Patrick Defends Corporate Campaign Financing to Hurst
By Justin Patrick '12
Alexander Hurst, in his latest column, failed to provide anything resembling a cogent critique of the arguments I advanced in my recent Indicator article regarding the speech rights of corporations. Indeed, nowhere in the swampy morass of half-formed thoughts and facile analogies that Hurst attempts to pass off as rebuttal does he provide actual arguments dealing with the central thesis of my essay — that prior judgment of a class of speakers is utterly incompatible with liberal values. Hurst falls into precisely the bind that I outlined in my piece; he simultaneously regards democracy as something that is, in principle, good, and regards the citizenry thereof as mindless drones who will, the moment a corporation endorses a candidate, follow the will of their corporate masters. As I wrote in my article, “either democratic government is good because individual citizens make intelligent, informed choices about the ways in which potential representatives would promote or protect values similar to their own, or we may as well give up the ghost entirely and establish a technocracy.”

The reasoning behind this claim rests in the justification of liberty that I explicated in my piece. The reason that we have a liberal society, the reason that we value free speech, free association, is not purely one grounded in a theory of natural rights. There is also a crucial prudential reason — following Mill’s argument in “On Liberty,” we must recognize that, as I put it, “no group in society has a lock on the truth, and it is only via an agonistic process of public disputation that we may settle upon the most right action in any given case.” Given that Hurst completely and utterly disregarded this line of argument and all of its implications (i.e. the foundational justification for limited government), it seems as though it might be worth my time to further explicate its import. What Hurst fails to understand is that, in a free society, one that allows wide-open political debate, false dogmas will fall. They may not fall in this election cycle or the next, but they will fall, for they cannot stand under the weight of truth.

Yes! Sometimes corporate spending may produce bad outcomes (read: help candidates that Hurst disagrees with, viz. Republicans, get elected). Yes, it would be wonderful if there were some way in which we could magically prevent politics from being a dirty game in which the virtuous are rarely victorious! If wishing made it so! The point is that the mere demonstration of some harm resulting from corporate speech being permitted is no justification for banning it, given the fact that banning it runs a far deeper risk. Enshrining into the law of our land the notion that a governing elite is competent to assess adverse prior judgments of certain speakers is a far worse end than a state going red here or there. What Hurst fails to realize, at a deep level, is that the nation’s political class is just as fallible as he supposes its foolish masses must be (how else to explain the fact that people vote Republican? Must be manipulation by the evil corporations!)

The troubling lack of actual engagement with the arguments I’ve advanced points me to the conclusion that Hurst may not have actually read my article prior to pouring his directionless rant onto paper; if he had, it would have been clear to him that none of my arguments had anything to do with the ‘corporate personhood’ doctrine that Hurst finds to be so self-evidently absurd. Whether the corporations in question are regarded as persons, anarcho-syndicalist communes or unicorns matters not; what matters is that they are speakers advancing political agendas in a democratic state. Given the principles at stake, I fail to see any justification whatsoever for Hurst’s position.

Issue 17, Submitted 2010-03-03 04:44:09