Democracy in Chains
An explosive exposé 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.

Democracy in Chains Details

TitleDemocracy in Chains
Author
FormatHardcover
ReleaseJun 13th, 2017
PublisherViking
ISBN1101980966
ISBN-139781101980965
Number of pages400 pages
Rating
GenrePolitics, Nonfiction, History, Economics, North American Hi..., American History, Philosophy, Government, Literature, American, Political Science

Democracy in Chains Review

  • Trish
    June 2, 2017
    Many publishers claim “explosive new content” for their nonfiction but in this case it is not hyperbole. This political history of the Radical Right is a worthy companion to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. It reveals what Mayer did not: what on earth were the Radical Rich thinking?This is the book we’ve been waiting for—a book which explains the philosophical underpinnings of the Radical Right and the scope and direction of their plan for political and economic control. For years I have struggled to un Many publishers claim “explosive new content” for their nonfiction but in this case it is not hyperbole. This political history of the Radical Right is a worthy companion to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. It reveals what Mayer did not: what on earth were the Radical Rich thinking?This is the book we’ve been waiting for—a book which explains the philosophical underpinnings of the Radical Right and the scope and direction of their plan for political and economic control. For years I have struggled to understand how they could imagine a small group of people should be more privileged than the majority, but now I get it. The Radical Right has divided human beings into makers and takers, “makers” being those who own the means of production (and pay taxes) and “takers” being those who do not. For some reason I still don’t understand, they have concluded that the superrich fit the first category and the bulk of the economy’s workers fit the second. Which, as we all know, is a logical fallacy in today’s America.Though sometimes it may appear the Radical Right are inarticulate because they never seem to explain what they are aiming at, they apparently wanted to keep their philosophy and intent quiet, to work in secrecy. This is because most people in our democracy would oppose their thinking. The Radical Rich freely acknowledge this. The Right believes that the majority in a democracy can coerce individuals to pay for things the minority do not want to pay for, like public schools, health care, welfare programs, jails, infrastructure. The Right believe they should be free to do as they choose, and services should be privatized. The market will take care of any climate change-related environmental controls that the majority might wish businesses to adopt. The Right’s view of an efficient business and political environment might look like the early 20th Century when oligarchs roamed the earth. It sounds bizarre, I know. The Right knew we would react this way, which is why they have been unable to say what they were thinking straight out, but instead made common cause with the Republican Party, and the Religious Right, cannibalizing both and only leading those two groups to their own demise. An important piece of their thinking is that only the national government has enough clout to stop them from dominance, which is why they are so insistent on weakening the central government and passing “power” to individual states, which of course would diffuse power.Things are so much clearer to me now. When the Black Lives Matter movement said opposition to President Obama was about race, they were right. Opposition to Obama was ginned up by this group, who spread rumors and undermined his attempts to compromise by refusing cooperation. The genesis of the thinking in this far right group has its roots in slavery. The roots of Radical Rich thinking goes back to John C. Calhoun, slave holder intent upon “preserving liberty” [of the elite], and keeping the demands of the many off his “property.” Up until the 1960’s, the majority of wealth in this country was in the South, leftover generational wealth from slave-holding days now invested in tobacco, cotton, energy products like oil and coal, etc... MacLean calls it “race-based hyper-exploitative regional political economy…one based first on chattel slavery and later on disenfranchised low-wage labor, racial segregation, and a starved public sector.”It is fascinating to hear how Nancy MacLean, investigating a tangential issue to those she explores in this book, came upon the personal papers and writings of Nobel Prize winner James M. Buchanan (October 3, 1919 – January 9, 2013) at George Mason University in Virginia, which included private letters between Buchanan and Charles Koch. The letters illuminated the train of thought of both men, including their insistence that their thinking be kept secret lest people object to their belief that democracy would ruin capitalism and their right to rule. Eventually the two men diverged in thought and Koch sidelined Buchanan decisively. At last I can understand why the Republicans would put forth a health care plan that actually harmed people. It bothered me that I didn’t understand, but I do now. I wonder if in twenty years this book will be named as one of the critical works which broke the hold of the Radical Right by disseminating notice of their goals to a broad base of Americans. I struggled to understand why this group of individuals, which include Mike 
Pence, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Mitch McConnell, and a host of others, oppose government-subsidized affordable college education, corporate and personal taxes, environmental protections, and state-subsidized drug rehab programs. They actually believe the majority of the American people are stealing their wealth. Of course there is room in the world for people with fundamentally different ideas about what man is. But there may not be enough room for these thoughts together in one nation. They can go off to live by themselves if they wish, on an island somewhere outside a country founded on the principle of “by the people for the people.” But, you know, without our willing slavery, they are just old men stashing meaningless bits of paper. They can’t even eat without our labor. They can’t live in all the houses they own. They can’t get where they are going without us. They can’t even dress themselves without us. No, in order for them to win we must agree to be ruled by them, and we don’t.You will want to preorder this book and read it immediately. I understand now why there was no buzz about this. Remember when Jane Mayer was asked in an interview1 if she was afraid to criticize the secretive Koch brothers because they were so powerful? MacLean, I am quite sure, has to be extremely careful until this became public. The audio is excellent, read by Bernadette Dunn, produced by Penguin Audio. The audio file is about 11 hours, and it is completely enthralling. Now I can tell a conservative from someone indoctrinated by Koch. I can see the strategy.1Pamela Paul’s January 24, 2016 podcast for NYTimes Book Review
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  • Carla Bayha
    April 1, 2017
    Radical right, conservative Republican, Freedom Caucus, Libertarian--we need new names. These groups have nothing to do with Lincoln or Eisenhower. Charles Koch and his billionaire friends, and the politicians, judges, "think" tanks masquerading as non profits, and the law schools and university economic departments that they have bought, want to destroy our democracy and our safety nets in favor of free markets that are tilted in their favor. The end game is eliminating social security, medicar Radical right, conservative Republican, Freedom Caucus, Libertarian--we need new names. These groups have nothing to do with Lincoln or Eisenhower. Charles Koch and his billionaire friends, and the politicians, judges, "think" tanks masquerading as non profits, and the law schools and university economic departments that they have bought, want to destroy our democracy and our safety nets in favor of free markets that are tilted in their favor. The end game is eliminating social security, medicare and medicaid, unions, public transportation, public education, feminism (women have more "socialistic" tendencies) and the right to vote for the unpropertied. Their strategies include: surrogates who repeat known falsehoods until TV and Internet audiences forget if they are false or not (e.g. climate change is not caused by fossil fuels): creating false uncertainty about the viability of solvent social programs (e.g. Medicare, Affordable Health Care Act, public education) and pretending cutbacks are needed to "save" these programs; privatization of all state owned property and any safety net programs that they cannot just eliminate; control of state governments and gerrymandering to roll back voters rights protections and keep poorer people who don't "pay their way" out of the decision-making process; control of the judiciary at all levels. Or as their leading guru, James McGill Buchanan put it, not changing who rules but changing the rules. If you want to take a look at how well this will work for you, check out the economies of Chile and Russia--Buchanan and his followers advised both Pinochet and Yeltsin. This is a very disturbing book which deserves tremendous press coverage when it comes out. As a bookseller, I read an advance review copy. It kept me up at night.
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  • Pedro Jorge
    June 20, 2017
    Waiting for David Gordon's review at Mises.org, but meanwhile I think we should bring down this book's rating a little bit, since it's obvious that it just amounts to left-wing ad hominem conspiracy theories.Have you ever even read Buchanan's works? Get real.Here's Daniel Mitchell's very lucid review of the book:https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com...And here's another one, by David Henderson, showing the author's talent for character distortion:http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2...
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  • Peter Mcloughlin
    June 24, 2017
    In 2017 it is very obvious what the right and the transmogrified Republican party are up to. It is the installation of oligarchy in the US controlled by the wealthy. The endgame of libertarian thinking. It is amazing what money and ruthlessness can accomplish. People like the Koch's use Lenin as their model for taking over the state and installing their libertarian paradise where no billionaire will be bothered by the politics of democracy. Now that the prize is in sight the mask is almost compl In 2017 it is very obvious what the right and the transmogrified Republican party are up to. It is the installation of oligarchy in the US controlled by the wealthy. The endgame of libertarian thinking. It is amazing what money and ruthlessness can accomplish. People like the Koch's use Lenin as their model for taking over the state and installing their libertarian paradise where no billionaire will be bothered by the politics of democracy. Now that the prize is in sight the mask is almost completely off but make no mistake this was a long time coming as the book documents.
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  • Nathan Byrd
    June 27, 2017
    For those considering buying, take some time to read these critiques (as well as the author's response in the first one) before making that decision:Russ Roberts - Nancy MacLean Owes Tyler Cowen an Apology (author responds at bottom)https:[email protected]/nancy...David Henderson - Nancy MacLean's Distortion of James Buchanan's Statementhttp://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2...Phillip W. Magness - How Nancy MacLean went whistlin’ Dixiehttp://philmagness.com/?p=2074Greg Weiner - Six Degree For those considering buying, take some time to read these critiques (as well as the author's response in the first one) before making that decision:Russ Roberts - Nancy MacLean Owes Tyler Cowen an Apology (author responds at bottom)https:[email protected]/nancy...David Henderson - Nancy MacLean's Distortion of James Buchanan's Statementhttp://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2...Phillip W. Magness - How Nancy MacLean went whistlin’ Dixiehttp://philmagness.com/?p=2074Greg Weiner - Six Degrees of James Buchananhttp://www.libertylawsite.org/2017/06...
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  • Abraham Arslan
    June 26, 2017
    A textbook case of intellectual dishonesty. MacLean has distorted arguments of J. Buchanan and Tyler Cowen. The mediocrity, carelessness and outright lies of MacLean has few parallels in Left. The oversimplification, distortion, and misrepresentation that is this book, demonstrates either the rapt stupidity or intentional malfeasance of the author.I would've rated this book negative if I could.
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  • Scot Marvin
    June 29, 2017
    This is the most enlightening political book I've read since The New Jim Crow. It's a great historical analysis of how we've reached the brink of embracing oligarchy.
  • Jim Kuhlman
    June 23, 2017
    Enlightening. Frightening.
  • Ginger Griffin
    June 30, 2017
    You can make a good living telling billionaires what they want to hear, judging by the large number of (well-staffed) foundations, think tanks, and institutes the mega-rich have founded in the past few decades. So where did this foundation-building complex begin? This book's author credibly traces it back to James M. Buchanan, an economist who was teaching at the University of Virginia in the early 1950s. Buchanan, a southerner by birth and choice, was outraged by the Supreme Court's decision in You can make a good living telling billionaires what they want to hear, judging by the large number of (well-staffed) foundations, think tanks, and institutes the mega-rich have founded in the past few decades. So where did this foundation-building complex begin? This book's author credibly traces it back to James M. Buchanan, an economist who was teaching at the University of Virginia in the early 1950s. Buchanan, a southerner by birth and choice, was outraged by the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. So he founded a proto-think tank at UVA to battle what he saw as government intrusion into "personal liberty" (as in, the liberty to discriminate). Drawing on the pre-Civil War writings of John C. Calhoun, perhaps the South's most radical defender of slave-holding, Buchanan attacked government (especially federal government) with arguments that would now be characterized as libertarian. In particular -- recognizing that government's power depended on its ability to tax -- he condemned taxation as an illegitimate incursion on individual freedom. Buchanan eventually attracted the attention of rich patrons on the far right, who at the time were stuck supporting organizations like the John Birch Society, for lack of anything better. Buchanan's academic approach gave them a less buffoonish option. Over time (and with the infusion of corporate money), the right's thought leaders dropped their overt racism and gained more mainstream support for their "free market" agenda. But they have yet to claim the ultimate prize -- ending Social Security and Medicare. That's leading some of them to consider a more radical option: opposing (and seeking to undermine) the democratic process. They reason that the majority of people will never vote to end their own benefits, so major systemic changes are needed. Some appear to be angling for a constitutional convention to re-write the rules in their favor.
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  • Carl
    June 29, 2017
    Worst book I've read in ages. So completely filled with inaccuracies, misquotations and mischaracterizations that it can't possibly be accidental. Nothing but purposeful and untruthful character assassination.
  • David Bernstein
    June 29, 2017
    This is a terrible, poorly sourced book full of misstatements, distortions, and things that are simply made up. It's hard to belief it was written by a prominent historian.
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