Corporatism is an essential part of Fascist politics. It is an ancient sociopolitical theory dating back to ancient Greece, from the likes of Plato and Aristotle. At its core, corporatism advocates for the organization of the economy – or society as a whole – into interest groups (corporate groups).
Now, to those reading this, it may not sound like a revolutionary idea. However, those reading may not realize that one of corporatism’s biggest proponents is one of the world’s largest and longest continuously-existing organizations: the Catholic church.
The link between corporatism and Catholicism goes all the way back to St. Paul the Apostle, who wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 12:
12. For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ.
13. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.
14. For the body also is not one member, but many.
15. If the foot should say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16. And if the ear should say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17. If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18. But now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.
19. And if they all were one member, where would be the body?
20. But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.
21. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you.
22. Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary.
23. And such as we think to be the less honourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour; and those that are our uncomely parts, have more abundant comeliness.
24. But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour,
25. That there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another.
26. And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.
27. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member.
28. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches.
29. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?
30. Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
31. But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way.
Does this sound familiar? It should – it’s corporatism.
Yes, Catholicism’s link to corporatism is biblical, something very often overlooked by the more free-thinking sects. So, how has the church put this into action?
Once the church began to grow and flourish in the Middle Ages, it sponsored and directly created a myriad of different institutions and establishments, from civil (monasteries and orders) to military (military orders, etc.). This broadened the scope of what the church was trying to accomplish and bringing her closer to her earthly goals. From then on, it has been the modus operandi of the church, though today it is practiced to a lesser extent due to a spike in secularism and the decline in the church’s material influence.
Pope Leo XIII, in 1881, sought to expand understanding of corporatism and refine it into something more tangible. To that end he established the Freiburg Commission, a group of intellectuals and clergy tasked with advancing corporatism as a philosophical theory. Some years later, the commission concluded that corporatism is a "system of social organization that has at its base the grouping of men according to the community of their natural interests and social functions, and as true and proper organs of the state they direct and coordinate labor and capital in matters of common interest".
Inspired by these new findings, Leo penned what is – in the author’s humble opinion – one of the greatest philosophical works of the modern era: Rerum Novarum: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor. This encyclical applied the findings of the Freiburg Commission to society, primarily discussing the conditions that the working classes faced.
Rerum Novarum (RR), among other things, puts forth that neither employer nor employer is above the other, that both are as important as the other and that their cooperation is necessary for the betterment of society. It advocates that just as the employee is compelled to perform adequately at their job, so too is the employer compelled to provide adequate wages and conditions. Further, it affirms the natural right of the institution of private property and ownership of industry, while recognizing the need for state intervention in industry. This is a far cry from socialism – which Leo condemns and attacks repeatedly in the encyclical, along with rampant capitalism – which advocates for the destruction of class hierarchy and proletariat dominance over industry.
The fortieth anniversary of RR saw the publishing of Quadragesimo anno: Reconstruction of the Social Order (“In the Fortieth Year”) by Pope Pius XI. Whereas Leo XIII addressed the working and economic conditions of workers, Pius XI addressed society as a whole.
QA was an incredibly influential document, receiving praise and admiration from politicians across the globe, from Roosevelt to Salazar. It is worth noting that this encyclical is what Austrian statesman Engelbert Dollfuß based his government on – though that is a topic for another article.
In particular, QA discusses tripartite corporatism, a then-novel form which split society into three corporate groups: government, industry, and labor. This was the model adopted by most corporate states of the era.
Though the modern church is quite different from Leo XIII’s or Pius XI’s, it cannot be ignored that corporatism is ingrained in the very foundation of the church and its moral and ethical teachings. It has been the church’s mode of action and been heavily endorsed by Christian Democrats, Catholic or otherwise. If there is any doubt about the validity of corporatism, let the Catholic church serve as proof that corporatism can and has worked, and that it will continue to do so until the end of days.