Books of 2019 – Number 6 – Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

For a few months now, I have been reading Ron Chernow’s biograpy of George Washington. It is my Kindle read, so I really only read it when I am travelling or when I wake up at night and can’t sleep. Because of that, the 818 pages of the book are taking some time to get through. I just, however, read about Washington’s inauguration, his reluctance to assume the role of President, and his continual efforts to ensure the people that their government would not turn into something outside of the democracy that so many had suffered to create.

This book is quite the juxtaposition to my sixth book of the year, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains – The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.  We are reading this one for our book club and I expect some good dialogue. Dr. MacLean is a professor of history at Duke, and her book begins in Jim Crow South. Early on it reviews the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and the measures that some communities went through to avoid the law taking effect. In parts of Virginia, it meant the shuttering of publicly funded schools from 1959 – 1964.

The book introduced me to James McGill Buchanan, a political economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on public choice economics. Buchanan’s career becomes the lens through which we see the intersection between economic theory and the billionaire capitalists who see their own success as a guarantor of the success of the country. Buchanan and his close group end up supported by the ultra-wealthy Koch family, and the mutual relationship leads to much of the neo-conservative movement that began with the Reagan Administration and continues today.

There are readers of this book who laud its content and wake-up call, and there are those who question its research and motive. What it made me recognize is that our democracy is never a guarantee. We need to pay attention. George Washington was not wrong to be nervous.