Here at The Skeptical Libertarian, we are frequently asked to track down and verify unsourced quotes attributed to Founding Fathers, ex-presidents, world leaders, and other historical figures. Facebook and Reddit have made the fake quote-picture a staple of online discussions, but there is a long and ignoble history of misquoting famous people to suit contemporary agendas.
A good rule of thumb is that if a quote is a) unsourced, and b) sounds suspiciously like a modern political talking point, you should be skeptical of it. (Another good rule is that anything attributed to John F. Kennedy and dated by its proximity to his death — e.g., “Ten days before his assassination!”, “A weeks before he was shot!” — is almost definitely bogus.)
While the internet has made it much easier to spread fabricated quotes, it has also made it much easier for the skeptically-minded to verify or debunk them. While some primary documents are not yet available online, it is increasingly easy to trace the origin of quotes online, thanks to Google Scholar, Google Books, or if you have access to a university library system.
Generally, if an original document doesn’t turn up in the first few pages of a search, none exists. But this is not always the case, particularly when the citation is to an obscure publication or a document in a foreign language. One such quotation that has proved incredibly difficult to verify is this one, allegedly from the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini:
“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
The quote has been widely circulated on internet forums, after being popularized by Aaron Russo’s conspiracist documentary America: Freedom to Fascism. But there is simply no evidence that Mussolini ever said this. The first print source I could find was from Michael C. Ruppert’s 2004 book Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil – almost 60 years after Mussolini died.
It has also been proposed that the original author was the Italian fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, but no source confirms this citation. Some possible Italian sources for Ruppert’s misquotation are found in Alessandro Somma’s voluminous book The Legal and Cultural Rome-Berlin Axis: Economics and Politics in Fascist and Nazi Law.
Somma summarizes Mussolini’s thoughts on the relationship between the corporative system and the fascist state, which, roughly translated, reads:
The corporative regime, “typical creation and legitimate pride of the fascist revolution,” the cornerstone of the fascist State, “which is corporate or is not fascist,” was made, if not already, the doctrine, the doctrine of inspiration since December of ’21.
The two phrases in quotation marks come from two different speeches from Mussolini, one in 1926 and one at the inaugural session of the Assembly of the National Council of Corporations in 1930. Somma does make clear that Mussolini thought corporatism was the foundation of the fascist system, much like Ruppert’s quote seems to suggest.
But his interpretation of Mussolini — and what he leads readers of his book to believe — is fundamentally flawed and rooted in misconceptions about what corporatism meant. In his rambling tirade against George Bush, Ruppert states that “corporativism” is identical to “fascism” which is identical to corporate welfare. Hence, he felt justified in saying that Mussolini thought fascism was the “merger of state and corporate power.”
There’s a lot wrong with this idea, beginning with the confused claim that fascism and corporativism were the same thing, when Il Duce himself makes clear they are quite separate concepts, with corporatism being a necessary feature of a fascist state. But more seriously, Ruppert thinks “corporations” mean modern limited liability companies (what we today mean by corporations), and that these business entities “merge” with or take over the state and use it for their own benefit.
This is just plain wrong, and it demonstrates why this quote is not just false but misleading. “Corporations” were not individual businesses. Under fascist corporatism, sectors of the economy were divided into corporate groups, whose activities and interactions were managed and coordinated by the government. The idea was to split the difference between socialism and laissez faire capitalism, letting the state control and direct the economy from the top-down without itself owning the means of production.
The National Council of Corporations was the government body in charge of managing Italy’s economy, and membership included representatives from labor unions, employers, public sector workers, government ministries, and social groups. Special committees would plan the technical details of specific policies. At its inauguration, Mussolini stated, “The [NCC] is to the Italian economy what the Chief of Staff is to the Army: the thinking brain that prepares and coordinates.”
The idea was that this body would negotiate contracts and centrally plan production throughout the economy, regulating the sectors of art, industry, agriculture, trade, comm-unication, transportation, and finance — thus settling disputes, producing social harmony, and generating economic efficiency. In reality, it did none of this, and the system was used for rent-seeking, and to reward friends and crush enemies of the government.
The bottom line is that corporate groups meant classes of people in the economy, which were allegedly represented through appointments to the Council. The system was not about welfare for private companies, but rather about totalitarian central planning of the whole economy through legislation and regulation. Corporatism meant formally “incorporating” divergent interests under the state, which would resolve their differences through regulatory mechanisms.
Economic fascism was direct state control and planning of the economy, not subsidies or special favors dished out by politicians in a democracy to businesses in an otherwise free market, which is what people in the United States mean by corporatism today. Fascism was not a business takeover of government but rather the opposite, and the fact that Ruppert is ignorant of what corporate bodies were and the structure of the corporative system makes me suspect he either made up the quote or doesn’t understand its historical context.
Update: PublicEye.org has offered a reward for anyone who can provide an original source for this quote. It appears the quote predates Ruppert’s book, and it has been in circulation on the internet since at least 1998.
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