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Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal Paperback – January 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Looking beyond the usual roster of right-wing Christians, anticommunist neo-cons and disgruntled working-class whites, this incisive study examines the unsung role of a political movement of businessmen in leading America's post-1960s rightward turn. Historian Phillips-Fein traces the hidden history of the Reagan revolution to a coterie of business executives, including General Electric official and Reagan mentor Lemuel Boulware, who saw labor unions, government regulation, high taxes and welfare spending as dire threats to their profits and power. From the 1930s onward, the author argues, they provided the money, organization and fervor for a decades-long war against New Deal liberalism—funding campaigns, think tanks, magazines and lobbying groups, and indoctrinating employees in the virtues of unfettered capitalism. Theirs was also a battle of ideas, she contends; the business vanguard nurtured conservative thinkers like economist Friedrich von Hayek and his secretive Mont Pellerin Society associates, who developed a populist free-market ideology that persuaded workers to side with their bosses against the liberal state. Combining piquant profiles of corporate firebrands with a trenchant historical analysis that puts economic conflict at the heart of political change, Phillips-Fein makes an important contribution to our understanding of American conservatism. Photos. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Although many books have been written about American conservatism, most concern its cultural or political manifestations, and almost all bring bias to the subject. The contribution of Phillips-Fein to this literature is distinctive in two respects: she maintains neutrality and produces original research on American business executives and public-relations specialists who created conservative organizations from 1933 to 1980. Although scholarly in tone (her work originated as a dissertation), the book is highly readable for its absorbing historical background about contemporary conservative advocacy outfits, such as the American Enterprise Institute. In their variety of characters and degrees of indignation about the iniquities of the New Deal and its descendants, the individuals introduced range from the reasonable to the strange, which enlivens a narrative of free-market conservatism’s incubation in the 1940s and 1950s. Detecting a union-busting agenda behind the liberty-proclaiming rhetoric of business leaders, Phillips-Fein nevertheless allows them a fair hearing about their roles in, ultimately, the electoral victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980. A valuable addition to the history of conservatism. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on May 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Invisible Hands" by Kim Phillips-Fein is an illuminating account of conservatism's rise from obscurity to become America's predominant ideology during the latter part of 20th century. Combining impressive scholarly research with profound insights into American culture, politics and history, Ms. Phillips-Fein's brilliant work reveals the intellectual foundations of the conservative movement as it has rarely been seen or understood before. The result is a fascinating and highly accessible book that should appeal to a wide audience of inquisitive readers.

Ms. Phillips-Fein recounts how America once perceived conservatism as a mere representation of the upper class' narrow self-interests. She recalls how the collapse of the economy during the Great Depression and its stabilization by the New Deal led to a widely-held consensus that the capitalist system required an interventionist government to function properly, if at all. In fact, the author recounts how some of the conservative-flavored political and public relations projects promoted at that time were rebuffed by a citizenry that was highly skeptical of businesspeople and valued the role of unions and government in securing their economic lives.

Interestingly, Ms. Phillips-Fein suggests that the presumption of an unassailable Keynesian worldview led to increasing levels of mathematical abstractionism in many university economics departments; whereas upstart conservative economists such as Ludwig Von Mises, Friederch Von Hayek and Milton Friedman could remain committed to an economics that retained a strong socio-political identity. Ms.
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103 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Nelson Alexander on March 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
First, given my response, I should state explicitly that, no, I do not know the author from Adam, I am not a scholar in American political history, and I am at the moment just over halfway through the book.

I am nonetheless leaping to tack some gold stars onto this Amazon listing because I would like to see this excellent, timely chronicle in as many hands as possible. This is exactly the history of modern conservatism and the GOP we need at the moment, one that swats away all the cultural-religious distractions and traces the programatic efforts by businessmen, bankers, and economic libertarians since FDR to equate America and Capitalism, with the former being merely the means and the latter the true end.

While liberals of my generation have been fretting over gay marriage, deconstruction, and identity politics, the state has been completely retaken from the New Deal compromise in decisive class warfare waged from above. Class warfare? While the author does not harp on the term, I insist on calling it by its proper name, as Lewis Mumford used to say. The facts should be brutally obvious by now. Can anyone deny that the middle class is caught in a veritable Dresden of class war, raining debt, fear, obscurantism, and havoc from above?

By concerted effort and planning, as this book details, a relatively small cadre of blueblood patroons, capitalist absolutists, Hayek disciples, and Chamber of Commerce hacks have succeeded in reversing the New Deal, which they regarded as criminal collectivism, and returning us right back where we started, back in the Great Depression, briefly interrupted. I had read bits of this history elsewhere, but the author does an excellent job of weaving it together.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Gio on July 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...which our former First Lady so fatuously denounced in defense of her wandering spouse, wasn't really such a flight of fancy. After all, the entire history of partisan politics in America began with the conspiracy of Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin and others which came to be known as the Democratic Republican Party. Author Kim Phillips-Fein presents detailed and thoroughly convincing evidence, in this eye-opening book, that `conspiratorial' activities among a small group of American businessmen opposed to the goals and values of New Deal liberalism succeeded, over decades, in building a political movement and "....changing the world. Long before the `culture wars' of the 1960s sparked the Republican backlash against cultural liberalism, these high-powered individuals actively resisted New Deal economics and sought to educate and organize their peers [i.e. wealthy businessmen] as a political force. They fundraised, helf conferences, supported sympathetic scholars and media outlets, founded institutes, fought unions, and recruited candidates for high office -- all with the aim of rescuing America, and their profit margins...." Author Phillips-Fein, please understand, does not mean to imply that such conspiracy is inherently malicious or misbehavior. Working for one's ideals behind the scenes is obviously a democratic right, indeed, the properest behavior of an individual in a political society.Read more ›
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