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Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan Audio CD – Bargain Price, February 9, 2009
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While I'm pretty sure Phillips-Feins sympathies are to the left, she manages to deal with the motley crew of Conservative activists, politicians and businessmen who make up the Conservative movement during the half century she covers in an impartial manner. She details the movement from its roots in opposition to the New Deal: that particular change in the political environment after the inauguration of FDR in 1933 to one that was conducive to the growth in the influence of ordinary working people (in particular their Unions), and a growing trend for (some) politicians to recognise that the ordinary Americans interest was not always identical to that of American Businesses.
The story continues with the second world war (during which conservative/business interests regained a degree of power and influence), the gradual post-war roll back of Unions and Liberal politics during the oppressive years of McCarthyism, through to the Goldwater run for the presidency in 1964. Goldwater failed in his run, but the victor - Lyndon Johnson - failed to keep out of Vietnam: the growing involvement in that miserable War and the financial costs undermined his "Great Society" program, the last substantial attempt by an American President to govern with a relatively Liberal domestic policy (which in a European sense would be roughly equivalent to a diluted version of Social Democracy). Within fifteen years of the Goldwater failure, the movement is backed by serious money, has parlayed that money into substantially successful attempts to win the war of ideas (through well funded think tanks and foundations), turned the focus of popular politics away from socio-economic issues to those of the so-called "Culture Wars", and has a congenial figurehead for the 1980 election campaign: Ronald Reagan. The rest is another story. . .
"Invisible Hands" is also excellent on the individuals involved from the ostensibly cerebral Milton Friedman and the Mont-Pelerin Society of von Hayek and von Mises, to the more combative characters such as Jesse Helms and Barry Goldwater. But this is far more than a study of individuals: it tells the story of the movement as it grew, and how the connections between the disparate elements of the movement coalesced (she plausibly makes a case for the failed Goldwater run for president in 1964 being critically important to that process) eventually leading to the Reagan presidency.
Kim Phillips-Fein has written a fine and scholarly work, which contains a substantial amount of research, is written in a clear and comprehensible manner, and it's her first book length publication. It is one I'd thoroughly recommend to anyone who has an interest in how Politics actually functions as opposed to the simplified storytelling which by and large passes for news.
Another excellent book on American Conservatism I'd recommend, though it leaps forward to the post-Reagan era, would be Thomas Franks account of Conservatives in power: The Wrecking Crew.
Other good books and information on U.S. history here:
Midwest Indepedent Research
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. Phillips-Fein shares how individuals such as Ayn Rand, William F Buckley and Billy Graham along with conservative think tanks including the American Enterprise Institute drew inspiration from the conservative economists and gained attention by defining the New Deal as a socialist threat to individual freedom. The author profiles the extraordinary carreer of Lem Boulware who is credited with architecting General Electric's effective and widely influential strategy of union busting and human resource management. While Ms. Phillips-Fein writes that the conservative political project remained unfulfilled as the voting public remained committed to the New Deal on account of its success in ensuring the nation's continued economic expansion and prosperity, she writes that the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign enabled an activist conservative constituency to make significant, long-lasting inroads into the Republican Party.
Ms. Phillips-Fein demonstrates that the convergence of social issues with conservative economics, along with the growing failures of New Deal liberalism to resolve the intractable economic crises of the 1970s, eventually led to the political ascendancy of conservatism starting with the election of Ronald Reagan to the U.S. presidency in 1980. Among the influential persons who shaped events in this period -- including Arthur Laffer, George Gilder, Joseph Coors, Jack Kemp, Justin Dart, and many others -- Jesse Helms emerges as a pivotal figure for successfully fusing the rhetoric of free markets with the politics of racial segregation, thereby winning over large numbers of southern white voters to the conservative cause. A political realignment was ultimately achieved by gaining the support of religious organizations such as the Moral Majority who leveraged white working-class discomfort with public school integration, busing and other cultural issues into a more generalized hostility against big government. Ms. Phillips-Fein suggests that the Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations subsequently affirmed the conservative consensus as unions found themselves steadily losing influence and with business lobbyists increasingly shaping the legislative agenda, think tanks defining major issues in the media, and the contributions of businesspeople valued and esteemed.
Today, as we find ourselves witness to yet another financial collapse of the capitalist system and evidence of an increasingly post-racial American society marked by the election of Barack Obama, it might seem that the era of conservative politics is over. But the perspective gained from Ms. Phillips-Fein's book suggests that conservatives will continue to find audiences to market their solutions as long as economic self-interest and social anxieties persist; in this light, to underestimate the appeal of conservative ideas might well be a perilous mistake.
I highly recommend this remarkably insightful, informative and entertaining book to everyone.