Johns Hopkins economic historian Burgin tells the story of free market theory in a masterful intellectual history that covers the 1930s to the 1970s. Keynes and the Keynesians declared laissez-faire over and done in the 1930s, Burgin observes, but 50 years later, free market economics had revived and in fact “debates in the Anglo-American public sphere were permeated” with the idea; Keynesianism was a “relic.” Burgin traces the development of the principles that challenged Keynes and statism—and still do—dwelling on the profound impact of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. He describes the astonishing and unexpected popular success of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and traces Milton Friedman’s role in popularizing free market economics. Friedman identified not with conservatives or the investor class but with small business. In contrast to Hayek, he moves beyond academic circles, writing for Newsweek and Playboy to broaden the reach of his ideas. Burgin covers a complex subject clearly and free of cant. This thoughtful and well-researched study proves once again, as Keynes himself said, that we are all slaves of defunct economists. (Oct.)
A brilliant rereading of the history of modern conservative thought, which casts each of its key protagonists in new light. The line from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman was no straightforward unfolding of constant neoliberal premises, but a crooked path full of contradictions, contention, and unexpected contingencies.
Burgin has written a marvelous account of the role of the Mont Pèlerin Society in transforming public discourse concerning the role of markets in society. His meticulously researched, clear-eyed, and nuanced treatment is a compelling and well-told story.
The Great Persuasion is an exemplary work of intellectual history showing how a small circle of theorists played a huge role in the triumph and persistence of market-centered political conservatism. Burgin renders refreshingly dynamic the notoriously dreary ideas of economists as he narrates two generations of calculated networking, skillful popularization, and political organizing.
John Maynard Keynes famously insisted that ideas, not interests, matter in history. In this tremendously accomplished study, Burgin shows how a few men and their ideas exploded Keynes's own welfarist orthodoxy. And yet perhaps even Keynes would welcome the results, for ultimately Burgin suggests that no ideology, including the romance of the free market that rules today, is invulnerable to those who insist that it is wrong.
Offers a concise account of how F.A. Hayek and later Milton Friedman disseminated the virtues of free markets and enlivened conservatism in Britain and the United States, culminating in the triumphs of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Wall Street Journal - Kenneth Minogue
One of the great merits of
Burgin's book is to show how the character and the content of the free-market ideology changed when the flag passed from Hayek and Company to Friedman and Company. Despite the efforts of a small band of the faithful, the Tea Party is, and is likely to remain, more Friedman than Hayek: harder-line, more brashly confident, less concerned with getting things quite right, and without sympathy for losers.
New Republic - Robert M. Solow
A riveting cultural-political history of the free-market revival that began even as depression and world war threatened to quench the last embers of laissez-faire.
Burgin--an insightful scholar rather than an apologist--pays special attention to the role of the Mt. Pelerin Society in the postwar conservative and classical-liberal story.
American Spectator - Daniel McCarthy
Burgin never reveals whether he personally thinks Mises, Hayek, or Friedman were intellectually right or wrong (Mises, he insists, was tactically a little rigid and extreme). Instead, he focuses on how they built (or failed to build) relationships, networks, and institutions; how they funded and organized projects like the Mount Pelerin Society, which lies at the heart of his story; and how personality, ideas, even geography drew confederates closer together, then blew them apart. Burgin is a quiet connoisseur of the ironic shift, the subtle change in ideas under new conditions, the intellectual difference exposing larger conflicts...He understands and outlines the often complex interplay of ideas in rarefied academic centers, how ideas cross-fertilize and mutate as generations pass and conditions change. This book would be valuable if only for his careful dissection of ideas by mostly forgotten Chicago economists like Jacob Viner and Frank Knight in the decades before Friedman...Burgin offers intellectual biographies of many of the key members of Mount Pelerin, from the society's contentious early administrator Albert Hunold to luminaries such as Karl Popper, Michael Oakeshott, Michael Polanyi, and George Stigler."
New York Journal of Books - Robert Teitelman
Many people, cheerleaders and detractors alike, have made careers flapping their mouths about the meaning of postwar conservatism without bothering to acquire half the understanding of it that
Burgin has...He loves economics and its arguments and rivalries enough to have mastered a pile of minutes, monographs, and personal correspondence and turned it all into a great ideological drama. He has written a terrific book. Original and judicious, it never loses sight of the philosophical arguments economics conceals, sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose.
Bookforum - Christopher Caldwell
The most significant achievement of [this] remarkable book is to confirm that neoliberalism exists in a context, and is bounded by a beginning as well as an end. For now, however, that end is nowhere in sight.
Prospect online - James McAuley
[A] new history of neoliberalism that provides more nuance and depth to an understanding of the reemergence of classical liberal ideas in the latter half of the 20th century...
The Great Persuasion introduces readers not only to F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, but also to the central roles that the new European and American conservatives played, as well as the background to developments that occurred in Chicago in the 1930s. Burgin has produced a book that is essential reading for students and researchers at all levels regarding postwar intellectual history.
[A] fluid, intellectually supple book. It tells the story of how Friedman and the Friedmanics captured the language of neoliberalism, showing how otherwise frankly utopian mantras about smart markets versus dumb governments were in fact the culmination of a whole series of earlier intramural arguments about the moral and conceptual underpinnings of capitalist societies that began in the aftermath of the First World War.
Times Literary Supplement - Duncan Kelly
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.
The Nation - Kim Phillips-Fein
An intellectual historian by training,
Burgin has a gift for integrating careful textual exegeses with panoramic surveys of the political scene, using a wide-angle lens to highlight what matters in specific texts while deploying close readings to revise the big picture...Burgin, in one of his greatest contributions, draws attention to the many issues--both superficial and substantive--that divided [Hayek and Friedman]...As a piece of the richer history of the twentieth century that will emerge once fables of a lost golden age are dispensed with, The Great Persuasion is invaluable...Brilliantly executed... The Great Persuasion is filled with astute evaluations of how economists, especially Friedman, assumed their new role as public intellectuals.