Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jonah Ownah

I used the @twittername of Jonah Goldberg today, not in the hope of attracting his attention, but just because it autocompleted itself, in a remark about the use of the term by rightwingers to abuse the left:
"Fascism," my friend added, "is the control of government by corporations," and that did attract his attention, however; not with the explosive defensiveness of a Glenn Greenwald, but with a kind of weary patience:
Image via And Magazine.
And it kind of went on from there. I noted that his evidence, about how German industrialists felt in 1933 (they would have been happy with any rightwing, anti-union government; it didn't have to be the Nazis), was not the issue; what I had meant to advert to was the definitional relation of fascism to "corporatism". And two and a half hours later, he came up with a reply:
We can reconstruct what happened here, and it's kind of fun. The author of Liberal Fascism, an exhaustive historical account of how the New Deal is Hitler with a smiling face, if you didn't know, was startled to see a Mussolini quote he had somehow missed during his research:
«Il fascismo dovrebbe più appropriatamente chiamarsi corporativismo perché è una fusione tra Stato e potere corporativo» (Wikipedia)
Fascism is a "fusion between the State and corporate power"? Meaning Mussolini's Fascism was somehow pro-business rather than, as everybody knows, liberalism with uniforms? Gracious! This could call Goldberg's ENTIRE THESIS into question!

So he did, reader, exactly what I would do: he Googled it, and resurfaced, two and a half hours later, with the information that corporatism doesn't mean rule by publicly owned companies, if that's what you thought, and it has something to do with Roman Catholicism.

In fact he is quite right about the first part of that: Fascism in Italy was not government by companies, as if there were a seat in the legislature for Olivetti and a seat for Fiat and a seat for the Banco Ambrogiano and so on.

The structure of Mussolini's corporatism is well understood:
Una volta consolidato il proprio controllo politico sull'Italia, il Fascismo assunse l'iniziativa anche in campo economico-sociale, con l'intento di adottare una soluzione che comportasse il superamento dei problemi economico-finanziari dell'epoca e l'obsolescenza tanto del liberalismo quanto del socialismo marxista. La nuova ricetta che avrebbe dovuto, tra l'altro, consentire di eliminare la lotta di classe con la sua conflittualità sociale ed il danno da essa recante allo sviluppo economico, fu il corporativismo: lavoratori e datori di lavoro furono associati all'interno di un'ampia gamma di corporazioni, corrispondenti alle varie attività economiche, poste sotto il controllo del governo e riunite nella "Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni". (Wikipedia)
Once it had consolidated its political control over Italy, Fascism took the initiative in the socioeconomic field as well, with the intention of adopting a solution which would both overcome the economic and financial problems of the time and render both liberalism and Marxist socialism obsolete. The new recipe, which was supposed to eliminate class struggle and its conflicts and the damage it inflicts upon economic development, was corporatism: workers and employers were associated within a broad range of "corporazioni" corresponding to the various economic activities, placed under government control, meeting in the "Chamber of Fasces and Corporations". (my translation)
It was thus more government by organizations representing the "special interests", as if we were to have seats here for ALEC, and the US Chamber of Commerce, and the AMA, and the Independent Oil Producers Association. And some of those labor unions, I guess, but Mussolini wasn't going to let them do anything rash; he dismantled them at the beginning of his reign, in 1923 (alongside other pro-industrialist and pro-landlord actions), replacing them with his own puppet organizations, and outlawed strikes in 1926 just to make sure. So effectively the system was exactly what Goldberg claimed it was not, a fusion of employers' interests (i.e., those of the corporations in our ordinary sense) with those of the state (a corporazione in its own right), to the detriment of those who saw their interests better represented by liberals (in the 19th-century sense, which I don't distinguish however as sharply as some do from the modern usage) and socialists.

And the Catholic part? That's what's funny. The English Wikipedia article on corporatism, as it happens, is divided into four main sections, on kinship, religion, biology, and politics, the first and third of these being very short, so that if you just scroll through it casually it looks as if it might be organized historically, with the bit on religion being earlier
Christian corporatism is traced to the New Testament of the Bible in I Corinthians 12:12-31 where Paul of Tarsus discusses an organic form of politics and society where all people and components are united functionally, like the human body.[12]
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church sponsored the creation of various institutions including brotherhoods, monasteries, religious orders, and military associations..
and the bit on politics later, without noticing that what is really historically key for the development of both right corporatism (or fascism) and left corporatism (or syndicalism) is the development simultaneous with the corporatization of the Church of medieval universities and trade guilds. It's thus not at all the case that corporatism "came out of the Catholic church". It would be much more accurate to say that the church, that bewildering and elaborately hierarchalized community of Orders, Confraternities, Colleges, and whatnot, grew out of corporatism.

Anyhow, the author of Liberal Fascism spent two and a half hours simply glancing at one Wikipedia article, reading it incorrectly, assuming he now understood enough of the subject to smash his twitterenemies to pieces, and sending his missive into the aether. He's just as lazy as you thought.

Also, on the matter of seats for ALEC, and the US Chamber of Commerce, and the AMA, and the Independent Oil Producers Association, that is what, thanks to an electoral system in which the will of the voters has been largely displaced by the will of the campaign contributers, we largely have here, especially in parts of the country where Republican control means that interests other than those of pure profit and God go unrepresented altogether. And that fascism, believe me, is not a liberal one.
Image via The Coming Crisis.

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