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American Capitalism

American Capitalism: Social Thought and Political Economy in the Twentieth Century

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 392
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    American Capitalism
    Book Description:

    At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the legitimacy of American capitalism seems unchallenged. The link between open markets, economic growth, and democratic success has become common wisdom, not only among policy makers but for many intellectuals as well. In this instance, however, the past has hardly been prologue to contemporary confidence in the free market. American Capitalism presents thirteen thought-provoking essays that explain how a variety of individuals, many prominent intellectuals but others partisans in the combative world of business and policy, engaged with anxieties about the seismic economic changes in postwar America and, in the process, reconfigured the early twentieth-century ideology that put critique of economic power and privilege at its center. The essays consider a broad spectrum of figures-from C. L. R. James and John Kenneth Galbraith to Peter Drucker and Ayn Rand-and topics ranging from theories of Cold War "convergence" to the rise of the philanthropic Right. They examine how the shift away from political economy at midcentury paved the way for the 1960s and the "culture wars" that followed. Contributors interrogate what was lost and gained when intellectuals moved their focus from political economy to cultural criticism. The volume thereby offers a blueprint for a dramatic reevaluation of how we should think about the trajectory of American intellectual history in twentieth-century United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0263-2
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Social Theory and Capitalist Reality in the American Century (pp. 1-18)
    Nelson Lichtenstein

    At the opening of the twenty-first century, the power and pervasiveness of American capitalism and of the equation that links open markets to democratic institutions has become a large part of the common wisdom. Words like reform and liberalization now denote the process whereby a global market in labor, capital, and ideas replaces the regulatory regimes, either authoritarian or social democratic, that were erected during and after the Great Depression. In 1960, when Daniel Bell famously announced an “end of ideology in the West,” he was noting that the debate about the viability of capitalism, which had consumed intellectuals and...

  4. Part I. Theorizing Twentieth-Century American Capitalism
    • 1 The Postcapitalist Vision in Twentieth-Century American Social Thought (pp. 21-46)
      Howard Brick

      Since the Cold War’s end, paeans to the victory of capitalism have brought us to a peculiar pass in modern social thought. The term itself was not always widely embraced. Early modern Europe knew “capital” and “capitalist,” but naming a whole socioeconomic order “capitalism” began only in the mid-nineteenth century, usually linked with left-wing dissenters and hence anathema to leaders of, and pleaders for, a modern, private property, free-market system.¹ Only in the early twentieth century, particularly as the work of Max Weber, Werner Sombart, and Henri Pirenne became widely known, did “capitalism” gain some legitimacy in the academy suggesting...

    • 2 To Moscow and Back: American Social Scientists and the Concept of Convergence (pp. 47-68)
      David C. Engerman

      The field of Soviet Studies grew from practically nothing into a major intellectual enterprise in the decades after World War II. While the field clearly benefited from the desire to know the Cold War enemy, the American intellectual encounters with the USSR had effects far beyond foreign policy. Indeed, scholars in Soviet Studies fashioned or refashioned some of the central concepts of American social sciences in the postwar period. Even terms typically connected to Western society took new life and new forms as a result of intellectual encounters with the Soviet Union. “Industrial society” is one such term. As leading...

  5. Part II. Liberalism and Its Social Agenda
    • 3 Clark Kerr: From the Industrial to the Knowledge Economy (pp. 71-87)
      Paddy Riley

      Ever since its publication in 1963, Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University has been an exemplary document of its era. Written when college enrollments were skyrocketing, federal funding for scientific research was abundant, and predictions about a burgeoning “knowledge economy” were novel, Kerr’s book is a prototypical account of the golden age of the American research university. Of course, since it was followed so closely by the Free Speech Movement at the university over which Kerr presided, most scholars tend to read The Uses of the University with a fair amount of irony. After all, Kerr’s impassive confidence in...

    • 4 John Kenneth Galbraith: Liberalism and the Politics of Cultural Critique (pp. 88-108)
      Kevin Mattson

      Liberalism has become a bad word in the American political lexicon. The “L Word,” as some call it today, symbolizes pie-in-the-sky dreams, bleeding heart sentimentalism, wimpy foreign policy, anything and everything that is out of touch with America’s political realities. Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. helped transform the word into something bad, by pinning it on their defeated enemies (most famously Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis). But it’s really been the punditocracy that’s made the term something to be avoided at all cost. Take Ann Coulter, the blond bombshell pundit, who has equated liberalism with “treason” toward America. Even...

    • 5 The Prophet of Post-Fordism: Peter Drucker and the Legitimation of the Corporation (pp. 109-132)
      Nils Gilman

      Given that most people consider running a business to be the very definition of a practical matter, it’s a bit perplexing to consider how “management” emerged in the second half of the twentieth century as a discipline with intellectual aspirations as great as medicine or law. As late as the 1950s, there were only a few thousand graduate students of business administration anywhere in the world, and much of the senior management at large American companies had not been to college, much less to graduate school. By the end of the twentieth century, however, over 100,000 MBAs were being minted...

  6. Part III. A Critique from the Left
    • 6 C. Wright Mills and American Social Science (pp. 135-156)
      Daniel Geary

      On March 20, 1962, he died of a heart attack at the tragically young age of forty-five. The next day, the New York Times printed an obituary headlined “C. Wright Mills: A Sociologist.” To many readers, this was not an apt description. After all, by 1962, Mills was best known, if not for his outspoken defense of the Cuban Revolution, as the social critic who offered a radical critique of American society in White Collar and The Power Elite. As Dan Wakefield recalled reading the obituary several years later, “If in the eyes of many of his academic colleagues Mills...

    • 7 C. L. R. James and the Theory of State Capitalism (pp. 157-174)
      Christopher Phelps

      C. L. R. James, the Afro-Caribbean writer best known for The Black Jacobins, his 1938 history of the San Domingo slave revolution led by Touissant L’Overture, is the subject of a vast secondary literature treating him largely as a cultural thinker. Whole volumes are devoted to James and cricket, James and the Caribbean, James and race, and James and philosophy leaving vivid impressions of a figure whose life arched from the West Indies to London and Los Angeles, who examined comic strips and gangster films as avidly as Thackeray and Shakespeare, and who took Hollywood movies and radio soap operas...

    • 8 Oliver C. Cox and the Roots of World Systems Theory (pp. 175-190)
      Christopher A. McAuley

      Although Oliver C. Cox never claimed to be a Marxist, he never denied being a socialist.¹ In many respects, the distinction he drew between Marxist and non-Marxist socialism was true to his own intellectual inclinations; he wanted the freedom to borrow from orthodox Marxism what he found useful and to modify it when and where its insights on unforeseen developments were limited. Cox’s movement toward and away from Marxism largely followed the major political-economic developments of the period beginning with the Great Depression and continuing through the height of the Cold War. In that period, Cox’s thinking on the sources...

    • 9 Feminism, Women’s History, and American Social Thought at Midcentury (pp. 191-210)
      Daniel Horowitz

      The development of women’s history between 1956 and 1969 reflected and helped reshape postwar American social thought. The links that historians have recently made between union activity and the Old Left in the 1940s and second wave feminism in the 1960s are apparent in key writings about women’s history.¹ The debt four major figures—Carl Degler, Eleanor Flexner, Aileen Kraditor, and Gerda Lerner—owed to the Marxist feminism they learned early in their lives helps us understand many of the questions they asked and the answers they offered on a whole range of issues, including the relationship between capitalism and...

  7. Part IV. The Rise of the Right
    • 10 The Road Less Traveled: Reconsidering the Political Writings of Friedrich von Hayek (pp. 213-227)
      Juliet Williams

      In the latter part of the twentieth century, Anglo-American liberal political thought was dominated by debates about where to draw the line between public power and private rights. Spurred by the effort to implement the New Deal in the United States and the subsequent growth and development of the welfare state apparatus, liberal theorists became entangled in fierce disagreements over just how much government is too much. Of course, ever since John Locke, thinkers in the liberal tradition have been centrally concerned with delimiting the appropriate scope and reach of governmental power. But in recent decades in the United States,...

    • 11 The Politics of Rich and Rich: Postwar Investigations of Foundations and the Rise of the Philanthropic Right (pp. 228-248)
      Alice O’Connor

      In July 1953, Representative B. Carroll Reece (R-Tenn.) made an announcement on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives pitched for maximum shock appeal. He had evidence of a “diabolical conspiracy” to promote “the furtherance of socialism in the United States,” and he was seeking congressional approval to lead a special investigation into its nefarious workings. The target of investigation would be the nation’s biggest tax-exempt foundations and the putatively educational organizations they were funding. Under the cover of philanthropic beneficence, Reece contended, foundations like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, and Russell Sage were using their vast fortunes for “un-American and...

    • 12 American Counterrevolutionary: Lemuel Ricketts Boulware and General Electric, 1950–1960 (pp. 249-270)
      Kimberly Phillips-Fein

      The decade of the 1950s has long been seen as an epoch of consensus, especially regarding questions of political economy. As historian Godfrey Hodgson puts it, during the postwar period, “to dissent from the broad axioms” of agreement upon a liberal capitalism was “to proclaim oneself irresponsible or ignorant.”¹ During the postwar period, the argument goes, economic growth replaced class conflict. Serious ideological dissension gave way to interest-group pluralism mediated by a broker state. Corporate leaders accepted the power of labor unions, provided that they respected certain managerial prerogatives, while workers gave up their radical ambitions and acknowledged management’s legitimate...

    • 13 Godless Capitalism: Ayn Rand and the Conservative Movement (pp. 271-290)
      Jennifer Burns

      In 1954 New York, two titans of the twentieth-century American right came face to face. Fiery procapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand, author of the best-selling novel The Fountainhead (1943), met a young William F. Buckley, Jr., fresh off the notoriety and success of his God and Man at Yale (1950). As Buckley recalled in later years, upon meeting him, Rand declared in her imperious Russian accent, “You arrh too eentelligent to bihleef in Gott!”¹ It was, to say the least, an inauspicious beginning to an acquaintanceship that would span many decades. The pious Buckley never quite recovered from his immediate dislike...

  8. Notes (pp. 291-360)
  9. Contributors (pp. 361-364)
  10. Index (pp. 365-378)
  11. Acknowledgments (pp. 379-381)
  12. Back Matter (pp. 382-382)