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About Nancy MacLean
Nancy MacLean is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, and the award-winning author of several books. Her scholarship has received more than a dozen major prizes and awards, and has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships Foundation.
Her most recent book is Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Booklist called it “perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.” The Guardian said: “It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century.”
A New York Times bestseller, Democracy in Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Current Affairs, the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award, and the Lillian Smith Book Award. The Nation magazine named it the “Most Valuable Book” of the year.
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Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Finalist for the National Book Award
The Nation's "Most Valuable Book"
“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right.”—The Atlantic
“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be.”—NPR
An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, stop action on climate change, and alter the Constitution.
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.
In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.
Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan’s work in teaching others how to divide America into “makers” and “takers.” And when a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan’s strategy.
Without Buchanan's ideas and Koch's money, the libertarian right would not have succeeded in its stealth takeover of the Republican Party as a delivery mechanism. Now, with Mike Pence as Vice President, the cause has a longtime loyalist in the White House, not to mention a phalanx of Republicans in the House, the Senate, a majority of state governments, and the courts, all carrying out the plan. That plan includes harsher laws to undermine unions, privatizing everything from schools to health care and Social Security, and keeping as many of us as possible from voting. Based on ten years of unique research, Democracy in Chains tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok. This revelatory work of scholarship is also a call to arms to protect the achievements of twentieth-century American self-government.
On Thanksgiving night, 1915, a small band of hooded men gathered atop Stone Mountain, an imposing granite butte just outside Atlanta. With a flag fluttering in the wind beside them, a Bible open to the twelfth chapter of Romans, and a flaming cross to light the night sky above, William Joseph Simmons and his disciples proclaimed themselves the new Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, named for the infamous secret order in which many of their fathers had served after the Civil War. Unsure of their footing in the New South and longing for the provincial, patriarchal world of the past, the men of the second Klan saw themselves as an army in training for a war between the races. They boasted that they had bonded into "an invisible phalanx...to stand as impregnable as a tower against every encroachment upon the white man's liberty...in the white man's country, under the white man's flag."
Behind the Mask of Chivalry brings the "invisible phalanx" into broad daylight, culling from history the names, the life stories, and the driving passions of the anonymous Klansmen beneath the white hoods and robes. Using an unusual and rich cache of internal Klan records from Athens, Georgia, to anchor her observations, author Nancy MacLean combines a fine-grained portrait of a local Klan world with a penetrating analysis of the second Klan's ideas and politics nationwide. No other right-wing movement has ever achieved as much power as the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and this book shows how and why it did. MacLean reveals that the movement mobilized its millions of American followers largely through campaigns waged over issues that today would be called "family values": Prohibition violation, premarital sex, lewd movies, anxieties about women's changing roles, and worries over waning parental authority. Neither elites nor "poor white trash," most of the Klan rank and file were married, middle-aged, and middle class. Local meetings, or klonklaves, featured readings of the minutes, plans for recruitment campaigns and Klan barbecues, and distribution of educational materials--Christ and Other Klansmen was one popular tome. Nonetheless, as mundane as proceedings often were at the local level, crusades over "morals" always operated in the service of the Klan's larger agenda of virulent racial hatred and middle-class revanchism. The men who deplored sex among young people and sought to restore the power of husbands and fathers were also sworn to reclaim the "white man's country," striving to take the vote from blacks and bar immigrants. Comparing the Klan to the European fascist movements that grew out of the crucible of the first World War, MacLean maintains that the remarkable scope and frenzy of the movement reflected less on members' power within their communities than on the challenges to that power posed by African Americans, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and white women and youth who did not obey the Klan's canon of appropriate conduct. In vigilante terror, the Klan's night riders acted out their movement's brutal determination to maintain inherited hierarchies of race, class, and gender.
Compellingly readable and impeccably researched, The Mask of Chivalry is an unforgettable investigation of a crucial era in American history, and the social conditions, cultural currents, and ordinary men that built this archetypal American reactionary movement.
In this bold and groundbreaking work, Nancy MacLean shows how African-American and later Mexican-American civil rights activists and feminists concluded that freedom alone would not suffice: access to jobs at all levels is a requisite of full citizenship. Tracing the struggle to open the American workplace to all, MacLean chronicles the cultural and political advances that have irrevocably changed our nation over the past fifty years.
Freedom Is Not Enough reveals the fundamental role jobs play in the struggle for equality. We meet the grassroots activists—rank-and-file workers, community leaders, trade unionists, advocates, lawyers—and their allies in government who fight for fair treatment, as we also witness the conservative forces that assembled to resist their demands. Weaving a powerful and memorable narrative, MacLean demonstrates the life-altering impact of the Civil Rights Act and the movement for economic advancement that it fostered.
The struggle for jobs reached far beyond the workplace to transform American culture. MacLean enables us to understand why so many came to see good jobs for all as the measure of full citizenship in a vital democracy. Opening up the workplace, she shows, opened minds and hearts to the genuine inclusion of all Americans for the first time in our nation’s history.