The State as a Person

Contrary to popular belief, corporations with personhood is not a new concept. The concept stretches back at least as far back as Dartmouth College v. Woodward  from 1819 in the United States. Similarly, the state itself,  governments themselves, and more recently only Western democratic states themselves, has personhood. However, this personhood stretches back further than 1819. It even stretches further back than the birth of the United States. Try 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia.

With this transition came the state, and when the state was born, it was born of a quite literal nature. The state was born and given personhood much like the citizens living within it. After this transition took place, the citizens within it actually lost their personhood. As the state became a person, the people living within it became little more than cells of a greater, more sentient being…the state. With personhood, the state can rid itself of internal ‘diseases’ or groups of people on the grounds of the greater good of the person…the state.

Don’t believe me? Look around. Any time human rights abuses (ironically written by states) come to light, the international community of states (persons) pokes and prods the state accused of those abuses. States around the world rarely intervene physically. Why? Because people have the right to their own free will and choice of how they live as long as they do not infringe on others. One might recognize this line of argument from John Stuart Mill. However, not even Mill thought he spoke of states as people. But that’s what happens when the state becomes a person: it receives the rights of persons.

In the above hypothetical situation, the state accused of human rights abuses is not causing harm to other persons aka states. Therefore, other persons (states) cannot intervene. What then of the biologically homo sapiens within that person called the state? States treat the accused state as a drunkard in a Mill’s neighborhood. First, you shake your head in the drunkard’s direction. Then, you ignore what the drunkard is doing. If the drunkard becomes difficult to look at, the neighborhood shuns the drunkard. Sometimes, the neighborhood offers assistance. Sometimes the neighborhood ‘encourages’ treatment. Sound familiar? It should.

Then, as the West began a neoliberal epiphany to understanding a tainted version of liberal democracy, the identity of ‘state’ was shrunk to only include liberal democracies that follow Judeo-Christian foundation (though most will adamantly refute this fact. But if you listen to the refutations closely enough, you will hear the very same theorists digging their own holes). Just like any group of people that grows large, in order to create cohesion, and order to create a sense of exclusivity, one needs to create an internal Other. Thus, Chinese democracy is not considered democracy. The democracy that the West forced on Japan as a contingency to ending WWII was not considered democracy in a ‘true’ form until the turn of the century. The Philippines is considered a democratic state, but it has not voice. What democracy works without a vote? Middle Eastern democracies do not count as ‘real’ democracies because of their inclusion of Islam into their democratic system.

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