This book revisits and expands upon Steve Fraser and Gerstle’s influential edited volume, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980 (Princeton, 1989). The “beyond” in the title refers mainly to chronology rather than an attempt to reconceptualize twentieth-century U.S. political history in a manner that complicates or “moves beyond” the concept of a “New Deal Order.” Julian Zelizer’s crisp chapter about the persistence of Democratic liberalism in the 1980s and thereafter is the only chapter that substantially interrogates the New Deal Order’s utility as an organizing idea. The rest of the chapters focus primarily on synthesizing and deepening historians’ understanding of New Deal liberalism and its offshoots from the 1930s through the early 1970s and on exposing forces that helped to create what Gerstle calls in the volume’s coda a “neoliberal order.”
The book’s goals are notably different than those of another recently released edited volume that should be read alongside it—Brent Cebul, Lily Geismer, and Mason B. Williams (eds.), Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2019). Among other objectives, that volume seeks to scrutinize how widely used frameworks like the New Deal Order—often defined by watershed moments—can obscure “persistent features of American politics that cut across the usual break points—particularly hierarchies and privileges of race and gender, which are now at the center of scholarship on twentieth-century American history (6).”
Written by an exceptional group of prominent scholars, Beyond the New Deal Order’s fourteen chapters and introduction all merit attention, and much of the book will be of value to the interdisciplinary cohort of historians, political scientists, and sociologists who study the modern American state. For instance, Meg Jacobs’ important chapter describes how “New Dealers…empowered citizens…to effect a redistribution of economic and political power in the United States,” a process that Jacobs usefully characterizes as “state building from the bottom up (36–37)” and as deliberately establishing new ties between Americans and the government. By contrast, late-twentieth-century conservatives sought to weaken such bonds in an attempt to “dismantle and delegitimize the state” (49-50). O’Connor provides an efficient, clear-eyed analysis of how politicians, strategists, and pundits have utilized various ill-defined constructs associated with nonelite whites, such as “forgotten Americans,” the “Silent Majority,” and the New Democrats’ “forgotten middle class.” She draws attention to these tropes to provide historical perspective on widespread claims about white working-class voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to underscore how similar ideas have served specific political objectives and policy goals in the past. Paul Sabin’s chapter about the early development of public-interest environmental law is similarly valuable, as is Kristoffer Smemo’s chapter about liberal Republicanism and its decline. These are just a few examples of the book’s many strong essays. The result is a coherent collection.
But the book’s tidiness likely rests in part on its selective focus. Only one chapter foregrounds protagonists of color—David Stein’s examination of Federal Reserve policy and the Black movement for full employment. In the book’s second section, “Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender,” only Eileen Boris’ excellent chapter about weaknesses in the Fair Labor Standards Act is particularly intersectional in its approach. The volume rarely foregrounds immigrants and others who have been the focus of cutting-edge scholarship in recent years, such as lgbtq Americans. Much of that scholarship utilizes periodizations that often do not line up neatly with the New Deal Order and its aftermath. The book also tends to treat neoliberalism as coterminous with anti-government sentiment and the heightened valorization of free markets. It generally does not grapple with scholarship that has tried to incorporate the expansion of state capacity in areas such as policing, incarceration, deportation, and surveillance into conceptualizations of neoliberalism. Nor does it engage significantly with urban-studies literature that underscores how government has often been redeployed, not eschewed, to further ends commonly labeled neoliberal.
These approaches and omissions might make the volume less illuminating for interdisciplinary audiences than it could have been. Still, each of the book’s component parts is highly valuable, and revisiting Fraser and Gerstle’s landmark 1989 collection is clearly an important enterprise.