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.)
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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