Sunday, October 12, 2008

Corporatism: What is It?

In my last post I discussed the fact that Rousseau laid the theoretical foundations for the modern, liberal state and called it "corporatist." I defined it briefly as follows: "Corporatism is the modern belief in the unitary power of the all-encompassing State that is the provider of goods for citizens and the final authority in all matters political, economic, religious and moral." But this is too brief to be of much good. Here I want to elaborate a bit.

The Threat to Humanity Today
The real threat to humanity today lies in the tendancy of the modern state to take over soveriegnty of all of life and to place all of life in the hands of rational planners. What was for Plato merest myth (only approximated by Sparta in the faintest respect) has become sober fact for us. Technology makes possible the total control of human society by the experts - a class of people shaped by studies in the social sciences and animated by a deep faith in the power of reason to shape the good life, eliminate evil and create our own Eden here on earth without the help of God, thank you very much. From Jeremy Bentham's horrible "panopticon" to Orwell's "Big Brother" to Huxley's "World Controllers" all twentieth century dystopias have featured the use of technology to rationalize, plan and control entire societies from before birth to death. Prophetic voices as diverse as Jacques Elull, Romano Guardini, Wendell Berry, Alexsander Solzhensitsyn, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Pope John Paul II have warned against the dehumanization of man through this type of totalitarianism.

The danger that the human race will destroy the planet through nuclear war, though very real in the second half of the twentieth century, has now, I believe been surpassed as a threat by the bio-technology revolution. Bio-technology represents the temptation for man (actually, as Lewis pointed, some men) to sieze control of evolution and re-make the race in their own image, quite likely degrading him in the process. (Can a man lose his immortal soul? Can that which is made, not begotten, by man be soul-less? Can the race as a whole degenerate to the level of the animals again? Can man undo what God has wrought? For the record, I do not know the answer to any of these questions; I can only suppose that the Last Days of the Book of Revelation must come to pass before these horrors come to pass.)

Capitalism and Socialism
I think that the tendancy to "corporatism" is as much a Capitalist as a Marxist temptation because both ideologies arise out of the rebellion of the Enlightenment. I see liberal democracy as a melding together of the capitalist faith in the market to create wealth and the Marxist (Rousseauean) ideal of (at least relative) equality. As long as relative equality is maintained by the welfare state, the market will be allowed to plough along crushing all the tradition, community and individuality unlucky enough to be in its path. So debates about Marxism versus Capitalism seem to me to be of little moment. To critique capitalism using Marxist analysis seems as amusing as trying to stop abortion with birth control, since in both cases both arise out of the same basic impulses.

The Myth of the Fall and Restoring Eden
I have become convinced that the origin of the modern corporate state (which can be communist, state socialist, liberal democratic or democratic socialist - it matters not) is mythological. The problem with modern society is the degenerate form of myth that animates it. Despite the power of the myth of evolution (which is great, I admit) I think that the modern West is yet to break free of the Christian myth and specifically that of the Fall. I think that rebellion against the myth of the Fall of Man and original sin explains much of modern life and certainly explains the motivation and rationale for the growth of the corporatist mindset. Modern man is trying to prove once and for all that the Christian myth of the Fall is false and the only way to do it is to establish Eden on earth. Atheists stand vigilant guard against the teaching of creation is schools and museums and to their dismay vast segments of the population still believe in creation. They know that the Fall explains more of history and daily life than their counter-myth of the perfectability of man and the power of technology and that this will always be so until they have created Eden.

The twentieth century saw great strides in this direction with central heating, better nutrition, extended life expectancy, mass entertainment and so on. But technology also brought about zyclon B, atomic weapons, Chernobyl and so on. And promiscuity spread AIDS, while sexual freedom led to child poverty and the "New Soviet Man" could only be created by means of the Gulag. So many obstacles to state-sponsored Eden remain.

Many people of the Left today view the State (meaning rational planning) as the solution to all these remaining problems. Conservatives are absolutely right to oppose them even if all they achieve is delay and incompleteness of implementation. But conservatives fail to see that to support unrestrained capitalism is to support not only freedom, initiative, hard work, self-reliance etc. (all of which are good), but also to open the back door to a corporatist mindset coming in through the rise of mult-national corporations controlled by a few and working in tandem with governments to establish rational (market driven) control over all of life. Large corporations, for example, love complex government regulation since it provides them with a way to drive small businesses, who cannot afford the documentation, out of business. Excessive government regulation provides a competitive advantage for large companies and fosters the evolution toward monopolies.

It is difficult to see, today, exactly where government ends and corporations begin. Take the university for example. Is it really a tool of business or government? How could one tell the difference? This is corporatism making use of capitalism for its own ends. Democratic control of the government is increasingly theoretical when a class of technical experts are the only ones who even understand fully what is going on in something like the current economic problems.

Rescuing Conservatism from the Neoconservatives
So how can one be conservative without being neoconservative, that is, without being drawn into the corporatist mindset against one's will? I believe we need a new economic philosophy to advocate instead of capitalism in order for true conservativism to be an effective opposition to modern, centralized, rational planning. I have begun to read about distributism, a relatively unknown economic system that arose out of Catholic social teaching around the turn of the 20th century and which was advocated by Chesterton and Belloc, among others. More on that later.

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