Are Private Corporations Ready To Replace Nation States?

Are private corporations ready to replace nation states?

I would have told you that you were steer crazy five years ago if you asked me that question. The idea that a private corporation could amass enough power to become more powerful than a national government seems inconceivable, but I submit to you that three major developments over the past five years have not only made such an idea possible, but actually realistically plausible now. In my view, these three developments are not new in human history. What is new is that they now appear to be readily accessible to corporate superpowers at the same time.

The first development is the ability of private corporations to control a national community’s speech, opinions, and the information available to it. The United States – and indeed the world – has become social media dependent. Social media platforms have replaced traditional media outlets as the primary sources of news for most individuals. They have replaced the town square or larger physical versions of it as the primary place in which people communicate. Their operators have become more powerful in the communication of opinion than the press. In other words, social media platforms now control what information the world sees, what speech may be uttered, and who is the most prominent voice.

We saw this reality come full circle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Major social media platforms – albeit in cooperation with world governments – took unparalleled steps to establish narratives, limit the visibility of certain information to the public, and silence viewpoints that did not conform to the narrative that they advanced. Social media companies – notwithstanding their cooperation with governments – became the most powerful actors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Standing alone, this development would not be extraordinary in human history. After all, traditional media largely filled the same role in communities that were not as globally integrated as the ones that social media platforms create. The development does not stand alone though.

The second major development of the past five years is the exposure of just how corporate dependent the world is. While industrialization brought some corporatization with it in lieu of an independent agrarian society, conglomerates did not immediately replace more geographically local enterprises. Thus, the majority of the world still enjoyed some individual autonomy.

COVID-19 proved that we have crossed the line between a society where the majority of individuals could survive due to their independence to one where survival would not exist without corporate employment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I represented individuals subject to both government and corporate vaccine mandates. What quickly became obvious to me was that corporate vaccine mandates had much more of an effect on individual compliance than government mandates. If individuals did not comply with corporate mandates, there was a very real question of whether they could survive without corporate employment. For all save a select few, they lacked both the resources (e.g., land) and skills to survive without a corporate job.

The end result was that corporations became more powerful policy makers with respect to individual behavior than governments did.

The third major development has largely been overlooked by major media outlets, but it occurred in Russia over the past few weeks. As most may be aware, Russia currently fights a war against Ukraine. To supplement its national army, Russia has, for decades, encouraged the development of private military companies or corporate mercenaries, and so did the United States during Afghanistan. Chief among Russia’s mercenary companies was Wagner PMC – led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Over the past several months, Wagner has fallen out of favor with the Russia military commanders. Accusations of corruption flew, and, in some isolated incidents, Wagner mercenaries and Russian military units fired upon each other. Matters then came to a head when Russia tried to assimilate Wagner into its military through a new contractual system. When Prigozhin rebuffed the attempt, Russia equivalent of the US’s Joint Chiefs of Staff had one of Wagner’s main camps bombed and shelled with artillery.

Prigozhin and Wagner had enough. While still holding their positions in the fight with Ukraine, Prigozhin took 25,000 men and advanced to the outer suburbs of Moscow, covering more than 200 miles in 48 hours. More importantly, he captured numerous Russian command posts and possibly a Russian nuclear weapons site. Most critically, Wagner allegedly won every engagement that they had with Russian military forces, and they forced Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to flee the Kremlin.

With the aid of Belarus’ president, Russia negotiated an end to the conflict with Wagner before they took over Moscow.

To my knowledge, this was the first time in human history that a private company of mercenaries stood up to a national government and came close to toppling it. There is no doubt in my mind that, if Russia did not have nuclear weapons and Putin wasn’t willing to use them, Prigozhin would be in control of Russia right now.

While the world has always seen private military companies focused on certain economic interests (e.g., the East India Trading Company iterations), I doubt that any company has come as close as Wagner did to toppling the Russian government.

These three developments present the recipe for an unparalleled event in human history when a single corporation or a group of private corporations figures out how to gain control and success in each of these areas. The result will be incomprehensible as they paralyze a society from resistance by dependence, suppress any opposition to their ideology, and defeat a national government by force.

Once again, five or ten years ago, I would have voluntarily checked myself into a facility for the insane for making such an argument. I may still be insane to postulate such a possibility of a corporate takeover, but it looks far more realistic today than it did five years ago. Do I think it will happen in my lifetime? I don’t know, but the last five years have taught me not to be surprised about life changing as we know it.

Cameron L. Atkinson

Cameron Atkinson is a Christian, a published constitutional scholar, a trial and appellate lawyer, and a general hell-raiser. He has received national recognition for his victories in civil rights cases, especially in First Amendment cases. Attorney Atkinson stands out for his written advocacy, and he has taken the lead role in briefing cases to the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Connecticut Appellate Court, and multiple New York appellate courts. Attorney Atkinson has successfully represented clients facing criminal charges, including successfully arguing for the reversal of a sexual assault conviction before the Connecticut Supreme Court. He will accept requests for public speaking engagements on a case-by-case basis.

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