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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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“Democracy in Chains leaves me with hope: Perhaps as books like MacLean’s continue to shine a light on important truths, Americans will begin to realize they need to pay more attention and not succumb to the cynical view that known liars make the best leaders."
—New York Times Book Review
“A remarkable new book which argues that the radical right revolution engineered by Charles and his brother David is not just about accruing political and economic power, but about restricting democracy itself.”
—The New Republic
“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right . . . [MacLean] has dug deep into her material—not just Buchanan’s voluminous, unsorted papers, but other archives, too—and she has made powerful and disturbing use of it all. . . . The behind-the-scenes days and works of Buchanan show how much deliberation and persistence—in the face of formidable opposition—underlie the antigoverning politics ascendant today. What we think of as dysfunction is the result of years of strategic effort.”
“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . [MacLean] takes the time to meticulously trace how we got here. . . . If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be. . . . And if someone you know isn't convinced, you have just the book to hand them.”
"It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible."
—George Monbiot, The Guardian
“[A] riveting, unsettling account of 'Tennessee country boy' James McGill Buchanan, key architect of today's radical right.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A remarkable book . . . Democracy in Chains is a revelation, as politics and as history.”
“Democracy in Chains should be read by every thinking person in the United States. It is disturbing, revealing, and vitally important.”
"Perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“It’s happening: the subversion of our democratic system from within. How did the political Right do it? Nancy MacLean tells the long-overlooked story of the political economist who developed the playbook for the Koch brothers. James McGill Buchanan merged states rights’ thinking with free market principles and helped to fashion the inherently elitist ideology of today’s Republican Party. Professor MacLean’s meticulous research and shrewd insights make this a must-read for all who believe in government ‘by the people.’”
—Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
“This book is mesmerizing. Rarely have I encountered a work that speaks to such significant issues, with evidence rooted in conclusive new sources. In clear prose, MacLean reveals how a public once committed to social responsibility and egalitarian values became persuaded that only an unregulated free market could protect ‘liberty’ and ‘choice.’ Because of this, our once cherished democracy is now subject to attack. Everyone who wants to understand today’s confrontational politics should read this important book, now.”
—Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America
“How did we get to where we are today? How did corporations come to possess ‘rights?’ How did democracy come to be defined as selfish individualism? Or money as free speech? Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains provides the answers. It is essential reading in order to understand the ideas that billionaires use to justify their control of our political institutions. I can’t imagine a more timely or urgent book.”
—Greg Grandin, author of Fordlandia (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and The Empire of Necessity (winner of the Bancroft Prize)
"[MacLean] creates a chilling portrait of an arrogant, uncompromising, and unforgiving man . . . [she] offers a cogent yet disturbing analysis of libertarians' current efforts to rewrite the social contract and manipulate citizens' beliefs. . . . An unsettling exposé of the depth and breadth of the libertarian agenda."
"MacLean constructs an erudite searing portrait of how the late political economist James McGill Buchanan (1919 - 2013) and his deep-pocketed conservative allies have reshaped --and undermined--American democracy. . . . A thoroughly researched and gripping narrative, she exposes how Buchanan’s strategies shaped trends in government in favor of “corporate dominance” and against the welfare state. . . . She has delivered another deeply important book. . . . Her work here is a feat of American intellectual and political history."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
“For those who think the Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, and the alt-right are recent constructs, MacLean provides an extensive history lesson that traces the genesis of the right wing back to post-WWII doctrines. . . . A worthy companion to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, MacLean’s intense and extensive examination of the right-wing’s rise to power is perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.”
—Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Nancy MacLean is the award-winning author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times "noteworthy" book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough, which was called by the Chicago Tribune “contemporary history at its best.” The William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, she lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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Let me get down to the nub of what is already the most significant dispute between MacLean's critics and her defenders (bracketing the substantial portion of her critics whose one-line reviews betray that they clearly haven't read the book): MacLean's argument is based on a careful and detailed juxtaposition of the rationales adopted by libertarians in the 1950s and 1960s, and the concrete social and political context raging around them at the time (most crucially, the resistance to court-mandated de-segregation). Those who believe that MacLean must produce a smoking gun and ballistics analysis--say, an admission by Buchanan that he opposed integrated public schools because he didn't like African Americans--will I'm sure continue strenuously to deny that there was any connection between the libertarianism of the era and broader conservative agendas. Anyone committed to the belief that intentions and agendas have to be gaged by attention to concrete historical context (not least by a consideration of the audiences and venues for which statements were designed) will find MacLean's patient, detailed and comprehensive research indispensable.
One of the most fascinating and enduring lessons of MacLean's book is that the relationship between libertarianism and conservatism is vexed and far from inevitable--as are the relationships of either of these to Republicanism, states rights theory, or religious activism. Anyone interested in any of these topics should read this book. Which is easy advice, because it's engagingly and lucidly written, enabling readers to make their own decisions.
MacLean begins at the beginning, with the southern slave colonies writing limits to majority rule and federal protection for their "property" into the U. S. Constitution. "One man (or woman) one vote" was never the Founding generation's project. No person of African heritage had any rights than a white man was obliged to honor. The current takeover of our country was organized in Virginia by white supremacists who opposed the U. S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that racially separate schools cannot be equal. They began to tear down public tax support for education from kindergarten through university. Success today includes such cuts in tax funds that college students carry unbearable student loan debts, tax money goes more and more to private schools like the segregation academies of the fifties and sixties, and an avowed enemy of public education is now the U. S. Secretary of Education. The conspirators hid in economics enclaves at the University of Virginia, University of Chicago, other institutions and later Virginia Tech before, with Charles Koch millions, essentially buying George Mason University.
Their goal is simple: leave wealth alone. Limited taxation only for internal policing and external military defense. Sell (or give to wealth people and corporations) public property. "Outsource" public services from garbage collection to prisons to profitable corporations. Leave the poor, the young, the elderly, the sick to fend for themselves. Jesus was mistaken , they published: The Good Samaritan was wrong because helping those who are down and out merely created "parasites" who would exploit those with wealth rather than earn their own way. Worship the Golden Calf, scorn the Golden Rule.
Their methods are straightforward: to tear up the social contract. As articulated by David Stockman, President Reagan's' budget director, they would have to fight "Social Security recipients, veterans, farmers, educators, state and local officials, [and] the housing industry" whose middle class buyers relied on mortgage tax deductions. Unable to finance their massive tax cuts and military spending, the president "forsook the fact-based universe." The Kemp-Roth bill slashed taxes on the wealthiest but tripled the national debt so that by 1989 it amounted to 53 percent of gross domestic product. And having departed the fact-based universe, they began denying the human role in climate change. Now, we have "alternative facts." No coincidence. This was the plan. Now, we do not know what to trust.
Stealth methods included "counterintelligentsia" deployed in universities, "think tanks", newspaper and magazine and radio and television, and more recently, in social media to portray government as the enemy, social security and Medicare as "bankrupt", environmentalists as dangerous (See War on Coal!), and the super wealthy, the 1%, as the only possible rescuers of the country.
The ultimate goal is to change the U. S. Constitution so that wealth can never be taxed without unanimous consent.
Democracy in Chains concludes that we have at most two or three years to prevent the complete the stealth of our democracy. The "Kochtopus" tentacles are sunk deep in every nook of American democracy. Read. Discuss. We need know the enemy so that we may be able to make America safe for democracy.