THIS WAS the First Dominion of the Corporation, when the modern corporation was born and first rose to rule human beings.
In the 700 years after the fall of Rome, the Benedictines and the other religious orders of the Catholic Church acquired the bulk of Europe’s real physical wealth and dominated contemporary human affairs.
By the end of the 14th century, the great religious corporations of the Catholic Church and the increasingly bold for-profit pilot fish darting among them were already employing all the basic practices of the modern corporate world, from leveraged buyouts to golden parachutes.
Corporate culture was born during the First Dominion too, with what we now see as the corporation’s signature distortion of the footprint humanity manifests in the world. The corporation is the most powerful and plastic conceptual tool ever devised by human beings, but like every powerful tool, it molds the hand that wields it by encouraging certain qualities in cultures where corporations dominate.
Greed, cruelty, the will to control and own, these are basic human qualities that take on a much larger role in corporation-dominated cultures, simply because the corporation greatly extends human power to carry them out. Many shining human qualities are manifest through corporate power too e.g., the Jesuit’s utopian Reductions in Paraguay but century after century the board tilts toward control and exploitation because that’s what the corporation does best.
From the very beginning, when St. Benedict destroyed Apollo’s sacred grove and established the first Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino, the corporation has been fundamentally antithetical to freedom of thought, personal belief and action. That’s always been an inescapable part of the Faustian bargain that magnified human power. Even St. Francis, possibly the most charismatic CEO the world has ever known, was unable to create a corporation that didn’t amass wealth and power.
The big difference between the First and Second Dominions of the Corporation is the style of dress the lordly corporations wear. For the first 700 years of modern corporate history, all the great corporations nominally attempted to incorporate one thing: the spirit of God. In fact, many of the privileges that corporations enjoy today were originally bestowed on them because of the godly purpose they purported to serve.
The Catholic religious orders were never terribly good at incorporating the Christian God, but they were remarkably successful in other areas, notably acquiring wealth, mastering their human attendants, carrying out complex tasks, and perpetuating their own undying, incorporal existence.
Humanity threw off the yoke of corporate rule during the Age of Revolution, smashing many of the powerful old corporations and asserting the cause of human rights throughout the sphere of European cultural and political influence. The United States had virtually no chartered corporations at the time of Independence and the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
America proved an exceptionally fruitful ground for the corporation, though. Within 200 years, a slicked-back new breed of American for-profit corporations multiplied until they numbered in the millions and controlled the physical wealth of not just the United States, the wealthiest nation on the globe, but most of the human species.
Today during the Second Dominion of the Corporation our corporate lords make no pretense to serving a higher good. They wear no artfully hung drapery. The great secular corporations of the Second Dominion like Wal-Mart and Microsoft do not strive to incorporate the spirit of God, but rather the spirit of mammon, which is to say unbounded greed and the free-floating will to dominate.
Here, in The History of Corporation, Volume 1, I have tried to hold up Barbara Tuchman’s “distant mirror,” portraying a time when all the basic features and tendencies of the modern corporation came into being.
In Volumes 2 and 3, I will endeavor to directly portray the invisible aristocracy of conceptual beings that we have created to rule our species today.
The History of the Corporation
Astonisher.com is pleased to present The History of the Corporation, Volume One by Bruce Brown.
Here is the Table of Contents for excerpts from the entire book, which covers 1,000 years from the birth of the first modern corporation through the the First Dominion of the corporation.
About the Author: Bruce Brown is the author of eight books, including Mountain in the Clouds, an environmental classic, and The Windows 95 Bug Collection, which was put on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
He has done investigative reporting for the New York Times (the Karen Silkwood story), foreign correspondence for Atlantic Monthly (baseball in Cuba), and book reviews for the Washington Post Book World, as well as script-writing for PBS-TV (The Miracle Planet).
He is also a successful businessman and CEO, having created BugNet and built it into the world’s largest supplier of PC bug fixes before it was acquired by a Fortune 500 company at the height of the dot com boom.