I took an unintended break from this series, but I want to come back to conclude it with a few more posts. Let’s start with a juicy little insight about corporations:
[corporations are] entities that, through a charming legal fiction, we imagine to be persons, just like human beings, but immortal, never having to go through all the human untidiness of marriage, reproduction, infirmity, and death. To put it in properly medieval terms, they are very much like angels… the legal idea of a corporation as a “fictive person” (persona ficta) – person who, as Maitland, the great British legal historian, put it, “is immortal, who sues and is sued, who holds lands, has a seal of his own, who makes regulations for those natural persons of who he is composed” – was first established in canon law by Pope Innocent IV in 1250 AD, and one of the first kinds of entities it applied to were monasteries.
I am a fan of Walter Wink and his reading of Pauline language about “powers and principalities” as applying to systems and organizations in our world which seem to take on a life of their own; the collective spirituality of human communities. (We friars and fools refer to his work in our chapter about exorcism in Never Pray Again, for example.) When I first describe this idea to some people however they often react like it is eisegetical. Like I am stretching (or rather Wink is stretching) to find something that isn’t in the text. Graeber’s little historical insight about corporations helps show this isn’t the case.
In actuality, the idea the human organizations have a kind of collective spiritual identity, partially independent of the individuals that compose the body is highly intuitive. So intuitive it isn’t just an extrapolation about such organizations, it is the active principal behind the creation of some of these bodies. Corporations are, legally and historically speaking, cosmic entities, angels and demons. They were created to be immortal, untouchable, incorruptible and we are reaping some of the natural consequences of living alongside eternal beings.