Christian theologians have analyzed the productive and destructive qualities of institutions, sometimes attributing to them human virtues and vices. In City of God, Saint Augustine describes a utopian vision of human community within a Christian context as an alternative to the flawed “City of Man.” Contemporary theologians and sociologists have described collective structures of human behavior in institutions as having a kind of “spirit” analogous to the individual human “spirit.” Institutions are then assumed to take on an existence separate from the individuals within them, and in fact, the “spirit” of an institution influences the behavior of individuals. In The 20th Century Capitalist Revolution, Adolf A. Berle Jr. considers the tradition of religious utopianism and whether corporate capitalism has a spiritual character that impacts communities and individuals for good or ill and whether this might have implications for corporate managers. This Article provides a contemporary theoretical framework for Berle’s insight as a basis for considering its legal and ethical implications for corporate governance. It attempts to unpack contemporary understandings of spirit in order to provide a helpful working definition. It also considers the origins and essential traits of the modern business corporation in the United States, and discusses the question posed by Berle—whether corporations can or ought to have a sort of moral orientation. The Article ponders potential policy shifts that might tilt the orientation of the “spirit of the corporation” toward the common good and considers the limits of legal reform and the role of individuals and subgroups in changing corporate paradigms.
Russell Powell, Spirit of the Corporation, 44 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 371 (2021).
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