Corporatism comes from the Latin word corpus, meaning body. It refers to the body being able to function through a number of different organs working together. Corporatism is precisely about several "organs" working together: Businesses, unions, government, local authorities, banks, public agencies and other large organisations.
The word corporatism was negatively associated with the communist, fascist and Nazi regimes, where various organisations were subsumed into, or forced to "cooperate" with, the state.
From a positive angle, people in Western countries have talked about voluntary corporatism, in which cooperation has more the character of reciprocity between state power, business organisations and the financial sector.
It is a precondition for a democratic society that there is mutual recognition and a solid working relationship between the different types of organisation, even though they often have their own interests. For example, unions and companies, seen in isolation, have opposing interests, but both types of organisation have a common interest in cooperation, in strikes not breaking out, and in the country's economy remaining stable.
The threat to democracy
Where the threat to democracy arises is when organisations "get a life of their own", so to speak; when they work in the interests of the organisation or the system to a greater degree than for the people whom the organisations represent. If governments and banks, for example, are more interested in the survival of the banking system than the rights of the citizen, then corporatism becomes a threat to democracy. The same applies when states take more account of, for example, the interests of multinational enterprises than the rights of the citizen.
It is precisely one of the characteristics of totalitarian ideologies that they put the system before the individual.
Cooperation between major organisations represents a high risk of developing into an anti-democratic form of corporatism. One reason for this is that the people who work together at the top of organisations in many ways have more in common with each other than with the people who are at the bottom. At the top, they have the same education, roughly the same wages and many of the same habits and personal interests. To put it simply, cooperation at the top is exciting and fun. In the process, it is easy to become enthusiastic about joint solutions which benefit the cooperative process itself, more than they benefit the organisation one is leading and the people on whose behalf the organisation is supposed to be working.
A further consequence of corporatism is that elected representatives become totally dependent on experts because systems become too complex to understand and handle without expert assistance.
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