Democracy in Chains

Democracy in Chains

The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

Book - 2017
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Penguin Putnam
Winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Finalist for the National Book Award
The Nation's "Most Valuable Book"

“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right.”The Atlantic

“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be.”NPR
An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, stop action on climate change, and alter the Constitution.

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.

Baker & Taylor
A scholarly exposé of the ideas of Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan and multibillionaire Charles Koch explores their role in the radical right's six-decade campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education and minimize restrictions on the wealthy.

& Taylor

A scholarly exposâe of the ideas of political economist James McGill Buchanan and multibillionaire Charles Koch explores their role in the radical right's six-decade campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and minimize restrictions on the wealthy.

Publisher: New York, New York :, Viking,, [2017]
ISBN: 9781101980965
Characteristics: xxxii, 334 pages ; 24 cm


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Feb 12, 2019

People who like Ayn Rand and think her novels are cool should consider reading Democracy in Chains. It remains to be seen whether it will change minds or not but it shows a different side of the libertarian philosophy both historically and in practice. The book is largely a general critique of right wing ideology in current American politics. Charles Koch has a few cameos. But the book largely focuses on economist James M Buchanan. For the uninitiated his exploits are many, including receiving the Nobel prize in economics, helping to set up the George Mason economics program, serving as a member of Cato and apparently helping Pinochet write Chile's new constitution -- Buchanan's contributions purportedly ensures that those in power and / or with money will retain it. There's a whole lot of Buchanan here. His dream of creating libertarian utopia in America while in league will people like the Kochs are thoroughly detailed. It's gnarly stuff. Liberals will like it. Conservatives not so much. It may be a little easier reading than Jane Mayer's "Dark Money", which is also recommended. It might even be worth reading that book first. They are companions of a sort. Democracy in Chains is highly recommended particularly for the casual libertarian.

Feb 05, 2019

I found Nancy MacLean's account of the radical libertarian right's history and growth in America fascinating, well documented, clearly written (for the most part), and troubling...even if a bit too strident in tone at times. Anyone who values rule "of the people, by the people, and for the people" would do well to read this book and reflect deeply on the author's thesis that a well organized and well financed "fifth column" of "relatively small numbers of radical-right billionaires and millionaires" are on a long-term mission "to ensure the supremacy of capital" over popular democracy. MacLean names many influential persons in this history, but focuses mainly her opinion...the two main architects of the movement: the economist James M. Buchanan and the billionaire Charles G. Koch. I personally found MacLean's account engrossing, persuasive, and deeply troubling.

Sep 17, 2018

This explains things better than Hillbilly Elegy does.

Jul 11, 2018

A year earlier, Hendrick had attended the conference at Albany that framed the Articles of Union of 1754.[8] For both military and philosophical reasons, Hendrick should be considered one of the founders of the United States.

During the decade between Canassatego's admonition of unity and the Albany Congress, tension between England and France intensified. News of George Washington's defeat at Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania reached the colonists during the Albany Congress, shattering English prestige in North America, and making alliance with the Iroquois all the more necessary as the stormclouds of the Seven Year's War began to form on the horizon. French expansion into the Ohio country had to be thwarted.

All diplomatic roads during this decade seem to lead ultimately to Albany.[9] Even before the Albany Conference, Benjamin Franklin had been musing over the words of Canassatego.[10] Using Iroquois examples of unity, Franklin sought to shame the reluctant colonists into some form of union in 1751 when he engaged in a hyperbolic racial slur (actually subsequent evidence will show that Franklin had a healthy respect for the Iroquois):

It would be a strange thing . . . if Six Nations of Ignorant savages should be capable of forming such an union and be able to execute it in such a manner that it has subsisted for ages and appears indissoluble, and yet that a like union should be impractical for ten or a dozen English colonies, to whom it is more necessary and must be more advantageous, and who cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their interest. [11]
Franklin also wrote of "the Great Council" at "Onondago" in this letter and how the Six Nations educated their men in "what was the best manner."[13] Clearly, Franklin was fascinated by Native American ideas and customs by the 1750s.

In October of 1753, Franklin, early in a distinguished diplomatic career that would later make him the United States' premier envoy in Europe, attended a treaty council at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. At this treaty with the Iroquois and Ohio Indians (Twightees, Delawares, Shawnees and Wyandots), Franklin absorbed the rich imagery and ideas of the Six Nations at close range. On October 1, 1753, he watched the Oneida chief, Scarrooyady, and a Mohawk, Cayanguileguoa, condole the Ohio Indians for their losses against the French. Franklin listened while Scarrooyady recounted the origins of the Great Law to the Ohio Indians (see figure 12):

We must let you know, that there was a friendship established by our and your Grandfathers, and a mutual Council fire was kindled. In this friendship all those then under the ground, who had not yet obtained eyes or faces (that is, those unborn) were included; and it was then mutually promised to tell the same to their children and children's children. [14]

Having condoled the Ohio Indians, Scarrooyady exhorted the assembled Indians to "preserve this Union and Friendship, which has so long and happy continued among us. Let us keep the chain from rusting."[15]

Note: Walter Golden the note taker of the 1774 Governors' Meeting ( NY, Pennsylvania, Delaware, & Virginia ) who had brought them to Pennsylvania for Ben Franklin to print ..who like the idea & 10 yrs. later called it the Albany Plan of Union & he asked Hendrick Mohawk to preside...)course the British had a spy who wrote to the king in 1754)so out of this came the Continental Congress which was the FIRST TREATY with the USA which is recorded by the 1776 Wampum...which enraged George Washington & was recorded by a guy named Morgan whose field note are in the Pennsylvania U museum..those missing pages were given to Dennis Banks who contacted Oren Lyons faith keeper of the Iroquois League.

more on 1744 Pennsylvania meeting:

May 06, 2018

This book should be required reading in any democracy, is that what we have here in the land of the free? This is not a book of opinions and anecdotal stories, it illustrates the systematic (ongoing) destruction of the Democratic state. It is a powerful read.

BTW, the comment by DonnaMeness has absolutely nothing to do with the book by Nancy Maclean.

May 03, 2018

An engaging history of how and why radical libertarian ideas have made their way into mainstream American politics. The book's central thesis, that these ideas (absolute economic liberty for individuals, to the detriment of collective security) could never gain majority support in the U.S., and thus their promulgators seek somewhat covert ways to advance them, is persuasive.

Apr 15, 2018

[I'm afraid I find Prof. Maclean to be rather bipolar; I agree with her criticisms of the rightwinger types, but she embraces Bill Clinton and the other faux crats or D.I.N.O.s - - suffice it to say that it was Peter G. Peterson's Blackstone Group which gave office space to Clinton in his first presidential run and was a major donor to his campaign, and Peterson is the dude who wanted to do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, offshore all American jobs and worship the WTO's Financial Services Agreement, et cetera - - if one is against the r-cons for this, one shouldn't embrace the dems who push the same thing - - remember, Clinton was all set to give a // privatize Social Security \\ speech and sign an executive order to that effect, but on the morning of that speech, the Monica Lewinski scandal broke!]
There are usually two routes taken when one presents a thesis: [1] all the available information is gathered, studied and hopefully comprehended, then a thesis is put forward accordingly; and, [2] one is enamored with a particular thesis, then cherry picks that information which they believe will support their cherished thesis.
Sadly, Prof. MacLean opts for the second way.

Yes, the University of Chicago boys founded the Mont Pelerin Society [a rather obscure outfit, I'd admit], but it is of some importance to understand the years of Rockefeller financing behind the University of Chicago, especially their economics, law and business faculties [both Scalia and Obama had positions there, did they not???].
The professor leaves some very important facts out, facts which might skew or alter her thesis. LBJ was in one hundred percent alignment with the bankers and provided them with the necessary tools for eventually establishing a global banking cartel; Jimmy Carter's overturning of federal anti-usury laws and regulations was equivalent to that magic phrase which opened Ali Babba's secret cave; although every president from Carter to the present has had a hand in the dismantling of the New Deal, her darling Bill Clinton did the most to destroy it!
Here in Washington state it is the democratic state legislators pushing for toll roads [privatization of roads - - part of A.L.E.C. and the Koch brothers' agenda] and it was the democratic governor, Jay Inslee, who allowed charter schools legislation to pass [again, part of the Koch brothers agenda].
Every administration from at least FDR to Obama, including all republican administrations, contained either a Rockefeller, or multiple Rockefeller family representatives. I believe it was President Truman's wife who was a Rockefeller family counsin? When so-called liberal appointee to that sequestration committee by President Obama [Erskine Bowles] rushed out to blame everything on Social Security [????] after we had just experienced the greatest wealth transfer in history from the global economic meltdown, I was not surprised, knowing that he made his big bucks in between political appointments thanks to Rockefeller family connections [Henry Kissinger]. MacLean claims that members of the liberal establishment founded the Trilateral Commission - - so she believes David Rockefeller to be a liberal?!?!?!?
George Gilder [trickle down economics], so famous and popular during the Reagan Administration, was the adopted son of David Rockefeller - - another of those pesky facts the PuppetMedia somehow neglected to mention all that time?!?!?
As the economist, E. Ray Canterbery said . . . it's all about inflating financial assets!

Mar 29, 2018

OMG! If there is one book to read about current politics this is the ONE. If you want to understand the conservative libertarian strategy to bring Democracy down this is the book. She does a great job at simple explanations and gives many insights on how we have in the past and can continue to keep this movement from handing democracy to an oligarchy. It is not a conspiracy. All of her points are clear and easy to follow.

Feb 23, 2018

The below comment is not aging well, is it?

Nov 03, 2017

interesting research, but too much left wing bias for my liking

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