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CHAPTER 3 Banding Together for the Common Good

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A corporation has no rights except those given it by law. It can exercise no power except that conferred upon it by the people through legislation, and the people should be as free to withhold as to give, public interest and not private advantage being the end in view.

—William Jennings Bryan, address to the Ohio 1912 Constitutional Convention


For thousands of years, it was popular among philosophers, theologians, and social commentators to suggest that the first humans lived as disorganized, disheveled, terrified, cold, hungry, and brutal lone-wolf beasts. But both the anthropological and archeological records prove it a lie.

Even our cousins the apes live in organized societies, and evidence of cooperative and social living is as ancient as the oldest hominid remains. For four hundred thousand years or more, even before the origin of Homo sapiens, around the world we primates have made tools, art, and jewelry and organized ourselves into various social forms, ranging from families to clans to tribes. More recently, we’ve also organized ourselves as nations and empires.1

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Caral, Peru: A Thousand Years of Peace

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From Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind…. War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.


When you realize how small the earth is in relation to the cosmos, and how small we are in relation to the earth, then you can understand the appropriate place of humans in relation to the earth. These people looked up at the stars and understood this. We look at the earth too much and miss the big picture, the stars. We must see a larger view if we are to live in peace.


THROUGHOUT HUMANITY’S 160,000-PLUS-YEAR HISTORY, CULtures ranging from tribes to city-states have undergone a three-stage process. They start out (stage one) immature: exploitative of one another and of the world around them. Like children, as a society they think they’re the center of the universe, the only “real people” and thus unique from all other forms of life (and other cultures), so they think they have the (often divinely ordained) right to dominate and exploit everything around them. This exploitation inevitably leads to stage two: environmental and cultural disaster. Cultures then disappear, disperse, or reach stage three: maturity.

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CHAPTER 24 End Corporate Personhood

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

—George Bernard Shaw

ARIZONA CHANGED ITS LAW AFTER 1886 SO THAT THE WORD PERSON WOULD include nonliving as well as living legal entities: “‘Person’ includes a corporation, company, partnership, firm, association or society, as well as a natural person.”1

Many states have varying definitions of person depending on the part of law at issue. For example, there was a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court case in which a large part of the argument had to do with whether the Federal Trade Commission had the authority, under California law, to act as a person in enforcing a judgment against a telemarketer.2

As we’ve seen through the history of the Sherman Antitrust Act and other legislative attempts to control corporate behavior, the problem faced by citizens as well as directors and stockholders of corporations is systemic and rooted in how corporations are defined under the law.

Virtually every legislative session since the 1800s has seen new attempts to regulate or control corporate behavior, starting with Thomas Jefferson’s unsuccessful insistence that the Bill of Rights protect humans from “commercial monopolies.” Ultimately, most have either failed or been co-opted because they didn’t address the underlying structural issue of corporate personhood.

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