A Commercial Republic

America's Enduring Debate over Democratic Capitalism

Mike O'Connor

As recently as 2008, when Presidents Bush and Obama acted to bail out the nations crashing banks and failing auto companies, the perennial objection erupted anew: government has no business in . . . business. Mike OConnor argues in this book that those who cite history to decry government economic intervention are invoking a tradition that simply does not exist. In a cogent and timely take on this ongoing and increasingly contentious debate, OConnor uses deftly drawn historical analyses of major political and economic developments to puncture the abiding myth that business once operated apart from government. From its founding to the present day, our commercial republic has always mixed—and battled over the proper balance of—politics and economics.

Contesting the claim that the modern-day libertarian conception of U.S. political economy represents the natural American economic philosophy, OConnor demonstrates that this perspective has served historically as only one among many. Beginning with the early national debate over the economic plans proposed by Alexander Hamilton, continuing through the legal construction of the corporation in the Gilded Age and the New Deal commitment to full employment, and concluding with contemporary concerns over lowering taxes, this book demonstrates how the debate over government intervention in the economy has illuminated the possibilities and limits of American democratic capitalism.

A Commercial Republic is a kind of extended essay engaging a problem in a series of thematic chapters that are both learned (for the specialist) and thoroughly accessible (for the general reader). This is a feat not often attempted by scholars, and it is one too often discouraged (if not discounted) by academic scorekeepers. In the present case, Mike O’Connor has succeeded on both fronts, producing a crisp, clear survey of a large and burdened subject that is a pleasure to read and surely as informative as anything like it in the neighborhood bookshop.

—The Historian

“The debate over government’s role in the economy will continue, and students of that debate would do well to read O’Connor’s A Commercial Republic

—American Political Thought

See all reviews...

About the Author

Mike O'Connor has taught U. S. history at universities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. His writing has appeared in the scholarly journals Contemporary Pragmatism and The Sixties and in the newspapers Austin American-Statesman and the Daily Texan. One of the original bloggers on the U. S. Intellectual History site, O'Connor later founded (with several others) the Society for U. S. Intellectual History.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series