The New Secessionists

It is not States now that wish to secede from the Union, although some opportunistic politicians are striking that pose.  It is rather the Corporate Confederacy.  Corporate entities were given possibility and a chartered “birth” by human created infrastructure – economic, legal, martial and social stability created by the State – but now that they have consolidated wealth power to a point that equals nation-states, their managers realize the possible power to secede from the political state, to be free of its control and, consequentially, be free of any obligation to the human beings upon which the corporate entity depends for their detailed function.

A pure secession from the State is, however, not easy (or possible); it is a bit like trying to separate consciousness from the brain in which it resides.  The model is that of an organism trying to become free of the demands of its individual cells – the ‘idea’ that fulfilling my desires is limited by my body and that I might ignore the actions of individual organs and cells, divorcing my ‘self’ from their needs.  Such a view, of course, would tend to be held in secret by the economic elites, and would be not only an incredible hubris, but also an incredible mangling of metaphor in the service of a form of schizophrenia.

And so business is moved to a more old fashion form of escape – freedom through domination: the Corporate Confederacy must actually take over government in order to be free of it.  (The prescient reader will be ahead of me.)  When one State secedes from another, it must create all the machinery of a new State often using the old State as template; like budding a new plant from the old one.  Some things are specifically rejected, otherwise there would have been no secession in the first place, but for the most part new States, in such situations, are much like the old.

But the Corporate Confederacy doesn’t really want to create a new State, corporate managers just want to be free from the obligations of citizenship in the old State; they want all of the institutional support, stability and coercive power, but none of the responsibility to the people and the institutions upon which corporations depend.  This presents the Corporate Confederacy with the dilemma of how to be free of a structure that it requires in order to exist.

What we are seeing today is the opening parts of this struggle.  The first impulse is to destroy the existing structures that seem to oppress corporate action – to, by whatever means, create the conditions in which corporations can act with impunity – and to replace them with models from the corporate template. But the corporate template is remarkably incomplete for the purpose and corporate authority has little idea of how to proceed.  Autocratic authority is an early choice, supported by all of the “tricks of the trade” and wealth power.  And so we are seeing a kaleidoscope of theories and efforts to explain and form into law what is really the quest for lawlessness by corporate and wealth power.

Governing, which equals control from the corporate perspective, is often a matter of putting the right people in place to give the right orders – for corporations that means tough-minded corporate loyalists who will toe the line of the bottom-line, and see to it that ‘those below them’ do too.  This is not ‘evil’ in the corporate frame of reference no matter how much suffering and injustice is experienced by the ‘consumer’ of corporate governance: “It’s nothin’ personal, Rosco, ja know, it’s just business.”

But can nation-states allow corporations to actually manifest the insanity of corporate secession?  A. Lincoln – an expert on State secession was deeply concerned with growing corporate and wealth power – offered many reasons for rejecting the secessionist demands of the southern states; I think he would have been somewhat flummoxed by our corporate secessionists; the shear craziness is mind-boggling.  To recap succinctly: corporations have gained sufficient power that they can effectively fight governing regulation, but must take over governing to finally be free of it.  They are utterly unequipped to actually govern, but don’t realize that, being, as they are, blind beyond their frame of reference.  They can buy anything and almost anyone, but that only functions in the corporate frame, not a true governing frame of reference.

Faced with these facts, I think that Mr. Lincoln would have had the courage to fight a different kind of civil war, perhaps an even more difficult one than the Civil War actually fought.  You will remember that that one had armies marching and fighting at our doorsteps, killed possibly a million of the nation’s citizens, did billions in damage and is still remembered bitterly by a major section of this nation.  What would be the consequences of denying the Corporate Confederacy its secessionist plans?

There are a number of parallels.  Many southern members of congress dissolved their loyalty to the Union before 1861, but remained in their elected positions acting in ways damaging to the Union.  Comity disappeared and was replaced with open hostility. Today, corporate senators, representatives and governors are showing that their loyalty is no longer to the Union, the constitution or the people, their disrespect for those who don’t share their perspective is obvious and some of their behavior is in violation of their oaths of office.

The arguments have a familiar ring to them.  The Southern Confederacy couldn’t imagine functioning without a captive labor force over which they had complete control.  They required ‘freedom’ from economic restraints imposed by a hostile Northern government (which was actually often doing the bidding of northern business interests).  The Corporate Confederacy is trying to remove all employment protections and regulations to effectively create a pool of serfs from which they can select labor completely on their terms.

A mythology was created in the south that the plantation system and slavery were beneficial to all concerned, a natural and God given arrangement. ((A version of John C. Calhoun’s (1782 – 1850, Senator, South Carolina) defense of slavery might very well have been heard in the corner offices of Enron, might still be heard on Wall Street or among the corporate majority on the present Supreme Court: spoken to the US Senate in 1837: “I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slavehold states between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good – a positive good….I hold, then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. Broad and general as is this assertion, it is fully borne out by history.” It was a simpler time with still some remainder of honesty in public life: Calhoun seems to be speaking for today’s elite with this: “Liberty is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on a people too ignorant, degraded and vicious to be capable of either appreciating or of enjoying it.” We forget that such views remain important in the thinking of those who attain power and wealth, and need to dominate others to retain them.))  In the face of sound economic argument that such a system was fatally flawed, the myth was fertilized with social arguments and fears.  The “free market” and capitalist ideologies of today are similar myths and their failures are hidden behind a smoke screen of abortion talk, homophobia, racism and xenophobia.  Again, what the myths share in common is the supporting of the narrow short-term interests of an elite or corporate cabal.

It is time to take a stand against this corporate secession and reattach corporations to the control of nation-states; this would be obvious if it were clear that the choice is actually between social democracy and fascism.  As bad as the nation-state model has been, it will continue to be better than government by corporate power.  It would be the corporate model to create a Government Division, as both a coercive force and a profit center.  There is no place in corporate thinking for “something for nothing” which is how government services tend to be viewed, except, of course, for those services that extract wealth from the many and put it into the ‘capable’ hands of corporate managers.

While there are many differences between secession by regions of nations and secession by an economic segment of a nation, the biggest is that the Corporate Confederacy cannot and will not govern even if it succeeds in its version of secession by domination; it is still secession from responsibility; the opposite of effective governance.

Powerful national and international corporate entities no longer respect State power; their wealth power and information control have superceded the chartering function of the State. And they only weakly respect the obligation of the State to protect the people from the privations of wealth power. With their vast wealth, the world’s leaders and greatest sophists can be bought to present the corporate argument via the corporate owned media allowing for the illusion of governing to be maintained for a time.  But the only actual governing style available in the corporate frame is a brutal and distant autocracy, and ultimately the people will decide just how much of that kind of abuse they will take.

(In my research for this idea I came across this piece by Roger Bybee posted in January of this year in which he talks about corporate secession.  This is a shorter and slightly modified version of an essay of the same title posted on the Keye Blog)

James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.