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Business nationalists are ultraconservative business and industrial leaders who favor a protectionist trade policy and an isolationist foreign policy. Locked in a power struggle with corporate international interests, business nationalists often use populist rhetoric and anti-elite scapegoating to build a broader base of support in the middle class and working class.
In the past, business nationalism has also been the main sector in the U.S. from which union–busting campaigns have emerged. Sectors of business nationalism also have promoted white supremacist segregationism, the Red Scares, anti–immigrant sentiment, and allegations of Jewish banking conspiracies.
Ultraconservative business and industrial leaders who saw the New Deal implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936 as proof of an imagined sinister alliance by international finance capital and communist-controlled labor unions to destroy free enterprise became known as “business nationalists”.
In the mid-1930s, Gerald L. K. Smith carried the banner for business nationalists, many of whom were isolationists and would later oppose the entry of the United States into World War II. Smith received public and financial support from wealthy businessmen who were concentrated in “nationalist-oriented industries”. These included the heads of national oil companies Quaker State, Penzoil, and Kendall Refining; automakers Henry Ford, and John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge. Two business nationalists who networked other ultraconservatives were J. Howard Pew, president of Sun Oil, and William B. Bell, president of the chemical company American Cyanamid.
Pew and Bell were on the executive committee of the National Association of Manufacturers. Pew also funded the American Liberty League, Sentinels of the Republic, and other groups that flirted with fascism prior to World War II. After World War II, Pew funded conservative Christian evangelicals such as Reverend Billy Graham.
The John Birch Society, founded in 1959, incorporated many themes from pre-WWII right-wing groups opposed to the New Deal, and had its base in the business nationalist sector. The society heavily disseminated an ultraconservative business nationalist critique of corporate internationalists networked through groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations.
According to progressive scholar Mark Rupert, the right-wing anti-globalist worldview of business nationalists “envisions a world in which Americans are uniquely privileged, inheritors of a divinely inspired socio–political order which must at all costs be defended against external intrusions and internal subversion.” Rupert argues that this reactionary analysis seeks to challenge corporate power without comprehending the nature of “capital concentration and the transnational socialization of production.” The reactionary analysis absent this understanding breeds social alienation and intensifies “scapegoating and hostility toward those seen as outside of, different or dissenting from its vision of national identity." As alienation builds, more overtly fascistic forces will attempt to pull some of these angry people into an ideological framework that further justifies demonization of the chosen "Other."
Investigave reporter Chip Berlet argues:
When populist consumer groups, such as those led by Ralph Nader, forge uncritical alliances with business nationalists to rally against GATT and NAFTA, an opportunity emerges for the anti–elite rhetoric of right wing populism to piggy-back onto a legitimate progressive critique. Why is this a problem? Business nationalism carries with it its right-wing baggage. Pat Buchanan’s rhetoric is an example of this baggage. His racist, antisemitic and zenophobic inclinations reflect business nationalism’s right-wing national chauvinism. At the core of right wing populism is the "producerist narrative" where the main scapegoats are people of color, especially Blacks. This narrative diverts attention from the White supremacist subtext. It uses coded language to mobilize resentment against people of color through attacks on issues immediately relevant to them, such as welfare, immigration, tax, or education policies. Women, gay men and lesbians, abortion providers, youth, students, and environmentalists are also frequently scapegoated in this manner.
- Berlet Chip; Lyons, Matthew N. (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-562-2.
- Thompson, Michael (2007). Confronting the New Conservatism: The Rise of the Right in America. NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-8299-X.
- Berlet, Chip (2000). "John Birch Society". Retrieved 6 October 2010.
- Antisemitism in the anti-globalization movement
- Economic nationalism
- Right-wing populism