VIRGINIA COLE: Hello, and welcome to Cornell University Library's Chats in the Stacks Book Talk. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the land on which Cornell University operates. For thousands of years, this land has been the traditional land of the Gayogohono Nation, members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work here.
My name is Virginia Cole, one of the history librarians at Cornell University Library. Today, we're very proud to feature Lawrence Glickman and his latest book, Free Enterprise-- An American History, published last year by Yale University Press. While we do very much miss the ability to host our book talks in person, one of the benefits of the virtual platform we've adopted this semester is that we are able to include audience members from quite far away. If this is the first Chats in the Stacks you've attended, welcome, and it's going to be great.
Chats in the Stacks started in 2001, and our conversation with Cornell's writers is still going strong. It's a program that provides an opportunity for Cornell faculty and researchers to present their recently published books to a cross-disciplinary audience. Through this series, Cornell University Library strengthens scholarship, sparks thoughtful dialogue, and grows a community of readers and critical thinkers. Thank you all for coming and being a part of this community.
To learn more about the series and upcoming talks, visit our site, and I put the URL in the chat. The next talk will be next Thursday, November 5, and it'll be Veronica Martinez-Matsuda. We'll discuss her new book, Migrant Citizenship-- Race, Rights, and Reform in the US Farm Labor Camp Program.
Before introducing Professor Glickman, I would like to touch on a few points concerning the logistics of today's event. First, we do have live captioning service associated with this talk, so if you'd like to see the live captions, be sure to toggle on your Zoom view. Second, much like our usual book talks, today's event will begin with our speaker's presentation, which will then be followed by a question-and-answer session. You may submit questions into the chat box at any point during the presentation, and we will present them to the speaker during the Q&A time following the presentation.
Now it is my great pleasure to introduce Lawrence B. Glickman, the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies in the Department of History at Cornell University. He is the author or editor of five books, including most recently Free Enterprise-- An American history, Yale University Press, 2019, the subject of today's talk. He writes frequently for the public in Boston Review, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Dissent, and other publications. In fact, his article "The Racist Politics of the English Language" was named one of the most loved essays in Boston Review in 2018.
At Cornell, he is a key part of the history of capitalism initiative and teaches a popular course, Sports and Politics in American History, and a variety of other lecture and seminar courses on political, cultural, and intellectual history. Please join me in welcoming Professor Lawrence Glickman.
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Thank you very much. I'm going to, I guess, share the screen now. Well, first of all, I want to thank the people at the Cornell Library, especially Virginia, [? Jenny, ?] [? Sean, ?] and all the other people who put together this and the other Chats in the Stacks, which is such a wonderful feature of our campus community. This library is an amazing resource for our students, staff, and scholars on campus, and I can tell you that I never would have been able to complete this book without not only the library resources we have but the tremendous help from the librarians that I got.
And today's talk is called "Free Enterprise-- How a Contested Concept Became a Conservative Keyword," and that is, in some sense, one of the main arguments of my book. And so we're going to go into that. I'm going to talk about certain aspects of the book, but before I do that, I want to say a few words about the scholars who came before me.
No historian works alone, even though we tend to be a field where we have single-authored books that we write by ourselves, but we don't work alone in the sense that we're part of a continuing dialogue. And I never would have come to the subject of free enterprise without the work of the four scholars that I mentioned here and many others who I thank in my acknowledgments, mention in my footnotes, and so on. But those works include Elizabeth Fones-Wolf's book Selling Free Enterprise, Bethany Moreton's book To Serve God and Walmart, Kim Phillips-Fein's book Invisible Hands, and Wendy Wall's work Inventing the American Way. These are all books that got me interested in this subject of free enterprise and help me position my work vis-a-vis them, and in the question period, I'm happy to talk about how I think my work fits into the fantastic historiography in this field.
Let me share two thoughts about my approach before I get into this substance of my book. From my mentor, Lawrence Levine, the late Lawrence Levine, pictured here, I learned a kind of approach to intellectual history that has stayed with me for my career, which is that Larry Levine was interested in the intellectual history of people who intellectual historians, by and large, didn't study at the time when he was writing history. So he usually called himself a cultural historian, but he liked to say that he was interested, as he put it in his fantastic 1977 book, Black Culture and Black Consciousness, he was interested in the history not of thought but of people thinking. And I've tried to apply those methods to my work as well.
One of the things that I've tried to do in this study is to decenter a little bit some of the prominent intellectuals who we associate with the history of free market and conservative thought, people like the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and the publisher of National Review and intellectual William F. Buckley. All of these people play a role in my book, but I wanted to focus on a sort of substratum of people who we don't usually think about as intellectuals. They were called at the time-- and I call them in my book-- the apostles of free enterprise. These are people that you probably haven't heard of.
Merle Thorpe was the editor of the periodical of the US Chamber of Commerce called The Nation's Business. HW Prentis was the president of the Armstrong Corporation and for a time the president of the industry trade group, the National Association of Manufacturers. Leonard Read was the founder of one of the first conservative think tanks called the Foundation for Economic Education, founded in 1946. All of these people played a super important role in promoting the ideas of free enterprise that I'm going to talk about.
In addition, there are other people who played a role who you may have heard of but, again, probably don't think of as people involved in the intellectual history of free enterprise. They include two presidents, Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan, one at the beginning of the free enterprise era and one during its triumphant moment at the end, people like Congressman Samuel Pettengill, who was a Democrat from Indiana; Norman Vincent Peale, the minister; Lewis Powell, who later became a Supreme Court justice but wrote a very important text known as a Powell memo that I treat in the first chapter of my book. So this is kind of the cast of characters that I'm looking at, people who did not write canonical philosophical texts but, I think, played a very important role in developing ideas of free enterprise that became extremely important in our culture and our politics.
And that brings me to the last introductory point that I wanted to make. As a cultural intellectual historian, I was drawing on some work by other cultural historians but also different from them. So Robert Darnton, one of our leading cultural historians, a French historian, wrote this book in 1984 called The Great Cat Massacre that is often seen as a pioneering work of cultural history.
And what he said is essentially that historians should try to understand things, to try to explain things they don't understand, maybe a joke or a proverb or a ceremony that confuses you. So that's what Darnton said cultural history is about. It's about explaining the joke you didn't get, and that for a long time was kind of the reigning way that cultural historians thought about their job.
My work is very different, however. I love Bob Darnton. I think his work is crucial and important, but I kind of inverted Darnton's work in my own, which is that I think we need to pay attention not only to the things we don't understand but to the things that we take for granted, that we think we understand, and therefore that we don't interrogate at all. And I think free enterprise is one of those ideas.
I often ask my students whether they know what free enterprise is. Almost everyone raises their hand, but what I ask them to sort of talk about what it means, things get a little bit fuzzy. And I think part of the reason for that is that free enterprise has been paired for a very long time, for about 90 years, with common sense, as you see here in the headline of this newspaper article, and one of the things about common sense is that we don't think we need to define it or think much about it. And what I wanted to do in my book is take a branch of American common sense, which is this idea of free enterprise, and begin to explore what it means, and I think what happens is we find out that this common-sense idea is actually quite complicated. And so with that, I'm going to turn to the opening anecdote that I want to share with you that I discovered in the course of my research.
DeWitt Emery, the founder and president of the American Small Business Man's Association, felt frustrated in the fall of 1948, and he wanted his fellow citizens to know why. Emery was 6 foot 6, 245 pounds, and he called himself the biggest advocate of small business in America. And he branded himself a salesman for free enterprise.
After more than a decade of promulgating the term "free enterprise" as a fundamental American value, indispensable in the battle against what he saw as New Deal statism and the totalitarianism that it threatened to become, he experienced an incident close to home that suggested how much work remained to be done. He wrote about it in his syndicated newspaper column, which was widely reprinted all over the United States. In this column, he talked about how his son James, a high school freshman, had recently been assigned to write an essay on free enterprise.
And this was a very common topic for high school students in the United States in this period. And I just should mention, in fact, that just last week, I received an email from a reader of my book who told me that as a 14-year-old in 1966, he won a Lions Club contest for writing an essay called "Free Enterprise-- the Cornerstone of our Republic." So this was a very common thing that Emery's son had to do.
He thought it would be an easy essay for his son to write. And he said, I could tell you how to write it, but I want you to look it up. So James, his son, looked through the family's encyclopedia but couldn't find a definition. Then he checked other reference books in the house, including three dictionaries, and he still couldn't find a definition.
After satisfying himself that his son had searched assiduously, DeWitt Emery talked with his son, helped him write the essay, and his son got an A on the assignment. But he was very concerned that this term that he took to be absolutely fundamental in American history didn't seem to be defined in any reference book, so the next day, he sent his secretary to the Chicago Public Library, one of the nation's largest and best libraries, confident that unlike his home study, the thousands of reference books there would reveal definitions of this very commonplace term. His secretary engaged three of the best reference librarians there, who gamely but unsuccessfully took up the challenge.
And for Emery, the lack of a readily available definition represented a crisis. In his column, he wrote, for more than 150 years, freedom of enterprise has been the very backbone of the economic life of this country, yet three highly skilled professional librarians, working within as large and complete a collection of reference books as there is to be found anywhere in the country, were unable to find a definition of this commonly used term. Emery's history may have been dubious, but his statement accurately reflected the panic of those who believed that a fundamental American term appeared to have been left out of the most basic of all American sources of information, 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 that we all understand as a form of common sense, for much of American history, even its advocates expressed deep concern that its meaning was contested and that the term itself was unclear. By the late 1940s, when Emory wrote his column, which was in 1948, what we might call Emory's free enterprise freakout was already a well-established genre.
Indeed, five years earlier, a Gallup poll revealed-- this is in November of 1943-- that only 3 in 10 Americans were able to give a correct definition of free enterprise, and it's interesting to read the Gallup's column about this inability of Americans to define the term because in the column, Gallup himself never defined the term, either. But this Gallup poll set off a great deal of concern from a lot of people who believed that free enterprise was a fundamental American term.
The National Association of Manufacturers, the group I mentioned before, in an internal memo, they wrote that they were concerned that the term does not readily snappily convey a clear meaning to people, and there were editorials all over the country after the Gallup poll was released. This one from the Salisbury Times was fairly typical. It said the Gallup poll's discovery that free enterprise is a hard thing to define and that many Americans aren't even willing to think about it long enough to try may explain a good deal about the astonishing success of the economic quackery that has been in circulation for the last few years.
I begin with this anecdote because it gets at a crucial issue that I seek to highlight in my book, and Emery's piece also initiated popular concern as well, just as the previous lack of ability to define it in the Gallup poll came out. To take one example of the reaction to Emery's column, the business editor of a Bay Area newspaper sent a reporter to the San Francisco Public Library, and that reporter had the same experience that Emery's secretary had. They were--
The broad argument of my book is that as advocates of free enterprise had difficulty agreeing on what it meant, they came to an agreement on what it didn't mean, namely the New Deal and all that it represented to them. From the 1930s through the 1970s, these advocates depicted free enterprise as the opposite of what they took New Deal liberalism to stand for. And the broad argument of my book is that this version of free enterprise, which was quite distinct from what the term meant in the 19th century and how others described it in the 20th century, shaped modern political culture by the creation of a common sense that limited the gains of liberal reform and by laying the groundwork for what eventually became known as the conservative movement.
And one other point is crucial to mention, is that even during the period of its greatest visibility, when the dominant meaning of free enterprise meant opposition to the New Deal, its meaning was contested, and chapter 6 of my book explores the ways in which civil rights and labor leaders promoted alternative meanings of the term rather than abandoning it to those who opposed the New Deal. So you find conflicts in the civil rights movement where civil rights advocates say that we believe in free enterprise. It's the segregationists who are not letting us buy homes in neighborhoods that have restricted covenants or at lunch counters that don't believe in free enterprise. You find labor leaders talking about they believe in free enterprise more than business leaders. So it is a contested term throughout this period, but the dominant meaning and the one I'm primarily going to talk about today is the one that is in opposition to the New Deal.
So one part of my book focuses on the difficulty of defining free enterprise and contestations over its meaning. And so I'm looking at both of those together, and I believe that actually the difficulty in defining the term is a key part of how it emerged as opposing the New Deal because it was hard to say what it did stand for. But it was easy to say what it didn't stand for, which was the New Deal. This is to get a little bit ahead into the story, so let me go back to the battle between free enterprise and the New Deal.
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 political culture in the United States. The words "free enterprise" became shorthand for the fear of overweening government, the danger of excessive public spending, the threat of bureaucracy that marked most debates about the expansion of the welfare state. The free enterprise vision proved to be extraordinarily compelling as an alternative to these things.
An examination of the success of free enterprise reveals the fierce and often effective challenges that the New Deal faced from the very beginning. Although the opposition took many forms, the call for free enterprise was a common denominator of most criticism, and under this rubric, critics shaped conceptions of the proper role of government even during the acme of the New Deal. The belief that the traditional free enterprise philosophy and New Dealism are locked in a death struggle, as a Colorado politician said in 1956, was widely shared and framed how many Americans thought about the meaning of freedom for several generations.
During the New Deal years, a new conception of free enterprise, less than a decade old, was invented as an American custom, and this is a key part of my book. I trace what it meant in the 19th and early 20th century, which is really quite different from what emerged in the New Deal years, and I'm happy to talk about that in the question period. But most of my book focuses on the way that free enterprise emerged as an anti-New Deal slogan and ideology.
Anti-Rooseveltians went to great lengths to construct a tradition from which they claim the New Deal radically diverged, and they backdated the idea many decades or even centuries. So even though the term wasn't really used until about 1829 or so, they said that the founding fathers, the pilgrims, and other people believed in free enterprise. This is what historians call an invented tradition. So one of the ways they bolstered this relatively new conception of free enterprise was to claim that it had a very long genealogy, so that's one of the themes of my book.
Although the modern free enterprise political vision emerged just before the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, it really coalesced in opposition to the New Deal order that his presidency initiated, and the term was widely popularized only in this period. And just as the New Deal coalition, that is, the people who supported the New Deal, was a jerry-rigged, often tense union of disparate groups with competing and overlapping interests, what we might call the free enterprise coalition was also a jerry-rigged group of people. So not everyone who used free enterprise in opposition to the New Deal had the same ideas and politics. If the New Deal coalition included African-Americans, white Southerners, and a large number of what we might call working-class ethnics, each of whom had their own distinct interests, those who celebrated free enterprise and opposition to the New Deal also was diverse and included small businesses represented by the National Association of Manufacturers, the larger enterprises represented by the US Chamber of Commerce. It included moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, reactionary newspaper publishers, and many others.
Decades later, many of these people and groups would be identified as conservatives, and a central theme of my book is that free enterprise served as an important transitional label for many of these people. So that's a part of my argument. What united this group despite their differences was a deep suspicion of the New Deal not only as a set of policies but as a dangerous philosophy on a spectrum with the nefarious forces of fascism and communism that were gaining popularity in Europe in this period. Free enterprise opponents of the New Deal era invoked a binary political language in which the figure of the New Deal served as an incipient [? totalitarianism. ?] And the idea was that the New Deal itself might not be totalitarian, but it was likely to lead to totalitarian consequences.
Faced with an either-or choice, the diverse members of the free enterprise coalition-- the diversity, I should say, of that membership of that coalition melted away as members of this group, notwithstanding their differences, united in fierce opposition to the New Deal, which they understood as a threat to liberty. Free enterprise critics of the New Deal spoke in a psychological register of loss and alarm that proved to be perhaps their most consequential political legacy. They called for nothing less than a preemptive counter-revolution, one made necessary by what they took to be the collectivist theology of the New Deal.
And I would just linger on a couple of points here that I think are super important. One is the binary nature of this discourse and second the psychological nature of it. And I think if we want to understand a lot of our political discourse today, I think we could see the roots of it in this free enterprise language, and we could come back to that in the question period.
While statism and totalitarianism came in many shapes and forms, from the binary view of the anti-New Dealer free enterprisers, the form it initially took mattered little since all collectivism eventually tended in the same dictatorial direction. One of the slides I had that I wish I could have shown you was Richard Nixon, when he was running for the Senate in 1950 in California, said, "The issue is simply a choice between freedom and socialism. They can call it whatever they want, the fair deal, the New Deal, but it's the same old socialist baloney no matter how you slice it," end of quote. So that was the idea, was that a binary and a slippery slope that would lead to dangerous consequences.
Herbert Hoover, the president before Franklin Roosevelt, who emerged as one of the strongest opponents of the New Deal and an advocate of free enterprise language, used metaphors of this sort, the slippery slope metaphor. One of the points I try to make in my book and, again, one of the reasons I want to decenter some intellectuals like Friedrich Hayek is that Hayek wrote this famous book in 1944 called The Road to Serfdom that is often taken to be the beginnings of a new kind of critique of the welfare state. But what I show in my book is that road metaphors of that sort had been in use for a decade before Hayek's book. It was a very common way of opposing the New Deal among free enterprisers, was to talk about the road to totalitarianism, as one author put it in 1939.
Employing alarmist rhetoric and depicting freedom when exposed to statism as voluble and evanescent, free enterprise critics of the New Deal feared that the system they celebrated was on its last legs. They spoke about the free enterprise system in contradictory ways. On the one hand, it was the firm foundation of America, the long-standing foundation that dated back to the founders, so that was one side of it. The other side was that it was fragile and in danger of disappearing altogether.
"We may be the last generation of Americans to receive and cherish the legacy of liberty," warned the Indiana Congressman Samuel Pettengill in 1936. 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 apocalyptic language became a cornerstone of modern conservatism.
When Ronald Reagan, the increasingly politicized spokesman for General Electric, criticized a proposed Medicare plan that John F. Kennedy proposed in 1961, he drew directly from the anti-New Deal rhetorical repertoire. He expressed concern that, quote, "our children and our children's children" would learn, quote, "what it was once like in America when men were free only from the fading memories of their grandparents, the last generation that grew up in a regime of free enterprise." This kind of language, by the way-- two speakers at the Republican National Convention this year quoted this Reagan speech, so we can see the legacy of this idea that we are the last generation holding firm to freedom.
Facing what they viewed as a dire threat, opponents of the New Deal latched on to free enterprise as the phrase that best expressed their firm opposition. An examination of Republican presidential platforms provides evidence of this. Beginning in 1936-- I will read you-- again, I had a slide of this. This is what the GOP preface to the platform said.
"Two economic systems are contending for the votes of the American people. One is the historic American system of free enterprise, and the other is called the New Deal, which is a system of centralized bureaucratic control." Every year after that, every four years after that, the Republican platform mentioned free enterprise quite often. This was so long after the New Deal ended. Indeed, the platforms of 1964, which mentioned free enterprise 11 times-- 1968 mentioned it 13 times. 1984, when Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, mentioned at 21 times, and 2012 mentioned it seven times, when Mitt Romney was running, claiming that free enterprise was on trial. That was one of his key campaign pitches.
As I show in the epilogue to my book, Donald Trump represents quite a departure from this tradition, and it's interesting to look at the 2016 Republican platform because it only mentions free enterprise twice in very limited ways. And that was the lowest number of mentions and the least frequency, at least importance of free enterprise in Republican platforms going all the way back to 1932. You'd have to go back that far to find free enterprise mentioned as little.
The juxtaposition of free enterprise freedom and New Deal statism was not confined to platforms but became a regular talking point of Republican candidates during the era of the New Deal order. Whatever you choose to call it, as the Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie said in 1940, talking about New Deal reforms, these are merely different names for the same thing, absolute and arbitrary power in the hands of the government. Willkie's campaign book of that year, an encapsulation of his political philosophy, was titled Free Enterprise, one of the first books that had that title.
That same year, Thomas Dewey, who hoped to capture the nomination in '40 but captured it in '44 and '48, wrote a book called The Case Against the New Deal in which he claimed that the coming presidential election was one in which the American people will be called upon to make the most critical decision they have faced in 80 years. And if you go back 80 years earlier, he's talking about the election of 1860 when Abraham Lincoln ran for the president-- presidency, and there was often reference to Abraham Lincoln's rhetoric among free enterprisers. They tried to evoke Lincolnian rhetoric by talking about the idea of a house divided being unable to stand. They said America cannot be part free enterprise and part welfare state, part New Dealism because eventually the New Dealism will overwhelm the free enterprise part.
This house divided metaphor was used so often that as early as 1936, The New York Times published an op-ed, an opinion piece saying, "A good maximum, like any other good tool, requires judicious handling, and Abraham Lincoln's half-slave, half-free statement is no exception to this rule." And The Times editorialized that not all half-and-half combinations necessarily result in metaphorical slavery, defending the so-called mixed economy that Franklin Roosevelt was promoting. So this was an important part of the Republican rhetoric about the nature of freedom in the era of the New Deal order.
Let me just say a few words [INAUDIBLE] that will hopefully tie up this part of the argument and discussion. I'm happy to answer all kinds of questions. So supporters of the New Deal spoke of a Roosevelt revolution, a positive transformation in the philosophy of governance. They termed it an unusual revolution, however, because it was one that restored rather than destroyed capitalism.
In his 1959 book The Roosevelt Revolution, the political scientist and Cornell professor Mario Einaudi stressed the extent to which the New Deal remained within the framework of what has been called loosely the capitalistic system. New Dealers themselves recognize their philosophies lack of ideological coherence, and critics ever since have noted the New Deal's limits and its contradictions. From this perspective, the New Deal, rather than a totalizing force, 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 reformist but radical, not as continuous with previous progressive reformers but as a dangerous departure from age-old norms. In the very early days of the New Deal, the Chicago Tribune labeled it a complete makeover of the American system. The following year, the same newspaper warned of the revolutionary implications of the New Deal. Although Roosevelt claimed otherwise, the New Deal was, according to the Tribune, taking the country on the path of European radicalism. The fear that the New Deal might dangerously transform the country, that it might unleash an unwanted revolution long outlasted the early uncertain years of Roosevelt's first term.
Free enterprisers proposed a preemptive counter-revolution made necessary by what they took to be the inevitable logic of the New Deal. They feared, as the journalist Samuel Crowther wrote in 1941, that the nation was giving way to a social revolution of a controlled economy. Free enterprisers differed about exactly how long the process of giving away would take, but they generally agreed on the need to forestall the growth of statism and planning under the New Deal.
In this context, James Lincoln, a Cleveland utility executive, called in 1947 for, quote, "a revolution to bring back the freedoms that we have lost." This was the counterrevolution free enterprisers had in mind, one that would stem and reverse the tide of the New Deal state, which they believed was in the process of metamorphosing into a form of totalitarianism that they took to be its destiny. Such language continued into the early Cold War years, when many free enterprises continued to see the Communist threat less as external, that is, from the Soviet Union or later from Communist China, and more a threat that we faced from their belief that New Deal liberalism might transform into some kind of collectivism totalitarianism that was as dangerous. So that's a key part of their argument.
The battle between free enterprisers and New Dealers, I should say, was not symmetrical. Free enterprisers, for all their defensiveness and defining sense of victimization-- and that's one of the themes of my book. I invoke the term-- I coin the term "elite victimization" to refer to the intense feelings of victimization that free enterprisers frequently talked about. But it was really a one-sided war, yet ever since the New Deal, they have claimed to be under siege.
Larry Kudlow, the conservative television commentator and later top advisor to President Trump, accurately expressed their perspective when he said in 2006 that, quote, "capitalism in this country has been under assault ever since FDR's New Deal of the 1930s." The description of the New Deal in the words of Brit Hume of Fox News, as a, quote, "jihad against free enterprise" reverses the balance of the war by projecting the commentators as the aggressors and by describing those who carried out the war on the welfare state as defenders of a civilization under siege.
The war of free enterprisers was often depicted as a war on free enterprisers, who viewed themselves as under-matched babes in the woods facing powerful forces of state coercion, as Merle Thorpe of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1939. From this perspective, vigilance required that free enterprisers be prepared for the necessary counterrevolutionary war that needed to be fought to prevent the assaults on their beloved system that New Dealers and their descendants regularly launched.
For their part, most New Dealers claim to believe in the free enterprise system. They held that government was necessary to preserve and expand it and believed that the history of the 1930s bore this out. For anti-New Dealers, however, for the free enterprisers, they just refused to accept the view that the New Deal had saved capitalism. They believed it was destroying it.
Yet we should not be so quick to grant the free enterprisers victory in their war on the New Deal. We should not forget that in spite of their fierce opposition, the New Deal succeeded in transforming the political landscape of the United States. If Henry Steele Commager's 1949 proclamation that if it can ever be said that anything is permanent in American politics, it can be said that the New Deal is permanent-- that seems a little bit overly definitive these days, but it is undeniable that many of the New Deal's core elements endure.
For every Alfred Sloan, who announced in 1934-- he was another free enterpriser and the head of General Motors-- that the spell of regimentation and a planned economy has been broken and the stage set for the return of free enterprise, there was the claim, as an editorial cartoonist had in 1944, that the death of free enterprise has been greatly exaggerated. This tension is best explained by the persistence and acceptance of the version of free enterprise that was introduced in the 1930s and remains an immensely popular mode of political discourse. If it did not succeed in fully vanquishing the New Deal order, it helped to make free enterprise what I think was the dominant political language of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Thank you very much.
VIRGINIA COLE: That was awesome, Professor Glickman, even despite the fact that we couldn't see your slides. It was still great.
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: And I apologize for that.
VIRGINIA COLE: No problem whatsoever. I'm glad that we got you back. We have lots of really good questions, so I'm going to launch right in. And I'm only going to use your name if you have told me specifically that you want to use your name, so I hope that's all right.
Here's a question. "I was reading a British MP's memoir from the 1970s that mentioned free enterprise as being distinctly strong in America. What made free enterprise American to its supporters?"
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: That's a wonderful question, and I agree with what the questioner said, with what the British MP said. I think the interesting thing about free enterprise is that a lot of times, when I ask my students about it, they think it's a synonym for free markets, but it really wasn't. As I tried to suggest briefly in this talk today, free enterprise was much more of a political and a psychological language. It had some economic components, but it was about a particular notion of freedom, I think, and about a particular fear of certain forms of state action. I haven't done enough comparative research to say for sure about the unique nature of American free enterprise discourse, but I think that this sort of language has been a popular oppositional language in America for a long time.
VIRGINIA COLE: Question from Shennette Garrett-Scott.
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Hey, Shennette. Thank you. Wow, all the way from Mississippi. Whoa.
VIRGINIA COLE: And it's a really good question.
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: I'm sure it is.
VIRGINIA COLE: Here we go. "In noting that free enterprise was seen as a common sense, fundamentally American term, it is clear, too, that it is a term freighted with race, gender, and class. Considering race in particular, a skim through the book reveals very little engagement with whiteness and race.
How are readers to understand fully the construction and shaping of the concept when race is so absent? For example, slavery takes a backseat to [? plenarian ?] notions of free labor and white-presenting immigrants. Black entrepreneurs do not appear in the book, and I have other examples, except in small places, the New Deal, civil rights."
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Well, yeah, thank you for that question. I do think the term was always raced and gendered, and I try to emphasize that throughout the book. The idea of free enterprise was connected with whiteness, I think, throughout its history, and particularly in the chapter on the civil rights movement and so forth, I try to show the way in which Black activists try to reframe the question of free enterprise and make it a contested tool in the battle for what American freedom meant.
One of the interesting things is you find people like Lester Maddox, the segregationist politician who later became governor of Georgia, who had a chicken stand in Georgia. And when he talked about when he was forced to integrate, he closed it and opened it up sort of as a museum of free enterprise. And free enterprise was very much a part of a lot of segregationist rhetoric, as I try to show.
And what was interesting is that critics of Maddox and civil rights activists refused to accept his definition of free enterprise. They argued that free enterprise should mean that you should not be the victim of restrictive covenants or being unable to spend your money at a store. They argued that that's what free enterprise was. So I think it's very much a part of the story, is to understand the way in which race and gender figure in. And I didn't talk about them a lot in the talk today, but they do figure quite strongly in the book.
VIRGINIA COLE: OK, another question-- "If Hayek was not the first to argue that the New Deal would lead to totalitarianism/serfdom, what new ideas did he contribute, if anything? Was he just a popularizer?"
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Well, I should say, I'm not a Hayek scholar, and I think he contributed quite a lot of ideas. He won the Nobel Prize in economics. My point was that I think a lot of times when we take intellectual history landmarks like the publication of a famous book, that book which became a bestseller in 1944 and was then excerpted in Reader's Digest in 1945-- so his argument was very widely disseminated.
And the point I wanted to make is that it just wasn't an original point in the American context. Now, he wrote that book in England. He later came to the United States afterwards. So I'm not saying this in any way to diminish his achievement in that book but just to point out that in this particular way, what he was saying was already very much in circulation. And that's kind of one of the points I try to make and the kind of intellectual history I do, which is that we need to do top-down intellectual history, but we also need to do bottom up work as well.
VIRGINIA COLE: Another question-- "You mentioned the literature on the neoliberal thought collective-- Friedman, Hayek, et cetera. Where does this literature interact with your book? What blind spots emerge from this emphasis on economists and intellectuals?" And you've already touched on that a little bit in your previous answer, but maybe you have more.
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Yeah. I guess one of the points that I wanted to make, which came up in the last question, is that many ideas were in circulation before they were articulated by intellectuals, and this is a good example. In my book, I actually deal quite a bit with the history of the term "neoliberal," which in the American context is really quite interesting because it has come to stand for advocates of free markets and against statism, but in the 1930s in the United States, "neoliberal" first was used as someone who was a-- you might say-- the way it was used was someone who was an extreme liberal, an ultra liberal, someone who strongly supported the New Deal.
So a lot of critics of the New Deal talked about the neoliberal supporters of the New Deal. It already had different meanings in Europe, but later in the United States, it emerged as part of this broader antistate, antiregulatory discourse, and again, I think that many of the ideas taken up by neoliberals in the 1950s and then in the 1970s were already in circulation among free enterprisers, most of whom did not use that term. Even someone like Milton Friedman used the term very briefly in the 1950s, and then he later abandoned it.
And by the way, a key element of my book, which I write about a lot but I didn't get to talk about today, is that the term "liberalism" is a really important term because when Franklin Roosevelt talked about New Deal liberalism, he was really one of the people who was in the process of transforming the meaning of that term, because people like Herbert Hoover considered himself a liberal in the 19th-century, more libertarian sense of that term, which is the government is best which governs least and so forth. And Hoover did not really like to think of himself as a conservative. He considered himself a liberal, and he and many other free enterprisers in the first, say, few decades of free enterprise discourse refused to see that ground.
They said the New Deal has perverted liberalism. It's a phony liberalism. It's not real liberalism.
And even Hayek-- a lot of times, people today consider him a conservative, but he wrote a famous essay called "Why I Am Not a Conservative." And Milton Friedman was the same way. For a long time, he wanted to retain the label "liberal" and were annoyed that New Dealers had sort of taken this term and redefined it in a different way. So I deal with that very interesting history in my book.
VIRGINIA COLE: Another question-- "How unified were corporate elites in their hyperbolic opposition to mixed economies? Was there a coalition whose interests led them to accept or even support some of the aspects of the New Deal?"
LAWRENCE B. GLICKMAN: Yes, that's a really important question, and again, I deal with this in the book a little bit. Yeah, a lot of business leaders came around to support of the New Deal. They agreed with Roosevelt that it had rescued capitalism, and during the era of what historians sometimes called the liberal consensus, which took place between, say, the end of World War II and the 1970s, there was a lot of agreement that some sort of mixed economy was necessary.
And one of the points I try to make in my book is that free enterprise discourse of the sort I'm talking about was very much a minority discourse, but it was constantly in circulation. And there were people celebrating it. They weren't necessarily getting political victories, but they were circulating the term. They were producing advertising and newsreels and sponsoring free enterprise contests.
And my argument is that this minority discourse was firmly in place, and as the New Deal order weakened, especially in the 1960s and '70s, these ideas were already familiar to a lot of Americans. They may not have totally agreed with them, but they were in place, in circulation. And I think that's one of the reasons why the discourse became so successful. As the New Deal weakened, there was already this language and this vocabulary that people could draw on.
VIRGINIA COLE: We are now at 6 o'clock, and I am going to wrap up our Chats in the Stacks. And join me in a very warm virtual thank you for this superb talk. And I learned a lot myself, and I can't wait to read the book.
So let me close with a slide where you can get more information about future Chats in the Stack. And join us again, and thank you very much for coming. And have a nice evening, morning, afternoon, wherever you are. Thank you.
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What’s the definition of “free enterprise”? It depends on the era.Lawrence B. Glickman, the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies in the Department of History, traces the evolution of the phrase, from the 19th century through its conservative reformulation against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and on to today his book Free Enterprise: An American History (Yale University Press, 2019). In a live Chats in the Stacks webinar Glickman provides a glimpse into how the concept of free enterprise has been used to shape contemporary American politics in opposition to taxation, government programs, and regulation.