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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  3,514 ratings  ·  722 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 334 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Viking
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Andrew James Devereaux literally none of the citations from that review are from the left, they are all from libertarians and other acolytes of Buchanan.

James Devereaux literally none of the citations from that review are from the left, they are all from libertarians and other acolytes of Buchanan.

Jerrod the Vox article you linked is the only "unaffiliated" criticism I've seen. They raise some good points and call into question the evidence showing overt coordination between Koch/Buchanan. Imo, even if all of their points hold, MacLean's book is still a helpful examination of public choice economics as well as Koch's terrifying efforts to destroy our government.(less)

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Start your review of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
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
Michael Finocchiaro
Terrifying in that the predictions MacLean makes in her conclusion are literally the policy of Drumpf and the deplorable Republican Party. Reading it gave me a feeling of hopelessness.

I read this after first reading Joshua Green's Devil's Bargain about how Bannon and Breitbart used right-wing propaganda and big data from Cambridge Analytica to swing the election to Drumpf as well as Frances FitzGerald's masterful The Evangelists about the fundamentalist movements on the religious right. I felt t
Carla Bayha
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Written in response to the radical right’s recent rise to power, Democracy in Chains convincingly argues that Koch-funded libertarian extremists have hijacked the Republican Party and now seek nothing less than the establishment of oligarchy in America. Across twelve chapters Nancy MacLean traces the history of the once-fringe libertarian movement, which aims to privatize most public services and frames the nation’s white elite as a minority class oppressed by hordes of lazy “takers.” MacLean’s ...more
Pedro Jorge
Given its current rating, I think it's important that people take these critical reviews into consideration:

Here's Michael Munger's essay on this book:

Here's Daniel Mitchell's very lucid review of the book:

And here's another one, by David Henderson:

Also, David Gordon at the Mises Institute:

Also, just out from Horwitz at the Cato Institute
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
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. ...more
Ryan Hazen
Jul 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
A general rule of thumb when dealing with political literature is that if the title contains words like evil, radical, destruction, stealth, or other emotionally charged language... than chances are you're reading clickbait that looks to make money by pandering to a certain group.

Normally, these works are written (or ghost written) by pundits/commentators who are known for being partisan hacks that make a living by telling like minded individuals what to think and what to be outraged over. Basi
Ginger Griffin
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Abraham Arslan
Jun 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
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.
Michael Perkins
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The disaster we face didn't happen overnight, of course. The Koch Brothers created and sought to perpetrate the male, white oligarchy though various means. For example, they were the behind-the- scenes creators of the Tea Party movement, but had to admit that it got away from them, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice; as has everything else that has gone awry resulting in Trump.


The system described here is straight out of the Koch Brothers playbook....
Thomas Ray
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
George Monbiot reviews Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean: The Guardian, July 19, 2017:

James M. Buchanan in The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan advocates totalitarianism in defense of the freedom of the rich to do what they will, at the expense of everyone else. "Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a th
Nathan Byrd
Jun 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
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:

[Edited to add]:

For those who don't give credibility to any libertarian who objects, read this one first:

It shouldn't matter who is giving a critique if the critique is valid, but for those who can't see it that way, this may help clarify what's going on.

[/End of edit]

Russ Roberts - Nancy MacLean Owes Tyler Co
David Bernstein
Jun 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The only book I've read that offers a convincing and comprehensive answer to the question, what kind of government are people like the Koch Brothers, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, et al., aiming for?

MacLean demonstrates that talk of "small government" is misleading. What they envision has less to do with size than it does with responsiveness--will numerical majorities of voters get to have a voice in making and changing the laws and policies that affect them? Or will the very wealthy have a permanent ve
Jun 29, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
This book is fascinating, and totally worth reading. It deserves a real review, but, for now, I'll just communicate my feelings in GIF form.
Philip Mckenzie
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an important and well researched book that explains how conservatives/right seek to impose their vision of absolute property rights and minority rule on most institutions in this country. Despite the attempts to discredit the author and her scholarship I would dismiss those but it does demonstrate the concerted effort by the right to push back against all threats. A must read!!
Jul 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book is the leftist equivalent of Alex Jones writing a book. The central theme in the book is that of a vast right wing conspiracy... Reminds you something?

The most insulting part for me personally is the stupid reasoning the author uses to attack others on majoritarianism and democracy. Evidently, the author prefers mob rule, and by her logic, she probably would have liked the majority to decide on slavery, she probably would have liked the majority to decide on racial segregation... or ga
Christopher Saunders
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019-reads
Disappointing would-be expose of right-libertarian ideology, whose simplistic analyses obscure more than they reveal. MacLean, ordinarily a perceptive historian, seems married to a bizarre thesis: that James M. Buchanan, a far-right economist associated with the Virginia School, was the godfather of modern conservatism. MacLean shows us, at least, that Buchanan was a man of some import, with his fingers in a lot of pies: the massive resistance to desegregation in 1950s Virginia, consultancies wi ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Whoa, from the number of one-star ratings here, I think this book struck a nerve somewhere. Well, be that as it may, I found it fascinating. As I read, the mantra in my head was "ideas have consequences". In this case, it is not one idea, but a body of ideas which make up a theory of governance: libertarianism, or more recently, neoliberalism. The author, who teaches history and public policy at Duke University, traces the modern incarnation of these ideas back to one influential, Nobel-prize-wi ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Michael Miley
This is an extraordinarily relevant study of a powerful tendency within contemporary U.S. politics. Aligned to the biography of Nobel Prize winning 'Neo-liberal' economist James M. Buchanan, this book gives the history of that radical right-wing libertarianism which would abolish government except for its war-making and policing functions, a movement which today is substantially funded by the Koch brothers but whose ideology can be traced back to the work of Buchanan in original alliance with th ...more
Charles Brairthwaite
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Micheal Munger is an economist and former department chair of political science at Duke University (from 2000-2010)that teaches economics and public policy, he is also a member of the Libertarian Party and affiliated with the Cato Institute (formerly the Charles Koch Foundation). The Independent Institute (according to Source Watch-The Center for Media and Democracy) is primarily “part of the libertarian think tank phenomenon” and in itself is affiliated with the Center for the Study of Public C ...more
Lisa Reads & Reviews
Everyone should read Democracy in Chains. If the political climate has your head spinning, MacLean reveals the Libertarian strategy that makes sense. The GOP is no longer the party of Reagan, or Bush. They were losing the popularity war, as shown by Obama's victory. Now they shamefully embrace a strategy to sabotage the system so they will not require mass approval. Their allegiance to the wealthy would not be popular anyway--so they blatantly lie. They cannot be shamed or held accountable by th ...more
Alan Johnson
This is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. It is very well documented. The author, who is a professor of history and public policy at Duke University, cites and quotes hundreds of books, articles, letters, and memoranda of the principal movers and shakers on the libertarian right. One of the mistakes these self-described "libertarians" made was to document everything, often in unpublished letters and memoranda that the author found in collections available at public institutions. The auth ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
I'm just going to leave here a comment from David Bernstein (without his knowledge) because he sums up very well some of the huge problems with this book:

>...For example, she devotes the entire preface to John Calhoun, whom she claims was a major influence on Buchanan and libertarianism more generally. This is false (Buchanan, for example, never cited Calhoun, despite citing many other scholars; the entirety of her support for Calhoun's influence on libertarianism is one citation to an article b
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are worried about the direction of the country and the erosion of democratic ideals in the US, you need to read this book. It begins with a little known man named James Buchanan who taught in Virginia and tried to preserve the power of the white elite in the wake of Brown vs. the Board of Education. He embarked on a mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, dividing us into the "makers and takers" the Republicans love to talk about.
The book progresses into the era of t
After asking myself over and over and over for the last few years what the heck the radical right wing is thinking, someone suggested that I look at this book. And I'm so glad that I did. It's really given me a great deal to think about - it covers the philosophy behind the Radical Right and their comprehensive plan for political and economic control. It really is stunning to see it all laid out in such detail in this book. The breadth and scope of the plan is staggering. What a tangled web they ...more
Thaddeus Weber
Jun 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
awful book. the author misrepresents most if not all the ideas of the scholars she tries to criticize. she unironically quotes economist like Keynes and John r commons while accusing Buchanan of being a racist. if you didn't know Keynes being to avoid eugenics group post ww1 and commons thought African Americans were sub human. ...more
Kauany Souza
Jul 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education – the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote.

So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains – a book that contains many, many strange claims – m
Jul 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book is nothing more than a pathetic governmental/taxpayer-funded Smear Job on Professor James M. Buchanan (Nobel Prize Winner.)

This book is NOT published by an academic publisher. So this is at best an "historical fiction".

The author herself should be ashamed. She is basically libeling each and every person she mentions in this trash book she has writen financed with governmental money.

Yes, this trash book was subsidized with your tax money...
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Nancy MacLean is the award-winning author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times “noteworthy” book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough, which was called by the Chicago Tribune “contemporary history at its best.” The William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, she lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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