From the Crisis of Corporatism to the Crisis of Governance

125 – 39 in Poul F. Kjaer and Niklas Olsen (eds.): Critical Theories of Crises in Europe: From Weimar to the Euro (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

16 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2017

Date Written: August 29, 2016


In the first half of the twentieth century, and, in particular, in the interwar period, corporatism, in its populist, progressive, reactionary and totalitarian variants, became a central feature of European societies. Many observers have regarded this development as a central driving force of the profound societal crises which characterised this period. In contrast, other observers have mainly interpreted the corporatist surge as both a reaction and a possible solution to societal crises caused by the nature of capitalist re-production. In a similar vein, the emergence and expansion of new types of governance institutions since the 1970s has been understood as both the cause and as a reaction to the protracted series of crises which have characterised Western Europe and the rest of the Western world from the 1970s to the recent financial crisis.

In more general terms, societal crises can be said to be intrinsic to a modern society that is characterised by constant transformations of its basic structure. This is also reflected in the constitutive distinction of modern society, the distinction between the factual unfolding of social processes and contra-factual normative articulations concerning how these processes ought to unfold. Against this background, this chapter examines the close link between societal crises and the evolution of intermediary institutions in their corporatist, neo-corporatist and governance variants in the European context. Intermediary institutions fulfil a dual role in so far as they are simultaneously oriented towards the internal stabilisation of social processes and the establishment of compatibility between the social process in question and the rest of society. This gives them a strategic location in society in so far as they can be understood as central sites of societal integration as also reflected in the particular way in which they seek to combine factuality and normative articulations. But this location also implies that they are sites where tendencies of societal dis-integration tend to emerge and become most visible. This was particular clear in relation to interwar corporatism, but it has also re-emerged as a central issue within contemporary governance. A central reason for the crisis proneness of both interwar corporatism and contemporary governance can be found in their advancement of a fundamental anti-legalist stance which, both in the interwar period and in the present time, paved the way for an erosion of the legal infrastructure of society.

Keywords: Governance, crisis, Luhmann, corporatism, neo-corporatism, Europe, Weimar, Koselleck, Systems Theory, Social Theory

Suggested Citation

Kjaer, Poul F., From the Crisis of Corporatism to the Crisis of Governance (August 29, 2016). 125 – 39 in Poul F. Kjaer and Niklas Olsen (eds.): Critical Theories of Crises in Europe: From Weimar to the Euro (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).. Available at SSRN: or

Poul F. Kjaer (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School ( email )

Solbjerg Plads 3
Frederiksberg C, DK - 2000

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