It’s absolutely true that corporatism has significant roots in the Catholic Church.
But before we get to that, I need to illuminate a more basic point which seems to be lost on a lot of people, most intensely angry leftwing callers to radio shows I happen to be on. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s tirades notwithstanding, corporatism is not “rule by corporations.” Here’s a useful summary of Kennedy’s willful ignorance:
In the book, Kennedy implies that we live in a fascist country and that the Bush White House has learned key lessons from the Nazis.
“While communism is the control of business by government, fascism is the control of government by business,” he writes. “My American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as ‘a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism.’ Sound familiar?”
He quotes Hitler’s propaganda chief Herman Goerring: “It is always simply a matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Kennedy then adds: “The White House has clearly grasped the lesson.”
Kennedy also quotes Benito Mussolini’s insight that “fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
“The biggest threat to American democracy is corporate power,” Kennedy told us. “There is vogue in the White House to talk about the threat of big government. But since the beginning of our national history, our most visionary political leaders have warned the American public against the domination of government by corporate power. That warning is missing in the national debate right now. Because so much corporate money is going into politics, the Democratic Party itself has dropped the ball. They just quash discussion about the corrosive impact of excessive corporate power on American democracy.”
Corporatism isn’t government by Halliburton. It’s government where industry, trade unions, government bureaucrats et al. all sit around the table and hash out what’s best for everybody (though it ends up being a way to figure out what’s best for them).
The Routledge Companion to Fascism and the Far Right* says “There are also many forms of corporatism but in general terms it refers to the collective management of the economy by employers, workers’ representatives and state officials using formal mechanisms at national level. This need not take a coercive or anti-worker form.”
We’ll get back to that in a second. But first I think it’s fair to say that this sentiment – “if only we could get workers and management to sit at the table together with government to figure out what’s best for all Americans, the environment, the children, whatever” – is decidedly more of a Democratic trope than a Republican one. If I must, I will locate some of the 10 katrillion quotes from leading Democrats saying pretty much exactly this sort of thing.
* I have my problems with the book, but it is a great distillation of where the academics are on these issues.