restricted access The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression by Angus Burgin (review)
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The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression. By Angus Burgin (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2012) 320 pp. $29.95

On the heels of the Great Depression and widespread critiques of capitalism, European free-market liberals gathered around von Hayek, an Austrian economist, in the hopes of reviving liberalism and capitalism [End Page 113] through a neoliberalism.1 To develop these ideas and support each other, they created the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS), which held conferences attended by like-minded scholars from both sides of the Atlantic and later from other parts of the world. Several scholars have already written the history of the MPS and its role in neoliberalism, as well as the intellectual biographies of its members.2 Burgin contributes to this literature with his rich archival research in private papers and published sources, in English as well as in French and German, which allows him to examine the contentious debates between free-market advocates, including those who chose not to join the MPS, and the ways in which their ideas transformed over time.

Burgin begins his book in the 1930s, when free-market advocates felt marginalized from both their professions and from the policy world. These liberals were in agreement about their enemies—socialism, "collectivism," and planning—but they "sharply diverged over the appropriate nature of their political role, the ethical foundations and implications of capitalism, and the desirability and practicability of laissez-faire" (225). The group was most signiªcantly divided between libertarians, like von Mises, who supported complete laissez-faire capitalism, and conservatives, like Röpke, who believed that laissez-faire capitalism would undermine morality and hence argued for a new kind of capitalism.3

Burgin then turns to economists from the University of Chicago, in particular, Friedman.4 The ideas of Hayek and Friedman are often equated because they were both embraced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan. Burgin, however, insightfully discusses their differences. Unlike the MPS founders, the University of Chicago economists avoided marginalization because they immediately found support in the MPS. With his youthful conªdence, Friedman transformed the MPS from a philosophical forum to an organization for "the great persuasion," converting the public to a new neoliberalism of unmediated laissez-faire.

Although Burgin critically studies the MPS, he accepts the neo-liberals' view of themselves as an embattled group that changed the world due to their ideas and rhetorical strategies. Their claim to be outsiders, however, is undermined by the fact that by the end of the 1930s, Hayek had accepted the Tooke Chair of Economic Science at the London School of Economics and Röpke "had risen rapidly to a chair at the University of Marburg" (24, 64). Their victim narrative is common to right-wing ideology, as is their belief in conversion. During the 1930s, [End Page 114] many economists believed that socialism, not corporate capitalism, would bring the realization of free markets. Ideological conversion, however, is not so clear given that these categories are still unstable. Burgin's book is an essential source for understanding one of the most important attempts to stabilize these categories, an attempt that itself was unstable.

Johanna Bockman
George Mason University


1. See Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: A Classic Warning against the Dangers to Freedom Inherent in Social Planning (London, 1944).

2. For example, Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, Mass., 2009).

3. Ludwig von Mises, Socialism; An Economic and Sociological Analysis (London, 1936); Willhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Chicago, 1960).

4. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago, 1962).