Date of Award

June 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Andrew W. Cohen

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

This dissertation examines the Amway Corporation, the world’s largest multi-level marketing company. Since its inception, Amway has purported to offer individuals the ability to go into business for themselves and to participate in free enterprise through direct sales. At the same time, many have attacked Amway as a fraudulent pyramid scheme that trades in false promises and leaves its distributors financially and psychologically worse off than before they joined. In addition to running the company for over three decades, Amway’s cofounders, Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel, along with members of their families, have been influential players in the Republican Party and movement conservatism going back to the 1970s.

Amway draws our attention to important subtleties in the post-World War II conservative movement. DeVos and Van Andel were prominent avatars of an ideology known as small-business conservatism. Like other champions of free enterprise, small-business conservatives attacked “big government,” but they additionally articulated a critique of corporate capitalism. Amway promoted an economic model known as “compassionate capitalism,” which was premised on the liberating potential of individual proprietorship. Amway also widens the geographic lens of the modern Right, highlighting the role that parts of the American North played in cultivating conservatism. Western Michigan, where DeVos and Van Andel were born and raised, has a long conservative tradition dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and shaped to a large degree by the region’s Dutch-American community, which practiced a particularly conservative strain of Calvinism. DeVos and Van Andel have had a hand in many of the key moments in the history of American Right over the last four decades, underscoring the importance of Grand Rapids to the conservative movement.

Access

Open Access

Available for download on Sunday, July 05, 2020

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