Sunday , May 19 2024

Corporatism: A Daring Dream, Part I

Corporatism is a word with many meanings, and no one seems to know what precisely any of them are. Corporatism is a diverse set of theories, but it should be thought of in purely economic terms. When we think of ‘corporatism’ today, I am sure that most people would think of big business corporations, probably even in a negative sense. Cast all your preconceptions about the term ‘corporatism’ aside before you continue reading, since this has very little to do with those sorts of corporations. Corporatism, as a theory, does indeed involve economics, but it is also a social theory, a method by which to organise societies. There are also very many different sorts of corporatism, and it cannot be pinned down as a single thing, although, all corporatists would agree that society can be defined as an association (loose or strong) of self-contained groups.

The purpose of this latest essay is to argue that a form of corporatism is both desirable and achievable, specifically, Tory corporatism, an idea long dead, forgotten, and amongst those who do vaguely know some sort of corporatism, is wrongly associated with fascist doctrine, something which, whilst it also springs from corporatism, operates rather differently. Before we can offer a definitive case for Tory corporatism, however, it is expedient to detail the other types of corporatism on the political market, so that our own case can critique and praise ideas which arise from other forms of corporate theory.

Catholic Corporatism

It is arguably to Catholic corporatism that most contemporary communitarian and corporatist theories owe their existence. In the mediaeval period, the Roman Church structured itself around individual churches and their hierarchical structures, as well as monasteries, brotherhoods, guilds, universities and religious orders both lay and clerical. Each of these constituent parts made up the corporate whole, in the sense that each part formed part of the corpus—body, of the Church as a whole. Each part relied on each other, since if one failed, the others would suffer. A similar but smaller and less complex system is seen today in contemporary Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum gave birth to Catholic social teaching, from which developed the theory of distributism (see the ‘Economics’ section here), which itself is a form of contemporary economic and social corporatism.

Reactionary Corporatism

Reactionary corporatism, or absolutism, is inspired in many ways by mediaeval feudalism. It views society as organic, but rigidly hierarchical, with groups organised by social status, with each group owing responsibilities to those above them, and claiming  some form of ownership or authority over those below. As I am sure the reader can imagine, this means that those at the very bottom get the worst deal, whilst those at the top, the best. There is very little room for manoeuvre here, and society’s organisation is usually as absolute as the power of each layer of hierarchy is over those below.

Liberal Corporatism

Although similar theories had been proposed beforehand, John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy is the landmark work of this theory. Liberal corporatism accepts the free market as a desirable economic framework, but unlike traditional capitalism, advocates for equality for workers and seeks to implement a kind of economic democracy where labourers have as much say in the company as the administration. In this sense, it could be described as a liberal market economic system with influences from socialism. Under this system, capitalist firms are considered to be social and political institutions rather than separate private entities.

Guild Socialism or Syndicalism

Guild socialism is a form of corporatism where a network of small trade-based guilds (or in the case of syndicalism, large, organised trade unions) control the industries in which they work, and by extension, as a whole, the guilds control the national economy. The first system is more heavily inspired by medieval notions of guild loyalty and sanctity of the craft; the second is more rooted in 19th century Marxist and communitarian thought, but ultimately both systems have similar aims.

Guilds and unions are given equal status in terms of respect and power.

Progressive Solidarism

A popular alternative to socialist corporatism devised by 19th century social democrats and ‘revisionist’ Marxists in order to tone down the Marxist emphasis on “class struggle”. Under this system, society is organised into distinct communities, be they demarcated by familial bonds, clan affiliation, professional qualifications or economic status, which in turn send some kind of representation to central government. For the system to work, however, according to Durkheim, there must be a complete abandonment of individualism by the representatives in question. The will of each community must be fulfilled.

Conservative or Tory Corporatism

Conservative or to use its more traditional name, Tory corporatism effectively relies upon the principle of organic society. Tory corporatists view order as a naturally-arising aspect of human life, and frequently appeals to the traditions of the culture under which it operates. Philosophically, whilst Tory corporatism often prefers to let things lie rather than justify itself by pure reason, it has its origins in Aristotle’s Politics, in which the Greek philosopher states that society organises itself into classes by means of necessity, i.e. some are warriors, some philosophers, some craftsmen, some priests etc. and that each individual will naturally gravitate towards their class, often by the influence of those who educate them. Each class of society recognises that it requires the other for its own continued existence, so social cohesion is paramount.

Individual interests are recognised, but must be subordinated to the interests of the community in cases of conflict. Tory corporatism also tends to value virtues within classes such as nobility, diligence in labour, good manners, magnanimity and respect. Unlike liberal or socialist forms of corporatism, notions of egalitarianism or equality between classes and individuals are rejected as unnatural, but ultimately, the good of the whole society relies on the good of each group, and so there is interest in ensuring that each group is rightly treated.

Some Tory corporatists may adopt socialist language, criticising ‘bourgeois’ culture, for instance, but only on account of their respect for higher culture. Tory corporatism places societal structure above economics, but economically speaking can equate to a form of soft socialism or state capitalism. Its ideological roots lie in Catholic social teaching (see above), the political writing of Benjamin Disraeli, and to a certain extent German conservatives such as Metternich and Bismark.


The original theory of cameralism derived from Prussian economists of the 18th century, who structured the economy in such a way that emphasised positive balances of trade (a form of mercantilism, i.e. running an economy as a merchant would run a shop), whilst at the same time only taking economic decisions with centralised political implications. That is to say that it focusses upon loyalty to the monarch, but gives the centralised state the burden of ensuring that positive economic decisions were made, having to accommodate for every area of society that it affects.

This has been further developed as neocameralism by the reactionary (but not especially traditionalist) theorist Curtis Yarvin (a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug) in his lengthy exploration of alternative ideology on the web blog Unqualified Reservations. Neocameralism effectively places the monarch and his lords in the position of Executive CEO and directors; the country is run like a company, with the ‘board’ of rulers taking economic decisions while customer-citizens vote with their feet, leaving their country for another if they are unhappy with the decisions of the board. It is arguably closer to a form of libertarianism than corporatism, but nevertheless has its roots in a system similar to corporatism.

Fascist Corporatism

Fascist corporatism is today perhaps the most well-known type, which increasingly gives corporatism as a whole a bad name. This is a shame, since fascist corporatism is quite a curious creature quite different to the others we have examined. It is influenced in part by Prussian cameralism, in part by guild socialism and part by solidarism. Mussolini explained it in detail in his 1932 manifesto The Doctrine of Fascism. In a system disturbingly similarly to modern capitalism, Mussolini saw economic society as being run by a limited and oligarchic network of privately-owned corporations, which would meet with the government representatives to discuss how their interests could be served.

In theory, a system of labour contracts between corporations and workers would ensure that corporations represented their labourers as well as themselves, promoting class cooperation. In practice, this system allowed the fascist government to favour certain corporations in certain areas, and to establish monopolies and oligopolies with large government handouts. This system prevented the rich and powerful corporate managers from opposing the fascist party politically.

If you think that this last system sounds awfully familiar—you are right. There is a strong case to be made that we live under a system quite like this today. A good argument in favour of this view is made by Jeff Thomas in International Man. Other forms of contemporary corporatism do exist, but for the purposes of this discussion, we have covered all of the major forms which the reader will need to be acquainted with.

Now, in the ensuing part we shall explore the current state of different sorts of corporatism in Western society, and prepare ourselves for offer a view towards the re-establishment of a new kind of Tory corporatism.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog:

About Alex Illingworth

Alex Illingworth lives in Oxford where he pursues studies in philosophy and theology, having previously studied Classics. He has written extensively on conservatism, and on British politics, and is a co-founder of the conservative blog aimed at students: The Burkean. His debut book in political philosophy "Political Justice" is a forthcoming publication with Arktos Media.

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