One of the more common mistakes made by economic analysts is their reluctance or unwillingness to look beyond the walls of their own discipline and evaluate its effects on the society which it surrounds. 1+1=2, is very basic and easy to understand, as is the idea that too many dollars chasing too few goods causes inflation. But try to imagine the 1+1=2 causing a sequence of events, where 1-1=0 or 1*1=1, with these events not being economic transactions but personal interactions which result from the economic. Most economists make the common mistake of viewing humans as being rational, looking at economic transactions as self-contained interactions. Thus, making the science of economics a purely quantitative exercise. Unfortunately, many Corporatists are equally guilty of doing this, claiming to support the idea because of its potential for growth relative to capitalist and socialist economies. While the structure of Corporatism provides advantages over these economies, the comprehensiveness of the Corporate ideal leads it to go beyond all other economic as well as political systems and should be viewed as much more than economics. A note needs to be inserted here about the words “corporation”, “corporate” and their derivatives. Contemporary societies are dominated by giant corporations that emerged in the past 200 years from agglomerations of individual companies and now are controlled by managers and owned by stockholders. These are the organizations that are the foundation of what many call “corporatism”. However, this structure obviously is not the Corporatism advocated by fascism. Fascists adhere more to the original meaning and purpose of the Roman corporation and guild as organizations of community and social integration, something far afield of the modern corporation. In English, proper nouns are particular persons, places, or things, and the fascist meaning of “corporation” is special (to distinguish it from the prevailing system). Accordingly, it makes sense to refer to the fascist corporatism as “Corporatism” and its view of what corporations should be a “Corporation” (and its derivatives. An alternative to distinguishing “corporation” from “Corporation” is prefixing the former with “vulgar” to reflect the crass materialism as that organization's sole purpose in life. Hence, there is the corporation and the vulgar corporation. Not enough discussion has occurred in the literature about the differentiation, but for the purpose of this article, the fascist “corporation” will be designated “Corporation”. So goes it too for the Roman corporation, i.e., “Corporation”, as, it, too, bears little resemble to the contemporary situation.
Ugo Spirito, likely the most thorough Corporatist theorist during the inter-war era once said, “Corporatism is not economics, but politics, morality, religion, and the very essence of the Fascist Revolution.” This was the recognition that society was changing. The old feudal agricultural economy where personal interactions were generally relegated to your family, neighbors, and landlords was dead, and in its place, an industrial/technological social structure rose to take its position, a social structure built upon an almost infinite number of societal interactions. The growth of public education, the theater, and cities all made sure that social interactions multiplied. Even the act of walking down the street guaranteed a number of interactions. Children in school spent most of their waking hours with their classmates and teachers, while the advent of the television created a situation where people passively interacted with their environment for hours a day. The social structure became more complex at the same time, making the number of interactions much more important in the growth and development of the individual.
As a contrast, the society which preceded this was very different, being composed of a primarily agricultural population with limited interactions. While children received their education, it was very limited in scope usually taking place in the home, their spending most of their time working the family farm and learning the family business which was the maintenance of that farm. Life centered around the family and a plot of land in the family’s possession for generations. The closest you would come to an interaction with someone similar to the boss you see in today’s capitalist economy would be the local vassal, who would usually collect rent from the peasants and in return provide protection and shelter. The vassal would, in turn, pay homage to the lords, who were responsible for the king who was responsible to the entire nation. It was a system built upon mutual obligations and duties. As a result, the conception of the world one formed was of harmony, which the individual was a part of but did not supersede. The system worked and as a result, those components from the family at the base, to the nation at the top, and everything in between were held in reverence.
The growth of capitalism throughout Western Europe during this same time period began to completely revamp the social structure. The mistake, which is all too often made when analyzing social disorders, is to attribute change to the influence of malicious ideas or images. For example, contemporary shows such as Family Guy, which through its longevity and use in everyday discourse (most people are familiar with the characters and their catchphrases), reveals its popularity and hold on American culture but would have had no place in Western culture before the advent of capitalism. Family Guy is not the problem. A political and economic culture that has been slowly knocking down values and mores for hundreds of years has made it possible for a show like this to thrive.
The attachments that people developed to their family's plot of land and the necessity of a large family to maintain and pass on that land to future generations was replaced by factory work, wherein the individual worked for someone else, making a wage in which he would pay to live on somebody else’s property. What little was left went to support the family. Life for many was lived at bare subsistence levels. Whereas previously society was defined by its interconnectedness with a web of mutual obligations and responsibilities, life now became defined by its social isolation. In the factory, the individual was one amongst many. There was no special relationship between the employer and the employee. The factory owner, unlike the vassal of old, didn’t earn her/his wealth through the land, but through the use of capital, which could be easily moved from location to location. Obligations to individuals, families, and localities, disappeared as a result. Workers came to be considered as capital themselves, faceless automatons who could be gotten rid of and replaced like parts of an automobile. Indeed, expressions like “human capital” are ubiquitous in contemporary society. Even social services, like education and health care, have been industrialized as the “education industry” and “health-care industry”. People no longer citizens or clients; they are “customers”.
Just as the owners began to regard society differently so did the worker, feeling alienated and not belonging to something greater than her/his own ego. That ego became central to existence. Individualism began to thrive and dominate culture and politics. It’s no coincidence that Age of Enlightenment thought originated and grew in popularity around the same time that capitalism began to develop on the continent. The growth in crime, population stagnation, decline of religious fidelity and the advance of communism and Marxism were all byproducts of the social change that “demo-capitalism” brought about.
All of this begs the questions. What’s next? How do we fix this problem? Obviously, we cannot give everyone their own plot of land and have a nation made up of almost exclusively small farms. While being impractical from an economic point of view, also the values needed to sustain it do not exist. The key to any reform and the regaining of the consciousness of society as being composed of a web of mutual obligations and duties lies in restructuring it. A common mistake economists and political scientists often generate when making historical evaluations is to attribute societal and political change to be the handmaiden of technology.
It’s mistakenly assumed that capitalism and the destruction of the feudal economy was the result of technological change. What’s not discussed is how feudalism could have adapted to meet the changing economy. There was no need for the guilds to stay restrictive and localized; they could have been opened up to the general population and become national in scope. There is no reason why capital and its owners had to have been left alone by the State to exploit their fellow compatriots. In fact, the startup of capitalism is owed to the monarchs of the late Middle Ages, who were in need of funds to finance wars. Colonization resorted to breaking down internal privileges and structures, which while maintaining the feudal structure, also restricted the growth of private capital. Once this structure had been damaged, the growth of capitalism became an avalanche that no amount of advocating for the return of the old order or denunciations of its cultural side effects could overcome. Capitalism was not an inevitable necessity. It had to be pushed and advocated by the right people or it would have ended up in the dustbin of history with many other ideas.
The challenge we’re faced with is how do we establish the consciousness of Corporatism in a society where individuals live for themselves and know nothing of obligations, only thinking about their rights? How is Corporatism to be applied on a daily basis here in the United States?
Talking the talk is easy but putting words into practice is something else. Propaganda and colorful speeches are certainly needed, but if the system is rotten then it will bear bad fruit. People are much more insightful than their actions often lead us to believe. They can often sense inside when something isn’t right and will subconsciously manifest those feelings until they spill over into systematic change. Real revolutionary change is something, which takes place in the everyday interactions between individuals and the Corporate bodies they’re members of. How we act, behave, and think is shaped based upon how we absorb the input from these interactions. Corporatism was born because capitalism had dramatically expanded the scope of economic activity to encompass many aspects of our daily lives, often in a negative way.
To see the fruits of our present economic system one need not look further than our place of work. Once getting out of bed one of the first things an individual does is to have a cup of coffee; if this isn’t done at home, it’s usually done on the way to work or once someone arrives at the office. This has become a daily ritual for most people, as most of us would have trouble making it through the workday without it. Once at work, we’re immediately thrown into an adversarial situation, which because of the structure of capitalism, pits owners against employees, the former always looking to expand profit and market share. Many times this occurs through keeping wages at their lowest possible level and doing whatever possible to squeeze as much productivity out of employees as humanly possible. This often why workplaces resemble schools with strict rules on times arriving and leaving for work, not leaving your cubicle unless authorized and basically having your every move scrutinized. This childish behavior is often seen by adults at the workplace, office politics, backbiting, etc. are the results of a system which treats people like they are children. It’s no wonder that one of the favorite pastimes of any job is the after-work happy hour, just to celebrate the end of the workday, not to mention the celebrations surrounding Fridays.
This isn’t normal and hasn’t always been the condition of work. It may be hard to fathom but life used to be celebrated and organized around work. What Corporatists refer to as “Corporations” first emerged in Ancient Rome, and until the latter stages of the empire encompassed much of an individual’s life. Community festivals were often a product of Corporate undertaking, with social life being centered around the Corporate group, along with employment and social integration.
These Corporations eventually morphed into the Guilds of the Middle Ages and declined to a state of non-existence due to their inability to adapt to changing technology and social conditions. However, this is not to imply that they do not have any more uses. As we’ve seen, the present structure is broken, treating people like children, making them basically drug up every morning to keep functioning, all to pay rent or mortgage to the bank or the landlord. It’s basically the Medieval system without the mutual obligations and absolutely no meaning to the work being performed.
A contemporary guild/corporation would have to adjust to modern circumstances, be open to all people of good standing wishing to join, not to be exclusive and closed like its earlier forebears. That is, it would have to transform itself from a corporation to a Corporation. With mobility, continuing to advance and with the strong possibility of certain Corporations being dominant in certain regions, openness is essential. The only caveat to this is being that the person has a good moral standing, being able to pass a drug test, and have a willingness to learn on the job. This is not to imply that the Corporation will be so elastic as to have no meaning at all. While there is a subset of people that don’t want to stay at one job or industry for an extended period of time, most people who have families like and need the stability of a good-paying lifetime job; this is what the Corporatist system is designed to provide. The relocating overseas or within national boundaries to take advantage of cheap labor and working conditions would be a thing of the past. While ownership of the means of production would still remain in private hands, the management of industry would be a collective venture, encompassing both ownership and workers. Whereas capitalism leaves decision-making and responsibility solely in the hands of the owner or boards of directors, creating the adversarial nature of the modern business, Corporatism views the business as existing not as an extension of an individual or a group of individuals but as public trust exercised by certain individuals with the means to do so. Making money is certainly still is a strong motivation for owners and workers. With Corporatism, the self-interest theory of economics and the invisible hand, these faithless value-free ideals, which are at the root of many of our problems, will be a thing of the past. The context, which will surround business enterprises, will be one of morality; of a society composed of interrelated parts, where everything and everyone has a function and a purpose, a society of meaning, where people are lead to recognize the common interests they all share. If by chance there exist business owners looking to maximize profit through the exploitation of labor, they would be extremely unsuccessful. The workers' syndicates, which would comprise up to half of the company’s management, would never succumb to such maneuvers and the State which will be composed of the Corporations in a cooperative mode would never permit such a move.
But Corporatism is much more than a vehicle for improving the material welfare of the populace. Much like in Ancient Rome it’s structure is suited as such to be the center of the community and polity. Let’s face it, many people spend more time at their place of work than with their families, so to live much of that life in an adversarial environment can be alienating to the individual. This is one of the most important aspects of our existence, and to experience hostility and disconnectedness because of it leads to many of the social ills we see today: drug abuse, adultery, poor nutrition, diabetes, etc. However, Corporations are designed to supplement the family and provide the connection currently missing from work. Besides the increase in wages, the Corporation will be designed with providing training, alternative employment within the Corporation in case of job loss, political representation, cultural activities, and social insurance. With the knowledge that the Corporation exists for the benefit of its members and vice versa a new found respect for work can begin to take place, and the childlike mentality which now affects the workplace can be allowed to disappear. The mutual obligation society, which was replaced by capitalist society could once again become a reality.