THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO ESTABLISH THE RELEVANCE OF the question that forms its title for contemporary political theory. It is not an obvious question, both because it is not obvious what the answer is, but also because it is not obvious what it means in contemporary terms. In order to establish its significance, it is necessary first of all to establish what the question does mean, and what the term ‘corporation’ means within it. It is, ultimately, a philosophical question, and the idea of the ‘corporation’ has therefore to be understood in a more abstract sense than is usual in contemporary political discourse. Because of this, the question has a tendency to sound archaic, if not obscure, when set out in philosophical terms. Nevertheless, I hope to demonstrate its continuing relevance by looking at one particular attempt to answer it, undertaken by a political thinker who was self-professedly not a philosopher, writing in a setting that was recognizably modern. The thinker was the legal historian F.W. Maitland, who produced in the early years of this century a series of essays in which he set out the contemporary significance of a problem which he believed went to the heart of the identity of the modern state. Of course, the question of the state's corporate identity is a perennial theme of European, and more particularly German, political philosophy, but Maitland wanted to demonstrate that it was also a question of practical significance, even for those who are traditionally unmoved by grand philosophical themes. That it is still of practical significance I hope to illustrate by applying some of Maitland's conclusions to one of the fundamental questions of contemporary politics: the question of the nature of the welfare state.