Over the years I’ve been reading a series of books about culture and communication. I believe my interest stem from my fascination with history starting from early Roman to modern times. I’m fascinated with the way we as a species have developed over the past two millennium.
What is of particular interest is how societies have moved the pendulum of politics between the the extremes of dictatorship and anarchy. As an American citizen I’ve been brought up in a culture to believe freedom and democracy are inalienable rights that have been a part of our American culture since the revolution if not before if we consider our roots of freedom to be in English law. However this veil of individualised manifest destiny to which we cover ourselves as protection against oppressive and controlling forces is much thinner than we would like to collectively believe.
I have also traveled the political spectrum starting as a staunch conservative to my current beliefs which is somewhere between socialism and anarchy. We teach in our schools the virtues of democracy and capitalism while casting dispersion on all other forms of social compacts. Ironically our own founding fathers were students of what we would consider in our day social radicals. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau posited that a state should be a small size in order to ensure an equitable democracy. His reasoning was that the larger the state size the less likely it would be for the citizens to have a full understanding of the needs of the state. Thomas Jefferson was an attentive student of Rousseau and determined that a state should be no larger than the length a man could walk in a day.
Why? Why would Rosseau and Jefferson think that democracy depended on such a small territorial size? Each had their reasons but the underlining theme I believe was focused around the ability for information to be free and accessible to each citizen in order form them to make an informed decision regarding the public good. They (Rosseau and Jefferson) believed this parity of information amongst the citizenry could only be achieved through direct engagement and observation by the citizen.
So, did the invention of the telegraph increase the space boundaries of a well run state? History teaches us that large states were admitted to the union well before the invention of the telegraph (namely in the South) and Jefferson’s ideal was quickly buried. Yet they don’t teach us in school why one of the principles this paragon of founding fathers was lost in the eventual creation of this great union of states.
I believe the answer lies with the failure of the states to regulate corporations and with the final nail in the coffin being attributed to Chief Justice Morrison Waite in his preamble to the opinion of the case Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad.
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does. — Morrison Waite
Our love affair with capitalism places rose colored glasses on our historical lessons and we are not taught in our under graduate education systems that corporations were universally loathed during the era of our founding fathers. The early constitution unlike other modern day constitutions has no direct reference to the regulation of corporations. Instead this responsibility lies within the purview of the states. The founding fathers believed that only those citizens within the borders of the state could effectively control corporations. Here we see Jefferson’s influence again attempting to maintain democracy to a manageable size. He understood the principalities in Massachusetts would scarcely understand the importance of a mill house in Virginia and thus the federal government had no right to interfere with the local social compact of the states.
Thus articles of incorporation were the responsibility of the states. Corporations during the late eighteenth and through half of the nineteenth century were given time bound charters for incorporation are were narrowly focused on completing specific task for the common good of the public (ex: bridge building). It was not until mid nineteenth century did our legislators and indeed our citizens begin to forget the lessons taught so harshly to our forefathers by the East India Company and Hudson Bay Company. Instead we had created our own monstrous companies to run the slave economy of the South and the industrialization of the North. The slow transition from the agrarian land holder to the capital holder created a wealthy super class that measured its value to the public good by the amount of philanthropy donated to the state. And the state being so grateful for the new library forgave and forgot that the company extorted its wages through the enslavement and maiming of an entire society.