Adolf Berle's Corporate Conscience

33 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2022

See all articles by Elizabeth Sepper

Elizabeth Sepper

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

James David Nelson

University of Houston Law Center

Date Written: 2021


In this contribution to the symposium on “Corporate Capitalism and the City of God,” we bring Adolf Berle’s distinctive views of morality in corporate life into contemporary conversations about corporate religion. Today’s debates over corporate religious exemptions tend to gravitate toward an entity view of conscience focused on the moral integrity of institutions or an associational view keyed to shareholders’ deep commitments. The foremost corporate law scholar of his day, Berle instead conceived of corporate conscience as a “public consensus” guiding and bounding managerial decision-making. Although he would have sympathized with efforts to integrate faith and business, he would have rejected the conclusion that faith at work requires religious exemptions for corporations. Berle instead would structure analysis around corporate power and its potential to threaten individual personality. His corporate conscience, we argue, offers fresh insights to debates in corporate law, constitutional law, and beyond.

Keywords: corporate conscience, religion, corporations, Berle

Suggested Citation

Sepper, Elizabeth and Nelson, James David, Adolf Berle's Corporate Conscience ( 2021). 45 Seattle University Law Review 97 (2021), Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Sepper (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

James David Nelson

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

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