Max Holleran reviews 'Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan' for America by Nancy MacLean

Max Holleran reviews 'Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan' for America by Nancy MacLean

Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America

by Nancy MacLean

Scribe, $35 pb, 366 pp, 9781925322583

On 12 August 2017 a mob of neo-Nazis descended on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, chanting racial epithets while openly carrying rifles and pistols. Many of the participants were from groups that advocate not just racial supremacy but the end of the US federal government, which they see as tyrannical. This is not the first time that the University of Virginia (UVA) has been in the eye of the storm when it comes to radical movements calling for the end of national government. In the late 1950s, the libertarian economist James M. Buchanan used the university as a centre to launch an assault on Keynesian economics. From UVA and later George Mason University, also in Virginia, Buchanan trained a generation of right-wing thinkers and began amassing a war chest from affluent donors to link academia to the political interests of the super-rich through a network of think tanks. Eventually, Buchanan would command millions of dollars annually from the tsars of conservative fundraising, Charles and David Koch, particularly after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986. Buchanan, with the help of his wealthy backers, transformed the economics departments he led from staid quantitative backwaters to aggressively, and unabashedly, ideological spaces on the political frontlines. The goal of this movement was not just to demolish the welfare state but to bring down the entire federal government with it.

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Published in December 2017, no. 397
Max Holleran

Max Holleran

Max Holleran is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne. His work focuses on urban development in Europe and the United States, particularly how cities manage tourism. He has written about architectural aesthetics, post-socialist urban planning, and European Union integration for anthropology, sociology, and history journals. His work on cities and politics has also appeared in Boston Review, Public Books, Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Republic, and Slate.

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