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From Church to State to Corporation
July 13, 2014 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I suspect this is a huge question with more than one answer, but… It has been decades since I read a book (article?) that laid out a theory of (let’s call them) epochs in civilization where the predominant force governing people’s lives were/are church, then state, then corporations.

The idea was that the church played a central role in people’s lives during, say, the Middle Ages and up through the Reformation (?), which influence gradually was supplanted by the state (ownership and, later, human rights, compulsory regulation, taxes). Bringing us to more-or-less recent history, where the corporation struggles for supremacy over the state (and people’s lives) via, to give just two examples, the harnessing of labor in the production of capital and lobbying.

The other thing I seem to remember is that the subsiding authority always partners with the rising authority, ostensibly shoring up its declining influence while, in fact, hastening its own demise.
Naturally, the lines are blurred. As Bertrand Russell said, “Generally speaking and ignoring many exceptions….”

Does this ring any bells? Is the model considered accurate today?

What brought my question to mind was today’s Guardian article, How Capital Captured Politics.
posted by Short Attention Sp to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like garbled Marxism.

Still an important critique of society today, however successful you consider it to have been.
posted by Thing at 4:48 PM on July 13


Do you have any more details about what you read? I'm thinking it could have been an ethnography of a workplace, or something in that vein. The recent critiques of global capital don't seem to me to have direct antecedents in 'big theory' type books, since the kinds of capital they are critiquing are so new (yes that is arguable I know). Corporation were examined some by sociologists and anthropologists in the 60s and 70s. Historians are just now catching up. Could it have been in sociology or anthropology?
posted by CtrlAltD at 4:57 PM on July 13


Could it have been in sociology or anthropology?

Yes. In fact, it was probably one of those two. (I came across it in readings related to an MA in Literature.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:35 PM on July 13


Joseph Campbell said something like this in The Power of Myth:
You can tell what's informing a society by what the tallest building is. When you approach a medieval town, the cathedral is the tallest thing in the place. When you approach an eighteenth-century town, it is the political palace that's the tallest thing in the place. And when you approach a modern city, the tallest places are the office buildings, the centers of economic life.

If you go to Salt Lake City, you see the whole thing illustrated right in front of your face. First the temple was built, right in the center of the city. This is the proper organization because the temple is the spiritual center from which everything flows in all directions. Then the political building, the Capitol, was built beside it, and it's taller than the temple. And now the tallest thing is the office building that takes care of the affairs of both the temple and the political building. That's the history of Western civilization.
posted by Knappster at 6:37 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


In some ways, that's also paralleled in Asimov's Foundation series. (Post-galactic empire breakup, first was the atomic priest hood, then the planet-states, then the traders/merchants, if I remember right ..)
posted by k5.user at 7:24 AM on July 14


Similar, but not quite, to the argument laid out in Hardt & Negri's Empire.
posted by General Malaise at 8:25 AM on July 14


I would look at the fieldwork-based studies people did in line with modernization theory and in response to it from the late 1960s onward. There were a lot of publications about the company in the life of the worker/businessman, especially in Asian Studies, from the 1960s-1980s.
posted by CtrlAltD at 11:14 AM on July 14


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