Corporate form emerged from the concept of corporate legal personality. The latter is associated with the personality of individuals as objects and not as subjects of the law (cutler). As objects, corporations may have some responsibilities under the law, but the degree of accountability is ultimately determined by the authority of the state. Cutler (1997) notes that while there appears to be some softening of the state-centricity of international law, it is important to recognize that the “law remains a subject-based order wherein the state remains the subject and other entities acquire as much personality as states confer upon them as objects of the law” (p. 262). Thus states remain the main actors and other actors like individuals exist as objects with derivative personality in that they cannot make laws and they can only initiate legal claims or enjoy privileges and immunities through the instrumentality of the state. This paper, by referring to the narratives by Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck along with social works by Harry Glasbeek and Joel Bakan, analyzes the emergence of the corporate form and its widespread usage by the corporations to control people and make immense profits in the contemporary world. In All My Sons, Miller uses the family drama to expose the tensions between the common people and the state (glimpses of corporate form) through representation of the conflict between fathers and their battle-weary sons in World War II, as well as through between wartime sacrifice and profiteering.
The Keller family—Midwestern, white, ethnically unmarked, middle class—repre¬sents the ordinary American family. Joe, the self-made father, has shipped defective airplane parts to the military and let his business partner take the rap and go to jail. Chris, the son, is thirty-two; Miller describes him as a man “capable of immense affection and loyalty” (12). The mother, Kate, resembles the domineering mother. Chris returns from the war the only survivor of his company. He wants to marry Annie, the girl next door, formerly engaged to his brother, who has been reported missing for three years. Kate discourages the marriage: to acknowledge her older son's death would be to reveal her husband's complicity. The younger generation (represented by Chris, Annie, and Annie's brother George) expresses the play's central theme—how to reconcile the dissonance capitalist profit put between war's holy purposes and profane practices. This was an issue hotly debated since a series of investigation into the corporate and financial interests that influ¬enced the U.S. decision to enter World War II (Mittelman 1996). Miller's interest in exploring the intertwining of social and psychological denial helped him create recognizable characters who expressed wartime's contradictions in their everyday family interaction.
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Similarly to Miller’s play, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (especially its chapter 5) sheds light on the emergence of the corporate form in the US society. The book’s most effective symbol is probably the land turtle which heads southwest and plods along unceasingly. This turtle represents the Joads specifically, and the unstoppable people in general (Bloom 1988). Over and over, animal imagery is used to suggest the essentially animal quality of man and, more specifically, the bestial level to which the Joads have been reduced by socio-economic forces. The Joads are certainly victims of their environment, both natural and man-made. The drought and resulting dust have ruined their crops. When they cannot continue to pay their mortgages, the bank must dispossess them. And the tractors must push over their house and drive them off the land, so that, for a profit, all little farms may be combined and worked more efficiently by modern methods. Thus little people are at the mercy of the monsters -- the bank and the tractor (Bloom 1988). Steinbeck says that men made the bank but cannot control it, and further, that the tractor is a relentless beast which depersonalizes its driver into a mere robot. On the road to California, the Joads are partly dehumanized by a whole array of adverse forces which are both man-made and natural. They are at the mercy of yet another machine, their ancient Hudson car turned truck, which they must pamper like an unpredictable god (Bloom 1988). While Miller and Steinbeck referred to the emergence of the corporate form, modern writers such as Harry Glassbeek and Joel Bakan provide a depiction of the effects (often adverse) that the corporations have on peoples and societies. In “The Corporation as an Invisible Friend” of his book Wealth by Stealth: Corporate Crime, Corporate Law, and the Provisions of Democracy Harry Glasbeek (2002) says that contemporary finance and political leaders blame corporations (their invisible friends) for their personal failures. The author notes that corporate leaders often act in an irresponsible manner, endangering thousands of people, yet not being charged by the state, as they (wealthy tycoons) are fully protected by their corporations. One may draw a parallel between the 19th-century capitalism that only cared about the profits, neglecting people’s rights, and the progressively more deregulated and dangerous workplaces of modern world. Similarly to Glasbeek, Joel Bakan (2005) in “The Corporation's Rise to Dominance” of his book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, presents corporation as monsters that only care about profits and totally disregard humans’ needs or emotions. Bakan asks, if corporations were persons—which they are, in law, and in fact they have rights far surpassing those of mere human persons— what kind of people would they be?
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