Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

by Nancy MacLean


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The frightening and largely unknown backstory of the radical right’s political agenda, a seven-decades-long strategy pinned to the expressed belief that freedom can survive only if the rule of the majority ends

“It is not easy to uncover the inner workings of an essentially secretive political establishment,” wrote the reviewer of Jane Mayer’s Dark Money in The New York Times. But in Democracy in Chains, the award-winning historian Nancy MacLean does what no one else—not Jane Mayer or Naomi Klein or any other talented investigator—has been able to do, parting a curtain on the radical right’s moment of creation. Billionaires didn’t create this movement; the South did. Until you understand that today’s right was forged in the crucible of Brown v. Board of Education, and that its thinkers trace their ideas back to John C. Calhoun’s defense of extreme property rights, you cannot understand the strategy and tactics of today’s Republican Party. Nor can you see that hyperpartisan politics is only one element of a multipronged stealth plan to free corporations by permanently disarming democracy.

In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, MacLean shows how Brown made the State of Virginia painfully aware that its old arguments in defense of “liberty” could no longer protect segregated schools: voting laws that excluded the many, the lowest taxes in the nation relative to wealth, and one-sided labor relations. Not only civil rights activists backed by federal courts, but also trade unionists and suburban residents bridled at the cunning rules that shored up the old order. If the majority gained power, it was doomed.

The intellectual visionary who came to the ruling elite’s aid was no one’s fool. To the contrary, James M. Buchanan, a son of the South educated at the University of Chicago, would win the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1986 for the school of thought he invented to expose government failure. What the prize judges did not know is how enmeshed Buchanan already was by that date with a long-term project to revolutionize American politics. Guided by Buchanan’s ideas, the billionaire Charles Koch and his allied donors have built a vast apparatus to impose on twentieth-first-century America a version of liberty stamped by Calhoun and his admirers, the oligarchic, segregated South.

Based on ten years of research and unique access to Buchanan’s archives, Democracy in Chains provides the missing piece to the puzzle of what is happening to American politics, the piece that explains it all. A magisterial work of scholarship, this is also a call to arms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101980965
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 135,843
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Nancy Maclean, William Chafe Professor of History at Duke, is a leading historian of American public life, who has a knack for conveying the social history of ideas and has had a long career as an activist-scholar. Behind the Mask of Chivalry was a New York Times "noteworthy" book  of the year and won three prizes. Freedom is Not Enough won seven awards in legal history, labor history, southern studies, social science history, industrial relations, and human rights among them.

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Copyright © 2018 Nancy MacLean.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Quiet Deal in Dixie xv

Prologue: The Marx of the Master Class 1

Chapter 1 There Was No Stopping Us 13

Part I The Ideas Take Shape

Chapter 2 A Country Boy Goes to the Windy City 29

Chapter 3 The Real Purpose of the Program 45

Chapter 4 Letting the Chips Fall Where They May 61

Chapter 5 To Protect Capitalism from Government 74

Chapter 6 A Counterrevolution Takes Time 88

Chapter 7 A World Gone Mad 102

Part II Ideas In Action

Chapter 8 Large Things Can Start from Small Beginnings 115

Chapter 9 Never Compromise 127

Chapter 10 A Constitution with Locks and Bolts 154

Chapter 11 Democracy Defeats the Doctrine 169

Chapter 12 The Kind of Force That Propelled Columbus 190

Part III The Fallout

Conclusion: Get Ready 207

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 241

Bibliography 303

Index 323

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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maclean has certainly done her homework. She has uncovered the wretched and deplorable work of Charles Koch to undermine the Constitution of the United States of America. You will meet the enemy in the pages of Democracy In Chains.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
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, with regard to taxes at least, 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 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 would of course 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.”
Chicago_Reader More than 1 year ago
MacLean is a scrupulous, penetrating researcher and elegant writer, as always. She proves herself a judicious, sympathetic writer to all her subjects. Read this book to better understand the past few decades, the present, and, no doubt, the next few years. Her story goes beyond the Souther Strategy, the contentious rise of the John Birchers, and other more widely understood ways that the Republican Party made itself. She tells a far more subtle and wide-ranging story, the rise of "starve the beast" economic Libertarianism as a cornerstone of American conservatism. Brava!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is another definite wake-up call to the right-wing agenda. I recommend reading this in conjunction with "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer. This latest work exposes the radical anti-democracy agenda of the super rich. You would think that the lessons taught from the Gilded Age's slide to the Great Depression and the horrific financial consequences that beset our country during the 1930's would have been a lesson to them. Not so. These few incredibly wealthy oligarchs profess liberty and freedom, but not for individuals like you and me. Rather, they see liberty in terms of their self-serving economic advancement. Their belief in unfettered free markets, with their opposition to anyone and anything that impedes their financial bottom line is well-documented in this book. These men--and very few women--use their wealth to buy politicians who advocate for their economic liberty with no concern for the means to their end. If workers are to suffer, it's all for the greater good of free markets. They seek to operate in anonymity; however, with books such as this, and with more and more reporters investigating their activities, it is hoped that the disinfectant effects of sunlight will educate the masses to the con game that is being played.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found and read this book after reading Dinesh D'Souza's book entitled The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left. I like to get both sides of the story. What the reader mainly gets with Democracy in Chains is the story of a man named James Buchanan, a libertarian who, early in his career worked closely with numerous Democrats in Virginia to keep segregation alive. The author names many of those he worked with, but fails to enlighten the reader of much background of those who we're on his side. While telling the deeds of Buchanan, it is inevitable that the book gets to discussing Charles Koch, their work together, and Koch's work since. Though the author did do a lot of research, I found the book to be a bit long winded and quite presumptuous. To the author's credit the title does use the word "radical", which the reader needs to keep in mind while reading. I would suggest to anyone who reads this book to look at the other side of the coin, go ahead and read the aforementioned book by Dinesh D'Souza. Be a well informed individual and make up your own mind. Keep reading folks, and I wish you well.
growingoldoffensively 6 months ago
Almost stopped reading the book. First chapters of the book told me far more than I ever wanted to know about James M. Buchananan, his biography, his philosophy, and his associates. The last 2/3 of the explained totally why it was so important. From there on it is superlatives only. Author's research is meticulous - and I never thought I'd say this - almost overwhelming. There's no doubt. Nancy MacClean makes her case and it should scare the daylights out of every voter. Highly recommend reading Democracy in Chains in conjunction with American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Dark Money by Jane Mayer.