“A compelling and readable story of resistance to the new economic order.” —Boston Globe
In the wake of the profound economic crisis known as the Great Depression, a group of high-powered individuals joined forces to campaign against the New Deal—not just its practical policies but the foundations of its economic philosophy. The titans of the National Association of Manufacturers and the chemicals giant DuPont, together with little-known men like W. C. Mullendore, Leonard Read, and Jasper Crane, championed European thinkers Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and their fears of the “nanny state.” Through fervent activism, fundraising, and institution-building, these men sought to educate and organize their peers as a political force to preserve their profit margins and the “American way” of doing business. In the public relations department of General Electric, they would find the perfect spokesman: Ronald Reagan.
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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.