• Democracy in Chains

  • The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
  • By: Nancy MacLean
  • Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
  • Length: 11 hrs and 32 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (1,565 ratings)

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Democracy in Chains

By: Nancy MacLean
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
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Publisher's summary

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 multiarmed 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 10 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 20th-century American self-government.

©2017 Nancy MacLean (P)2017 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic reviews

"[A] remarkably important book...this book is a superb contribution to our understanding of the rise of libertarian notions and right-wing political power in the US. If you wonder how the Supreme Court came to define speech as money or corporations as people, this volume will help you to figure it out.... The melting ice caps, if nothing else, stand as testament to the folly of listening mainly to the rich and powerful." (Bill McKibben, The Times Literary Supplement)

"Democracy in Chains leaves me with hope: Perhaps as books like MacLean’s continue to shine a light on important truths, Americans will begin to realize they need to pay more attention and not succumb to the cynical view that known liars make the best leaders." (New York Times Book 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)