QUEST FOR THE CATHOLIC STATE: Part II

By Charles A. Coulombe


This very long quotation is useful because it shows not only what La Tour du Pin, but most other Catholic social theorists arrived at by the late 19th Century---the idea of the Corporate state. Men like Ramon Nocedal in Spain, Karl, Baron von Vogelsang in Austria, and Giuseppe Toniolo in Italy elaborated the same ideas in their own countries. The latter was influential in persuading Leo XIII to accept these notions; the result was the groundbreaking 1891 encyclical, Rerum novarum. In this, Leo XIII held up corporatism as the Catholic ideal.

As a result, the Catholic or Christian Social Parties in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands all adopted the Corporate State as their long-term goal. In France, the chance to form such a group was ironically scuttled by Leo's order that French Catholics should abandon Royalism and "rally to the republic;" this in hopes of convincing the government not to seize the churches. While Leo's strategy failed to preserve the property, it did manage to split the most activist French Catholics into two factions. In Italy no Catholic party was formed because to take part in electoral politics would have meant recognition of the Italian government's legitimacy (impossible due to their usurpation of Rome).

In Spain and Portugal too the Catholics were split by dynastic disputes. In any case, since the whole nature of electoral politics as we know them and in which the Catholic parties had to function is and was Liberal, these groups often had to defer any work on the Corporate state to some unknown future, and spend the immediate working for easier goals---often including piecemeal parts of the total program. So it was as the new 20th Century dawned.

The First World War destroyed much of value, including the Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary. But it also destroyed faith in the Liberal vision of progress; its horrible devastation led many to think more of the next world. Further, the unleashing of Communism in Russia (and its bloody attempts at rule in Finland, Hungary, Bavaria, Slovakia, and elsewhere) brought many to think more seriously of non-Liberal Capitalist alternatives. But it was the world-wide Depression in 1929, threatening the very foundations of the international Capitalist economy which led many folk in many lands to ponder the Corporate State anew. Although Monarchism and Catholicism were bound up together with Corporatism in many people's view, the three were not necessarily identical, as attempts to put them into practice showed. At any rate, Pius XI reinforced and updated his predecessor's endorsement of Corporatism in his encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, issued in 1931.

Portugal had suffered a revolution in 1910, which expelled King Manoel II and put in an anti-clerical regime. On May 27, 1926, a popular rising against the regime began in Braga, in the north. On June 17th, the rebels entered Lisbon. The presidency was given to General Oscar Carmona. He summoned to the capital one Professor Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, an instructor of economics at the University of Coimbra. Like Garcia Moreno, Salazar had been ordained in minor orders, and was a fervent Catholic. Moreover, he was at Coimbra a student of the writings of La Tour du Pin. Eventually, he became Prime Minister, and in 1932 gave his country a new, Corporative constitution. In this document, the ideas given in the earlier quote by La Tour du Pin were erected into law. The result was called the Estado Novo, the New State. Corporations representing labor and capital in every branch of industry were erected.

The economy of Portugal had been in foreign hands for a long time; Salazar restored the position of the Portuguese fishermen, farmers, and artisans. The Church reassumed her rightful place in the national life. He declared that when the country was ready, he would bring back her King. Above all, Salazar tried, as had La Tour du Pin, von Vogelsang, and the other Corporate theorists, to put an end to the rule of party and faction. In his own words:

...we seek to construct a social and corporative state corresponding exactly with the natural structure of society. The families, the parishes, the townships, the corporations, where all the citizens are to be found with their fundamental juridical liberties, are the organisms which make up the nation, and as such they ought to take a direct part in the constitution of the supreme bodies of the state. Here is an expression of the representativesystem that is more faithful than any other.
What was the result? Throughout the 1930s, World War II, and the 50s, Portugal did rather well. The Corporations continued to grow, and the standard of living rose. But in the early 60s revolts against Portuguese rule broke out in the African possessions of Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea. Although the guerrillas were armed by both the Soviet Union and the United States, Salazar resolved to fight. Incapacitated by a stroke in 1968, he died two years later. His successors were not as able as he, and in time the strain of fighting the world's two superpowers by proxy ruined the national economy. A coup in 1974 ended Salazar's experiment. But what would have been the outcome had the New State been allowed to develop in peace is a question, which, while unanswerable, is deserving of a good deal of thought.

Another attempt to inaugurate a Catholic, Corporate state took place in Austria. The rump remaining from the German-speaking areas of the former Empire was always in a rather precarious position economically. The Depression hit the country badly. The rise of the Nazis to power in Germany caught the country in a vise; to stave off Hitler, successive Austrian governments had to turn to Mussolini. Moreover, the Socialists and Communists were very active. Surrounded by dangers internal and external, Austrians looked for strong Catholic leadership. They found it in Engelbert Dollfuss.

Born in 1892, Dollfuss had studied law and economics at Vienna. He became secretary to the Lower Austrian Peasant Federation, and in 1927 director of the Lower Austrian chamber of agriculture. In 1931 he became chancellor. At the Christian Social party conference in April 1933, the need to reconstruct Austrian society if it was to stave off its enemies was of paramount concern. At that conference, Dollfuss' assistant, Kurt von Schuschnigg declared that the "reconstruction of the state" was "indivisibly connected with the reform of society," and that Quadragesimo anno was the guide. A new Corporative constitution was adopted on June 19, 1934.

It is a remarkable document. Its preamble reads: "In the name of almighty God from Whom all justice emanates, the Austrian people receives for its Christian, German Federal State on a corporative foundation this constitution." In keeping with this, the Concordat with the Holy See was elevated to Constitutional law. Corporative legislative bodies like the Federal Cultural Council and the Federal Economic Council were erected. Dollfuss, lover of Austrian institutions that he was, favored a Habsburg restoration. But although he gave his county a good constitution, he did not see it in operation for long.

The Austrian Nazis were fearful that Dollfuss' activities would prevent the country's being annexed by Germany. On July 25, 1934, a group of 150-200 Nazis seized the chancellery, and murdered Dollfuss. Although the attempted coup was put down, it was nevertheless a great blow to Austrian independence.

Dollfuss' constitution did survive him---for four years. At last, abandoned by the West, Austria submitted to her northern neighbor. For the short period that Dollfuss' reforms were in effect, they produced some excellent results. Unhappily we shall never know their potential.

Lithuania also attempted a similar solution to the problems of the Great Depression, Communism, and Nazism. After a pro-Communist government was deposed in 1926, Antanas Smetona, who had led the nation to independence in 1918, returned to power. Under his sponsorship, a new constitution in 1931 made Catholicism the religion of the State, and established Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture to function in typical corporative style. A 1935 law created a Chamber of Labor to safeguard the workers' cultural, economic, and social interests. Here again, only five years would pass before Soviet troops ended the experiment---but what was accomplished in the meantime showed great promise.

The next year, Lithuania's neighbor to the north, Latvia, adopted a Corporative government; this even though only 29% of Latvians were Catholic. Still, it conformed to the general pattern otherwise:

A corporative form of government came into effect with the formation, in January 1936, of a National Economic Council, made up of the elected boards of the newly created chambers of commerce, industry, agriculture, artisans, and labor. A State Cultural Council was also created, consisting of the boards of the Chamber of Professions, and the Chamber of Literature and Art. These councils were allowed to collaborate with the respective government departments, individually and jointly. The two National Councils constituted the Joint Economic and Cultural State Council, which was convoked by the President of the Republic, and worked in close collaboration with the Cabinet of Ministers. The Joint State Council represented all sections of the nation, including the national minorities. It passed resolutions by a simple majority vote of its members. The reorganization of the producing population on a guild basis was paralleled by a readjustment in municipal and rural self-government, where elections were now held along guild rather than political lines. A new communal law provided for an organic coordination between the various corporative chambers and the self-governing territorial administrations. It was generally conceded at the time that the direct participation of every producing socio-economic group in the governmental machinery insured that national unity which both public opinion and the men in office sought as a remedy for the current ills and a new foundation for the future security of the state (Alfred Bilmanis, A History of Latvia, pp. 360-361).
Needless to say, the Soviets put an end to all of that also in 1940.

The year 1936 also saw the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The Falange, the coalition of Carlists, Alfonsinos, and Corporatists who won that conflict in 1939, maintained the following point along with the 27 others in their program:

9. From the economic viewpoint we conceive of Spain as a large producer's syndicate. We shall organize corporatively Spanish society by means a system of syndicates, according to fields of production, syndicates which will be at the service of national economic integrity.
The Falange did form some of these syndicates; moreover, they spread the idea of Corporatism throughout Latin America. Even in the American held-Phillipines, a branch of the Falange existed, organized by Andres Soriano and Enrique Zobel.

But some of these nations had by 1937 their own native Catholic Corporatist movements, friendly to but independent of the Spanish Falange. The Sinarquistas of Mexico maintained as one of their 16 points:

The members of the same craft or profession must unite, building corporate groups. Over these professional or corporate groups, a superior power must be established, in charge of their mutual relationships and directing them to the common good. Similar professional corporations must unite within themselves, submitting to a supreme authority embodied in the political structure of the nation.
Laureano Gomez, head of the Colombian Conservative Party after 1930, and president from 1950 to 1953, was interested in Corporatism; so too was Jose Uriburu, Argentine president, 1930-31. But in order to be friendly with the U.S. Franco tacitly dropped Corporatism after 1955, and most Latin Americans followed suit. Quadragesimo anno made such an impression in the Netherlands that Corporations were actually formed at the behest of the minority Catholic party, and endowed with a certain amount of governmental power in the 1938 constitution; World War II and German occupation ended this experiment. In Belgium, Robert Poulet, a journalist, played an important part in the Reaction group. This consisted of men of letters, war veterans, corporatists, etc. Established in in 1932, its organ for the next two years was the Revue Reactionnaire,. It tried to foster a "powerful current of opinion against parliament and democracy;" it felt that the old parties must disappear and "abdicate their sovereignty into the hands of the king." The king, who would govern with the help of a corporatist system, would be given the most extensive powers, including legislation. In 1935 the Revue Ractionnaire was succeeded by the Revue de l'Ordre Corporatif (1935-1940) which continued the struggle for a "corporate monarchy." The previous year, Poulet and various other Reaction members took over the Nation Belge. This latter held that the Parliamementary regime was dying, and should be replaced by a corporatist state organized around the king. Of similar views were Pierre Nothomb (b. 1887), writer and orator, founder of the weekly L'Action Nationale (1924-1930), and Paul Hoonaert, who was executed by the Nazis.

In Ireland, Corporatism inspired the work of Frs. Denis Fahey and Fr. E. Cahill; it also had some influence on the 1937 constitution.

As might be expected, Corporatist ideas were not unknown in France, home of La Tour du Pin. They were popularized by the famed Charles Maurras of l'Action Franšaise. Due to his influence and those like him, the regime of Marshal Petain at Vichy experimented with Corporatism during the two years of their partial independence from the German occupiers in 1940-42. After that date, former Socialists like Pierre Laval were forced into positions of power by the Germans; these soon ended the Corporatist effort.

Corporatism crossed over to Quebec from France; the movement l'Action Francaise Canadienne, led by Fr. Lionel Groulx, became so influential that Cardinal Villeneuve himself opined on April 17, 1937, "We have and there some bits of social justice, but these appearances of remedies do not suffice. We need more than that: full corporatism." As Sinarquismo came across the border to the Southwest, so did folk inspired by Groulx come with the French-Canadians to New England. Thus was founded the 20s-era paper in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, La Sentinelle, edited by Elphege-J. Daignault (1879-1937).

Unfortunately, Mussolini and Hitler attempted to claim Corporatism for themselves, leading some to claim that it is merely Fascism. But this attempt is belied by two important facts. The one is that in true Corporatism, as elaborated by Popes and lay theorists and politicians, the Corporations are organic, that is, true developments from the grass-roots. The great dictators tried to make them artificially; it did not work well, and in the case of Italy the attempt was given up after 1937.

The other important point is that many of their opponents were true corporatists. Fr. Luigi Sturzo's Popular Party (Catholics could vote in Italy after World War I), were among the bitterest opponents of the Fascists. They had as their motto, Libertas, a liberty which was not "the liberal, individualist, antiorganic atomic conception, which is based on the [false] conception of the sovereignty of the people." In Germany, the heroic Claus, Count von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assasinate Hitler as part of a coup on July 20, 1944, was surrounded by Corporatists. Apart from emphasizing the need for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular in German public life, von Stauffenberg had some very Corporatist things to say:

How can people fit to govern be recruited from all sections of the population? Is it possible, and if so how, to establish popular representation in Germany, perhaps on an entirely different basis than that of conventional political parties---perhaps building on the political reality of a system of local communities, vocational groups, or associations of common interests which might be given a public voice of their own in Parliament instead of deviously pursuing their objectives through self-interested parties or by parleying with such parties. Relations between entrepreneurs and workers must be based on their common tasks, and their joint responsibility toward the community as a whole and towards the individual human being.
He was, by all accounts, a great man, von Stauffenberg; one wonders how, had he been sucessful, he would have served his country and his continent. Is it not odd that Nazi, Fascist, Communist, and Capitalist alike all opposed these Corporatists? One might be tempted to say that destruction of the unique Catholic social and economic vision was the one thing which unitedboth Allies and Axis in World War II.

But why bother with all this old news now? What can this pack of lost opportunities tell us today?

Three things. First, Corporatism was an attempt to apply the never-changing teachings of the Church in the social sphere to the changed conditions brought on by industrialism. The shift in developed countries over the last few decades from an industrial to an information/service economy is as great a shift, and quite as traumatic. Surely it needs to be addressed from a Catholic viewpoint.

Second, we are in the grip of a recession deeper than any we have had since the Great Depression. It is precisely at such times that economic scarcity drives us to question whether or not there are better alternatives to our present economic and political system.

Thirdly, it will be apparent from all that has been written here that in many ways we in these United States are the acme of classical Liberalism. Apart from the Mexican and French-Canadian immigrants spoken of, and the late Fr. Charles E. Coughlin, no one has ever seriously suggested that the social and financial life of this county ought to be organized upon Catholic principles. For good reason; to do so would require our nation's conversion.

Yet we have such an admirable band of predecessors, as we have just read. It would be good if we could emulate them.

Part I

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