All government can every do is try, while its mortality plays to the tunes of Rome. The first rule of biopolitics, as Ian Hacking smartly pointed out, is that the results never match the intentions. The federal government cannot create self-sacrifice or community by saying we need it.

The doctor was right: we are, unlike corporations and government, individuals. And yes, we have communities. And yes, those communities are constructed. But at least we construct them.

America is quickly approaching a giant fork in the road. Will she choose the road of moderation and sensibility or will she choose the road of Hayek? Ironically, the individual, not our two specimens, will determine the collective path.



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