The Corporation as Angel

Much like you, I’ve never had much truck with the kitschy view of angels.

My favorite take on angels comes from The Prophecy. The Prophecy is a rather kitschy movie itself, but it deserves real credit for portraying angels that behave like they come from the Pentateuch, not a Hallmark card:

Recently I just finished reading David Graeber‘s excellent Debt: The First 5,000 Years. One of his asides caught my attention:

[Corporations are] entities that, through a charming legal fiction, we imagine to be persons, just like human beings, but immortal, never having to go through all the human untidiness of marriage, reproduction, infirmity, and death. To put it in properly Medieval terms, they are very much like angels.

Legally, our notion of the corporation is very much a product of the European High Middle Ages…

As an abstraction for thinking about corporations, “angelhood” seems like a much better fit than “personhood.” What are angels? They are alien. They are immortal, and hard to kill. They ruthlessly pursue their goals. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear (though sometimes, they can be bargained or reasoned with).

In Hebrew, the word for angel is Malakh, “messenger.” This rings true as well, as modern corporations are absolutely obsessed with their “message.” The wrinkle is that unlike Biblical angels, the message corporations want to give you is never the message that they are actually carrying. This is what makes wrestling with them so complicated.