“Democracy in Chains” author to speak

Nancy MacLean focuses her scholarship on 20th-century American history, with a focus on race, gender, labor history and social movements, particularly in the South.

Interest in libertarianism, the political and economic philosophy that espouses minimal state intervention, has been growing for decades in the United States. Much of the reason that rise, writes historian Nancy MacLean, is the theories of James McGill Buchanan, a Nobel Prize-winning political economist who died in 2013. 

MacLean’s latest book, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” explores Buchanan’s work and his significant influence on billionaire Charles Koch.

She will be speaking about her book at Mount Holyoke College on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 7:15 p.m., in Gamble Auditorium. The Odyssey Bookshop will have copies of the book on hand:  MacLean has requested that, in lieu of an honorarium, audience members be given free copies while supplies last.

According to MacLean, who is the William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, Buchanan’s ideas have inspired Koch to fund a vast machine to undermine 20th- century democracy through methods such as undermining unions, privatizing schools and preventing voting.

Mount Holyoke’s Daniel Czitrom, Ford Foundation Professor of History, called MacLean “a master historian of ideas and politics” and her book “path-breaking.”

“MacLean also offers a stunning historical analysis of modern-day conservatism,” Czitrom said,  “demonstrating its close ties to the philosophy of John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century’s most ardent defender of slavery, who believed that the only legitimate function of government was to protect property.”

The Atlantic called “Democracy in Chains,” a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award, a “vibrant intellectual history of the radical right.” The Guardian described the book as “the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century.”

The award-winning MacLean’s other books are “Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan,” which was named a New York Times noteworthy book of 1994, and “Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace,” which the Chicago Tribune called, “contemporary history at its best.”

This event is co-sponsored by the departments of history and politics and the critical social thought program.