What Counts as a Person?

In the past year or so there has been an uproar about corporations being treated as persons. Continuing my review of Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles tonight, I find this thesis (p. 365):

The society of nation-states developed a constitution that attempted to treat states as if they were individuals in a political society of equal, autonomous, rights-baring citizens… In the society of nation-states, the most important right of a nation was the right of self-determination.

If you’re familiar with Bobbitt’s work, you know he is exploring the transition from the nation state to the market state. In this context, and taking this quote into the picture, I have several thoughts.

1. The notion that a non-individual person would have attributes of a person, or in some instances be treated as a person is not a new development, and certainly not a evil act by corporate powers seeking to control our lives. While I’m not qualified to speak to the history of the corporation, I do know that the church has a long-standing tradition of thinking of itself as the “body of Christ,” (corpus Christi in Latin), in one sense a corporate person.

2. The modern age has seen a loss of ecclesiological substance. I’d even say that our commitment to a biblical ecclesiology has an inverse relation to the dominance of individualism in our culture. As individual waxes, commitment to the church as the body of Christ, a community to which I give allegiance even when it costs me something, wanes.

3. Bobbitt says it has been normal to see the state as a sort of person, a corporate body. That is, this is how things have been in the (now passing) era of the nation state. One of the things that is an impetus to the rise of the market state is the rise of individualism. The rationale of the nation state is to maximize the welfare of citizens. The rationale of the market state is to maximize the opportunities of citizens.

4. One reason the market state is on the rise is that we individualists don’t want  corporate personhood, whether it be in the state or the church.

5. The market seems to me to be a powerful tool. At the same time, if it is the only tool we have, we’re in trouble. The market is fundamentally amoral, just the concatenation of multiple choosings and willings.

If all this is accurate, then the challenge is: how do we avoid nihilism?

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