Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Harry F. Dahms, Jon Shefner

Committee Members

Anthony J. Nownes, Michelle Brown


A tension has persisted in the United States between the principles of democracy and the capitalist economy. At its core, democracy refers to the ideal that people should govern themselves. Democracy is indeterminate, its future open. But the open-ended principle of democracy collides with the authoritarian nature of corporations that centralize power within bureaucratic institutions designed to rationalize and augment capital accumulation. The purpose of this dissertation is to explain why democratic aspirations to realize a system of ‘rule by the people’ have been confounded by corporate political power. To do so, I delineate how polit ical theorists have envisioned ‘rule by the people’ within the three dominant models of democracy that are prevalent today—liberal, participatory-deliberative, and market democracy. Within each model, people are intended to exercise self-rule by practicing specific modes of political action, which I label as the first, second, and third dimensions of political action. However, theorists have focused on the ways in which human citizens practice politics while paying insufficient attention to the political role of (nonhuman) modern business corporations. This research emphasis is misguided because the political power of citizens has been eclipsed by the political power of corporations. Their power derives from corporations’ dual identity in modern societies—corporations are both political actors and “franchise governments” (Ciepley 2013:140) that are part of the political structure itself. These dual identities feed into each other in a dialectical process that functions to relentlessly augment the political power of corporations. As a result, corporations negate the normative impulse animating each model of democracy and deploy their political power to solidify policies and processes that increase economic inequality.

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