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Corporate Sovereignty

Corporate Sovereignty: Law and Government under Capitalism

Joshua Barkan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Corporate Sovereignty
    Book Description:

    Refinery explosions. Accounting scandals. Bank meltdowns. All of these catastrophes-and many more-might rightfully be blamed on corporations. In response, advocates have suggested reforms ranging from increased government regulation to corporate codes of conduct to stop corporate abuses. Joshua Barkan writes that these reactions, which view law as a limit on corporations, misunderstand the role of law in fostering corporate power. In Corporate Sovereignty, Barkan argues that corporate power should be rethought as a mode of political sovereignty. Rather than treating the economic power of corporations as a threat to the political sovereignty of states, Barkan shows that the two are ontologically linked. Situating analysis of U.S., British, and international corporate law alongside careful readings in political and social theory, he demonstrates that the Anglo-American corporation and modern political sovereignty are founded in and bound together through a principle of legally sanctioned immunity from law. The problems that corporate-led globalization present for governments result not from regulatory failures as much as from corporate immunity that is being exported across the globe. For Barkan, there is a paradox in that corporations, which are legal creations, are given such power that they undermine the sovereignty of states. He notes that while the relationship between states and corporations may appear adversarial, it is in fact a kind of doubling in which state sovereignty and corporate power are both conjoined and in conflict. Our refusal to grapple with the peculiar nature of this doubling means that some of our best efforts to control corporations unwittingly reinvest the sovereign powers they oppose.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8646-9
    Subjects: Economics, Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
    (pp. 1-18)

    Even a cursory glance at recent headlines indicates the social, political, and economic importance of corporations, along with major problems concerning their regulation. In the United States, events such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2001–2 accounting scandals highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the dramatic impacts of corporate decisions on local, national, and global economies. Likewise, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the controversies over the actions of corporate military contractors in the Iraq War are only the most recent in a growing list of corporate abuses of the environment and human life. That severe...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The Sovereign Gift
    (pp. 19-40)

    It is not uncommon to read comments on multinational corporations and economic globalization that begin with reference to the massive trading companies of the early modern era. The English and Dutch East India companies, the Royal African Company, and the Hudson Bay Company, among others, are often presented as the first multinationals, posing political and economic problems that are useful for understanding issues in contemporary international business. For some, these corporations, backed by European military power, provide a useful model for examining relations of exploitation between the global North and South. Others emphasize the differences between these older corporations, with...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Property
    (pp. 41-64)

    Today, we seldom think about corporate authority deriving from the sovereign grant of a corporate charter. In an age in which incorporation has become standardized and a normal legal device for business, we focus on more proximate and visible sources of corporate authority, namely, the managers running corporations and the shareholders and boards of directors that employ them and, at least nominally, direct their actions. This contemporary vision treats corporations as private institutions, governed by relations of property and contract, owned by shareholders, and managed by directors. Furthermore, it suggests that while laws are important in establishing a broad framework...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Personhood
    (pp. 65-86)

    Matt Wuerker’s drawing “Corpenstein” can be seen as part of a history of anticorporate rhetoric (Figure 10). Echoing earlier presentations of corporations as monsters, Wuerker draws the corporation as Frankenstein’s creature, depicting the act in which the monster’s lifeless body is given human form. It is not Doctor Frankenstein coordinating this freakish science project but judges and “big corporate lawyers” with gavels and briefcases in hand, moving the levers of the “Supreme Court,” an apparatus that transforms the people’s power into its opposite: the living dead monster, “Globomegacorp.” Meanwhile, “the people” uselessly grasp the “Bill of Rights,” as she is...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Territory
    (pp. 87-110)

    Within Western modernity, sovereignty has implied territorial control.¹ Max Weber made territory fundamental to his “ideal typical” definition of state sovereignty, as “a characteristic of the state.” His argument that states claim monopolies on the legitimate use of physical force explicitly stated that this power was exercised “within a given territory.” State legitimacy and right therefore depended on territorial boundaries. And politics, which Weber defined as the struggle over “the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state,” was a similarly territorial concept.²

    If territory is literally the ground of sovereign power, and if corporate power...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Responsibility
    (pp. 111-138)

    By the first decades of the twentieth century, lawyers, jurists, and political thinkers had created a form of corporate sovereignty that supported a powerful assemblage designed for the production and realization of capitalist value. Within the context of U.S. national law, this assemblage depended on a direct rendering of the subject of rights in terms of its productive capacity, extending constitutional rights and privileges to those lawmakers viewed as providing for the material basis of national life, including corporations. In the international context, the failure to ground an increasingly global capitalist order in a corporate subject of liberal law left...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Corporate University
    (pp. 139-160)

    The preceding chapters have argued that corporate power and political sovereignty are genealogically linked and therefore unintelligible without one another, and they have explained the political implications that follow from such an argument. In particular, I have set out to demonstrate that the problem of sovereign abandonment reappears not only through the exercise of corporate power but even, and more alarmingly, in some of the best attempts to limit corporate power and redirect corporations toward more socially beneficial ends. Readers might understandably take from this the politically paralyzing notion that corporations or corporate power are somehow impervious to social control,...

    (pp. 161-166)

    Foucault’s final lecture of his 1975–76 course at the Collège de France provides a trenchant formulation of our predicament. That year’s course began with the proposition of inverting Clauswitz’s famous statement that war is politics by other means. By focusing on politics as an extension of war, Foucault was able to lay bare the way the right of life and death has been constitutive of political order, leading from the sovereign power to kill to both disciplinary and biopolitical forms of control. As previously stated, once these two modes of governing are articulated to the norm, they take hold...

    (pp. 167-170)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 171-222)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 223-244)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)