Corporations, Courts, and Culture War

About the time of JFK’s assassination, U.S. Federal Courts began social engineering like men possessed.  Chief Justice Earl Warren mobilized the Judiciary to campaign for an ethereal Constitution as opposed to a written one.  Article I, section I, of the written Constitution states,

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Notice the word “all;” also the omission of any words prescribing or implying legislation from the bench.  Furthermore, usurping or stealing power by elites bedecked in their black robes is contrary to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  Three times it mentions usurpation as justification for the American Revolution.

Yet today the basic direction of American society is decided more by courts than by the polarized and paralyzed U.S. Legislative Branch.  As has often been said, “Power abhors a vacuum.”  That a usurping Judiciary pushed into the void should surprise no realistic student of politics.

The role of the Federal courts as a battering ram in the culture war is a well-documented process covering the years 1962/63 to date.  A relatively recent case of judicial activism, took place on the eve of John Roberts’ September 2005 appointment as Chief Justice, [Kelo v. New London, Connecticut (6/23/2005)].  The Kelo decision tore down protections for small land holders against corporate developers.

As outgoing Justice O’Conner argued in her Kelo dissent:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.

Thus, government may now seize private property not just for public use — as in long-accepted eminent domain proceedings — but for private profiteering.  Our judicial oligarchs permit city hall to level your neighborhood or tear down your parish church, in order to make space for condos or a shopping mall or an office building.

The latest windfall for the wealthy concerned the prerogatives of voters as against corporations seeking to influence elections [Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)].  Issued on January 21st of this year, the edict facilitates the manipulation of elections by curtailing restraints on corporate campaign financing.  Overturning longstanding limits on campaign contributions by transnational and domestic mega-corporations, the Court announced glibly that decades of restriction on big money had “‘muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.’”  Do not worry about public reaction, the Court comforted the moneyed class, for “the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy”  (Citizens United v. FEC, pages 5-6, 38).

Their reassurances notwithstanding, enhanced opportunity for the companies with large political war chests will certainly diminish populist influence in elections — whether progressive populism like some three million donors to the Obama campaign in 2008, or conservative populism like today’s Tea Party movement.  Populist efforts to upgrade morals in our culture on such issues as life, marriage and pornography will also be swamped by a tide of corporate spending.

Although the ethics at stake in this latest case of judicial usurpation were political /economic more than cultural, one of the “Catholic” Justices, Anthony Kennedy, could not refrain from a backhanded swipe at enforcement of morals.  Writing for the neoconservative majority (Citizens United v. FEC, p. 24), Kennedy put earlier efforts to censor pornography [citing US v. Playboy, 529 US 803 (2000)] on a par with censorship of political speech in the mass media when financed by mega-corporations.

This is characteristic of much neoconservative dogma favoring laissez faire capitalism.  After all Playboy, inc. is an American corporation, and the Court is obliged (they say) to put the free market at liberty to do its thing.  Too bad for you, O Christian citizen; because the oligarchy’s overriding ethic is to subject citizen/consumers to the moral sway of unrestrained capitalism with its driving force — the profit motive.

Mind you, the main culprits here are not businessmen themselves, but the big corporations in league with corruptible Federal officials.  As individuals, some CEOs are brave enough to go against the flow of corporate culture, and in such cases they may band together in organizations like Legatus.  With some 4500 Catholic business leaders internationally Legatus’ stated mission is to “study, live and spread the Faith in our business, professional and personal lives.”

It is obtuse and foolish, however, to look to corporate America generally as an ally in advancing the culture of life.  Pope John-Paul II addressed this problem after the fall of Marxism from power after the Revolution of ‘89.  While celebrating the demise of Communism in Europe, he warned also against the perils of capitalism, with its “viruses” like secularism, consumerism, and hedonism.  “Unfortunately,” said he in an understatement, “not everything the West proposes as a theoretical vision or as a concrete lifestyle reflects Gospel values.”

For example, big pharmaceutical cartels reap billions in profits by bilking us, the poor and the middle class, when we get sick.  One of their strategies is to oppose competition from less pricey pharmaceuticals in Canada, Latin America, and overseas.  During 2008, the two biggest American pharmas, Johnson & Johnson and Phizer/Wyeth, earned annual revenues totaling $135 billion.  These two American firms, and others not quite so large, have big bucks galore — enough to blitz Congress with an army of lobbyists advocating the equivalent of tariffs on prescription drugs.

As regards the tide of pornography that engulfs the nation, who has financed and pushed this obscenity upon our culture if not corporate America?  Annual pornography revenues have reached $13 billion / year in America [more than the combined revenues per annum of ABC, CBS, and NBC (2006 statistics)].  To be sure the courts adroitly opened the floodgates.  But it was CEOs like Hugh Heffner, Larry Flint and their followers who created the reeking tsunami.

Another sort of obscenity is the trade that rakes in profits by making other nations’ wars more destructive.  High tech corporations headquartered in the United States do a multi-billion dollar business every year in arms sales, making the USA the leading nation in the international arms trade.  Much of the exportation of American weaponry goes to countries labeled undemocratic by the U.S. State Dept., and often to third world countries.  The military-industrial complex, against which President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address, is now a pervasive and gargantuan reality.

Examples abound of why it is fallacious to see corporate America as inclined to assist in the restoration of Judeo-Christian standards.  Consider the likes of Ford Motors, Levi Strauss, Pepsi, US Bank, Wells Fargo, IBM, and Motorola.  These and a host of other large firms employ money and boardroom policy for the purpose of mainstreaming same-sex sodomy into the culture.  See, for example, the long list of powerful corporate partners in the national GLBT Chamber of Commerce.  Among the corporations working against traditional marriage in California (Proposition 8 ) were Apple Computers and Google.  Proponents for the GLBT agenda (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) are not so much small businesses, as politicized mega-corporations.

On the abortion front, Planned Parenthood is itself a billion dollar corporation.  Its funding comes in part from Warren Buffet, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Carnegie Corp. of New York, Chase Manhattan Corp., Hershey Corp., Prudential Insurance, and many such foundations financed by corporate America.

Corporate America frequently brings political power to bear against the interests of churches and religious citizens.  Like arsonists suddenly set at liberty in the Capitol Building, too many corporations are conflagrating what our Christian forefathers and foremothers took generations to build.

If we are to extinguish these fires, we cannot confuse friend with foe.  We the people must disabuse ourselves of the notion that corporate America is a likely ally in the fight against moral decline.  On the contrary, gigantic corporations and multinationals are intrinsically amoral.  Their overriding interest is the bottom line.  The impetus for a cultural upgrade must be sought elsewhere.


writer, retired history teacher, practicing cradle Catholic, lecturer for Knights of Columbus, council 1379. Knight of the Month, October 2008, February 2009.

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