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Publisher's Summary

An explosive exposé of the right's relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and change 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

Critic Reviews

"Perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government." (Booklist)

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Great companion to Dark Money

This book is a great companion to Jane Mayer's Dark Money. It looks at the Libertarian movement, its roots and contributions on economist James Buchanan and Charles Koch. Well researched, using Buchanan's personal documents. The performance is excellent, easy to listen to.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Do not expect a serious and unbiased historical account

People who want to believe that behind all of the world's problems there is always a secret group of evil men pulling strings of a master strategy, will love this book. MacLean's story is indeed entertaining, but it is not the serious historical work I was expecting. Rather, it is what Michael Munger called 'speculative historical fiction'. She clearly cherry picks bits and pieces and tries to knit together an outrageous story with easy-to-despise villains. The worst is that, in order to construct these nefarious movie characters, MacLean horribly manipulates their quotes, twisting the original meanings entirely. This is an intellectually dishonest tactic, as well as an insult to the readers and obviously to those that she misrepresent and demonize.

What bothered me the most is that MacLean usually does not grapple with the complicated philosophical challenges that cross through this story. Specially the perennial issue of balancing the will of majorities vs the rights of minorities in a democracy. Rather, she chooses to skip over any argument, and simply appeal to the currently widespread contempt for the rich, triggering an intuitive (lazy) judgement by the readers.

After listening to the book I read a review by Mike Munger, which not only delves into these points much more eloquently, but also provides a useful account of Public Choice theory. I would recommend it for anyone interested in this topic: www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=9115

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Eye Opener

Now I understand what is going on with the Republican Party. This is a must read for everyone.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Timely reading

Don’t be put off by some of the criticism of this book that challenges its historical accuracy. I have read commentary and it doesn’t hold up. Good to read opponents too to put this in perspective but does not change the fact that so called “political choice” theory is a stealth move to help the rich and powerful. This book reveals a dangerous line of thought and policy that will harm our democracy if we don’t heed this information. Also the narrator is great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Read for the 99%.

If you value the spirit of democracy be well informed. This book is very informative.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A must read if you believe in democracy

Stunning. Terrifying. Eye-opening. The revelations in this book left me both furious and energized. How an economist trying to justify school segregation in the 1950s became the brains behind today's Koch Brothers juggernaut to transform America into a repressive oligarchy is a story every citizen needs to know. Can't recommend this book more highly.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Important political book

This book helped me greatly to understand today's political climate in America writ large. I always struggled to understand what those on the right meant when they spoke of freedom, as their concept of that idea seemed to be the opposite of mine. This book helped me understand that difference. If you have a cognitive dissonance with people on the right, this book is well worth your time.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Liberty for the Rich Subsistence for the Rest

9 years after the Great Ressesion (which is really a depression) Charles Koch continues to push economic liberty. This is essentially pure, unregulated capitalism, where the enviornment, human health, the planet and ones own civil liberties are externalities that get in the way of "progress".

In the book, Charles Koch comes across as someone suffering from Asperger Syndrome. His obsessive interest in destroying democracy, liberty for himself, lack of empathy and social awkwardness all meet the classic symptoms. It certainly puts things in perspective when one considers the possibility that underlying Charles ideology and lack of compromise is a mental illness.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Important and frightening

Excellent examination of how economic idealogues funded by extremist billionaires who see mass democracy as antithetical to their personal political views have weaponized economic and legal theory and institutions in an effort to fundamentally and radically restructure public discourse and institutions. Their utopian vision is frightening in its mass disenfranchisement and lack of basic compassion and in how successful they have been in promoting policies and debate in favor of it. This is a powerful argument for political engagement and the danger to democracy of unlimited concentrated capital.

Excellent research and writting, well delivered.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Important book exposing a big problem

There are a lot of details in the first half and it can be hard to get through, but it is important to understand the roots of the cancer. The last half exposes the frightening reality that is facing us now. You could read the second half first and get the background after getting punched in the face by the truth of what is happening to our country.

6 of 11 people found this review helpful