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

by Nancy MacLean (Author)

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5281337,140 (3.92)34
"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)
Member:pauldanielhenning
Title:Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Authors:Nancy MacLean (Author)
Info:Viking (2017), Edition: Later Printing, 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 MacLean (2017)

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» See also 34 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This book might be the "Silent Spring" of politics. So much of the effort to radically change what the United States is as a nation and civilized society is contained in the writing. It is hard to write enticingly about politics, but MacLean does so. She offers the wake-up call to take action to save this democracy before it is too late to do so. ( )
  larrybenfield | Jul 14, 2021 |
I was aware of the criticism of this book from some libertarian scholars prior to reading this, so I read it with a more critical eye than I might otherwise have if I had only read the positive reviews. I'm not qualified to judge whether or not the critics are wholly correct (some complaints smacked of special pleading). Full disclosure: I am in no way an economic conservative or libertarian.

McLean has assembled some solid building blocks here in terms of an intellectual backdrop to contemporary anti-government political/economic theory: the work of scholars who had an underlying distrust of government and how they came to become an influential wing of thought. We have followers of Hayek and the Austrian School, the outsized influence of Charles Koch, and so on.

Despite that, the book doesn't quite gel as it should, for multiple reasons. McLean is not an economist. She doesn't really understand public choice theory. I am far from an expert, but I would not have understood its basic foundation if I hadn't done some extra research. She highlights particular examples of Buchanan's thought, such as his report into school segregation or his work in Chile, without giving the big picture in enough detail. She also doesn't give much of the theoretical basis of other influential economists and thinkers beyond a fundamental distrust of governmental institutions and belief in the market, preferring to emphasize practical policy prescriptions.

Her claim that Buchanan was crucial to the modern economic-libertarian movement is not fully supported by the text. While he was far from unimportant, McLean never fully demonstrates his direct influence. This is in part because the book is too short. The text of the book is only 234 pages, which gives you the sense of getting the highlight reel instead of seeing the entire game. McLean is also prone to using very short, out of context quotes, which makes me curious about their context. What's additionally frustrating about this book is that there is more material she could have used and did not. Several followers of this school of thought have outright suggested that the franchise be restricted, because the uninformed masses make poor choices.

There's also an air of "conspiracy!" that, again, isn't quite supported. The right wing plan may have been stealthy at one point, but it's been quite apparent for some time. More care could have been taken to draw together the applications of that movement, rather than brief paragraphs about labor and schools.

Somewhere, a great book is waiting to be written about libertarian economics and their practical application and misapplication. Sadly, this isn't it. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
The most deeply disturbing book I have read to date, made more so by the fact that it isn't a work of fiction.

We get an indepth look at the root that has spread throughout our political parties that was only hinted at in Ratf*cked.

An eye opening look at the depths a handful of men will go through to ensure they will retain power at the expense of millions, and explains in detail how they did it.

A must read for anyone who cares about or country. ( )
1 vote tebyen | May 27, 2020 |
A wonderful book. The missing half star is due to the fact that she does not give an adequate history of the Mt Pelerin Society. She focuses on
James Buchanan, a future Nobel in economics, and Charles Koch, and gives
a good background to each. I knew about KocH, but I ha d no idea about the economist. ( )
  annbury | Sep 6, 2019 |
I believe her. I've seen the effects with my own eyes. ( )
1 vote creekbedangel | Sep 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This book ticks a lot of boxes. First, it does not shrink from acknowledging the existence of a conspiracy working against the interests of the ordinary folk. That it centres on neo-liberal economic theories and the money of – amongst others – the Koch brothers and the Mont Pelerin Society will come as no surprise to readers of this journal. The surprise may be the scope and depth revealed. Second, it respects the evidence and produces chapter and verse collated by an eminent historian who had the sense to fall on the archives of her anti-hero James Buchanan, the Nobel Prize winning neo-liberal economist. Third, it does not fail to identify the smoking guns and culprits responsible for many of the bad things going on in the world. Finally, it is written with verve and plenty of entertaining anecdotes. Other reviews have pointed to weaknesses but these are forgivable and 1 do not undermine the gist of the story. Moreover McLean has provided a robust defence.
...
My reaction on reading the book was to see it as showing a vast conspiracy to limit the scope of democracy, and damage the interests of ordinary people. Despite McLean’s own equivocation and the risks associated with calling out a conspiracy, I stick with my gut instinct and McLean’s final judgement, which I think meets the duck criterion in full. In other words if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks . . . it’s probably a duck.
added by davidgn | editLobster, Bartholomew Steer (Jun 1, 2019)
 
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.
 
As I hope is clear, I think that Democracy in Chains is well written and that the research it contains is both interesting and in many cases illuminating. But as an actual history, as a reliable account of the centrality of James Buchanan and his work in a gigantic conspiracy designed to end democracy in America, it turns far away from its mark. It is the story of an alternative past that never actually happened.
 
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Epigraph
The public choice revolution rings the death knell
of the political "we."
- PIERRE LEMIEUX
Dedication
For my teachers
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(Introduction) 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.
(Prologue) Those who are leading today’s push to upend the political system are heirs to a set of ideas that goes back almost two centuries: the pushback of imperious property against democracy.
(Chapter 1) Virginia had become a defendant in one of the five cases folded into Brown v. Board of Education owing to the determination of one teenager who had had enough.
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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"--

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