This National Affairs essay by Carson Holloway examines the vocal claims by some that “corporations are not people.” As Holloway explains, progressives, ranging from ordinary protestors all the way to President Obama, have insisted that, because corporations are not living, breathing human beings, corporate personhood — the idea that corporations have certain legal and constitutional rights — is a fiction. As they would have it, corporate personhood was foisted upon the country by the radical conservatives of the Roberts Court and Republican officeholders with only one thing in mind: helping big business.
But, according to the author, contrary to what we may hear from progressive voices, corporations are, as a matter of fact, people in the eyes of the law. They have been since the beginning of the American republic, making corporate personhood deeply rooted in our legal and constitutional tradition.
Holloway explains that though corporations may not be natural persons — that is, discrete, individual human beings whose rights somehow originate in nature — corporations nevertheless are and should be entitled to certain legal and constitutional rights. According to Holloway, this is not to say that corporate rights operate in the same way as do the rights of natural persons. In many cases, the law justifiably treats the rights of natural persons and artificial persons differently. It is to say, however, that respect for the rights of corporations, no less than respect for the rights of individuals, is advantageous for our social order and has been essential to America’s development as a prosperous, free, and good society. Accordingly, Holloway concludes, America’s perpetuation as such a society requires that we understand and defend corporate personhood and corporate rights against this criticism from the left.