Timothy Shenk has written for The Nation about capitalism past and present, most recently on the power of the Federal Reserve. He has long been fascinated by capitalism’s greatest admirers. “For anyone who came of age in the 1990s, the significance of the conservative movement was a given,” he says. Here, he offers five books for grasping the GOP’s current internal strife, and the rise of Donald Trump.
The Making of the Conservative Movement From the New Deal to Reagan
by Kim Phillips-Fein
Conservatives trace their intellectual history to the reaction against the French Revolution, if not earlier—but in the United States, the movement assumed its modern form in the revolt against Franklin Roosevelt. Focusing on a decades-long campaign by a faction of the business elite to roll back the New Deal, Kim Phillips-Fein provides a tour of the right’s 20th-century journey from the fringes of American politics to its very center.
THE CONSERVATIVE INTELLECTUAL MOVEMENT IN AMERICA SINCE 1945
by George H. Nash
Complaints about the marginalization of conservatives on the nation’s campuses have been a staple of right-wing punditry since William F. Buckley Jr. inveighed against godless Yalies, but the lament indicates how seriously the right takes the battle for ideas. Although more sophisticated analyses of conservative thinkers have appeared since Nash’s book was published in 1976, none better capture the sweep of the movement or its conviction that the world’s fate might hinge on the next issue of National Review.
BEFORE THE STORM:
Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
by Rick Perlstein
Today, Rick Perlstein is one of the country’s premier political journalists; this is the book that earned him that distinction. Written with a novelist’s eye for detail, a historian’s sensitivity to the past, and a party strategist’s understanding of the art of political warfare, Before the Storm brings to life the movement that won Barry Goldwater the GOP presidential nomination. Goldwater lost that election, but even in defeat he exposed the outlines of an electoral realignment that transformed the Republican Party—and, eventually, the nation.
TO SERVE GOD AND WAL-MART:
The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
by Bethany Moreton
In the United States, no political movement can survive for long unless it finds popular support. Bethany Moreton’s history of Wal-Mart explores the union of evangelical Christianity and business-friendly economics that has made conservatism such a formidable electoral force. Arguing against those who depict working-class Republicans as dupes of a plutocratic ruling elite, Moreton examines the needs—cultural, political, and economic—that have created these strange bedfellows.
The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
by Jane Mayer
A triumph of investigative journalism, Jane Mayer’s study of the financial backers who sustain the American right demonstrates the enormous influence wielded by a radicalized donor class. Inspired by thinkers like Friedrich Hayek and visions of political change fired by Barry Goldwater, a handful of wealthy magnates have replaced the traditional Republican establishment. With rival billionaire Donald Trump threatening to turn the system they built to his own purposes, it’s little wonder these funders are now complaining about the returns on their investment.