To those practiced in political theory, the term is an obvious oxymoron. That is, a corporatist thinks in collectivist terms, while a liberal (at least in the eighteenth century version) focuses on individual rights, competitive markets, and advance through merit. During the 1960s-70s New Left radicalism, “corporate liberalism” usually referred to the despised Democratic Party that was seen, as all capitalist parties were, as part of the business-oriented state that was therefore irrevocably set against the working class. It was my teacher at UCLA, Robert Brenner, who suggested that I use the term “corporatist liberal” instead; he may have wanted to emphasize the protofascist character of the “progressive” capitalist state whose psychological warfare I was studying (and in this case referring to Italian Fascism, with its organization by occupation, the so-called sindicati, with the [corporatist or corporative] state imposing harmony on capitalists and workers from above, in similar fashion as the New Deal intended.
But I liked the term because it suggested the institutional double-binds that Herman Melville had revealed in some of his more autobiographical texts, so the oxymoron formulation brought that out. For instance, he was to search for truth as an original artist, but not upset the conservative* formulations or belief systems of his patrons and family–clearly an impossible task (see http://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/). Similarly, in graduate school, I discovered that original historical research was demanded, but not so original that it undermined the published work of the faculty that awarded the Ph.D. [8/11/09: I have been criticized by one academic for sounding like a disgruntled failed graduate student here, so let me give an example: in a course on women reformers of the nineteenth century, I was punished for using class analysis, indeed one well-known feminist historian stated outright that I should have been thrown out of the program (apparently for noting that not all women had the same economic interests). In general, class was collapsed into 'race' and gender at UCLA, in keeping with the "anti-imperialist" and anti-Western orientation of UCLA at that time. Similarly, I was accused of racism for opposing cultural nationalism as an inevitable outgrowth of separate "ethnic studies" programs. Still, I stuck to my guns and after only eleven years got my Ph.D. in U.S. history.]
In other double binds, I found contradictions between loyalty to one’s country of origin while simultaneously becoming a citizen of the world, sensitive to suffering humanity wherever it might be found. Hence the compromise of “the rooted cosmopolitan” as opposed to the unreliable “rootless cosmopolitan” that I have written about in other blogs and in my book on the Melville revival. This notion of the compatibility of [moderate] “nationalism” and “internationalism” is everywhere today, and must immobilize those who think that all conflicts with other nations can be negotiated peacefully. As I saw while researching Ralph Bunche’s actions as mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the notion propagated by progressives such as Elmore Jackson that an artful and rational mediator could manipulate irrational warring parties to come to their senses and compromise, came straight out of strategies emanating from capitalist managers that disagreements between capital and labor* could be arbitrated by skilled mediation. So much for peace studies or conflict-resolution in general. They are part of the utopian thought of populist-progressives and dominate the mainstream media.
Briefly, what corporatist liberals do is switch from one P.O.V. to its opposite, as if no contradictions were involved. I trace the aversion to this tactic and to its association with Women to early childhood impressions. What follows is a brief but meaty extract from my conference paper given at the Modern Language Association in 2002. Do not despair if it is too much for you. Just read it, or skip it, and move on below.
“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow. Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene. The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame. Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization. The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This will be hard going for many readers. To see the original MLA paper, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is both psychodynamic and anchored in Melville's texts, but I think, clear enough.]
What I wrote is an hypothesis only, and to be persuasive, would have to be verified through examination of the early childhood brain under similar stress, that is, so far as I know, currently beyond the capacity of physiologists (neurologist Robert Scaer has observed this as traumatic to the child). But it intrigues me and seems plausible for it links the intertwining of misogyny and antisemitism that I observed in the biographies of Melville readers: Woman is the [switching] Jew of the Home. In all the academic literature I have read recently, no explanation is offered that adequately explains why antisemites are so often fearful of women, especially mothers, clinging or otherwise: the important feature to me is their inexplicable switching. I am not satisfied with explanations that refer to “the Other” as produced by the projection of forbidden aggression onto Others who must then be controlled (the Kleinian object- relations explanation pervasive in “cultural studies” with its generally post-colonial slant). As I have mentioned elsewhere, that formulation of “scapegoating” was produced by the very social psychologists who, during the late 1930s and 1940s, created programs of “civilian morale” and “preventive politics” through psychological testing in order to provide consensus and order. Their goal was not discovery of new and useful truth and/or an informed and appropriately educated clear-eyed and critical citizenry. (I am referring to such corporatist liberals as Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and Harold Lasswell, with allies among the much lauded “critical theorists” whose influence in the humanities remains powerful. See especially chapters two and nine in my book Hunting Captain Ahab for documentation that shocked my doctoral reading committee, but, not surprisingly, remained invisible in published reviews of my book. And compare this emphasis on the double-bind with Jonah Goldberg’s scathing critique of the Progressives, who are nailed for statism and authoritarianism but not for immobilizing us through the double bind. For instance, if you compromise your art or writing to please authoritarians of the Left or Right, then you are not an original artist/writer, but a courtier. If you sacrifice “order” to be true to your vision, you may not be able to support yourself through your craft–you are what Melville called a castaway. The consequence: those with independent incomes make art or saleable books, and their life experience may estrange them from the various less fortunate whose vision could enrich their own. )
Which brings us to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war on terror. As long as we pretend that all conflicts can be compromised through skillful (i.e. manipulative) mediation, we are helpless to defend ourselves or our allies against determined enemies for whom “peace treaties” (i.e., the rule of law) are irrelevant and tactical only. What I have been arguing here, as elsewhere on this site, is that corporatist liberalism, the ideology of “civilized” progress, indeed, of the United Nations itself, does not only make us crazy in attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable (such as Truth versus Order), its continued hegemony may threaten all life on our planet as we ignobly submit to determined aggressors in thrall to premodern and antisecular ideologies, and who will stop at nothing to maintain traditional hierarchies and privilege. (By secular, I mean the older definition that specified the separation of Church and State; I did not mean the newer meaning where “secular” equals “atheistic” or suggests Jacobin hubris/popular sovereignty.)
*Marxists postulate that there is a structural antagonism between capital and labor. In later years, I have rejected that formulation, and prefer to look at concrete situations, for instance, where there is either a labor shortage or a labor surplus. Moreover, as Michael Mann and other sociologist have argued, the state is not simply dependent upon capital, but has its own particular interests. This should be obvious from the recent brouhaha in Wisconsin with respect to teachers unions. And when I used the term “conservative” with respect to Melville’s relatives, I did not mean to equate the religious conservative Democrats who supported his projects, with the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, especially Hamilton.