MacLean, Nancy, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2017. xxxiv + 334 pages. $28.00.
Nancy MacLean has a well-earned reputation as an upstanding, influential labor historian; indeed, she is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Her previous publications are respected by all who are interested in leftist history and politics: her Behind the Mask of Chivalry provides a seminal look at the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan, and Freedom is Not Enough explores her theory that the civil rights movement also changed the workplace into an environment of celebrated inclusion. Thus, one would expect her newest work, Democracy in Chains, to make similar contributions to the historiography by exploring the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan's Public Choice Theory and his influence on the "radical right."
MacLean brilliantly researched Buchanan's papers by sifting through his office at George Mason University and exploring the influences that helped him form his political and economic outlook. MacLean writes that this was completely serendipitous; she was originally trying to craft a narrative on school vouchers in Virginia. However, upon entering his office, MacLean found papers outlining one of the most far reaching policy agendas of the modern political right. It can only be fair to say that Maclean found her ground zero on his desk.
What she discovered, and what she thoroughly presents throughout the book, is the formulation of Buchanan's Public Choice Theory and how Buchanan then ensured its silent, yet central position in the policies of the Libertarian "radical right." This theory, which she loosely traces back to John C. Calhoun's racist ideals of States' Rights, is now the central theory of such institutions as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and Koch Industries, among others. In fact she alludes, through the prologue's title, to John C. Calhoun as
"the Marx of the Master Class." MacLean then sets forward an interesting suggestion that Buchanan's theory drew on the foundations set by Calhoun and affected policy as far as Pinochet's Chile. The author also draws from Buchanan's papers and his dealings with the Koch Brothers to argue that Buchanan was the architect of what we see as conservative politics today. She also takes pains to point out that Buchanan also knew that...