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.