Read Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan by Kim Phillips-Fein Online


A narrative history of the influential businessmen who fought to roll back the New Deal. Starting in the mid-1930s, a handful of prominent American businessmen forged alliances with the aim of rescuing America--and their profit margins--from socialism and the "nanny state." Long before the "culture wars" usually associated with the rise of conservative politics, these driA narrative history of the influential businessmen who fought to roll back the New Deal.Starting in the mid-1930s, a handful of prominent American businessmen forged alliances with the aim of rescuing America--and their profit margins--from socialism and the "nanny state." Long before the "culture wars" usually associated with the rise of conservative politics, these driven individuals funded think tanks, fought labor unions, and formed organizations to market their views. These nearly unknown, larger-than-life, and sometimes eccentric personalities--such as GE's zealous, silver-tongued Lemuel Ricketts Boulware and the self-described "revolutionary" Jasper Crane of DuPont--make for a fascinating, behind-the-scenes view of American history. The winner of a prestigious academic award for her original research on this book, Kim Phillips-Fein is already being heralded as an important new young American historian. Her meticulous research and narrative gifts reveal the dramatic story of a pragmatic, step-by-step, check-by-check campaign to promote an ideological revolution--one that ultimately helped propel conservative ideas to electoral triumph. 16 Photographs...

Title : Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
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ISBN : 9780393059304
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
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Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan Reviews

  • Simon Wood
    2019-05-16 07:07

    FIFTY YEARS OF AMERICAN "CONSERVATISM" New York University professor, occasional contributor to the Baffler and The Nation, Kim Phillips-Fein takes as her subject in "Invisible Hands" the history of the modern Conservative movement in the United States from its origins in opposition to the New Deal to the inauguration of the Reagan administration.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".

  • Zach
    2019-05-17 08:25

    There's been a lot of historical scholarship recently (Kruse, Lassiter, Crespino, etc) on the mass grassroots movements on the Right in 20th century America. Philips-Fein instead offers an examination of the behind-the-scenes backers who provided financial support and intellectual legitimacy to these movements. To that end she guides readers through the development of far right fiscal conservatism from the reaction against the New Deal through Reagan's first presidential election. This covers an impressive number of libertarian think tanks, corporate goodwill campaigns and employee politicization efforts, and good old-fashioned political campaigns (mostly in the form of Goldwater and Reagan-Nixon is oddly absent in this narrative, and while I know he wasn't a warrior of the invisible hand the way the other two were, he was still enough of a bastard to be brought up more).It also would have been nice to get more of a feel for the way that these machinations impacted the actual policies and governance of the right once they were in power, but I guess that is outside of the scope of a single study like this (and has been covered in plenty of other works). This is a fantastic contribution to the literature, though, and I think reading this in concert with Thomas Frank's last book would be pretty enlightening (also depressing).

  • Frank Stein
    2019-05-10 06:12

    A very even-handed and fascinating account of the making of modern, free-market conservatism.Philips-Fein highlights a host of little known individuals who had a powerful impact on the growth of conservative thought and political power over the last seventy years. One example would be William Baroody, the son of a Lebanese stonecutter who successfully restructured the American Enterprise Association (later an "Institute"), after a brutal investigation by Congress in the early 1950s exposed its ties to many large corporate donors. Leonard Reed, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and, like Baroody, a former Chamber of Commerce employee, worked from the New Deal onward to cultivate free-market ideology in intellectual circles, mainly by recruiting economists like Ludwig Von Mises and Fredrick Hayek to the United States.The book culminates in the election of Ronald Reagan, where conservative think tanks like the Heritage Institute and AEI were given full sway over program planning. Philips-Fein asserts that this represents the permanent "triumph" of their ideology in American life. I respectfully disagree. Besides Reagan himself, the most extreme kinds of free-market thinking always resided on the fringes even of the Republican party. Reagan was replaced by Bush I, who poo-pooed Reagan's "Voodoo economics," and who was himself succeeded as Republican candidates by Dole and Bush II (economically, Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was far to the left of the old Reagan revolutionaries, his economic advisers like Mankiw and Hubbard were largely right Keynesians), and finally McCain and Romney. This vision of the triumph of "extreme" ideology amongst the Republican party and the country at large is belied by their lack of success in Congress (the federal government has only grown exponentially under all forms of leadership) and the Republicans' continual selection of their most moderate members to carry their standard. If people like Baroody and Reed are "invisible" its partially because their thought has remained on the fringe.Be that as it may, this is still a great and, considering the anti-conservative screeds common in academia, shockingly non-biased account of the careers of many in this movement.

  • Andy Marton
    2019-05-08 02:55

    I loved this book. Phillips-Fein makes a compelling argument about a sort of shadow conspiracy that has always existed. Ever since its inception, the New Deal has been loathed by those at the top of the corporate ladder. Naturally, those same people want it done away with. Libertarians hate it especially, so they become the focus of the book. Phillips-Fein does not allow herself to be steeped in simply labeling the figures in her book. Her account of Barry Goldwater, for example, shows that people are complex and fickle, and gives us a keen insight into how they shaped the Conservative Movement.What I don't like about this book is that it stops short of what it could have done. Phillips-Fein is absolutely right that Ronald Reagan was the poster boy for the movement. An extremely charming man who thought in black-and-white terms, Reagan was easily wooed and was a perfect figurehead for the new Republican Party. However, it wouldn't have taken too long for Phillips-Fein to add how the success of using Ronald Reagan turned the Party into what it is today. We live with a very different GOP than we used to have, and this is why. Her argument would have been ten times stronger had she completed this line of reasoning: here is how the New Deal inspired, over three generations, a movement that eventually became so strong it incorporates the heart of the party that controls our Congress (albeit by accident).

  • Chris
    2019-05-12 07:20

    In 1978, former United Auto Workers President Douglas Fraser got to the heart of the matter. In a well-known letter of resignation from the pseudo-corporatist Labor-Management Group, Fraser thundered against the passing of the New Deal order and the ascendancy of corporate power and free-market ideology: “I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in our country – a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society.” The grand compromise between business and labor that underpinned the New Deal and the “golden age of capitalism” that ran from the end of World War II until the early 1970s was cast aside. “The leaders of industry, commerce, and finance in the United States have broken the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress.” We were not all Keynesians anymore. We were now the eager pupils of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Lemuel Boulware (more on him later).The “one-sided class war” that Fraser so pointedly described was not only restricted to the shop floor or the bargaining table. It was profoundly political, in the broadest sense. The 1970s marked a new and heightened phase of political activism among corporate leaders. According to Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers in their book Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, by the end of that decade, corporations were spending more than $1 billion annually on political advertising and grassroots lobbying among the citizenry, in addition to the already huge sums they spent on Congressional lobbying and the funding of institutes and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. On the receiving end of the class war, the labor movement was destitute by comparison. In 1982, the combined net income of all trade unions in the United States was only $324 million. It goes without saying that these trends continue today, except for the fact that now business is even wealthier and more powerful while the labor movement celebrates when the rate of union organization stays the same from one year to the next instead of moving inexorably toward zero. To take just one example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics corporate interests are far and away the largest spenders on political lobbying. Eight of the top ten groups of spenders over the last decade represent business interests and have spent tens of billions of dollars while labor pulls in at number twelve, at approximately $359 million. That’s not chump change, but it’s a pittance compared to the approximately $3.5 billion the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries alone spent on lobbying. It’s also not much of a stretch to say that the FIRE industries are currently running the national economy in the persons of hedge fund coddlers Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, while the labor-oriented economist Jared Bernstein enjoys the dubious distinction of having the ear of Joe Biden, a man not exactly known for his listening skills. “Follow the money” is a tired cliché, but it’s no coincidence that a political system awash in corporate cash largely does the bidding of business interests, as the current battles over healthcare reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, and financial regulation demonstrate so vividly. No matter that the putatively-pro labor Democrats control all branches of the federal government, as business is more than happy to cut checks to the Democratic National Committee which, for its part, is more than happy to cash those checks. I remember hearing someone say once that vulgar Marxism explains 90% of social reality, and on most days I’m inclined to agree with that statement. With few exceptions, usually in times of extreme social and political turmoil, he who pays the piper calls the tune. This conservative ascendancy is brought to you by American business. However, one of the most remarkable things about American society in 2009 is that if you asked someone to give an example of a conservative, it’s likely that they would think of someone like Joe the Plumber before someone like Rich Uncle Pennybags. This is at least partially because conventional wisdom both popular and scholarly maintains that the conservative ascendancy of the last three decades drew its strength primarily from the backlash of large swaths of the white working class against burning bras, racial integration in neighborhood schools, and other primarily cultural “outrages” of the 1960s and 1970s. Thomas Frank vividly rendered the moral and political universe of these culture warriors in his 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas?, but as Frank made so clear, his subjects have largely lost the culture war while business racks up victory after victory in the realm of political economy. While many writers have done an exceptional job of analyzing the ways in which cultural conservatives have organized to fight the culture wars, there has been comparatively little attention paid to the earlier and largely successful organizational efforts of business and its political allies to overturn the Keynesian political economy of the New Deal and reinstate laissez-faire. The historical development and consequences of this businessman’s backlash is the subject of Kim Phillips-Fein’s valuable new book, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan.Announcing his intention to launch a so-called Second New Deal in Madison Square Garden in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt threw down the gauntlet to American business: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hatred for me – and I welcome their hatred.” Of course, during the Great Depression business was not actually unanimous in its opposition to Roosevelt and the New Deal. As Phillips-Fein notes, certain corporate executives like Gerard Swope of General Electric recognized the New Deal as capitalism’s savior and were broadly supportive of the administration’s efforts. But to others, most importantly the du Pont brothers, the Roosevelt administration was a socialistic cabal bent on enslaving businessmen to the welfare state. The du Ponts, their allies in the Liberty League (an anti-New Deal organization they founded and funded and the inspiration for all subsequent organized business conservatism), and others committed to preserving limited government and laissez-faire, saw the New Deal "as a fundamental challenge to their power and place in American society. Their antagonism toward the economic order it created never fully abated. Rather, these impassioned, committed individuals found ways to nourish their opposition, to resist liberal institutions and ideas, and to persuade others to join in fighting back, until the liberal order began to falter and they could help to bring about the slow and pervasive revolution that would culminate in Reagan’s victory in 1980."Phillips-Fein correctly argues that the supposed postwar Keynesian “consensus” on matters of political economy was never as solid and consensual as it appeared to be, as businessmen such as Leonard Read, W.C. Mullendore, Jasper Crane, J. William Middendorf, and Roger Milliken (among many others), founded and funded a vast network of organizations and intellectual outlets devoted to undermining the liberal order and promoting the conservative alternative. They established the Foundation for Economic Education and the Mont Pelerin Society, devoted to spreading the gospel according to Austrian free-market economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. They created think tanks like the American Enterprise Association (now the American Enterprise Institute) and the Heritage Foundation to brief politicians and opinion makers on the wonders of the market. They sponsored the creation of William F. Buckley’s National Review and the publication of scores of books and pamphlets to lend conservatism an intellectual gravity it heretofore lacked. They organized their fellow businessmen to battle regulation and redistribution though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. They contributed (often quite lavishly) to and campaigned for trailblazing conservative politicians like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. And in General Electric labor relations executive Lemuel Boulware, they had someone who was willing to confront labor and liberalism head on in the workplace. In many ways, Boulware is the central figure in Phillips-Fein’s story. He became vice president of employee and community relations after the massive 1946 strike against GE, in which the United Electrical Workers were not only victorious in winning better wages and working conditions, but in mobilizing public opinion against the company. It’s easy to forget how profoundly different American political culture was during the 1930s and 1940s. After the war, liberalism and labor movement enjoyed broad popular support, and a huge wave of successful strikes swept the country as workers sought to stake their claim on postwar prosperity and consolidate the position of the labor movement in the heart of the nation’s political economy. As an ardent advocate of business conservatism, Boulware would have none of this. He was no Gerard Swope. As Phillips-Fein observes, Boulware is important in that more than perhaps anyone else in the business class in the postwar period, “his frame of vision and reference extended far beyond his own company. He believed that all across the country, unions and management were engaged in a titanic struggle over the future of the United States…American management needed literally to sell its policies to the American people.” He initiated a new hard-line negotiating strategy with the union and successfully defeated the 1960 strike against the company, a major turning point in postwar labor relations. He politicized the company’s workplace culture to an extent rarely seen before, organizing GE managers to proselytize for the free market directly to rank-and-file workers. And fatefully, he hired a washed-up actor named Ronald Reagan to serve as the company’s celebrity spokesman. It was during his time at GE that Reagan established his longstanding relationship with influential business conservatives, culminating in his election as president in 1980. And it’s where he learned to break unions and to love the market. In addition to rescuing key historical actors like Lemuel Boulware from obscurity, Phillips-Fein does an excellent job of detailing the ways in which key business conservatives built up and funded their organizational and intellectual networks over time, and offers a persuasive account of their growing influence over the political system and their consolidation of ideological hegemony as the postwar liberal order began to break down in the early 1970s. She also deserves credit for not romanticizing the postwar liberal order as a golden age of progress and prosperity, as too many others opposed to the conservative drift of the last 30 years have done. She falters a bit, however, when forced to examine the relationship between business and cultural conservatism in the United States over the last several decades. Today we tend to accept the marriage of business and cultural/religious conservatism as embodied in the Republican party unreflectively, as if Mammon and God (or whatever one uses as one’s moral or ethical foundation) are somehow a good couple. But capitalism, especially the kind of unbridled, free-market capitalism promulgated by the subjects of Invisible Hands, is anything but conservative. Marx still has the definitive word on this subject:"Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."It was always strange that a devout, traditional Catholic like William F. Buckley could somehow reconcile the motto of the magazine he founded – “it stands athwart history, yelling Stop!” – with support for a socioeconomic system that set into motion most everything that conservatives have traditionally wanted to stop. Phillips-Fein recognizes this tension but tends to paper over it instead of investigating further. As part of a bibliographic essay at the back of the book that feels like it was included after receiving criticism on this point from early readers, she acknowledges that most of her subjects “wanted to empower business, not reinvigorate lost traditions,” and in her chapter on the relationship between business conservatism and the New Right, she acknowledges that “the leadership of the movement might speak the language of the market, but for the believers themselves there must have remained a schism.” Investigating this tension is, admittedly, not the main purpose of the book, but leaving it mostly unexplored leaves the reader wanting more. And the necessary inclusion in her narrative of conservative activists who were not primarily concerned with economic issues somewhat undermines her conceptual distinction between the business backlash and the cultural backlash, as well as her thesis that the former was always more important than the latter. Phillps-Fein is correct in locating the roots of modern American conservatism in business opposition to the New Deal and in arguing that economic conservatism has been more politically successful than cultural conservatism. But I don’t think it’s plausible to think that the businessman’s backlash could have succeeded to the extent that it did without a healthy assist from the culture warriors, who led a significant chunk of the working class out of the New Deal coalition. That’s enough criticism of an otherwise fine book. What lessons can those of us who have tried to sustain the broad egalitarian political tradition during the onslaught of the last 30 years learn from the conservatives? As I observed at the beginning of this review, the role of money in politics remains a crucial issue. Because we don’t own the means of production, those of us who are opposed to corporate domination will probably never have as much money as the other side, and the only institution on the broad left with large-scale resources to sustain the battle – the labor movement – may be in terminal decline. Aside from revitalizing the labor movement, we need to find ways to break the stranglehold of corporate money over politics. The leaderships of both parties are not interested in public financing of campaigns (and corporate lobbying would almost render any effort to move in this direction stillborn), so we’ll have to figure out ways to circumvent this enormous obstacle. Many have touted the Internet as a way of broadening the donor base to include ordinary citizens, but even with the increasing prevalence of small-scale online donations, most candidates at every level raise the bulk of their money from big, established interests. I certainly have no solution to this question, but it’s imperative that one be found.Building a movement to undo the damage of the last thirty years is certainly going to require money, and quite likely lots of it. But money, however, isn’t everything. It can’t buy love and it can’t buy a movement out of thin air. If the rise of the conservatives teaches us anything, it should teach us that ideas matter, and that times of crisis are windows of opportunity. I’m sure that many of the people who helped to build business conservatism during and after the New Deal years were motivated largely by pecuniary self-interest. But many of them, such as Leonard Read and Lemuel Boulware, were honestly committed to a set of ideas that told a particular story about the way society is and how it could, and should, be. Over the course of decades, they formulated a political vision that resonated with broad sectors of the population when the liberal order broke down in the 1970s, and they developed a media apparatus to bring it to as many people as possible in print and over the airwaves. One of the biggest mistakes that the labor movement made during the high-water mark of its power and influence was its failure to formulate a broadly egalitarian social and political vision and a media apparatus to support it. Doing so likely wouldn’t have been enough to help stop the implosion of the postwar liberal order, but it could have limited some of the damage. At any rate, it’s something that would certainly come in handy right now. As we watch the conservative order built by the subjects of Invisible Hands crash down around us, we don’t have much of a counter-narrative to offer the millions of our fellow citizens who should now be more receptive to an egalitarian political agenda than they have been in decades. If someone can succeed in formulating a compelling alternative vision of how things are and should be we could have something. But right now, I can’t shake the feeling that we (and I admit to not being sure who this “we” even includes anymore) are letting a precious and potentially decisive opportunity slip through our fingers.

  • Andrew
    2019-05-22 05:07

    Historians have argued that the New Deal, while it may have helped its citizens in the short term, was a reactionary measure. As a reactionary measure, the programs that it implemented should have been (and should be in the present) dismantled after the threat of economic collapse was over. While I'm not going to argue for or against this line of reasoning here, I believe that the larger point that Kim Phillips-Fein demonstrates in this book that the conservative movement is equally as reactionary. Invisible Hands documents the history of the conservative movement from its intellectuals-in-basements creation as a reaction to FDR to its first major literature (The Road to Serfdom and Economics in One Lesson) until it had the ability to prop up and elect Reagan as president. The book deals with the "invisible" founders: businessmen, public relations men, CEOs, church leaders, and universities that popularized and propped up the conservative movement ideas, and less on the politicians that those men produced. The consecutive administrations of Franklin Roosevelt must have been the most terrifying point in American history for American capital. I wasn't there (and if you're reading this, it's unlikely you were either), but FDR's use of executive power to nationalize large labor groups (while America was primarily a labor economy) is so similar in form to the rise of Hitler's national socialist uprising, its easy to understand why business leaders were afraid. Hitler came to the chancellorship (and later dictatorship) through the democratic socialist German Worker Party as a reaction to the German economic collapse.As many historians have pointed out, FDR and Hitler's economic policies were nearly identical. This is likely because both men took their economic policies from the same liberal think tanks and universities. In their consecutive years as world leaders before WWII, both men seemed to admire one another, and privately stated the other's policies as an example for their own. Over the early years, Hitler's democratic socialism faded into dictatorial socialism as he refused to allow for his own elections to be held, and FDR's democratic socialism faded into hybrid social-capitalism as WWII demanded high production for war machines from American business. Both Germany and the United States moved in different directions economically because of theses shifts, but in the beginning, both Hitler and FDR seemed built of the same economic ideas. And as Hitler moved Germany into a more traditional dictatorship, FDR attempted dictatorial power moves in America that challenged its democracy as well. After the Supreme Court ruled several of his policies illegal, FDR's use of court packing as a method to reverse court decisions was his final move to become something near a full democratic dictator. While FDR failed, it must have been one of the most disturbing points in American history to live through. Business never forgot the first American president to nationalize labor, socialize major industries, and finally made moves to secure his own policies from legal scrutiny from anyone but himself. The years under the FDR administration were undoubtedly damaging to American capitalism, and thus to American business. Before FDR, small businesses had the ability to compete with larger ventures, which created the freer, more leveled market associated with the 20s; after FDR’s regulations and tax rates, those businesses closed in numbers unheard of in government history. As I have personally studied in a microcosm with the Lemp family in St. Louis, independent businesses (mostly those of foreign immigrants) were forced into failure against the socialized labor of the American government. Larger businesses survived the FDR aftershock (the Roosevelt Recession, as it was called at the time), but they were forced into merges that stripped business leaders of their organizations and identities, and turned capital into monopolies. The irony of the FDR administration was that as he pressured the American economy for full employment, he made it so only monopolies could support his taxes and regulations, and thus, actually hire. (This is obvious today when we look at the unemployment numbers before and after FDR’s first term, which only slightly decreased.) The larger point of history that is often overlooked with the FDR years is this: business (and the broader American economy) broke under the strain of democratic socialism; what business survived was distorted, weak, bound together, monopolized, and terrified of the future. (It is interesting that conventional understanding of American monopolies equates them with being strong and overreaching, when the reality is that businesses usually monopolize only when they are in times of extreme weakness, as the process of monopolization strips the business of central creative and management control. By weakening business, FDR created the major monopolies that eventually repealed his own legacy.) From this weak point, business reacted to the New Deal in a political resentment that mirrored the resentment of the South after the Civil War.That resentment over the next five decades is documented in full in Invisible Hands. The intellectual movements, the religious movements, the defeat of labor, the politicizing of corporations, the reframing of human capital—Kim Phillips-Fein writes the wilderness years of the economic conservatives like a woman possessed. It is alarming how easily the information is revealed, and I cannot praise her work here enough.Invisible Hands is primarily an economic history of the twentieth century. It ends, of course, with the question: now that the twentieth century is over, what did it mean? The struggles of labor and capital, the wars, the productivity and recessions, inflation, the failures and murders of socialism and the brutality of capitalism; the death and lives of millions of Americas: what did it mean? Were a hundred years of Americans and their elected and unelected leaders simple minded enough to fixate on two economic points (labor and capital) and lose an entire century in this intellectual ineptness? The answers to those questions are subjective to the written history that we have at our disposal. We can only hope that more authors follow the recent look at objective history that Philips-Fein displays here.

  • David
    2019-05-14 05:00

    Times were rough during the Great Depression. A DuPont company executivecomplained that he couldn't retain his servants. They were leaving forjobs on FDR's public works projects. "Five Negroes on my place in SouthCarolina refused work this spring...saying they had easy jobs with thegovernment. A cook on my houseboat at Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter."Welcome to the world of the rich who hated Franklin Roosevelt and theNew Deal....Kim Phillips-Fein shows how the rightwing rebuilt their movement and eventually came back to power.This is an excellent book. Here is an interesting interview withPhillips-Fein: Rich Businessmen Tried to Steal Jesus

  • Bill
    2019-05-23 11:19

    An utterly fascinating books about the corporate leaders who founded and funded the intellectual movement behind modern-day conservatism (I'll leave the jokes about oxymorons up to you). It is well-researched and answers a lot of questions--though I am still curious as to how "free market" capitalism became a Christian stance for the Religious Right.

  • John
    2019-04-30 09:56

    Great research that explains how the current batch of Conservatives map out their agendas. By tracing the history of corporate opposition to the Labor movement (strikes, unionization, and collective bargaining) which funded Chamber of Commerce, academic positions, and the budding right leaning think tanks - all of which sung the gospel of free market capitalism while exposing the socialism and communist influence of the left. This corporate response began with the New Deal. Its expressed goal is to reverse the social programs and federal regulatory agencies. When not appealing to the anti-New Dealers, then the Right took up the cause of anti-civil rights. Picking up the failed segregationist tactics that opposed integrated schools, businesses, and other civil rights advances, the right re-branded these stances as charter schools, free speech issues, and anti-busing. By hiding behind the layer of Christian values, the racist/segregationist conservatives could obscure their actual agenda in language of freedom and high morality.Overall, Phillips-Fein does an amazing job and is incredibly fair and well researched. She is a historian of the best tradition, factual, readable, and thought-provoking. Everyone should read this book.

  • xhxhx
    2019-05-07 05:55

    A marked improvement over the other "making of the conservative movement" books I've read. Does much to flesh out the imaginative exercise with which Rick Perlstein led off Before the Storm (2001): the small mid-western industrialist, the business conservatives from the 1930s through the 1960s, the nadir of market liberalism in America.Phillips-Fein traces the organization and mobilization of business conservatives during these dark years, highlighting the vitality and coherence of movement conservative ideology before movement conservatism. Redraws the political history of the period between 1974 and 1980, the "short seventies" of Laura Kalman's Right Star Rising (2010): it was a moment of business mobilization, not simply a time of "resentment" or "evangelical awakening". Shares the Hacker–Pierson interpretation of the period. The argument is more convincing here than it is in Winner-Take-All Politics (2010), perhaps because Phillips-Fein makes weaker claims. Recommended.

  • Colin
    2019-05-15 11:11

    This was a quick and accessible overview of a variety of conservative political movements and organizations sponsored by members of the business elite or corporations. It does not go into great depth on any of them, and spans a considerable time period, so it's more of a general history than a detailed case study like Jane Mayer's investigation into the Koch brothers, whose references led me to this book. It pairs well with other histories I've been reading to flesh out the growth and financing of the conservative movement (and the intellectual edifice that was constructed to justify it), though. Given the business frame, it also serves as a bit of introduction (from the opposing side) to U.S. labor politics.

  • Tim
    2019-05-26 03:25

    This is not a perfect book--the analysis of conservative ideas is reductive at best, Fein's grasp on the the archival material is clearly weaker after FDR, and I think the contention that the entire conservative movement was dedicated to repealing the New Deal is basically wrong. BUT, there is more good sense on the rise of the right in ten pages of this book than in the entirety of the gas-bagging that constitutes analysis in popular discourse (I'm looking at you, Tanenhaus). And the emphasis on the role of class in forming the movement adds a necessary depth to the literature. So, while not perfect, it's pretty great.

  • Randall Wallace
    2019-04-27 06:14

    The victories against the New Deal are not cultural but largely economic. “The Keynesian belief that consumption is the key determinant of economic growth”, had been coupled with Edward Bernay’s development of PR/Propaganda, in order to make us think that buying even an electric carving knife is more important than having an empathetic community or a living planet. Since America got out of the depression by creating a temporary war state, all non-violent based alternatives to keeping the economy going are ridiculed. FDR’s attacked the pro-business Liberty League by saying how silent it was “about the protection of the individual against elements in the community that seek to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow man.” But to the League, FDR had elevated the “federal government over the state governments” which was both “totalitarian” and “thwarted the constitution.” Sounds like a lot of conservative groups today but this one had a glaring fault; it’s members were obviously ALL the super wealthy. Oops… But Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises then come to the elite’s rescue and say, stop making it look only about your greed and sociopathy! They refine the fight as about Freedom and defense of the Free Market. To them, the free market, not “the political realm” “will liberate everyone.” The Mont Pelerine Society’s job was to attack the New Deal’s “welfare state and economic planning” while visually excluding businessmen from meetings to give journalists the impression it was just academic. Its job was to stop the drift towards socialism. Hayek and von Mies together had written “a bible for those who wanted to turn back the New Deal. When Eisenhower said he was a ‘New Republican’, that meant he “would not seek to undo the New Deal.” Ayn Rand, both heroine of and heroin for the Right, called her nasty little self a “radical for capitalism” and rejected altruism and Christian ethics. Even conservative Irving Kristol has lamented “who wants to live in a society in which selfishness and self-seeking are celebrated as primary virtues?” Ayn Rand was addicted to Meth, she then develops lung cancer and dies while on noticeably altruistic Social Security and Medicare. If only Republicans knew she also supported abortion, Gay Marriage and was a devout atheist. Oops… “Altruism, selflessness, and a devotion to helping the poor” was seen as a disease to be eradicated if the New Deal were to go successfully up in flames. And the New Deal’s #1 threat was that it “might lead Good Christians to advocate government invention in the economy.” The reason for taking out the unions was because they were seen as “the embodiment of the most social-democratic tendencies within liberalism.” Meanwhile the Right had developed new techniques of confusing people by saying that “inequality of income was a positive good, because it helped spur intellectual diversity” or by “describing prejudice as taste”. The job of Gilder’s book Wealth and Poverty was to get people to believe against all evidence that Capitalism was inherently moral. Anti-communism was the Crusade for Capitalism. Vietnam protests got traction by the new technique of revealing the “corporate role in war”. “As President, Bill Clinton accomplished much of what Reagan could not: the dismantling of welfare, the deregulation of Wall Street, the expansion of Free Trade.” Thanks for selling out the New Deal, Bill! FDR and Eleanor would be so proud of you!

  • Sharon Royle
    2019-05-09 10:24

    I always want to know about the "road not taken," so I found I had much to learn about the beginning of the modern Conservative Movement. Apparently, the election of Roosevelt and the programs he instituted set those who felt the country was lurching out of control gave birth to Conservatism.The author moves through each President's administration pointing out how the Conservatives were in power and how they reacted when they were not. I like American history so I found this interesting.If you want to know more about recent American history, this might be your book!

  • Christine B.
    2019-05-07 05:17

    Excellent. Depressing. Super festive, obvi.

  • Tim
    2019-05-26 10:09

    At times, it reads like Tom Perotta wrote The Master and Margarita.

  • Julien Bramel
    2019-05-17 08:02

    Very well written and researched. Fascinating topic. The kind of book that makes you view the 1940-80s history through a new lens. The one weak point I think is the fact that the explicit policies of the New Deal do not really play a role. It's more an analysis of the political birth of a movement. Reminded me of Rick Perlstein's books.

  • Aaron Haberman
    2019-05-21 06:24

    The historian Michael Kazin in his 1995 book "The Populist Persuasion," made the convincing argument that one of the keys to the success of the ascendent conservative movement of the 1970s, was the ability of its leaders to recast populism from an anti-business to an anti-government political philosophy. His book didn't fully explain the origins of this movement or the nitty gritty of how that worked. Kim Phillips-Fein's "Invisible Hands," provides those details and the necessary explanation of this crucial development and in the process makes a convincing case for the centrality of economic conservatism to the conservative coalition that helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980 to the presidency. Much of the story of the rise of conservatism has been told, with studies covering the growth of intellectual conservatism in the 1940s and 1950s and the emergence of grassroots conservatism centered around resistance to civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s and anti-feminism and gay rights in the 1970s. Creatively, Phillips-Fein connects these disparate movements through their shared antipathy to New Deal liberal economic policies, showing how a group of determined business elites through think tanks, newsletters, radio, and direct-mail solicitation helped reached out to each of these groups and slowly over the course of four decades built a winning coalition. The book covers much familiar ground, particularly to scholars of modern American conservatism, including Barry Goldwater's ill fated presidential campaign, Lewis Powell's famous memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the formation of key New Right organizations in the 1970s. What's new here is that all of these groups and more ended up advocating the ideas of the business elite who argued that free market capitalism was becoming an endangered species by the 1970s. Most importantly she shows how these business elites were able to use anti-government arguments in a way to siphon off many working class whites, even though many of these elites saved special enmity for organized labor. Despite some obvious tensions between the various conservative groups, all could easily see how a free market ethos played into aspects of their own agendas. Beyond its scholarly contribution this book is quite readable. She makes understandable some of the more complicated nuances of Hayek's microeconomic theories and supply side economics. The story moves along briskly, as she covers 50 years in about 270 pages. One quick aside. The original subtitle of this book was "the making of the conservative movement from the New Deal to Reagan," which she changed for the publication of the paperback to, "the businessmen's crusade against the new deal." I understand in part why she made the change, since the first subtitle did not indicate that the focus of her book was businessmen. But the new subtitle leaves out the crucial fact that this is a book about the emergence of modern American conservatism. Maybe for later editions she should go with, "Businessmen and the making of the conservative movement from New Deal to Reagan." In any case, she should definitely keep the title, "Invisible Hands," since double entendre titles that tie in to the thesis of the book are the best.

  • David
    2019-05-06 04:25

    I initially feared that this would be a polemic, a rant on conservative ideology. But I detected no cynicism and instead it turned out to be an academic historical documentation of the conservative movement. That’s not to say that it didn’t bring forth information of an uncomplimentary nature. But the book offered little in the way of adjectives and instead focused on nouns and verbs, i.e., it was not overtly judgmental. In fact, the author concluded that the movement was largely successful—Reagan was elected president and conservatives did turn the tide of New Deal advancement. But the author also said that the victory was somewhat meaningless. Victory wasn’t complete and, because of C-changes like technology, the landscape has changed to a point that it wouldn’t be quite recognizable to the grandfathers of the movement. I might disagree with that--the mission to reverse the New Deal seems alive and well.I noted 8 major prominences in this history which are evident in contemporary conservatism. (1) It originated with the very wealthy industrialist. These were big winners in capitalism and who stood to lose something from the New Deal. Support from more diverse demographic groups came much later when the movement cooped people with conservative social interests. (2) These founders were authoritarians who believed that the antidote for social and economic problems is austerity. (3) Conservatives founders had a romantic perspective on capitalism, oblivious to, or at least unwilling to acknowledge any suggestion that capitalism might have some flaws or negative consequences. (4) Likewise, they did not acknowledge any redeeming qualities of New Deal policies. (5) They rejected any legitimacy of many policies that today have become overwhelmingly popular and are largely considered part of the social fabric, such as public education, labor laws like the 40-hour work week, and social security. No conservatives today who want to be taken seriously are proposing a wholesale abandonment of these core functions. (6) They predicted that a collapse of free society is imminent because of the New Deal and progressive policies. (7) There is latent bigotry underlying the foundation, expressed as opposition to civil rights and support of segregation. For example, early in his career Jerry Falwell preached a sermon arguing that integration would destroy the white race. In later years he rejected the position (he could hardly have done otherwise). Part of the “southern strategy” was to attract southern white Democrats who felt disenfranchised by Civil Rights. (8) There is a tendency to embrace the black-and-white fallacy. As Ogden said, “There are no non-historic vantage points.” Some of these observations are not complementary of conservatism, and no doubt a history of liberal ideology might find similar sketch foundations. In any event, reconciling the past and its influences, instead of just explaining them away, is necessary to improve the future.

  • Justin Evans
    2019-05-01 03:22

    Meh. This one starts out great, then doesn't develop for a while, then keeps on not developing and then... ends. This is probably my fault. I was *so* happy to read a balanced account of how the institutes and think tanks and so on that fund American Conservatism (economically and intellectually) were formed. And I knew the book ended with Reagan. So I assumed that Ms Phillips-Fein would explain how the conservative movement went from a handful of small organizations with virtually no important pull to the formative political force of our time. Why did people suddenly start voting for conservative policies? Why did the Democrats suddenly start acting like libertarians? I have some ideas, but I'd like to know what P-Fein thought about this. Instead, you get fifteen pages about how Reagan wasn't getting support from large business, about how everyone really favored Carter, and then one sentence: "But in the weeks leading up to the election, the ambivalence that business leaders had expressed about Reagan in the spring disappeared," p 259. Was this an act of God? I'm pretty sure God's a socialist. Is he just testing us? Is this our Exodus? If so, where the hell is our Canaan? To be fair, she does suggest one explanation for this in the Bibliographic Essay: "the free-market agenda in and of itself might have provided ways of bridging the divide between economic classes and creating a conservative movement, quite independent of its connection to cultural politics." This seems reasonable, and I hope she follows it up. I'm tired of reading silly arguments about how militant action in favor of the 'free market' is just racism. It's not. It is, I would say, much more terrifying. Anyway, a well written summary of a whole range of conservative institutions, with very little pointless polemic. Can't overstate the importance of the absence of pointless polemic.

  • Ben
    2019-05-06 11:12

    Ideas may at times be enough to change the world, but first, people need to hear them. For the intellectuals of the MPS, having their ideas heard required institutional support, and that required corporate funding. In Invisible Hands, Kim Phillips-Fein illustrates the connections forged between MPS intellectuals and corporate interests opposed to the New Deal. In the 1930s, an anti-Roosevelt collation coalesced around a negative critique of expanding government, without developing a coherent set of positions. Nevertheless, through forming and funding organizations like the Liberty League and the National Association of Manufactures (NAM), business developed networks that could exchange and promote their ideas and interests. American business did not necessarily share the more abstract theoretical aspects of the early MPS’s program, but they did share an opposition to government expansion and unionization, leading them to unite politically. The marriage between corporations and pro-market intellectuals was a fruitful one for both parties. The MPS provided a message of market-fundamentalism, and business provided funding for think tanks and institutions that would help to spread that message. Organizations like the Committee for Economic Development (CED), the American Enterprise Association (AEA) and the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) helped intellectual free-marketeers and their financial backers to promote that simplest of equations: free markets equal free people.

  • Chuck
    2019-05-21 10:01

    Dr Phillips-Fein recounts the history of the Business Anti-New Deal movement from it's founding through teh election of Ronald Reagan. She shows how the opposition remained constant while the sectors objecting and their objections often morphed and changed. She does seem to have concluded that the opposition to the New Deal basically won the debate with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. What a long strange journey.As a member of the public rather than an academic, I found the writing eminently readable and flowing. This contrasts wonderfully from the stuffy careful academic prose one must often tortuously wend one's way through.The major problem with the book is the need ton trace so many different groups and personae over the 50 year period. That somewhat disjoint retelling it did cause a bit of confusion on this reader as to whom was what. I don't know if the book might benefit from a chart, timeline or other graphic summary.I am a baby-boomer, raised in the 1960s. This book filled in many gaps in my knowledge of the period. And helped explain some of the issues that were not covered well in the newspapers of the time period. I would recommend it for anyone interested in a good, well written summary of the business opposition to the New Deal from the 1930's through 1980. It only covers in passing the phenomenon of the evangelical wing in the conservative movement.

  • Adam A
    2019-05-08 09:11

    Great book, but I wouldn't mis-characterize it by saying Phillips-Fein is uncovering a conspiracy [which I've heard/read multiple times with regard to this book], so much as exploring the foundation of current conservative thinking, how these authors of what conservatives consider to be the intellectual founders of their ideals came to prominence by whose example did the modern movement become a potent political entity with its own basic principles that its adherents are easily able to recall.Is there a conspiracy? Only if you consider that all ideas which are passed on are of a conspiratorial nature. We share ideas with others because it is our intention that those ideas are at least considered, though ideally adopted.So the ideas of modern conservatives began with a few people who chose through careful deliberation what would become a school of thought. But to say that this is the uncovering of a conspiracy demeans the work of this book and underestimates the potency of the arguments posed by the movement and how those ideas came to be adopted.I recommend this book to everyone interested in understanding the root values of modern conservatism and would say that the author would welcome all readers to take from it what they will, which to me is the mark of good historical documentation. And, more than anything, that is what this book represents: a history of an idea.

  • Casey Mahon
    2019-05-26 05:23

    A good book outlining the decades long reaction by various businessmen and their organizations to the New Deal and the labor-friendly government of the mid-20th Century. The subtitle is a bit misleading, the period after the 1980 election is only covered in a detailed but succinct epilogue. Nevertheless, this is a good overview of the roots of the capitalist side of the conservative movement. It details both the philosophical underpinnings (look no farther than the title) and the consistent organizational efforts. The relationship between business conservatives and social conservatives is discussed, thought not in much detail. The Free Trade, deregulation hungry, and business-centric branch of politics took some time to coalesce, but once it did it was in a position to nearly overcome not just the policies of the New Deal, but also its moral foundation. A great book to help understanding the foundation of the big business politics we see today.

  • Peter
    2019-04-29 08:02

    Fascinating history of the conservative in America. I recommend this to anyone who wants to know how we have gotten to where we are today and what the future might hold. I read 3 full chapters in the store before ordering online. enthralling narrative even if some minor facts are incorrect. for more on those inaccuracies I refer you to where you can read the critical reviews to find out more.I finished the book at the end of March and found it to be a great read giving me many insights into today's world. Specifically, why the conservative seems bent on a course of destruction of all gains made under the New Deal era. If I had to fault this book at all it would be the way in which the author seems to rush through the Reagan years in what appears to bring the book to a swift conclusion. I would rather had the author devote more time to Reagan's impact on the continued effort by business to tear down the remaining new deal initiatives. I do however understand under Ronald Reagan there was no there there. Nonetheless the author could have discussed the crash of 1987 which was never mentioned.All in all a very good read. The author does provide extensive notes and additional sources for her material and for the readers further benefit.

  • Csparrenberger
    2019-05-13 02:57

    This book was up and down for me. Some parts were very interesting others were not.

  • Melissa Maxwell
    2019-05-10 06:16

    Even though I would have loved to give it a lower rating I just can't. The book was well written and researched and deserved at least four stars for that. I might not like the neoconservative subject matter (being a leftest) the book did provide great insight into the development of the new right. In her intro, she states that the focus of the book is on the business leaders that drove the development and rise of the new right, but she devotes a significant portion of the book to Goldwater and Reagan. Those men were key to the rise of the movement especially Goldwater but by devoting so much time to them it brought away from her thesis of showing the business side. That along with her lack of further analysis of new anti-labor companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot even though she mentions that she will go into it later made me give her only four stars. Her writing style is easily readable and her sourcing is wonderful but the book just felt a bit lacking like she was on the cusp of something but just barely failed to get it. The book is a must read to anyone interested in New Right political history.

  • John Hively
    2019-05-07 04:15

    This is a top flight history book of how big money sought to fight the New Deal. It took them forty years, and they won when Ronald Reagan became president. The author weaves a wonderfully researched tale of the backroom deals, the big money that created the right-wing grass roots background, and the propaganda used to wage war against labor unions and the 1960s counterrevolution. The author makes one serious mistake.She assumes the corporate elite (perhaps parasites is a better term) won and rolled the New Deal back. Sure they largely killed the labor unions, and they still fight hard against Social Security and unemployment insurance. But the New Deal is otherwise untouched because to do so would bring about a popular revolution that would throw the bums out for another forty years, just like the next recession, or the one after that, will. No, the New Deal is still strong and virtually untouchable despite the massive amount of money funding propaganda against it.

  • Elliot Ratzman
    2019-04-26 08:57

    “New Deal Socialism”—so this is where the Tea Party’s rhetoric is coming from! Today, free-market ideology is taken as conventional wisdom, so it’s fascinating to review the invention of these ideas, the businessmen that promoted them and the institutions that amplified their “voodoo economics” ideas. Many historians of the American Right begin with the Goldwater Campaign and chart the conservative movement from the books and articles that were published. Here Phillips-Fein begins her excellent story with the conservative reaction to FDR’s New Deal. Focusing on economic reactionaries—businessmen, apostles of the free market, critics of unions and government regulation—she shows how over the next decades a network of elites helped create the movement infrastructure that crystalized around Goldwater and then Reagan. The reaction against gov’t was also a reaction against black civil rights and the author punctuates her story with choice racist quotes from many of the principle activists.

  • Robb Bridson
    2019-05-06 08:02

    A detailed and sobering account of how nutty business conservatism went from a pet project of zealous business executives to the dominant force in politics today.It's almost inspiring to see how persistence and strategy can achieve so much... well, when it's combined with a lunatic zeal, the connected interests of many elites, an extraordinary capacity for manipulation and deception, and tons and tons of money.Pretty eye-opening.The usual account is that the reactionaries won in the '80s, continuing the win into the '90s, and are still holding on today as a large part of their baldly ideological infrastructure is seen as "nonpartisan" and "pragmatic", and that this all started with think tanks in the '70s.This book takes us back to the '30s.And they were making the same ridiculous arguments then, albeit with more overt social Darwinism.An enlightening and depressing read.