Corporations: Not Just ‘Stuff,’ But Freedom

The annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute took place tonight at the Washington Hilton, with the AEI’s Irving Kristol Award being presented to the Bernard Lewis, the renowned historian of Islam’s interaction with the West. Lewis’ academic work and topical commentary have gained new value in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; it was truly an honor to hear his address, “Islam and Europe,” not to mention edifying to have it come from a 90-year-old. [UPDATE (4:10 p.m., March 8) Bernard Lewis’ speech will be on C-SPAN Book TV this weekend.]

Viewing the evening with a NAM perspective, we were also impressed with the opening comments of Christopher DeMuth, AEI’s president. In a mild tone, DeMuth gave a full-throated defense of the corporation’s role in modern society, engaging an issue that some would deem beyond the political pale. After thanking the sponsors, he observed:

There is a movement afoot to treat the political views and interests of corporations as inherently suspect and in need of official supervision. Senators are warning firms not to advance incorrect views. Pension funds, the accounting profession, the plaintiff’s bar, are being deputized in various efforts to bring the corporation to political heel. This is a pernicious development.

The corporation is the transmission belt for much of our safety, prosperity and progress. It is the place where many Americans pursue their vocations and spend most of their lives. And, it is the locus point of tremendously valuable social intelligence, information about society, economy and technology that is, to a unique degree, generated by reality and analyzed with a view towards something other than politics.

The rest of his comments are in the extended entry below.

Those who objurgate [the] corporation as an independent source of ideas and political activism include the major media, themselves corporations, and political representatives, themselves eager for corporate funding. But the Constitution affords them no monopoly on policy debate, and for them to acquire one would be dangerous to our social climate and political health.

Corporation is a vital reality-based counterweight to those for whom politics is primary. We all depend on you not just for our “stuff,” but for our freedom, and we’re counting on you to hold your ground.

A valuable defense of a valuable institution — the American corporation. Thanks, Mr. DeMuth.