For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Corporation"

by Ciepley, David (2013)


This article challenges the liberal, contractual theory of the corporation and argues for replacing it with a political theory of the corporation. Corporations are government-like in their powers, and government grants them both their external “personhood” and their internal governing authority. They are thus not simply private. Yet they are privately organized and financed and therefore not simply public. Corporations transgress all the basic dichotomies that structure liberal treatments of law, economics, and politics: public/private, government/market, privilege/equality, and status/contract. They are “franchise governments” that cannot be satisfactorily assimilated to liberalism. The liberal effort to assimilate them, treating them as contractually constituted associations of private property owners, endows them with rights they ought not have, exacerbates their irresponsibility, and compromises their principal public benefit of generating long-term growth. Instead, corporations need to be placed in a distinct category—neither public nor private, but “corporate”—to be regulated by distinct rules and norms.

Key Passage

“The ascent of corporations is one of the great, if unheralded, paradoxes of the modern West. Corporations are regarded as the apogee of modern capitalism and have found their most fertile soil within liberal, democratic, capitalist polities, where their legal protections are most numerous. Yet they are of premodern provenance and themselves violate all the basic principles of liberalism, democracy, and free-market capitalism. More than any other phenomenon, the rise of corporations challenges the adequacy of our liberal individualist frames and underscores the urgency of complicating them.” p.156 ()


Political Theory, Corporation, Contractual Theory, Franchise Governments, Liberalism, Constitutional Republic, Republicanism, Corporate Personhood, Stakeholder


Workplace Republicanism, Political Theory, Organisation and Management Studies

Links to Reference



How to contribute.