The Corporate State and the Broker State: The Du Ponts and American National Politics, 1925-1940.
The du Pont brothers--Pierre, Irenee, and Lammot--and their close business colleague John J. Raskob, a former Du Pont and General Motors executive, are the central figures in this story. The author, who draws on extensive research in their personal papers, describes their personalities and values in the book's first two chapters, and then, in sometimes excessive detail, traces their activities in federal politics--the money donated, personnel recruited, committees formed, tactics discussed, pamphlets printed, and presidential candidates supported, or rejected.
To summarize: in 1928 the four men, with others, reorganized and funded the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), founded originally in 1919. They made it a vehicle for their personal views in the fight for repeal. Federal revenues from re-established liquor sales, they argued, should replace corporate and personal income taxes. That same year, Raskob assumed the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee and with Pierre's financial support tried to put New York governor Al Smith, a "wet," in the White House. They failed.
Despite an attempt to block Franklin D. Roosevelt's nomination 1932, Pierre, unlike the rest of his family, initially supported the New Deal. Roosevelt favored repeal. He also appeared to champion industrial self-government under the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was a short honeymoon. Disillustioned by New Deal labor policies, Pierre in August 1934 helped launch the American Liberty League and worked withse the others through it until 1941. They had no success. And as their political isolation increased, from corporate liberals and leadiang Republican politicians alike, they indulged, Irenee most of all, in the red-baiting and rhetorical excess common among right-wing critics of New Deal liberalism from the Depression through the Cold War.
What did the Du Pont-GM circle want? Robert Burk provides excellent insight into their attitudes on a variety of specific public policy issues, from income taxes to welfare. His research also reveals a number of more general patterns. These include disdain for public bureaucracy, belief in the applicability of principles of business administration to public life, and, above all, resistance to public encroachment on private wealth and power. Burk helps us to see why in the context of expanding federal administrative authority and popular criticism of business power, Pierre du Pont and the rest believed they had something to fear far more tangible than fear itself.
The book works best on the empirical level. The author's efforts to elevate the meaning of his story to The Corporate State and the Broker State are less successful. this is so in part, I think, because he strains to find political theory where personal resentment may be all there is; in part, because detailing political activity, not analyzing cultural and intellectual currents, is his central concern. Burk describes the Du Pont-GM circle as "corporatist in that they were products of, and champions of, the business corporation as an organizational construct" (vii). This is not very helpful. His definition of the corporate state as one that "provided sanction for their economic hegemony" (xi) is clearer, but may simply imply that "corporate conservatives" wanted Washington to leave them alone. The "broker state" to which they objected "legitimized the rival claims of competing interests and maintained dual structures of public and private governance" (ix). But the implication here that Pierre du Pont and his colleagues aimed to transform American governance into one huge corporation, though intriguing as metaphor, provides an inadequate guide to the arresting information that the author presents.
Robert Cuff is professor of history at York University and, for 1989-91, visiting professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. He has written extensively on U.S. wartime industrial mobilization.
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|Publication:||Business History Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1990|
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