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Corporate Fascism?

I've been enjoying visiting left-wing sites to see the outrage over the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision. I'm particularly struck by one recurring trope--that the decision places the country squarely on the road to fascism; see, for example, the Huffington Post, but an internet search using the terms "Citizens United," "Supreme Court," and "fascism" yielded some 86,000 hits. Yes, I know that the whole "fascism-as-capitalism" theme was pushed hard by the Communists in the 1930s and 1940s, but it surprised me that marginally intelligent people believe it today. In fact, big business barely existed in the semi-industrialized economy of Mussolini's Italy, and it didn't fare well at all in Hitler's Germany. In fact, a couple of recent economic histories of Nazi Germany--Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction and Goetz Aly's Hitler's Beneficiaries--show how corporations were subjected to bureaucratic micromanagement, constant threats of expropriation, or imprisonment of their managers, and, in particular, crushing taxation. Aly points out that, from 1933 to 1939, the only tax that the Nazis significantly increased was the corporate income tax, which reached 60 percent by the final years of the war. Much of this, it should be added, went to fund a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

So where is the line about "corporate fascism" coming from? It seems that many of them have hit on this alleged quote by Mussolini: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

On the surface this would seem to be pretty damning; however, there's no evidence that Mussolini ever said it. A reading of his most important writing, "The Doctrine of Fascism", yields all sorts of references to a "corporative" system and a "corporate" state, but he clearly wasn't talking about business organizations. Rather, he was claiming that the role of the state was to play a harmonizing or balancing role among the various interests in the nation. In other words, fascism looks a lot more like progressivism than it does anything the Roberts Court mentioned in Citizens United. At the very least, the willingness of the Left to make such breathless claims gives the lie to the accusation that Tea Party-types are uniquely prone toward hyperbolic Hitler comparisons.

Categories > History

Discussions - 8 Comments

Tu quoque much?

So, you got 86,000 hits. Try "Obama" "health care" and "fascism" - I got..... (drumroll, please)... 1,540,000 hits. That might be a statistically significant difference.

I presume you dug into Kos or DU for some of the less thoughtful reactions (incl. those violating Godwin's Law) - I've preferred those of lefty, progressive (oh yeah, FASCIST!) legal experts like Jonathan Turley and Glenn Greenwald (for starters).

jonathanturley.org/2009/09/09/now-playing-at-the-supremes-hillary-the-movie-the-sequel/

www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/01/22/citizens_united/index.html

Not to mention the right's favorite object of hatred - the ACLU - approving of the decision...

The case did make for some very strange bedfellows, though. I still have pretty mixed feelings - including strong skepticism - about how this will impact the political process; I guess we'll see.

Are you distancing yourself from the "Tea Party-types" (does that include Dr. Schramm, who was a speaker at at least one Tea Party rally?) and their "hyperbolic Hitler comparisons"?

Would that include the ever-restrained Jonah Goldberg?
http://www.audiobooksonline.com/media/Liberal-Fascism-Jonah-Goldberg-Mussolini-unabridged-Tantor-audiobooks.jpg

(who is, it should be noted, REGULARLY hocking his book....errr...theories about how Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich are the modern ideological counterparts to the WWII-era fascists - on the very scholarly Glenn Beck tv program - I trust you've tuned in?)

Would it include Julie Ponzi, who was quick to employ the right's popular "Islamo-fascist" label (363,000 hits for THAT one!) and has even used the term "safety fascists" for regulators of consumer products?

I'll be waiting for your critique of the "Tea Party-types" and their "breathless claims" of the "fascism" involved in Obama's every word, deed, and sniffle.

Nice blog, John. Thanks. This Craig Scanlon fellow seems incapable of contributing anything interesting to our conversations. Let's just ignore him, shall we?

It would seem to me there was already abundant corporate spending on political speech prior to this decision. Moveon.org is a corporation ... a non-profit, but still a corporation. So what's the real complaint of the left? That for-profit corporations will wield too much power now?

The NYT and the Washington Post are for-profit corporations, and both wield enormous political power, and spend a lot of money doing that.

I'm very serious ... what's the principled line of demarcation used by the left to support their argument?

Whats funny is that the first two paragraphs of the Hartmann article have a certain timeless quality.

"As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: "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.

Get ready."

Is he writing about Reagan's election? Reagan's reelection? The 1994 midterms? Bush v. Gove? The Tea Parties? That fellow yelling liar? Alito mouthing not true? Fascism always ends up being guys like Hartmann not getting their own way. Democracy somehow manages to continue despite their petulant ravings.

Whats worse is that Hartmann can't look past his "politicians I really can't stand (which means everyone to the right of Joe Lieberman and Joe Lieberman) + corporations (well bad corporations, not ones that are involved with cap and trade and employ Rachel Maddow, but you know what I mean) = fascism" stance to even be embarrassed that the Wallace and FDR quotes he uses. The quotes would be a reminder that politicians of both the democratic left (as well as the right) have used hyperbolic totalitarian baiting to tar their democratic opponents. I read someone in the last week pointing out that such liberal totalitarian baiting in the 30s and 40s puts a different spin on Nixon's red baiting in the 50s. It seems less like an aberration and more like just hitting back.

Though that doesn't do it either. FDR was certainly called horrible things in his own time. Maybe the lesson is that there really is a lot of historical guilt on both sides. And Hartmann should grow up.

Which doesn't mean that a serious discussion of how things like corporatism and romantic statism have influenced political movements of both left and right as long as the discussion involves a sense of proportion.

One wonders why Hartmann chose to consult a dictionary that's more than 25 years old. The 2009 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism very differently:

"A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism."

I'm sorry, Dr. Schramm. What I meant to say was:

"Yes, exactly right, John! This misuse of the word "fascism" is much worse and much more common on the left, as any internet search will confirm."

And in support of John Moser's statement that "big business barely existed in the semi-industrialized economy of Mussolini's Italy, and it didn't fare well at all in Hitler's Germany" I should have offered these quotes from fascism scholar Robert Paxton:

"Mussolini was particularly proud of how workers would fare under his corporatist constitution. The Labor Charter (1927) promised that workers and employers would sit down together in a "corporation" for each branch of the economy, and submerge class struggle in the discovery of their common interests. It looked very imposing by 1939 when a Chamber of Corporations replaced parliament. In practice, however, the corporative bodies were run by businessmen, while the workers' sections were set apart and excluded from the factory floor." (Anatomy of Fascism, p. 137)

"Fascism was not the first choice of most businessmen, but most of them preferred it to the alternatives that seemed likely in the special conditions of 1922 and 1933 - socialism or a dysfunctional market system - So they mostly acquiesced in the formation of a fascist regime and accommodated to its requirements of removing Jews from management and accepting onerous economic controls."

and I should have mentioned the "plight" of German businesses like IG Farben, Daimler-Benz, and Allianz.

But, in an attempt to be "interesting", let me reiterate: I agree, I agree, I agree.

Would it include Julie Ponzi, who was quick to employ the right's popular "Islamo-fascist" label (363,000 hits for THAT one!) and has even used the term "safety fascists" for regulators of consumer products?

Revanchism and constitutional authoritarianism are the most salient characteristics of fascist regimes and both are the mode (though not universal) for contemporary political Islam. 'Islamo-fascist' is thus an appropriate term.

If I understand Mr. Goldberg's thesis, it is that Central European fascism and the pre-war 'progressive' strain represented signature local expressions of some similar impulses; the expression differed because the context was different.

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