Noam Chomsky on Corporations

Political Activist

Corporations are legal persons with more rights than people

Over the years, the privileges granted to these state-created private tyrannies have been extended, primarily by courts. Corporations are legally persons under the law, with rights far beyond those of human beings.

In the 2010 Supreme Court 5-4 decision on Citizens United, Chief Justice Roberts selected a case that could easily have been settled on narrow grounds, and maneuvered the Court into using it for a far-reaching decision that, in effect, permits corporate managers to buy elections directly, instead of using more indirect means.

Corporate campaign contributions are a major factor in determining the outcome of elections, and the same is sure to be true of the virtually unlimited advertising for candidates now permitted by the Court. This alone is a significant factor in policy decisions, reinforced by the enormous power of corporate lobbies and other conditions imposed by the very small sector of the population that dominates the economy.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 31-32 , Jun 1, 2010

Since 1700s, grasping businessmen overwhelmed US government

James Madison, one of the most influential framers at the Constitutional Convention, explained and stressed and urged that the primary responsibility of government was, in his words, to "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Therefore, democracy is a threat.

By 1792, Madison condemned what he called the "daring depravity" of the time. He was pre-capitalist. He thought that a class of enlightened aristocrats would develop, but it turned out to be a class of grasping businessmen, who, as he put it, were becoming "the tools and tyrants" of government. They were "overwhelming" the government with their power, and they were being "bribed" by it as well. Tools and tyrants. Madison didn't like that. And in fact, that is a pretty good picture of what is going on in Washington right now.

Source: Dialogues, by Gov. Jerry Brown, p.214-5 , Feb 12, 1996

Most believe government is run for the special interests

You can find analogs to the current period. The 1920s and the 1950s were partial analogs. The Gay Nineties, the last decade of the last century, were very similar. There were times, like now, where enormous power was shifting towards very narrow sectors of wealth and privilege whose goal was to undermine functioning democracy, to convert the society into roughly a 2-tiered society.

These wealthy sectors also want to move the power to make decisions into hands that are invisible and unaccountable to the public.

Inequality is getting pretty close to the level of the 1920s, right before the stock market crash. Democratic forms are functioning less and less well, and what's more, the population knows it. Over 80% of the population now says, in polls, that the government is run for the few and for the special interests, not for the people. That figure used to run a steady 50% for many years. It's just shot up to over 80%, revealing a tremendous alienation and cynicism.

Source: Dialogues, by Gov. Jerry Brown, p.218 , Feb 12, 1996

Corporations are fascist and incompatible with democracy

Q: You view corporations as being incompatible with democracy, and you say that is we apply the concepts that are used in political analysis, corporations are fascist. What do you mean?

A: I mean fascism pretty much in the traditional sense, [analogous to] a system in which the state integrates labor and capital under their control. The ideal is top-down control with the public essentially following orders.

Fascism is a term that doesnít strictly apply to corporations, but if you look at them, power goes strictly top-down. Ultimate power resides in the hands of investors, owners, banks, etc. People can disrupt, make suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. People who arenít owners and investors have nothing much to say about it.

Thatís something of an exaggeration because corporations are subject to some legal requirements and there is some limited degree of public control. But corporations are more totalitarian than most institutions we call totalitarian in the political arena.

Source: Secrets, Lies, and Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, p. 9 , May 2, 1994

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Page last updated: Jun 13, 2015