Juan non-Volokh quotes one of his correspondents to rebuke Brian Leiter for not understanding that corporatism means government by corporate entities rather than corporations. Non-Volokh’s correspondent is right in stating that corporate entities don’t equal corporations, although apparently disinclined to address Leiter’s main point, which is that business did indeed play a prominent role in the Fascist state (the extent to which the political was “autonomous” from the economic is the subject of considerable historiographical debate, in the German case at least). Unfortunately he then goes on to give a quite distorted and politically loaded account of what corporatism actually was. He tells us that a “corporate is a production planning board made up of workers, owners, and others involved in production advocated by the syndicalist school of socialism,” and then goes on to try to claim that the modern left has a lot more in common with fascism than the modern right. Now it’s true that Giovanni Gentile was influenced by Georges Sorel, who was the most prominent advocate of syndicalist thought. But the two were very different, both in theory and practice. Corporatism, more than anything else, was an attempt to put the conservative and anti-socialist ideas expressed in Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum ,into practice. Its animating philosophy was the belief that the corporate interests in society – business, workers etc – should work in solidarity to organize economic and political life. It was explicitly conceived as a rejoinder to the twin threats of socialism and democracy. Syndicalism was a very different creature, and argued that politics and economy should be under trade-union control. Philippe Schmitter’s seminal essay, “Still the Century of Corporatism?,” which spurred the revival of the modern study of corporatism (and more particularly of its analogies with post WWII forms of economic organization), discusses the difference between these two social philosophies at length – indeed he predicts tongue-in-cheek that if the twentieth century is the century of corporatism, perhaps the next stage of history will see the rise of syndicalism as a counter-movement. Juan non-Volokh’s correspondent’s spurious historical analogy seems to me to be a rather transparent smear job.
Update: I should make it quite clear that this post is not a broad statement of support for Brian Leiter in his ongoing dispute with Juan non-Volokh. I don’t find his threat to find out who Juan non-Volokh is, and to out him, any more respectable than Donald Luskin’s somewhat similar effort to use a bogus libel suit to find out who Atrios was, when Duncan Black was an anonymously-blogging non-tenured economics professor.
Update 2: Brian Leiter asks me in correspondence to make it clear that he, unlike Luskin, has not threatened Juan non-Volokh with a lawsuit; instead, he’s relying on someone to tell him who non-Volokh is. While I consider this to be quite irrelevant to the matter at hand (the threatened harm is in the outing, not in the methods used to pursue it), I’m happy to state this for the record.
Update 3: It would appear that Brian Leiter has reconsidered. I’m glad to see it.