An explosive exposé of the man and the ideas behind the well-heeled right's relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatise public education, and curb democratic majority rule.
Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over US government is a secretive political establishment with deep and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. This book names its true architect — Nobel Prize–winning political economist James McGill Buchanan — and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.??
In a brilliant, engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how these ideas were forged in a last-gasp attempt to preserve the white elite's power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. By recasting the era's legal and social-movement successes, Buchanan developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the majority's ability 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 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, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan's strategy.
Based on ten years of research, this revelatory work tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok, and is a call to arms to protect the achievements of twentieth-century American self-government.
'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
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'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 favour 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)
‘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 anti-governing politics ascendant today. What we think of as dysfunction is the result of years of strategic effort.’
‘Democracy in Chains should be read by every thinking person in the United States. It is disturbing, revealing, and vitally important.’
‘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.’
‘[A] riveting, unsettling account of 'Tennessee country boy' James McGill Buchanan, key architect of today's radical right.’
O, The Oprah Magazine
‘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
‘Clear and compelling … timely.’
The Sunday Post
‘A remarkable book … Democracy in Chains is a revelation, as politics and as history.’