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The Great Persuasion

The Great Persuasion

Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression

Angus Burgin

ISBN 9780674503762

Publication date: 05/04/2015

Just as today's observers struggle to justify the workings of the free market in the wake of a global economic crisis, an earlier generation of economists revisited their worldviews following the Great Depression. The Great Persuasionis an intellectual history of that project. Angus Burgin traces the evolution of postwar economic thought in order to reconsider many of the most basic assumptions of our market-centered world.

Conservatives often point to Friedrich Hayek as the most influential defender of the free market. By examining the work of such organizations as the Mont Pèlerin Society, an international association founded by Hayek in 1947 and later led by Milton Friedman, Burgin reveals that Hayek and his colleagues were deeply conflicted about many of the enduring problems of capitalism. Far from adopting an uncompromising stance against the interventionist state, they developed a social philosophy that admitted significant constraints on the market. Postwar conservative thought was more dynamic and cosmopolitan than has previously been understood.

It was only in the 1960s and '70s that Friedman and his contemporaries developed a more strident defense of the unfettered market. Their arguments provided a rhetorical foundation for the resurgent conservatism of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and inspired much of the political and economic agenda of the United States in the ensuing decades. Burgin's brilliant inquiry uncovers both the origins of the contemporary enthusiasm for the free market and the moral quandaries it has left behind.

Praise

  • Capacious and quietly ambitious, offering a dramatic retelling of the intellectual history of the postwar revival of free-market ideas, and it is an excellent example of what can be gained when intellectual history doesn’t focus exclusively on individuals… Burgin’s account of the evolution of the Mont Pelerin Society is a study of the complexity of ideological change, of the ways that ideas conceived in one context can acquire a very different hue over time. It is an immensely rich, careful and thoughtful history that captures the range of opinion within a group of people who are too often seen as having marched in lockstep.

    —Kim Phillips-Fein, The Nation

Awards

  • 2013, Winner of the Merle Curti Award
  • 2013, Winner of the Joseph J. Spengler Best Book Prize

Author

  • Angus Burgin is Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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