Enterprise personhood: the first 2000+ years

Commenter Eric Rasmusen at Prof. Bainbridge, via Maitland, quotes Sir Frederick Pollock, Principles of Contract, originally published in 1876:

…the Roman invention, adopted and largely developed in modern systems of law, of constituting the official character of the holders for the time being of the same office, or the common interest of the persons who for the time being are adventurers in the same undertaking, into an artificial person or ideal subject of legal capacities and duties.

To put it differently, the law’s handling of enterprises as people was old news in Roman times. More on the misguided attack on rights-bearing by business organizations: Josiah Neeley, Matt Yglesias (“5 mistakes liberals make about corporate personhood and Hobby Lobby”).


  • I don’t think the real attack is that is a new and novel idea. I think the stronger argument is that it is dumb.

    I love #5: “Liberals think equality is more important than religious liberty.” If I ever write a sentence that says “Conservatives think…” then I respectfully request someone shoot me.

  • Ron, editorials at cracked.com are intended for entertainment purposes only. As opposed to, say, the New York Times, where similar op-ed pieces (ones that I notice include liberal advice on what members of the Tea Party should think about immigration) work out that way.


  • #4 is pretty silly too. If corporate personhood cuts against Hobby Lobby because the religious views are held by its owners, not the corporation, then it would cut against prohibiting censorship of the New York Times too. The New York Times corporation has no ideas it wants to express. Constitutional rights for corporations are always about allowing those who control a corporation to exercise their rights through the operation of that corporation.

  • @Boblipton
    Actually Bob, I think that Ron was referring to #5 in the blog by Matt Yglesias on Vox Media. Vox Media, until recently, was known as Sports Blogs, Inc. One of its founders is Markos Moulitsas. While I’m not sure if Vox is supposed to be a parody of a serious political discussion site, anything that Moulitsas is involved with seems to come across that way.

    Still, considering the source, perhaps the categorical declaration “Liberals think equality is more important than religious liberty” is supposed to be considered a New Commandment, handed down on Mount Sinai to Moses Moulitsas by the Unfoulable Secular Spirit of Progress.

    But, since Progressivism admits of no metaphysical entities, maybe not. However, the blog also cited Captain Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise as an authority, so it’s hard to tell if the blog is serious or parody, or if one must look to fictional future Progressive societies for correct social norms and Canonical Commandments.

  • I self identify as progressive/liberal and I support the Hobby Lobby decision. But not because corporations are people.