This paper reflects on the role of the small business sector in the current cycle of far right populism in the US. Taking up the claim of scholars such as Kim Phillips-Fein, who suggest that the far right resurgence – from the Tea Party to Trump – represents the triumph of small business over big business interests in the shaping of Republican Party politics, I trace the sources of this particular form of libertarian conservatism to its origins in the 1970s. What today’s far right represents, I suggest, is less an alliance of small against big business than an insurrection of one form of capitalism—the private, the unincorporated, and the family-based—against another—the corporate, the publicly traded, and the shareholder owned. The family-based capitalism that stormed the White House along with Trump stretches from the smallest of family businesses to the most rambling of dynasties and crucially depends on the symbiosis between the two.
Melinda Cooper is Professor in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. She is currently completing the manuscript of a book called Capital Gains and Public Liabilities. Her most recent publications are “Infinite Regress: Virginia School Neoliberalism and the Tax Revolt (2021) and “The Alt-Right: Neoliberalism, Libertarianism and the Fascist Temptation.”
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