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tv   Free Enterprise the New Deal  CSPAN  October 14, 2020 4:00pm-5:28pm EDT

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now on american history tv, cornell university history professor lawrence glickman describing how the modern concept of free enterprise formed in the 130s during the rise of the new deal. >> professor in american studies in the department of history at cornell. in addition to free enterprise and american history in 1919, he has written four other books including buying power: a history of consumer activism in america published in 2009 and a living wage, american workers and the making of consumer society published in 1997. he writes on a regular basis for popular publications including "the washington post," though i'm not sure we would call that a popular publication. the boston review and dissent.
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his article was named one of the, i quote, most loved essays in the boston review in 2018. >> thank you. thank you to rachel for all the behind the scenes work and, pete, and eric and christian and all of the organizations that helped make this possible. i'm really grateful. thanks for all of you coming out. i'm honored by the size of this audience today. here i have elizabeth's book, bethany morton's book, kim's
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book, invisible hands and wendy wall's book, inventing the american way. i think many more people in my acknowledgements and i couldn't have written the book without the vibrant scholarship on this topic. let me share a few thoughts about my approach before i get into the substance. from my mentor, the late lawrence lavine, i learned to appreciate a kind of cultural history that is really, i think, an intellectual history of people who weren't intellectuals. as larry famously said in his book, he was writing a history not of thought but of people thinking. and i think what he meant by that is he wasn't looking at intellectuals, but he was looking at how people made sense of the world around them and i kind of take my model of the kind of history i like to write from him. the history of people thinking. i wanted in my study -- there's
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been a lot of work on conservativism and often it highlights intellectuals, economists, and i've listed here three of many people, these people all appear in my book. all very important figures in the history of conservativism but i wanted to look at another group of thinkers. i look at a bunch of people who i use the term the apostles of free enterprise following what the media called them. i'm including people, most of us haven't heard of them, merle thorpe, thorpe played a crucial role in reinventing free enterprise in its modern sense over the course of the late 1920s. i look at h.w. prentis, the
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president of the national association of manufacturers, a group that really cared a lot about free enterprise and leonard reed who was the head of one of the first conservative think tanks called the foundation for economic education. and he's also the author of an essay called i pencil that is the autobiography of a pencil which plays a crucial role in chapter six of my book. i also look at people who were -- are better known but probably not considered intellectuals like herbert hoover, the democratic but conservative congressman, pettingill and ronald reagan. figures like that from the political world and so forth. what these people did, they were
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not intellectuals but they crafted an enduring political language that in spite of its ideological extremism, came to stand for an american commonsense. that brings me to my second point which is that unlike the pioneering cultural historian who taught that cultural historians should write about the joke we don't get, the things that are opaque. i'll read this short passage. the best points of entry in an attempt to penetrate an alien culture can be those where it seems to be most opaque. when you realize that you're not getting something, a joke, a proverb and so on that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it. and my approach is almost the exact opposite. rather than studying the joke we don't get or the opaque thing, i want to study the things that are so obvious, so commonsense
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cal that we don't examine them at all and i think free enterprise falls into that category. when i ask my students have heard the term, almost all of them raise their hand and the fun begins. [ laughter ] >> i'll just make one more point which is a key theme of my book is how often free enterprise was paired with commonsense. you have a typical headline, free enterprise and commonsense, so this was a very, very common pairing and, yet, if you look at the sub head, it talks about crack pot new dealism. it's making those commonsense. with that, let me begin my talk. dewitt emery felt frustrated in the fall of 1948 and he wanted his fellow citizens to know why. the 6'6", 245-pound emery, the
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biggest advocate of small business in the land, branded himself as, quote, a salesman for free enterprise. after more than a decade spent, he suggested how much work remained to be done. as he explained in his syndicated newspaper column, the column was called what is it, which was widely reprinted around the country. he explained that his son james has been assigned to write an essay on free enterprise. i've read dozens of such essays over the course of my research. james began his research by
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seeking a definition of the term. james perused the family encyclopedia and checked other reserves books in the house including three dictionaries without finding anything. after satisfying himself that his son had searched enough, emery discussed the meaning with his son and they came up with a definition that worked well enough to earn james a grade of "a" on the assignment. not being able to find a definition in our encyclopedia worried me. unlike his home study, the many thousands of reference works in one of the nation's best libraries would contain a definition of this fundamental american term. three referenced libraries unsuccessfully took up the challenge. for emery, the lack of a readily available definition represented a crisis. for more than 150 years, freedom of enterprise has been the very backbone of the economic life in
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this country, he wrote. three highly skilled professional librarians working with a complete collection of reference books as there is to be found were unable to find a definition of this commonly used term. emery's history may have been dubious, but this statement reflected the panic of those who believed that a fundamental american term appeared to have been left out of the dictionary. i begin with this anecdote because it gets at a crucial issue that i seek to highlight in my book, which is that, although today we tend to take free enterprise for granted as a term we all understand, for much of american history, even its advocates expressed deep concern that its meaning was contested and unclear. by the late 1940s, what we might call the free enterprise freakout that emery initiated when he expressed shock at the lack of a consensus definition, was already a well established genre.
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indeed, as i show in my book, an even bigger kerfuffle was shot off five years earlier when a gallup poll showed only three in every ten were able to find a definition of free enterprise. there was a lot of concern about this. i'm just going to post a quote from one newspaper in maryland that talked about how dangerous it was that people didn't understand this fundamental american term. these concerns culminated in my book, i write about this free enterprise definition contest. printer's inc rejected all of them as ineffective. but emery's piece initiated a concern as well. to take one action, the editor of a bay area newspaper sent a reporter to the san francisco public library, and when the reporter, like emery's
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secretary, came up dry, initiated a series in which hundreds of readers sent in definitions, or in some cases, humorously mocked the whole effort. a nationwide hunt is on for the definition of free enterprise, wrote one wag from the labor movement. it is now revealed that free enterprise has neither a dictionary for a father nor an encyclopedia for a mother. but emery saw no humor in the matter. they weren't the most humorous group, i have to say. for a time many advocates suggested renaming free enterprise or not worrying about its definition as the message of this ad campaign of the early 1950s suggests, which says, the name doesn't matter, only the meaning of free enterprise. and you can't really see the text of the ad here, but the basic message is we all know what it means, so let's not fuss too much about the definition. probably my favorite moment in
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this quandary about definitions was when henry wriston, the president of brown university, the father of walter wriston, who became reagan's secretary of the treasury in 1943 pointed out that free enterprise is a subject upon which when definitions are avoided, nearly everyone can agree. [ laughter ] true enough. let me step back for a minute and tell you about the broader aims of my book. here we have the table of contents for my book. in the book i try to trace the changing meanings of this seemingly straightforward term free enterprise. i examine the long history of the term in the united states dating back to the 1830s. but the book primarily focuses on the battle that emerged in the years between the 1930s and the 1970s between what historians have called the new deal order and free enterprise, which emerged, i think, as the key term of opposition to that order. historians in the u.s. have long
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been interested in the new deal order and why it fell apart, and they have also become increasingly interested in the rise of conservatism. more and more, they are seeing these two as continually interacting forces rather than serial events. a growing number of historians, and i count myself among them, take issue with the view recently put forward in the huffington post that a challenge remained unchallenged until 1980 when reagan was elected. in my book i show, in contrast, that from the very beginning, the new deal faced serious demonstrate that free enterprise laid at the heart of that attack and that it was a critical slowly growing building block of of the late 20th century. i can talk about some of the other chapters of my book, but the first chapter deals with a memo that has become iconic
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among historians called the powell memo which was written by -- soon to be supreme court justice lewis f. powell in august of 1971. a lot of journalists take this to be a very important document in the history of conservativism. but what i try to do is to show that the powell memo was the culmination of 40 years of free enterprise discourse. it really is the summing up of a lot of history. the second chapter looks at sort of the pre-history of the free enterprise before the new deal in the 1830s to the 1920s. the next chapter is mostly what i will be talking about today. i have a chapter four on clashing and competing definitions of the term. i have a chapter on the way in which free enterprise played a role in political realignment
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where the democratic party became the party of liberalism and the republican party the party of conservatism. i take a look at that essay i mentioned and talk about why i feel it's an important document in the history of free enterprise discourse and chapter 7, i look at how civil rights and labor activists refuse to concede free enterprise to conservatives and i talk about the tax crisis and how free enterprise was the crucial part of that language that emerged in the '60s and '70s. the epilogue looks at donald trump -- a president who doesn't use the term free enterprise very often, which is an interesting phenomenona that we can talk about in the question and answer period. there is a paradox of free enterprise which on the one hand
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changed meanings and was heavily contested. on the other hand, it also hardened and froze in one crucial version the one that emerged in opposition to the new deal, the order of which i'll talk about today. somehow the one extreme version is the one that really became commonsense in american culture and my book traces the tensions between the contestuation over what it means and the way it became commonsense. but it also argues that the fact of contestation is why it became commonsense. it became hard to define what the term meant but easier to say what i didn't mean and that's the main thrust of what you'll hear today. from the 1930s to the 1970s, these advocates took free enterprise as the opposite of what it stands for. this version of free enterprise, which was quite distinct of what the term meant in the 19th
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century, and also the 20th century, shaped modern culture that limited the gains of liberal reform, and by laying the groundwork for what eventually became known as the conservative movement. one other point is crucial to mention, even during the period of its greatest visibility when the dominant meaning of free enterprise meant opposition to new deal liberalism, its meaning was contested. chapter 6 of my book, as i mentioned, explored the ways that civil rights and labor leaders explored the term rather than abandoning it to the right. many other terms that are used in present day discussion, wrote george meany, the labor of secretary treasurer in 1944, free enterprise is variously understood and variously defined. the understanding of free enterprise promoted by the business lobby, he continued, does not coincide in all particulars with that of wage-earning people.
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again, this suggests that free enterprise was open to a variety of definitions. as mark starr, the educational director of the international ladies garment workers union wrote in 1954, free enterprise needs restatement to suit our modern needs. suggesting that the concept was salvageable, even for those on the social democratic spectrum of the labor movement. so if one part of my book focuses on the difficulty of defining free enterprise and contestations of its meaning, the other side of the coin, which actually takes up a majority of my book, is the way in which it emerged as the new deal's opposite and ultimately served as a holding bin for what eventually became known as modern conservatism. i just want to give you a little taste of this. it won't be the main point i'm talking about, but one of the points in the book, there was a lot of talk early in the new deal throughout the 1930s about the possibility of the political parties representing liberal and conservative parts of the
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political spectrum. old party alignments may vanish if the new deal splits the nation between liberals and conservatives, someone wrote in 1934. and one of the chapters of my book is about those thoughts. herbert hoover is one of the people pushing this. he said, republicans should declare the principles of free enterprise and become the conservative party in the sense of conserving true liberalism. and hoover said that because he was still pissed off that he felt that roosevelt had stolen the very good term liberalism, which is how he described himself, from him and so he wanted to reclaim that term which fdr had perverted. a newspaper man, frank jenkins in oregon in 1938 said, how is the republican party to consolidate conservative sentiment and defeat the radical new deal? his answer was by embracing free
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enterprise. glen frank, who was an important figure in republican circles, president of the university of wisconsin and hopeful for political office who tragically died in an accident, i think, in 1942, you can see how thoughts were changing about the possibility of realignment from what he said between 1933 and 1940. '33 he said, hopes for a conservative republican party and a liberal democratic party have gone repeatedly into the waste basket of forlorn hopes. in 1940, he said, we may be heading into a different situation because of the extreme so-called liberalism of the democrats. but that's getting a little ahead of the story which starts with the free enterprise battle against the new deal, so that's what i'm going to turn to next. for more than 80 years, the idea of free enterprise, despite being ill-defined, tussled with the new deal order, animating the central tension of modern
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political culture in the united states. the words free enterprise became shorthand for the fear of overweaning government, the dangers of excessive spending and the threat of red tape that marked most debates about the expansion of the welfare and regulatory states. the free enterprise vision proved to be an extraordinarily compelling alternative. an examination of the success of free enterprisers reveals the fierce and often effective challenges that the new deal faced from the very beginning. although the opposition to the new deal took many forms, the call for free enterprise was a common denominator for most criticisms and shaped exceptions for the proper role of government even during the acme of the new deal. quote, the definition of free enterprise and opposition is stuck in the new deal, someone from colorado said, and america thought of this for many
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generations. a new deal for free enterprise less than a decade old was formed, backdating the idea many decades and even centuries. new york congressman bertrand snell asserted in 1935 that america has always been the land of free enterprise. reading the presidential heroes recently carved into mt. rushmore, a los angeles times columnist proclaimed it inconceivable that washington or lincoln would have stood for the curbing of free enterprise. pushing the story further back in time, others describe christopher columbus as a free
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enterprisers. this is an invented tradition. the political vision emerged before the election, it coalesced in opposition to the new deal order that the presidency initiated. i think the same is true of those who promoted free enterprise and i don't want to suggest today that they all have the exact same ideas. i think their ideas varied. their mission varied. but they were united by the idea that this term held a key in opposing what they took to be the biggest dangers of the new deal. what united them was a deep suspension of the new deal as a dangerous philosophy on a spectrum within nefarious forces
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of fascism and communism that were gaining popularity in europe. free enterprise opponents invoked a language in which they figured it a form of totalitarianism or the same socialist baloney, no matter how you slice it. faced with an either/or choice, the diversity of the members of the free enterprise free enterprise melted away as they united in fierce opposition to the new deal. free enterprise critics of the new deal spoke in a register of loss and alarm that proved to be the most consequential political legacy and i really want to emphasize that. when i started my research, i thought it was going on a
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political discourse. in seeking to define the new deal as beyond the pale politically, opponents described franklin roosevelt and his administration as in "the baltimore sun's" words, dangerously power loving. updating traditional republican fears of monarchy and slavey, they labeled the president and congress as power hungry, would be dictators. never before have we seen demagoguey on that scale said senator robert a. taft in 1936. the same year another republican senator called roosevelt a new deal sceasar. it minimized the political
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differences between the united states and the other governments at which the united states would soon be at war. they dismissed a national health insurance proposal as, quote, not essentiallily different from that conceived by lennon and stalin in the russian five-year plans. others compared the dictation of the new deal to cadle slavery which is something i will be happy to answer questions about. they treated new deal totalitarianism as a dangerous imposition. while statism came in many shapes from the binary boyfripo view of enterprisers, since all collectivisms intended in the same dictatorial direction.
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hoover and other free enterprisers employed road moreovers well before the 1944 manifesto to describe the slippery slope to which the weakening of free enterprise led. by stifling progress the new deal has started this nation on the road to totalitarianism said one economist in 1939 fully five years before the book was published in the united states. employing alarmist rhetoric and depicting freedom, free enterprise critics said it was on their last legs. they pondered the same question throughout the new deal order. we may be the last generation of americans to receive and cherish the legacy of liberty, warned the congressman from indiana, who was a democrat.
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a lot of new deal -- antinew deal discourse came from conservative democrats. and that's an important theme of my book. in this view, what became known in the late 1940s as the welfare state was merely a transitional moment and a brief one on the road to dictatorship. such language became a cornerstone of modern conservatism. when ronald reagan criticized the proposed medicare plan in 1961, he drew directly from the antinew deal rhetorical repertoire. only from the fading memories of their grandparents, the last generation to grow up in a regime of free enterprise. reagan was drawing from the old
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free enterprise playbook. they latched onto free enterprise as the phase that best expressed their opposition. and presidential platforms provides evidence that this version of free enterprise was an invention of the new deal era. it provides really interesting insight into the transformation of this term as i show in chapter two when the phrase first appeared on the gop platform in the 19th century, it referred to the attribute of being enterprising which is what free enterprise meant throughout most of the 19th century. the spirit of enterprise. it wasn't a noun, it was a thing people possessed. the term in the process of transforming went unmentioned in the 1932 presidential platform of the republicans. by 1936, however -- i'm going to skip that slide. by 1936, however, after it had
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become familiar to millions of americans as the opposition of the new deal, it emerged front and center, appearing five times in that platform. two and i can systems are contending for the votes of the american people declared the introduction to that platform that year. one is the historic american system of free enterprise and the other is called the new deal which is a system of centralized bureaucr bureaucratic control. in two sentences, the gop laid out the stark choice of systems that they put before the american people well into the 21st century, one representing tradition and democracy, and the other standing for dangerous and un-american forms of statism. the republican national committee described the new deal as being in basic on inflict with, quote, american principals of democracy. therefore mentions of free enterprise and variance of the phrase became obligatory in gop platforms this was so long after the new deal ended.
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the platform of 1964 which had 11 mentions, the year that barry goldwater ran for the presidency, 1968 had 13 affirmations of free enterprise, 1984, a record 21 uses at the height of the age of reagan, and 2012 had seven mentions in the first presidential campaign after the package of obamacare to the proven values of the american free enterprise system. as i show in the epilogue, as i mentioned before, donald trump, his -- he represents a departure from this tradition. he -- as far as i can tell, he's only used the phrase once and not since he's become president. and the platform of 2016 mentioned the term twice, the republican platform mentioned it, but quite unconsequential parts of the platform as opposed
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to 2012 when it was in the second paragraph. the juxtaposition of free enterprise freedom and statism was not confined to gop platforms but became a regular talking point during the new deal era. wendell willkie declared in 1940, referring to new deal reforms, these are different names for the same things. absolute and arbitrary power in the hands of government. wilkie's campaign book of that year was one of the first books to be titled "free enterprise" and wilkie said something interesting here which became an important part of free enterprise rhetoric which is that the danger today is not big business. it is big government. and that's a tkey theme in my chapter on the "i pencil" essay.
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in 1940. thomas dewey claimed that in the coming presidential election for which he was the republican front-runner, the american people will be called upon to make the most critical decision they've made in 80 years. as in the election of 1860, voters faced a fateful choice between two conflicting and opposing systems. dewey was far from alone in evoking the civil war and especially abraham lincoln's framing of the two systems. the only option was to revive free enterprise, quote, the system which made america great. dewey like so many others so routinely used the house divided metaphor to explain why a mixed economy was unsustainable. as early as 1936, the "new york times" editorialized against overuse of this house divided
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metaphor. the editorialist wrote, a good maxim requires judicious handling. it's no exception to this rule. obviously, not all half and half combinations are fatal including the hybrid new deal economy. 1936, already noticing this trend, which only increased in later years. that's the presidential candidates of 1936 through 1948, and i skipped over landon who ran in '36, wilkie ran in '40, they were all understood as political moderates who stood well to the left of the republican center and who were regularly denounced by conservative publications like the chicago tribune for being real republicans. they were the rhinos of their day. but yet they embraced the dire language of free enterprise and that suggests, i think, that on the question of legitimacy of
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the new deal, there was not significant daylight between their views and the of more extreme conservatives. it did not mimic free enterprise rhetoric, they helped invent it. for example, glen frank talked about the new deal as a war on business and in his 1940 campaign wilkie repeated winston churchill's claim that fdr had waged a ruthless war on private enterprise. it was difficult, i think, and it is difficult to square moderation with the binary slippery slope language of free enterprise that moderates embraced. the collectivism represented by the new deal was not something to debate at face value, but to suspect, quote, in no matter in what form it masquerades.
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that's what a group of republicans said. free enterprisers differented as to whether the new dealers were naive or duplicityists. unless it's reversed, political devastation would be the inevitable result. misleadingly, advertising itself as a pragmatic effort to save capitalism, that's what fdr did, american collectivism would lead to totalitarianism. planning according to "the wall street journal" is nothing more than, quote, an innocent invasion of free enterprise domain by government. in this context, in the direction of business autonomy was deemed the prudent choice to most free enterprisers. free enterprisers suspected incremental reform on the theory
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that government does not give up powers once acquired. indeed, many free enterprisers viewed liberal reform as more dangerous than socialism because it pretended to be something it was not. they described the new deal as a wolf in sheep's clothing, a status program dangerous precisely because of its humanitarian cover. free enterprise feared that new dealers were lulling the american people into a gradual acceptance of growing government power. supporters of the new deal spoke of a roosevelt revolution, a positive transformation in the philosophy of government. they termed it an unusual revolution, however, one that restored rather than destroyed capitalism. in his 1959 book of that title, the roosevelt revolution, the political scientist stressed, quote, the extent to which the new deal remained within the framework of what's been called
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the capitalist system. new dealers recognized their lack of coherence and critics have noted its limits and contradictions from this perspective, the new deal, was, quote, inconsistent and confused as a 1935 assessment had it. critics of the new deal, however, described it not as contradictory but as unitary, not as reformists, but radical, but as a dangerous departure from age old norms. in the early days of the new deal, the chicago tribune labeled it a complete makeover of the american system. the following year they warned of the revolutionary implications of the knew deal. roosevelt claimed otherwise, the new deal was taking the country on the path of, quote, european radicalism. the fear that the new deal might transform the country that it might unleash an unwanted
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revolution long outlasted the uncertain years of roosevelt's first term. free enterprisers proposed a counter revolution made necessary by what they took to be the inevitable logic of the new deal. they feared as the business journalist wrote in 1941 that the nation was giving way to social revolution via controlled economy. free enterprisers differented about how long the process of giving way would take but they agreed on the need for action to forestall the growth of statism and planning under the new deal. james lincoln, a cleveland utility executive, called in 1947 for, quote, a revolution to bring back the freedoms we have lost. this was the counter revolution that free enterprise had in mind, one that would reverse the new deal state which they believe was in the process of
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moving into totalitarianism that they took to be its destiny. the language continued in the cold war years when many free enterprisers continued to see the communist threat as internal as much as external. some free enterprise used the word counter revolution to describe their goals in the postwar years using slightly different language in 1947, the manufacturing industries committee was told those who believe in free enterprise should open a counteroffensive against the forces seeking to drive this country towards socialism and excessive governmental control. he was not telling those in his audience something they did not believe. the chamber and other groups had argued that the path of the counteroffensive lay in the aggressive selling of free enterprise. the battle between free enterprisers and new dealers was not symmetrical. free enterprisers for all of their defensiveness and defining
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sense of victimization declared and fought a one-sided war. ever since the new deal, they have claimed to be under siege, taking a psychological disposition that i describe in my book as elite victimization. larry kudlow top economic adviser to president trump expressed this, capitalists in this country has been under assault since fdr's new deal in the 1930s. the discrimination of the new deal was a jihad against free enterprise. what that does, i think, it reverses the nature of the war by projecting the accommodators as the aggressors and prescribe those who carried out the war on the welfare state of defenders of a civilization under siege.
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the war of free enterprise was depicted as a war on free enterprise. they viewed themselves undermatched facing powerful forces of state coercion. from this perspective, vigilance required that free enterprise be prepared for the necessary war that needed to be fought to prevent the assaults on the new system. for their part, new dealers and their supporters claimed to believe in the free enterprise system. they held that government was necessary to preserve and expand it and they believed that the history of the 1930s bore out this claim. they argued for what roosevelt's brain truster called the necessity for government interference when free enterprise finds itself in trouble behind it's self-repairing capabilities and
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a group of keynesian economists said that the new deal was necessary to prop up a free enterprise system that left to its own devices is no longer capable of approaching full employment. for antinew deal free enterprisers, however, self-correction was the essence of the capitalist system and the suggestion that state intervention was necessary to save capitalism counted as an attack rather than a statement of support proof of the irreconcilable nature of these differences. the free enterprise critique of the new deal became the default position not just of conservatism but of a good chunk of the broader culture. in the long run, there's no such thing as moderate reform since all regulatory proposals tend toward an overwhelming statism. if one believed as ogden mills
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who was herbert hoover's secretary of the treasury argued in 1935 that the new deal fostered authoritarian government and an economic system based on coercion, than any accommodation appeared unwise and unrational. examining the leading counter narrative allows us to see how partial and tentative the con to consolidation of the new deal was. they have had an outside influence on american political culture. free enterprise understood freedom as indivisible and endanger asked they took the threat to be fundamentally political. mills set the template for future responses when he said that roosevelt's proposed reforms, quote, cut so deep as to threaten not only the form but the spirit of our institutions.
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they framed elections, debates and regulatory battles as stark and usually binary choices with potentially devastates consequences to democracy in america. failed predictions of apock lips did not stop them from predicting disaster every time expansions were debated. the new dealers and their successors succeeded on many fronts, they spent a surprising amount of time during the era of the new deal order on the defensive, confronting the charge that they were in process of determining basic american principles. we should not be too quick to grant them victory in their war on the new deal and the welfare state. in spite of opposition, the new deal succeeded in transforming the landscape. if it can ever be said that anything is permanent in american politics, it can be said that the new deal is permanent, that may seem overly
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optimistic these days but it is undeniable that many of the core elements endure. conservatives have agreed with this assessment, they have tended to see the new deal order as winning and free enterprise as under threat or defeated. indeed, the pioneering libertarian thinker knock claimed the new deal was here to stay long before most new dealers who you have made that statement with any confidence at all. even in the wake of the undeniable successes of the conservative counter revolution in american politics that began in the 1970s, the innovations of the new deal have survived. in 2011 a conservative writer reflecting on the end of the new deal order claimed that the house that fdr built sits on a wobbly base suggesting that the basic still stood precariously. free enterprisers depict themselves as the vanquished party. everything from an increase in
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the minimum wage to the legal enforcement of nondiscrimination was labeled the death of free enterprise. it was claimed in 2015 that, quote, people who believe in the power of individual liberty and free enterprise have had a rough time lately reflecting a sense of being embattled. let me conclude by saying rather than treating the new deal order as serial events, it's more accurate to view the new deal as -- i mean, to view what james war burg called a free enterprise order that battled the new deal order. these forces were in tension with other. tracking the battle between free enterprise and the new deal shows that the pundits were premature to declare a victory for the new deal in the media postwar years but it also
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suggests that scholars may have been incorrect to pronounce its defeat in the 1970s and '80s. in the book that introduced the concept of the new deal order, steve frazier frames its history of one of a rise and fall and i think it might be more accurate to speak of a continual conversation rather than a period defined by defeat. the president of general motors who announced that the spell of regimentation and a planned economy has been broken and set the stage for a return of free enterprise, there was the claim as an editorial cartoonist had it in 1944 that, quote, the death of the new deal has been greatly exaggerated. this tension is best explained by the persistence and acceptance that was introduced in the 1930s and remaining a popular mode of political discourse. if it did not succeed fully in vanquishing the new deal order,
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it helped make free enterprise one of the dominant languages of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. thank you very much. our rules remain as they always are. please wait to be called upon, please wait for the microphone to reach you, please use the microphone, and please identify yourself before you ask your question. can i start off, co-chair's prerogative, with a question about true believers versus those who might exploit the term. so in your sections on the new deal in immediate post new deal years, the '30s and '40s, the people you write about come off as true believers, as idealogically committed and as meaning what they say. they see the new deal as a
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slippery slope and the united states is already going down that hill. fast-forward to the '50s or even to the '70s and beyond, and when conservatives are empowered, they don't dismantle the new deal order or roll back the welfare state as dramatically as the true believers would want. they complain a lot, but they don't do it. so i can't tell, for the latter sections of the book, if free enterprise becomes kind of a rhetorical device that in kind of a general way is used to push back some regulation, to cut back some taxes, but not to overhaul the entire social order. so those folks even using this language are not averse to accepting federal contracts, if they're businessmen they're delighted that investment from
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the government to the south or southwest makes for industrial development, industries, you know, are in crisis in 2008-2009. they accept bailouts. so there's an inconsistency here. they are happy to take it when it's offered to them but then they rail about it in other settings. so is there a shift from true belief to kind of a pragmatic exploitative use that resembles a real shift in people using this language in what they're doing? >> thanks for that question. it's a great question, eric. i try to take people at their word, and my strategy in the book was to take seriously what people say. louis powell, who wrote that 1971 memo that i mentioned, one of the things that really struck me about that memo is how it was written in 1971, but so much of
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it could have been written 20 years earlier. the claims were almost identical, as i try to show in that chapter. i have no reason to believe that powell didn't really think this was so. i think he thought free enterprise was deeply under threat. one of the things i try to show is that free enterprisers did try to make a distinction -- this is in response to your claim -- between free enterprise and laissez faire. they had a government that did help them. you could argue that was a convenient way to define the term, and i have no doubt that some people used it cynically, but my sense is that robert powell, who was at the far end of my apostles, really did believe this language.
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>> okay. right back here, the very end. steve? >> i'm mark levinson. i'm an independent historian here in washington. i'm going to say that i'm skeptical of this distinction that you're drawing during the new deal between the free enterprisers and the new dealists. i wrote a book that i've just recently published in the second edition called "grade a and p" which is about the chain store wars of the 1930s. the story of the chain store wars is the complaint that big business was killing off small business, that mom and pop were being driven out of business by these capitalist giants. and the question was what should the new deal, what should the federal government do about this? and the reality is that there was no partisan split here at all. you had many, many people on the republican side, your punitive free enterprise folks, who thought very much that the
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government should crack down on big business, but free enterprise meant protecting mom and pop and meant acting against these large, what were referred to as foreign companies. foreign in those days meant based in new york and chicago that were killing off free enterprise. and meanwhile, you had democrats who were on both sides of this dispute as well. and this burned on throughout the new deal and beyond. it's really hard to see this as a dispute over being for and against free enterprise, it's more along the traditional lines of, well, we like some free enterprise, but maybe not too much of it depending upon whether our neighborhood grocer is being put out of business by it. >> thank you. i'm a big fan of your book. i guess i would say a couple things. one is i try to say that it's wrong to say that free enterprise was a republican discourse, because there were --
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you know, both parties were far more idealogically diverse in the 1930s. but i do think that a lot of -- well, free enterprise had a number of different meanings, and i think you're referring to sort of an antitrust version of free enterprise that someone like ralph nader later embraced as well, or estes kevolver as well. i think that tradition is there. one of the things about free enterprise discourse of the sort i'm writing about is it's almost the reverse of what you're talking about, which is it's a lot of big businesspeople speaking as if they were small businesspeople. that's the essence of my "i pencil" chapter which is that -- one of the things you constantly see from people like alfred sloan, the president of gm, is that gm is really no different than the corner grocers, and a lot of businesspeople use that language repeatedly where the economy is made up of
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entrepreneurs and individuals but not of large corporations. the free enterprise discourse i'm talking about completely -- it's usually spoken by people who come from that world but who deny its existence altogether. so i don't think it's in contradiction. this is a term that has many, many uses. i'll fight you to say that my version is by far the most dominant in the 1930s, but i accept that there were other versions out there, and i do treat them in my book. >> up against the wall in the back right there. >> hi. dara ornstein in american studies at george washington university. >> you wrote a great book. thank you. >> thanks. two questions about language and they're different. the first, does free enterprise ever carry a legal meaning? so like a word that i puzzle over, manufacturing, which has a lot of ambiguity to it but a big role in the law. do you ever see free enterprise
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in the law? and secondly, what's your take on neoliberalism? >> let me do the second first. my book does talk about that. i wrote an essay for "boston review" about the history of the term neoliberalism, and one of the things i show in my book is that when it was first used in the 1930s, what a neoliberal was is what today we might call an ultra liberal, in other words, a very strong supporter of the new deal, and i put it in the context of this debate about what is liberalism that was really a huge debate in the early new deal years. so i think that some people who later called themselves free enterprise, market-based liberals and so forth embraced free enterprise, but the pairing wasn't always exact, so you find a lot of people like raymond moly, a disgruntled new dealer, talk about how he represents free enterprise but it also
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represents neoliberalism. i didn't do a lot of legal research, so i'm afraid i can't answer the question, but one of the things, you spend ten years writing a book and then you get a question and it makes you realize a whole area you didn't research at all. good question. >> i have one right over here. >> hi there. i'm a political scientist so i totally don't know the literature you're referring to, so pardon me for a silly question here. so in your description effectively from even before the 1930s but especially in the
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1970s, you had a mount of view which is opposition to the government participation in the economy and the government's enthusiasm for regulations which might limit business. and, of course, there is the carve-out if those government regulations can't benefit them, that's okay, but not the other stuff. >> it's very opportunistic in that sense. >> i think we all saw the compromise there. and i said the 1970s because deregulation seems to be anachronistic to what you're talking about but a part of this thought. we had at least a century of anti-bolshevism, anti-new deal. how do you talk about this thought on free enterprise when it comes to the debates on health care? one of the things that is a major issue in the election is whether medicare for all is a good idea, versus others, versus
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public option. there are various issues, you don't need to go into the details, but it seems to go into the heart of the book which is how much -- basically, how much should the government be in the economy if the economy is also the health care? >> yeah. that's a great question. my book -- i do deal with the 2012 mitt romney campaign which definitely framed obamacare versus free enterprise as the language. and one of the interesting things about free enterprise discourse that is a real puzzle for historians, because our whole job is to study change over time. so what do you do with a discourse that's frozen in amber which really doesn't change that much. that's one of the things about free enterprise. people employ it in different contexts -- what i say in my book is the free enterprise text remain the same but the free enterprise contexts change constantly, so the text was
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similar but the way it was used really varied. what you're asking is very interesting because mitt romney, when he ran in 2012, had a long history of being a republican who traditional used the term free enterprise and believed in it all the time. donald trump does not. and i've noticed that even though before impeachment stuff over the summer, he was really framing a freedom versus socialism setup in the 2020 election, and i'm sure we'll come back to that quite a lot, but he wasn't using the language of free enterprise. some other people, for example, i think it's congressman emmers from minnesota who is head of -- he's head of some republican national -- i don't know exactly what, but one of the rnc subgroups, and he wrote something this summer which very much framed the coming election
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as free enterprise versus socialism. so largely referring to the health care debates. >> right up here. >> i associate free enterprise with people who generally are very conservative with money. what would the reaction of free enterprise to trillion-dollar deficits in the middle of a boom be? >> that's a good question. in my final chapter, i talk about the free enterprise critique of public spending. they didn't talk so much about -- they did talk somewhat about the deficit and the debt, but they did talk about excessive public spending as being very dangerous, partly because what that required was excessive taxation, which was a mode of unfreedom that they didn't like. so my guess is they wouldn't have liked it very much. but it wasn't one of their primary modes of discourse, i would say.
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[ inaudible question ] >> for the most part, no. i think there might be some overlap. >> roger. >> i think one of the reasons this is such an engaging subject is that it's intellectual history but it's also economic and cultural, and as you emphasized, even psychological. so i have a question about the sources. some of them are pretty obvious, hyack, the road to surfdom, you mentioned the chicago tribune, for example. but on top of that there are dozens and dozens of other newspapers that you used and other ephemeral sources. how did you go about it? >> yeah, thank you for that question. one of the main archival sources that i use is the hagland library in delaware has the paper manufacturers, and they are probably the leader of promulgating enterprise which includes clippings. i highly recommend for historians a subscription to which my library -- my university library
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gets, proquest newspapers, which are the bigger newspapers, about 17 of the bigger newspapers. but lets you into thousands of local newspapers where you come across people like dewitt emery. his syndicated column wasn't going to appear in papers like the "new york times" but it appeared in lots of smaller newspapers, so that was a key source for me. >> hand up right there with the red sleeve coming out of the jacket. >> leon fink from the journal of labor. the question of free enterprise seems to be a carefully chosen alternative to free market, and i'm wondering if you might comment on the distinction and
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whether this free enterprise allows more wiggle room, perhaps. also it even allows, as you suggested, initially the anti-communist labor movement that was the american labor movement to embrace free unionism, free trade unionism as opposed to state-based communist labor unionism. in that sense, whereas free markets is much more closely associated with anti-regulation, i think, and it hearkens back to laissez-faire. can you comment on that? >> sure. partly i just went by usage. my sense is that free market --
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i actually did a google on this and i can't remember exactly what the chart looks like, but free market only overtakes free enterprise maybe in the 1950s and 1960s. i think free enterprise was a much more capacious language. as roger mentioned, psychological, political. free market has a political meaning but largely in an economic register. and i think free enterprisers were never strictly limited themselves to a purely economic discourse, it was much more of a discourse about what is liberty and freedom. that's what they really cared about. so i think that in the period between the '30s and the '70s, especially the first two decades, that free enterprise was the term of choice by maybe the 1980s free market had overtaken. one thing about unionism, one of the figures i write about in my book quite a bit is walter luther, who was a big user of the term free enterprise. and, you know, was another one of the thinkers on the left side of the labor spectrum who wanted
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to sort of resuscitate and redefine the term in some way. in the 1950s. >> right here. >> and david walsh, i'm a grad student at princeton. to build on that point, you know, i really was interested in luther and reappropriating the term free enterprise. but for the right wingers who used the term of free enterprise what was their vision of what organized labor would -- not necessarily organized labor, what labor looks like in a free enterprise system. >> let me step back from that. in my early chapter, a really important transition, my
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argument is that in the 19th century free enterprise was really a subset of the free labor vision. so you find a lot of people who promote free labor ideology, who believe that free enterprise, an enterprising character is part of what makes up a free labor society. and one of the points that i make in my book is that in the 20th century, those flipped and then what happened for -- was that free enterprise became sort of the more important term and free labor was a subset of it. so you do find a lot of corporate leaders, especially during the era, you know, the 1950s when labor unions were quite high, who talked about the kind of role of free labor in a free enterprise society. but i think a lot of it was constrained by what eric was talking about when, you know, labor was popular, membership was quite high, and being seen as very anti-labor was probably not going to be that effective
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politically. i find a lot of rhetoric about free labor in that sort of general sense but a lot of -- i would say the two main constraints on freedom that free enterprisers identified was i have that quote from wendell willkie before where he said it's not big business we need to fear anymore. a lot of the free enterprisers were former progressives who came of age, you know, critical of big business and so forth. but what they said is that now big government has taken that place and now we have to really worry about big government. so that was definitely what they saw as the biggest constraint on freedom. but i would say secondly was organized labor. they were very concerned about that. as a possible constraint on freedom. >> in the far back there.
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>> hi, steven, i'm doing research at csis. the question i have is i'm probably one of the younger ones in the crowd and i think i've found that especially with the recent nevada caucus, we see senator sanders has become very popular and i find that a lot of people in my generation, a lot of younger people, we hear terms like free enterprise or free market and it is just like a wall for us. i see a lot of my friends or colleagues talk about, we have student debt, the environment's about to fall apart, politics, et cetera, et cetera. so my question is, do you see any generational divides between the understandings of ideas of freedom, whether it's especially free enterprise and free market or just any general ideas of freedom and i also don't see a lot of young people think ideas of freedom are even important anymore. they're more interested in security, whether it's financial security, climate security,
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health care security. so why would this concept be important for the younger generation? and are the sentiments of a younger generation giving any insights into how this concept and the developments of freedom might go forward with the future? >> thank you, that's a wonderful question. i've got a lot of things to say in response to that. one of them is that -- one of the things i try to show is that free enterprise works best as an oppositional ideology. when the new deal is strongest, so is free enterprise. as the new deal weakens and the american imagination free enterprise is used less and less. in the 1980s and '90s, you're not seeing it as much. romney used it a lot in 2012. but i think you're right, it's not necessarily -- it doesn't necessarily have the same place it wasn't did and that's in part because we've been living in the
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age of reagan for a long time and you could argue that as, you know, what free enterprise is opposing is less strong. it becomes less important. but you're right to single out security because this was a main thing that free enterprisers criticized. they did not -- they really thought that security was the opposite of freedom and they believe that risk was what made people free and society free. one of the terms they often used as a synonym more free enterprise system was the profit and loss system and there was a whole debate, one of the reasons they said we should say profit and loss is that we want to show that you can sometimes make a profit but you might also take a loss and that's the chance we all take. not that alfred sloan was really taking such chances but that was the kind of language they used. so, i mean, i think we're at a really interesting moment in regard to the way young people are thinking about politics and the free enterprise versus socialism binary is really
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changing in interesting ways given that for a long time the issue was that republicans used free enterprise all the time and democrats ran away from socialism. now we have a democrat front runner embracing socialism and the republican head of party, donald trump, does not use free enterprise at all. it's an interesting moment. i wrote a piece for dissent about three years ago about the debate between free enterprise and socialism. one of the things i posited there and we'll see much more later on is that whether bernie sanders, by saying yeah, i'm a socialist, what are you going to do about it? whether he has -- might inoculate that charge in the coming election cycle. i'm not saying he will. i'm agnostic on it. i do think it's an interesting moment in regard to that binary that's driven politics in this country for a hundred years. >> right there in purple. microphone. >> sorry. patrick -- the capacity to take
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an individual and sort of get them on a huge hook of debt or of obligation or of -- you know, a long contract. the freedom i feel some of the sanders people aspire to is not to be completely gouged by a health care company or a car company or a bank. i wonder when the system has an enron, how does it sort of continue to perpetuate itself? is it a -- is it this one rotten apple argument whereby someone has to be sort of cast out of the flock? is that -- was it a sort of
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self-protective mechanism by -- you get the question. >> one of the things -- i don't think i really talked about it today but a key them of my book is the word system. the idea that there's a free enterprise system which means it's beyond any individual company, we're all part of that system, and i think system is a really interesting word as they used it because the idea was that this was a natural system in the sense that it was the result of, you know, market-based decisions by people and companies, and so forth. but that if you tried to mess with it through artificial means you could destroy that system. so they were very -- you know systematic in that sense, but, you know, as i tried to say, you know, you could point to a lot of things about their predictions that didn't come true. but that's probably true of all of us, where we -- you know, we have a certain kind of bias to
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think that our priors are right, even when evidence that might undermine it emerges. so, you know, it's interesting that the greatest -- free enterprise came at the height of the great depression when a lot of businesses were failing but the argument is why they were failing and how roosevelt was maybe perpetuating those failures rather than solving them. >> right up here. just give the microphone a chance. >> richard coleman, cbp retired. i think the young man mentioned the test case for free enterprise is climate change. and the forcing the people to decide role of government and solutions versus free enterprise. then you get hybrids like what's going on in australia with all the fires and everything, and
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government said no, no, no, we're going to make sure that we continue to export the coal that's causing our people, you know, to inhale all the carbon. and stuff. so i think it's putting free enterprise, ideologues on their back feet here. when the free enterprise more important than the survival of the species? >> that's a big one. i think, you know, for -- it's really interesting the eye pencil essay, eke logical natural system and so forth and says that they are similar in nature, both of them need to be sort of left alone to work at their best. i think that there -- one of the
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things that i find about free enterprisers is that they do say, they recognize that government intervention was necessary at certain points but they're almost always backward looking points. in other words, during the new deal a lot of free enterprise advocates say yes we did need that progressive era reform but social security will kill us so we can't do it and then we see people saying, you know, medicare and medicaid, we needed that, but obamacare will, you know, be the last straw. so there's a lot of that sort of thinking that i find. i obviously haven't really researched the relationship between climate change and free enterprise. so i don't really know exactly how to address that other than that i think that these were people confident that this was the best system to promote liberty and freedom. >> you can do that in the new epilogue to the paperback edition. >> exactly, yes. >> right over here, i think
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there's a -- >> yeah. >> my name's larry -- i'm a pentagon denizen. but your perspective as a historian comes from a cultural context. you view that in -- and that seems to come through in your discussion today. i wanted to take it a little further backwards and say what about democracy in america as -- observed it, the individualism, the spiritualism, the other aspects of the american character, how do they play into this notion that you've latched onto here in the 20th century? >> so are you asking how free enterprisers talked about individualism? is that your question? >> i'm just saying how did the american character -- that context, the cultural context affect this discussion? >> i think one thing i tried to show at the beginning of my talk is that free enterprisers believed this system really captured the evolution of the american character.
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and one of the things they did was they -- you know, they read back a version of free enterprise that they had invented into the distant past. you know, the term was used in the 19th century, as i show, but it really had very, very different meanings than what it came to mean in the 20th century. but i would say that in regard to your question, the key issue of individualism and liberty was very, very important to free enterprisers. the question is, how do we maximize that freedom was one of the things that they thought free enterprise could do and they made all kinds of arguments about how that was possible. >> other hands or questions? back here. >> hi, i'm mark nefer from the department of justice anti-trust division. >> awesome, i write about robert
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jackson quite a lot who was the head of the antitrust division in the 1930s. >> i have a question about the rise of the cold war and how that might have affected the composition of the free enterprisers and also the targets of their rhetoric. it seems to me that the rise of the cold war might have led to some repositioning of the free enterprise rhetoric to attack foreign enemies rather than domestic enemies. i ask about this because i found myself reading speeches from past attorney generals and past heads of the antitrust division and i really see in the '50s a sharp rise in the use of the term free enterprise. >> uh-huh. >> that's in part what led me to pick up your book and come to the presentation so i found it very informative in terms of thinking about those issues. i wonder if you have any thoughts on the a rise of the cold war and its effect on the rhetoric of free enterprise. >> that's a great question. one of the things i think that maybe the cold war was less important in free enterprise
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discourse than other things. it certainly led to a new even fluorescence of free enterprise discussion because it made the battle against communism that much more apparent to everybody. but as i kind of follow what kevin cruise found in his book, which i forget the title of now, but about corporate america and religious discourse in the 1950s. david, what's the book called? okay, sorry. it's not your comps. anyway -- >> one nation under god. >> one nation under god, thank you. >> right. david's a walking bibliography so i didn't mean to put you on the spot. what kevin says in that book is what i agree with, is that the degree to which the fear of
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internal subversion was so much stronger than of, say, a communist takeover, a soviet takeover. i think it did definitely raise the stakes and concern. and there is a lot of stuff which i research but didn't really include in the book about very big in the state department in the 1950s was exporting free enterprise to latin america. nelson rockefeller was hugely involved in this and i wound up having to cut that out because i didn't have space for it. i'm not saying it wasn't a really important flash point but i don't think it dramatically changed the discourse that much and the discourse was one that our real problem is internal subversion, not foreign attack. >> one of my favorite anecdotes in the book comes from 1944 when the communist party leader earl browder endorses free enterprise as central to the united states if only the communists hadn't done their sectarian turn in
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'45-46. so much for the internal part. any other questions? we have one last one over here. daryl. >> second one. >> and i'm excited to read the book. i'm sorry if you addressed this. so how is this history gendered to? to ask another big framing question after this one. >> yeah. that's a great question. i do some gender analysis in the book. you know, it's interesting because it's a topic you can see from my figures, they're almost all white men. there were some african-american and female free enterprisers. but most of the people i write about were white men. but it was definitely a raced and gendered discourse through and through and a lot of discussion, the question that came up before about security versus freedom, you know, josiah bailey, the north carolina senator, democrat, but a very
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anti-new deal, talked about, you know, free enterprise versus the wet nursing new deal government of franklin roosevelt. you find a lot of discourse that, you know, security is feminism and risk is masculine and this sort of thing, a very common thread throughout this period. and i think you really can't do justice to understanding this term that i use called elite victimization without understanding the fragility of the male ego, it's really central to the story. >> well, on that note, i am unfortunately going to be drawing this to a close. but before you pack up and head out, let me invite you to a light reception next door with -- for a glass of wine or some of our wonderful mixed nuts. we will invite you back next week when amy aaronson will be
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speaks on crystal eastman, a revolutionary life, a talk that was scheduled for last december but weather prevented it from taking place. thank you all for coming out today. and thank you to larry glickman. [ applause ] >> thank you. >> appreciate it. you're watching american history tv, every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. c-span3, created by america's cable television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider.


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