Personhood and legal status: reflections on the democratic rights of corporations

Publication year: 2018

Beckman, Ludvig

Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy 47:1, pp. 13-28., doi: 10.5553/NJLP/.000068.


Corporations are regularly ascribed rights and duties, yet few believe they should have the right to participate and to vote in democratic elections. The notion that a corporation should be able to vote is typically dismissed as ‘preposterous’ as it contradicts the principle ‘integral to liberal democracy’ that only human beings should vote.1x Frank Hindriks, ‘How Autonomous are Collective Agents? Corporate Rights and Normative Individualism,’ Erkenntnis 79 (2014): 1565-85; Ronald Dworkin, ‘The Decision That Threatens Democracy,’ The New York Review of Books 57 (2010): 63-67. Interestingly, history gives examples of corporate voting in political elections. Universities were able to vote, by virtue of being corporate bodies, in the United Kingdom until 1948. In Sweden, business corporations were entitled to vote in local elections between 1861 and 1920. See Einar Mellquist, Rösträtt efter förtjänst? Riksdagsdebatten om den kommunala rösträtten i Sverige 1862-1900 (Uppsala: Almkvist och Wicksell, 1974). This reply warrants the further, normative, question why only human beings should be able to vote in a democracy. But reasons grounded in normative considerations about democracy are parasitic on assumptions regarding the nature of the entities that can have democratic rights. And these are conceptual questions. The present analysis focuses on the conceptual issue and asks if the nature of corporations disqualifies them from being included in the demos.........

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