The question driving my work is whether a corporate economy is, or can be made, compatible with constitutional democracy. In order to get new leverage on this question, my book project traces the corporate origins of both modern constitutionalism and the modern business corporation, each of which developed from out of England’s early “corporate empire.” In the early 19th century, Americans brought these together, creating the first corporate economy in the first modern constitutional republic. The book then reviews the 200-year struggle of Americans to keep the former consistent with the latter. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that a corporate economy fixated on short-term share price is not compatible with constitutional democracy, owing to the sharp inequality it generates, its underinvestment in long-term value creation and other public goods, and its penchant for heightened coercion in the workplace. The book’s final chapters, to be completed at Aarhus, explore exportable alternatives to the stockholder-dominated corporation, including especially the Danish system of “industrial foundations,” which were once common in the US also before a tax law change in 1969.
David Ciepley is a political theorist who works on the history and theory of corporations and constitutional states—two distinct but related instrumentalities that have grown over time through a ratcheting process of co-development. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, taught for twelve years at the University of Denver, and is now Associate Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.
Our Corporate Civilization in Crisis: Constitutional Democracy, the Corporation, and the Problem of Control
Area of research:
Political and Legal Theory
1 October 2021 - 31 March 2023