The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Authors: Lipset
Summary: This short entry of about 1000 words defines corporatism, discusses its intellectual and conceptual controversies, and explores the impact of corporatism on democracy.
Corporatism is defined as an arrangement through which organized interests mediate between their members and official entities--usually governmental institutions. Such arrangements operate through associations, which differ from political parties significantly because they neither offer candidates for office nor take direct responsibility for governing.
Corporatism, both in theory and in practice, is the subject of much political controversy. On the one hand, corporatism appears to promise less class-based conflict. However, on the other hand, the concept is often criticized as reactionary and antidemocratic. Corporatism's popularity and acceptability within the arena of political discourse has shifted dramatically during the twentieth century, often in direct response to varying political circumstances.
The concept virtually disappeared from respectable political parlance after the Second World War. The defeat and collapse of European authoritarian regimes, all of which claimed governmental systems based on corporatist principles to some degree, undermined any credibility corporatist theory may have previously enjoyed. However, the concept was reinvigorated by scholars who used corporatist ideas to explain certain features of advanced democratic systems that were illusive within the pluralist paradigm. This phenomenon was coined "neocorporatism." The entry provides a number of useful examples.
As interest in corporatism revived, so did attention to the relationship between democracy and corporatism. Some countries considered in the vanguard of democratic experimentation are also distinctly corporatist, such as the Scandinavian countries. Thus, scholarly attention is now focusing on corporatism's consequences for democratic participation, and as its history would predict, it remains a topic of much controversy.