The Problem of the Corporation

Elisabeth S. Clemens

in The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780199535231
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management C

 The Problem of the Corporation

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  • Business and Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Business History


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Liberal political theory is populated by individuals: they have natural rights, enter into social contracts, and retain the right of revolution against sovereign power. Formulated in opposition to monarchical rule, this liberal vision informed the political constitution of what came to be the industrial democracies, polities entwined with economies dominated by large organizations rather than individual entrepreneurs and small enterprises. The result was a problematic combination of political commitments and economic practices that infused debates—both academic and electoral—over the proper form of twentieth-century democratic society. The dilemma was captured in the words of the Fund for the Republic, a 1950s project dedicated to ‘clarifying fundamental questions concerning freedom and justice that emerge when the forms and principles developed by Eighteenth Century America meet the ideas and practices of today's highly developed industrial society’.

Keywords: social contracts; large organizations; democratic society; industrial society; corporations; freedom and justice

Article.  11112 words. 

Subjects: Business and Management ; Organizational Theory and Behaviour ; Business History

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