If you pay attention to progressive media, you will hear people use the term “corporatist” to describe politicians who accept generous bribes, I mean campaign donations, from large corporations, usually via dark money contributions to their SuperPACs. In this use of the word, “corporatist” means “wholly owned by and beholden to corporate interests.”
This sometimes trips up less-informed members of the progressive left, who will incorrectly say that “government by corporations” is fascism because “corporatism” was an integral part of fascist ideology in the days of Benito Mussolini.
When I said, “this use of the word,” I meant that the word “corporatist” has multiple meanings, and the ownership of our government institutions by massive corporations is a relatively recent usage which was not employed by Fascist Italy.
Corporatism in fascist times was the belief that a nation was like a human body. The word comes from the Latin “corpus,” literally meaning “body.” In place of organs, a nation had “corporate groups,” which included business, labor, the clergy, the military, farmers, academia, and the list goes on. Each one of these corporate groups had a defined role to fill to advance the interests of the nation. The fascist twist on corporatism is that the corporate groups filled those roles under the close “guidance” of a strong national leader.
The critical difference between early-20th-century fascist corporatism and 21st-century capitalist corporatism is that under fascism, business was subservient to the state. Today we have the exact opposite: the government is subservient to unelected business interests that are not accountable to the people in any way.
Therefore, I get leery when people today start using the word “corporatist” in the 21st-century context, especially when there is already a perfectly good word that would never be accidentally conflated with fascism.
Of course, if oligarchy is any better than fascism, it is only by subtle shades of very dark gray. At this moment, the oligarchs do not have anything approaching their own Gestapo or secret police, though I must concede that those who protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) may wish to offer a rebuttal.
Call it oligarchy or 21st-century capitalist corporatism, it all adds up to the same threat to our way of life. In a republic, political power is public property, the ultimate socialized resource, distributed equally to all persons, then consensually and conditionally yielded to a representative government. As political power is privatized, increasingly consolidated in fewer and fewer hands, the republican part of our constitutional republic is slipping away from us.