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Mitt Romney's Illogical Defense of Corporate Personhood

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The fact that corporations are made up of persons, does not mean that they are themselves, persons.


" ... no class can ... be a member of itself; a class of classes cannot be one of the classes which are its members; [and] a name is not the thing named."

Gregory Bateson, 1964
reprinted in
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently became infamous for condescendingly telling a skeptical audience, that "corporations are people." Of course, the immediate connotation of his remarks were not only that he thinks corporations are people, but that they are the people whose side he is fundamentally on.

From a purely legal point of view, Thom Hartmann has done some astonishing scholarship that shows that what everyone assumes was a Supreme Court ruling on corporate personhood, never actually occurred. Unfortunately, no one that has any decision making authority on the matter seems to be listening to Thom Hartmann on this point.

From a purely logical point of view, however, it's curious that - when pushed - Romney resorts to an absurd defense of the corporate personhood argument that I have heard other resort to as well: that corporations are somehow people because they are made up of people.

As the above quote from legendary anthropologist Gregory Bateson shows, this defense violates the theory of logical types. Corporations are an entity that exists at a higher level of abstration than the people they are made up of. To say that everything that's true of people is true of corporations leads to absurd conclusions: e.g., corporations can't get married.

The fact that proponents of corporate personhood resort to this illogical stance shows what a thin thread the idea of corporate personhood is based on.


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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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