Mark S. Weiner

Corporations as Clans

In Corporations, Rule of the Clan on April 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm

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One of the things that’s struck me during my public radio interviews these past few weeks is how much callers express regional differences in the questions they ask. Today I was a guest on the Kathleen Dunn Show on Wisconsin Public Radio. We had a thoughtful, stimulating conversation for about an hour, and a number of listeners called in to participate in the exchange. True to democratic Wisconsin form, many of them were especially interested in talking about the danger that concentrated corporate power poses to individual freedom. In The Rule of the Clan, I describe corporations as part of an archipelago of post-modern clans that—if the liberal state grows too anemic—will create a new society of Status as constraining to individual autonomy as traditional tribal systems.

You can download an MP3 file of the show here, or you can stream it by clicking here (then just click on the MP3 or Windows Media Player icons to the right, just below “Kathleen Dunn”).

As anyone who’s ever talked with me about the subject knows, I’m a huge fan of Wisconsin, so I was especially glad to be a guest on public radio there. Above and below are a couple of pictures my wife and I took during a recent visit to the state. The two images below are from the lovely town of Monroe, a capital of Swiss-American cheese making. While we were there, we visited the great Baumgartner’s tavern, where you can get the very best Limburger and onion sandwich you’ll ever have—it’s absolutely delicious (really!).

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  1. I don’t disagree that corporations are post-modern clans, but conceptually clans are arguably the first corporations. The three basic characteristics of a corporation historically are (1) aggregation of capital from multiple sources, (2) the opportunity for existence beyond a human lifespan, and (3) management separate from ownership. These three characteristics are taken as corporate legal norms today, but were very much a legal issue for centuries. When the clan structure emerged, these three basic elements were satisfied depending on the management/ownership structure, making the clan arguably the first corporations (but don’t tell the City of London).

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  2. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment, and apologies for taking so long to respond. This is a really interesting issue in legal history. Do you know Maitland’s writings on the history of the corporation and the idea that medieval law “knew nothing of groups”? An alternate view. In any case, I think one can see in most societies a push-and-pull, even a dialectic, between legal individualization and re-communalization, between law that reinforces individual autonomy and legal forms that create structures for corporate or collective groups. It’s because this tension in so ancient and deeply rooted in human life that I think we need to pay close attention to it. I’m glad to hear from you!

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