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

Finalist, National Book Awards 2017 for Nonfiction

Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean book cover
ISBN 9781101980965
Viking / Penguin Random House
Nancy MacLean author photo, credit: Bruce Orenstein
Nancy MacLean

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.” She is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University and lives in North Carolina. More about this author >

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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.

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Following the scattered paper trail of the late James M. Buchanan—a relatively obscure University of Virginia economist—historian Nancy MacLean provides a riveting story of revelations. It was Buchanan, alarmed by the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision, who provided the blueprint for the radical right’s libertarian movement financed by billionaire activists such as Charles Koch. The author’s extensive research has unearthed the movement’s stealthy—and increasingly successful—efforts to limit participatory democracy through Constitutional means.