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Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
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Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  237 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
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 marke ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 5th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 5th 2008)
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Dec 22, 2010 Zach rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Andy Marton
Dec 05, 2014 Andy Marton rated it really liked it
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 peop ...more
Frank Stein
Apr 04, 2012 Frank Stein rated it liked it
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 t
Simon Wood
Sep 02, 2013 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing

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 bu
Jul 15, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it
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 mi
Aug 11, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 20, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 25, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
Times were rough during the Great Depression. A DuPont company executive
complained that he couldn't retain his servants. They were leaving for
jobs on FDR's public works projects. "Five Negroes on my place in South
Carolina refused work this spring...saying they had easy jobs with the
government. 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 the
New Deal....Kim Phillips-
May 13, 2009 Tim rated it really liked it
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 o ...more
Adam A
Mar 22, 2015 Adam A rated it it was amazing
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.

May 03, 2014 David rated it liked it
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—Reag ...more
Robb Bridson
Apr 20, 2015 Robb Bridson rated it it was amazing
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, contin
Jul 17, 2015 xhxhx rated it liked it
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 cons
Jan 24, 2016 Ben rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2010 Peter rated it really liked it
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 insight
Feb 04, 2011 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 eminen
Justin Evans
Dec 19, 2010 Justin Evans rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
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 ...more
Melissa Maxwell
Apr 11, 2012 Melissa Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 R ...more
Aaron Haberman
Feb 19, 2013 Aaron Haberman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
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 ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Jun 28, 2011 Elliot Ratzman rated it liked it
“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 ...more
Jul 10, 2012 david rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
excellent book about that shifts the analytical angle on the "New Right" historiography to look at a longer history of class struggle from above. Phillips-Fein reveals the ideas and struggles of the people who never acceded to the New Deal compromises and instead planned and organized through ideological and political struggle to create what we now call 'neoliberalism.' Chapter 5, "How to Break a Union" on Boulwarism is essential reading, especially when coupled with Mike Davis on Boulware in *P ...more
Apr 27, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-u-s-history
An incredibly informative and well-written book. Phillips-Fein looks at various right-wing business people from the late New Deal to Reagan's election. Big business was relatively weak politically coming out of the New Deal and while most CEOs didn't like the reforms, they felt the future involved learning to live with them. All but a small band of right-wing ideologues who slowly became more and more influential, leading to the aggressive business lobby of today. This is the story of how that h ...more
Sean Chick
Nov 14, 2015 Sean Chick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit too dry all around, but one gets a feeling for why the New Deal coalition fell apart so rapidly. The business community spent decades forging ideas and building a political movement to take advantage the moment cracks showed. They succeeded, and as of today we are a society utterly dominated by the market, its creed is our creed. It is why in the face of the 2008 recession capitalism became stronger. The left did not do what Hayek, Rand, Buckley, Goldwater, and the rest did in the 1940-197 ...more
Dec 16, 2012 William rated it it was ok
This could've been much better. There's a bit of editorializing that distracts from the narrative, and Phillips-Fein plays fast and loose with the label "conservative." Basically, anything that might have later been used or abused by a right-wing member of the Republican party is called conservative. For example, she calls Albert Jay Nock a conservative, which is not really an appropriate label for him and could be kind of confusing.
Sep 16, 2012 Roland rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics-history
This is an excellent book for anyone looking to understand the conservative movement's history in the US. The book is very well researched and is unbiased in its approach. Liberals may not agree with conservative principles but this book would at least offer insights into the mind of a conservative. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the back story of today's conservative.
Jul 03, 2009 Vince rated it liked it
Hundreds of page later did the author despise or love these guys ? He seems to find moral equivalency between all of these guys even though there is a difference between an evangelical Chrisitan and a Wall Street businessman.
Dec 30, 2015 katie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2015, uga
This was super interesting. Also infuriating at times, but in an educational way.
Dec 19, 2013 Alex rated it it was ok
Pretty bland; good as a resource for writing a paper, I guess
Colin Riggs
Jul 24, 2012 Colin Riggs rated it it was amazing
Literally the best book of this type I have ever read.
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Kimberly Phillips-Fein is a historian of twentieth-century American politics. She teaches courses in American political, business, and labor history. She has contributed to essay collections published by Harvard University Press, University of Pennsylvania Press and Routledge and to journals such as Reviews in American History and International Labor and Working-Class History. Professor Phillips-F ...more
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