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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the…

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan… (original 2017; edition 2018)

by Nancy MacLean (Author)

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218877,455 (3.48)15
Title:Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Authors:Nancy MacLean (Author)
Info:Penguin Books (2018), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy K. MacLean (2017)


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Well, that was terrifying! This NBA short listed book looks at the development of libertarian ideology in the US, which arose in the South following the Civil War when the federal government took “property” away from slave holders. The book mainly focuses on the influences of James Buchanan and Charles Koch. The two critiques in the book are that the ideas are often used as a smokescreen for racial prejudice and lack of empirical evidence in support of their economic theories. Real world experience with strong application of libertarian principles have given us the Pinochet regime in Chile and the Flint water crises. A number of these principles are also at work more recently in deregulation and public school vouchers. This is a 3.5⭐️ rating because of obvious bias and very dense reading experience. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
“Democracy in Chains” has received praise from the left and critique from the right. Some have called its journalistic integrity into question.

What is the context that has produced this book and controversy? Trump holds the presidency—an unprecedented failure of the immune system of our federal government. The Koch brothers plan to put $400 million into the 2018 election cycle. They’re so over-the-top that they got a millionaire’s tax pulled off the Massachusetts ballot—even though they have nothing to do with Massachusetts. Wealth inequality is at all-time highs in the United States; the United Nations did a study of the US and found 9 million houseless Americans, an embarrassment that will haunt our nation for centuries to come. Egged on by Russia, as well as libertarian funders at home, polarization has brought both the House and the Senate, as well as political discourse at large, to a halt. Belief in climate change peaked in the US somewhere around 2009. So is it any wonder that we’d have people looking to connect the dots?

There are other ways to explain how we’ve ended up here, but it’s not that much of a stretch to posit that James Buchanan, a 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, had something to do with it. Buchanan died in 2013, and this book documents his career in a field called public choice theory. Buchanan and the Kochs are both looking to maximize “liberty” and minimize democracy. To some liberal Americans, this might sound striking, but the United States is actually one of the least democratic democracies, and is a great proving grounds for libertarian social policies.

The most memorable quote in the book is from Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University and pop blogger, about the libertarian vision for the liquidation of labor, and the US resembling the tent villages of Rio de Janeiro, where environmental legislation is lax enough to destroy access to potable drinking water.

The last section of this book slows down, but overall it’s riveting. My next area of research: public choice theory. ( )
  willszal | Jul 6, 2018 |
Interesting, and MacLean seems to build a strong case at first blush, but I admit that I'm troubled by the volume of commentary arguing that MacLean is, at the very least, overstating her case (and at most deliberately distorting evidence to fit her thesis). Even Rick Perlstein (a distinguished historian who also happens to be progressive) has criticized MacLean's scholarship here. For my part, I read it with little knowledge of MacLean's sources or of the controversy itself, except insofar as it existed, and my feeling was that MacLean exaggerates the power and malevolence of Buchanan and similar thinkers to the point that they become a kind of conservative political Voldemort. I don't find this thinking particularly helpful, and reading reviews of this book by other historians, even those sympathetic to MacLean's own politics, convinced me that it is not a useful addition to the study of modern conservatism. Read Dark Money instead, which is quite frightening enough.

Some links if you are interested in the controversy around Democracy in Chains:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/28/does-democracy-in-chains-paint-an-accurate-picture-of-james-buchanan/?utm_term=.24535ffa5365 ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Economists like to portray their profession as a "science," but in truth there is as much or more faith than there is science. The same generally applies to political science as well. When the two mix, as it does in "political economy," then beliefs often seem to take precedence. Maclean, the author, is a historian and the presentation of history is shaped by the author's worldview. That being said, the book does not do what I would expect in presenting public choice economics or economic liberty or any rational definition of liberty--either economic, political, individual or social. At the same time, the book makes me extremely uncomfortable--if even 50% of what the author writes is true, then American democracy is at greater risk than I already believe it to be. Libertarianism as portrayed here (and elsewhere) leads to plutocracy, authoritarianism, and anarchy--I tend to agree. For the record, I'm fiercely independent politically, although I lean left of center--I believe there is more to be gained through collaboration and cooperation than through "great men" with money and/or charisma. I also tend to be skeptical of conspiracy theories in general--although I found the discussion in the chapter on Chile under Pinochet compelling. ( )
  kewing | Apr 24, 2018 |
This is a book that every thinking citizen in our country should read. This shows the history of how Libertarians are slowing undercutting our democracy and replacing it with an oligarchy chiefly led by the Koch brothers. This is a move to privatize anything the government is part of to reap the vast amount of profits that will come from this for wealthy corporations. Even today there is a move to privatize the V. A. Include the post office, public schools, the EPA, Obamacare etc. They would love to end Social Security (for IRA"s) Medicare and Medicaid. It is part of a giant money grab by wealthy interests who wrap themselves in "freedom". ( )
  muddyboy | Apr 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Power consolidation sometimes seems like a perpetual motion machine, continually widening the gap between those who have power and money and those who don’t. Still, “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.
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The public choice revolution rings the death knell
of the political "we."
For my teachers
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As 1956 drew to a close, Colegate Whitehead Darden Jr., the president of the University of Virginia, feared for the future of his beloved state.
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"An explosive expose of the right's relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and change the Constitution. "Perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government." --Booklist (starred review) Behind today's headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect--the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan--and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority. In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite's power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us. Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan's work in teaching others how to divide America into "makers" and "takers." And when a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan's strategy. Without Buchanan's ideas and Koch's money, the libertarian right would not have succeeded in its stealth takeover of the Republican Party as a delivery mechanism. Now, with Mike Pence as Vice President, the cause has a longtime loyalist in the White House, not to mention a phalanx of Republicans in the House, the Senate, a majority of state governments, and the courts, all carrying out the plan. That plan includes harsher laws to undermine unions, privatizing everything from schools to health care and Social Security, and keeping as many of us as possible from voting. Based on ten years of unique research, Democracy in Chains tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok. This revelatory work of scholarship is also a call to arms to protect the achievements of twentieth-century American self-government"--… (more)

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