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

Staff Pick

In this detailed history of the libertarian movement, Nancy MacLean fully justifies the lurid image of her title. Democracy in Chains (Viking, $28) chronicles a century or more of efforts by the radical right not simply to influence “who rules” but to overturn “the rules” of American government and save the wealthy minority from the “exploitative majority.” MacLean, a Duke professor of history and public policy, starts this “utterly chilling story of the intellectual origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today” in 1956 in Charlottesville, Virginia. At that point James McGill Buchanan, the Nobel economist at the center of her account, was establishing the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy at the University of Virginia. One of a number of ostensibly academic institutes and think-tanks, most funded by libertarian billionaires, the Center discouraged any open discussion of ideas and concentrated exclusively on turning “libertarian creed into a national counterrevolution.” MacLean tracks several campaigns that, while falling short of the ultimate goal, have nonetheless eroded trust in government institutions and have changed the way politics is done. Resisting the Brown decision, for instance, the state of Virginia pressed hard for the privatization of schools; one county closed its public schools for several years rather than comply with the order to integrate. But by reframing an issue of race as an issue of freedom of choice, the right opened a wider discussion of the government’s role in schools, and MacLean shows how libertarians have employed this “stealth” strategy with increasing success through the later twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Her closely-argued and passionate study loops back to John C. Calhoun and the Gilded Age for the seeds of Buchanan’s public choice theory, then shows, with the Flint water crisis, climate change denial, Scott Walker’s anti-union measures, increasing privatization of prisons, the anti-Obamacare movement, and much more, how effectively they’ve been sown.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America By Nancy MacLean Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101980965
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Viking - June 13th, 2017