A Corporatist Constitution

Mickey Kaus has an interesting complaint about the way the administration looks at American society.
Special privileges for reporters (they’re “society’s eyes and ears”!) or big banks (they’re “too big to fail”). Corporatism’s acutely fascinating because it’s insidious, anti-democratic, sclerotic and perhaps inevitable....

The vision is “corporatist” because it analogizes society with a body, or corpus, with different institutions and sets of people performing different specialized, orchestrated roles, like bodily organs (as opposed to, say, seeing U.S. society as 300 million free, individual citizens exercising equal liberties and moving in and out of the marketplace in various unpredictable roles of their own choosing).
The system is characteristic of the Middle Ages, in which one had rights and duties chiefly determined by which part of the 'body' one belonged. If one was an abbess, one had certain privileges; if one was a master member of a trade guild in a major city, other privileges. The abbess was absolutely not free to move to your town and start selling your goods in a shop in the market! Nor was anyone else not in your guild -- your position ensured access to substantial wealth. By the same token, you had to pay some taxes from which she would be exempt, and you might be compelled into some sort of military service to defend the town. You were both expected to dress in a specific fashion proper to your role, in part so that everyone would understand how to treat you when they met you on the road.

Two things to say about the system: in the short run, this approach provided those with the power to license new corporate parts with some significant control over the structure of society. If (like Edward I) you wanted a town somewhere to provide you with a base for military operations and increased tax revenue, you could offer special privileges to people who would become part of that town. In Medieval Spain, these systems were critically important to the conquest of Spain from the Muslims: many special rights were offered to those who would come settle (and defend) the disputed land, including elevation to knighthood if you came with a horse and could fight on it, liberation from any existing bonds on you, freedom from certain taxes for a period of time, and more. If you moved to one of these 'new towns' as an unfree serf but could find a way to live there for a year and a day, you would be free and a member of the town from then on.

In the long run, then, these corporate bodies increased human liberty a great deal. Not only could people move from one body to another as they pleased, but desirable privileges came to be claimed by more and more bodies. Sometimes they were enacted by law into general rights of the class of those who were free; for example, the right to a trial by one's peers originally pertained to the barons and perhaps the knighthood, but came to belong to everyone (who are, now, also the peers of everyone). The privileges that pertained to any of these special classes are now general rights possessed by all free Americans, with few exceptions (freedom of churches from taxes still pertains chiefly to churches, although other 'corporations' can get special tax breaks in return for moving their business to somewhere that desires it!).

So clearly it is a short-term interest in control of society that motivates the President: for example, by giving journalists special privileges he is propping up the prestige of a dying industry, and obtaining a sense from them of being on their side that will benefit him in his public relations.

In the long term, though, these special rights are likely to become general rights. Banks are too big to fail? So is everyone! Mortgages must be bailed out! No one can be suffered to lose everything through bankruptcy.

It's only fair, after all.

The upside is that sometimes there are improvements in the relationship between the government and the citizen that might still exist. So if we see journalists being granted a shield law, don't worry: sooner or later that law's protections will belong to everyone. Sooner these days, given the American model of everyone being leveled into a single class with equal rights before the law.

The downside is that many of these special privileges are special just because it would be harmful 'if everyone did it.' Likely as not, eventually everyone will.


MikeD said...

"Freedom of the Press" is something that actively irritates me. Not the concept, the modern interpretation. From "the press has a right to know" to "you can't keep the press out" to "I'm a credentialed member of the press, I have a right to be here." People... "press" is not a profession. It's a device. Namely, a printing press. The origin of "freedom of the press" is not to create a special class of citizen who reports the news (properly referred to as a journalist), but to guarantee that every citizen's right to print their thoughts and not have them censored by the government was protected. You had that freedom, not because you were a printer, or a journalist, but because every free citizen had the right to publish their thoughts and opinions. But for whatever reason, the government, the courts, and the people have somehow been duped into believing that "member of the press" is some form of protected class of citizen. This is hogwash. If this shield law is NOT extended to bloggers, citizen journalists, and in fact EVERYONE, then I submit it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

I think the proper analogy is not the Middle Ages in Europe, but the Russian empire. They think we are serfs, to be used and killed for whatever purpose they deem proper.


Ymar Sakar said...

So if we see journalists being granted a shield law, don't worry: sooner or later that law's protections will belong to everyone.

Except that's how it was supposed to be in the beginning, and they are using their power to reverse the trend to Absolute Entropy.

Ymar Sakar said...

If Islam had spread from Spain, in the long run caste based societies remain caste based societies. Western civilization is not like other civilizations.

Grim said...

Quite right!