The concept of legal personhood as separate from natural personhood stretches back centuries. From collegia to modern day corporations, collectives of individuals have found the need to protect their institution’s ability to conduct business and maintain continuity as membership comes and goes. While the convenience of this abstraction eases the complications of liability, continuity, and collective ownership, it is also fertile ground for capital and state to sow the seeds of oppression.
In the United States corporations have abused this tool to convince the state to entitle them to speech and religious freedoms, rights typically reserved for natural persons. Corporations have been able to do this because they piggybacked their way in to the same natural person due process coverage that freed slaves received in 1868. This perversion of the intent of the concept of a legal person poses a particular issue when you consider the fact that corporations have also had the state concede that spending money is tantamount to free speech.
What happens when a legal person, like a corporation, is allowed the same free speech privileges as a natural person, and is also capable of accumulating and spending enormous amounts of money above the capability of a natural person? They become more of a person than a regular person in the eyes of the state. A super-human with the power to shape society to their will.
If the measure of a person’s influence in a democratic society is their speech, and you equate speech with money, you entitle those with the most money to be the most influential. When the entities most capable of accruing money are these legal persons, and these legal persons are entitled to all the same rights as a natural person, then that entitles the individuals that direct those entities to an extremely disproportionate amount of influence within the governmental structure. This leads to tyranny of the wealthy. Plutocrats are the originators and stewards of the supermen.
The average American neoliberal would suggest that we merely need to encourage the state to step in and legislate this problem away and to use social pressure to shame the wealthy into doing what’s right by their workers. That simply isn’t possible. These plutocrats are the state. The mechanisms of governance and election are so intertwined with capital interests that it’s impossible to separate the two. Campaign finance is dominated by big donors, lobbyists, and corporate interests. The seats of power are jumping off points for a revolving door political process: get elected with money from corporate interests, make or change laws to the benefit of your donors, and finally, get hired by the capital entities that funded your election in the first place. Not only do those that run corporations have their own vote, but they can also use the power of their “super-human” to determine the available options for voting, an ability arguably more powerful than the vote itself.
You do not find that those in positions of power are prone to relinquishing that authority on the grounds of what is fair or just. The people that rise to power in these structures are those that seek it, those that want it for their personal gain, and those that are driven by internal motivators of imposing their will on others. They always find ways to consolidate their authority. Corporate personhood is one of the mechanisms that has been used repeatedly to shore up the defenses of the powerful. Given the opportunity, plutocrats will see everyone possible in chains and serving their interests. The only way to convince them that you’re worthy of attention in their eyes is to rival their power, which is simply not attainable within the current structure. This is by design.
Even the most well-intending of these people, deluded by ego, see themselves as the rightful stewards of society, burdened by the responsibility of showing the masses the “correct” path, the modern-day reluctant philosopher kings. They think that if we were only to step out of the way and let them go about their business, they would solve society’s ills. A decidedly undemocratic view. Were you to buy into the narrative of the “good billionaire” it would still be wrong to allow a select few to not only wield their own level of privilege over another, but to also be allowed to direct the endeavors of “super-humans.”
We cannot allow legal personhood to equal or even rival natural personhood. These fictional entities have to be run and administrated by actual people, and unless all the people within a given society are involved in the operation of these entities, then there will always be a subset of people that have a disproportionate amount of influence within that society. The only way to prevent issues like this from arising is to heavily decentralize the nodes of power, all the way down to the individual.
A community structured around the principle of free association will most likely find itself utilizing the abstraction of legal personhood to collectivize in whatever way they see fit. However, by that same token, a community structured around free association would also necessarily be a flatly democratic one where all members are equal, utilizing that entity to benefit everyone. Power should not be allowed to consolidate, spread it liberally and freedom can be maintained.