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Democracy in Chains


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About the Author

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.


'It's the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean's new book, Democracy in Chains is to see what was previously invisible.'

-- George Monbiot * The Guardian *

'It's happening: the subversion of our democratic system from within. How did the political right do it? Nancy MacLean tells the long-overlooked story of the political economist who developed the playbook for the Koch brothers. James McGill Buchanan merged states rights' thinking with free market principles and helped to fashion the inherently elitist ideology of today's Republican Party. Professor MacLean's meticulous research and shrewd insights make this a must-read for all who believe in government 'by the people.'

-- Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: the 400-year untold history of class in America

'This book is mesmerising. Rarely have I encountered a work that speaks to such significant issues, with evidence rooted in conclusive new sources. In clear prose, MacLean reveals how a public once committed to social responsibility and egalitarian values became persuaded that only an unregulated free market could protect 'liberty' and 'choice.' Because of this, our once cherished democracy is now subject to attack. Everyone who wants to understand today's confrontational politics should read this important book, now.'

-- Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity: women, men, and the quest for economic citizenship in twentieth-century America

'How did we get to where we are today? How did corporations come to possess 'rights?' How did democracy come to be defined as selfish individualism? Or money as free speech? Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains provides the answers. It is essential reading in order to understand the ideas that billionaires use to justify their control of our political institutions. I can't imagine a more timely or urgent book.'

-- Greg Grandin, author of Fordlandia (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and The Empire of Necessity (winner of the Bancroft Prize)

'[MacLean] creates a chilling portrait of an arrogant, uncompromising, and unforgiving man ... [she] offers a cogent yet disturbing analysis of libertarians' current efforts to rewrite the social contract and manipulate citizens' beliefs ... An unsettling expose of the depth and breadth of the libertarian agenda.'

* Kirkus Reviews *

'MacLean constructs an erudite, searing portrait of how the late political economist James McGill Buchanan (1919 - 2013) and his deep-pocketed conservative allies have reshaped - and undermined - American democracy ... A thoroughly researched and gripping narrative, she exposes how Buchanan's strategies shaped trends in government in favour of 'corporate dominance' and against the welfare state ... She has delivered another deeply important book ... Her work here is a feat of American intellectual and political history.' STARRED REVIEW * Publisher's Weekly *

'For those who think the Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, and the alt-right are recent constructs, MacLean provides an extensive history lesson that traces the genesis of the right wing back to post-WWII doctrines ... A worthy companion to Jane Mayer's Dark Money, MacLean's intense and extensive examination of the right-wing's rise to power is perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.' STARRED REVIEW * Booklist *

'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 *

'[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right ... [MacLean] has dug deep into her material - not just Buchanan's voluminous, unsorted papers, but other archives, too - and she has made powerful and disturbing use of it all ... The behind-the-scenes days and works of Buchanan show how much deliberation and persistence - in the face of formidable opposition - underlie the anti-governing politics ascendant today. What we think of as dysfunction is the result of years of strategic effort.'

* The Atlantic *

'This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains ... [MacLean] takes the time to meticulously trace how we got here ... If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be ... And if someone you know isn't convinced, you have just the book to hand them.'

* NPR *

'[A] riveting, unsettling account of 'Tennessee country boy' James McGill Buchanan, key architect of today's radical right.'

* O, The Oprah Magazine *

'Clear and compelling ... timely.'

* The Sunday Post *

'A remarkable book ... Democracy in Chains is a revelation, as politics and as history.'

* Jacobin *

'Democracy in Chains should be read by every thinking person in the United States. It is disturbing, revealing, and vitally important.'

* new york journal of books *

'Nancy MacLean has done us a true and timely service.'

* New Internationalist *

'This book's importance cannot be underestimated ... powerful and disturbing.'

-- Antony Loewenstein * Weekend Australian *

'Explosive and controversial.'

* Canberra Times *

'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 realise 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 *

'[T]his book is a superb contribution to our understanding of the rise of libertarian notion and right-wing political power in the US.'

-- Bill McKibbern * TLS *

'Nancy MacLean's Democracy In Chains is a work of the utmost importance and makes a unique and outstanding contribution in understanding America, in both historic and contemporary terms. It forces us to engage with and think deeply about the use and abuse of power.'

* Economic and Labour Relations Review *

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