Tuesday, January 9, 2018


BOOK REVIEW - DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS - The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy Maclean 2017

By Joel Schor
Member - Sailors Union of the Pacific S.U.P.
Also affiliated with - International Longshore and Warehouse Union ILWU - local 10

A few months ago I read Nancy Maclean’s Democracy In Chains -The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. Like Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine this book is written from a populist perspective and has been very popular amongst the progressive and liberal left.

Mclean tells of how a group of right wing intellectuals have foisted their agenda into the mainstream of economic policy in America. These radical right wing forces, Maclean’s book explains, have a long history in American politics beginning with reaction against New Deal laws in the 1930's and mandating employer recognition of unions and Civil Rights public school integration in the 60's. Mclean begins tracing the origins of far right / libertarian views entering mainstream academia at the University of Virginia UAV under an economics department chair - James Mcgill Buchanan - who came out of a legal background in Virginia politics. He worked alongside politicians and newspaper moguls who opposed the rights of workers to organize and non-whites (specifically blacks) to attend non-segregated public schools.

Buchanan developed grass roots political campaigns in Virginia to re-segregate schools in the wake of the Brown decision in the 60's. The conservative coalition that arose around the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater and eulogized the culture of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, developed themselves theoretically. They considered themselves heir to the legacy of the 1930‘s European libertarian philosopher Ludwig Von Mises and the Austrian school of economics. These theoreticians espoused free market doctrines taken up by Van Hayek in opposition to John Maynard Keynes’ monetary and fiscal policy. Also, the Chicago School of Economics under Milton Friedman came out of this libertarian movement and brought about what Naomi Klein called the "Shock Doctrine".

Margaret Thatchers attack on the coal miners in the UK, Reagan's crack-down on the air traffic control PATCO workers, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment policies all over the world beginning in Latin America in the late 1970’s and 80's, were all based on the Chicago School of economics and often made references to Von Hayek's anti-Keynesianism in their justifications. 

While coming out of the same theoretical mold as the Chicago School, Buchanan and his economics department at UAV took a more decidedly qualitative approach to put libertarianism in the mainstream. Buchanan sought to change laws and even the constitution of a nation. His economic theory of “Rent Seeking Behavior” came about where special interests take over the functions of government through excessive lobbying and pressure. While the more established, technical, and quantitatively oriented Chicago school chided Buchanan as a kind of backwater Hillbilly, they continued his membership in the Austrian Mont Pellerin society, and Friedman praised Buchanan’s work in instigating legal and structural changes which would bring about a more free market society.

Mclean traces the alt-right’s current focus on changing the judiciary in the United States to the long term strategy which Buchanan and his libertarians saw as necessary. The book goes on to explain how the Koch brothers and the Cato institute took over the mission of Buchanan's academic work in the latter 1970's by establishing an elaborate fund raising apparatus and private think tanks. They were dedicated to the overthrow of the statist world system of the twentieth century and what they called "The Establishment". 

 Mclean explains how the central theoretical figures around the Cato Institute were committed, and espoused the ideas of Lenin in building a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries to harden themselves in the coming battle for their free market society. Just as with many inspired scientists and skilled workers who were the inventors of technology used by industrial titans like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, the founding libertarian idealists of the Cato Institute were cast aside by those who controlled capital and could dispose of them as they saw fit.

The lead brother of the Koch's - Charles - found it more expedient to appeal to traditional conservative values in order to build an electoral coalition. Appealing to working class voters on the basis of religion and even the false promise of non-existent jobs in long dead industries certainly went against the tenants of a libertarian society where all should be free to choose and act on the basis of equality in condition and opportunity. This was the assembly line and operating system of these right wing politicians towards political advancement at the expense of human creativity and innovation.

Beginning with a concerted opposition to workers organizing into industrial unions in the 1930‘s the right wing think tanks organized themselves in the decades to follow. Libertarianism would not apply to capital itself as the grand elephant in the room. Other “special interest” groups must by implication tolerate the crushing influence of this elephant on their lives. Maclean explains the importance and intensity of developing ideas for the radical right in America. Why it is important for them is somewhat of an unanswered question here, but the story of how it happens is very interesting and informative.  

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