Review of Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

Randall Stephens

I'm out in San Diego finishing one more week of a research fellowship at Point Loma Nazarene University. It might just be one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. (Sorry about that Northwest Central Kansas Community College, Industrial Training Institute, and Manure Recycling Plant.) PLNU's history and political science department looks right out onto the Pacific. Amazing.

Have not posted on RiAH of late, so I thought I'd post part of my Christian Century review of Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands. Lazy? Perhaps. Paul has been rocking it, as have others. (I have some interviews in the pipeline, but need to get those in proper order.)

The old new right

Long before the shouting contests over national health care and decades before Tea Partiers raised a collective ARGHHH!, a conservative, antigovernment movement was forged. The problem with government, these activists said, is that there is too much of it. When taxes and regulation go down, happiness and good will go up. For decades American conservatives have called for the market to do its magic work without interference. . . .

Phillips-Fein tells the full story of the right, with all its weird turns, quite well. Her discussion of the group Spiritual Mobilization, "which took as its mission a theological justification for capitalism," is captivating. It was just one of many similar crusading groups in the 1950s and the years following. Christianity, its spokespeople warned, had too long been associated with "pink" seminarians, leftist theologians, and intrusive progressives of all stripes. According to the members of Spiritual Mobilization, Christ promoted self-interest and never advocated "disinterested altruism." It was the sort of faith that might have suited even Ayn Rand. The organization disintegrated in the early 1960s in a stranger-than-fiction twist, writes Phillips-Fein, when leaders gravitated to a British guru who championed psychotropic drugs and higher-consciousness hokum. >>>