Libertarian Republicans Powered by Billionaire Money Plan to Undo Gains of Last 100 Years

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler depicting corporate power in the Gilded Age

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Nancy MacLean on her new book “Democracy in Chains”

A lot of books have tried to explain the rise of conservative power that poses a direct challenge to the reforms that came about under the New Deal, the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the Great Society.

In her new book, a Duke University professor reveals a little known conservative think tank that had its beginnings on the University of Virginia campus. With help from one of the Koch brothers, the think tank helped reframe the debate over the role of business, government and individuals.

The book is “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Plan for America”.

The author is Nancy MacLean. She’s the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. Her previous book is “Freedom is Not Enough.” Host Rob Lorei interviewed her about her new book.

To listen back to this interview from Thursday, June 15, 2017 click here.


  • Liberty5

    Too bad that most of her data is flawed. John C. Calhoun was a Democrat who believed in “positive slavery” instead of the Founder’s idea that slavery was evil and must eventually be abolished. Libertarians come out of William Lloyd Garrison and the American Abolitionist movement, the concept of self-ownership, free choice and non-aggression. So how can Nancy MacLean say that classical liberalism, abolitionism and libertarianism rose from pro-slavery Democrats? The data is flawed or she has done very little research.

  • DavidBernstein

    If you actually want to read a history of the libertarian movement by someone who know what he’s talking about, read Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty. If you want historical fiction, this will do.

    • SADouglas

      Ah, the neutral scholar, author of a Ron Paul hagiography…

      • DavidBernstein

        He doesn’t pass over embarrassing aspects of libertarian history; as for Rothbard, he wasn’t a libertarian in 1948, he just hated his Communist relatives and wanted to piss them off. But Rothbard did many strange things in his life. As for Friedman, he advised governments around the world, including Communist China. He gave all of them economic advice, in the hope that it would bring prosperity, not to make a political statement. Surely you don’t think Friedman admired Communist China? The Chile thing is one of the weirdest obsessions of the modern left, why is any association with Chile worse than all the many admired leftists who shilled for the Stalinist USSR, North Vietnam, Maoist China, East Germany, and so on? As for Merwin Hart, he’s only mentioned very briefly twice in the book, with a footnote describing a fellow libertarian “flaying” Hart for his anti-Semitism. Anyway, if you are really interested in the history of libertarianism, you should read Doherty’s book. If you are only interested in confirming your preexisting biases, stick with MacLean.

        • SADouglas

          my favorite argument from the purveyors of ideological bias such as yourself, national mouthpiece that you are, is that others need to check their bias! Give an account of the influence of those “lefty” “shills” you implicate. And isn’t Chile an acknowledged “laboratory” for political/economic ideals espoused by Friedman and Buchanan?

          • DavidBernstein

            No. Chile is an example of how reasonably sane economic policy works better than, say, the policies of contemporary Venezuela. Chile, however, hasn’t adopted anything close to what Friedman and Buchanan would advocate.

  • jmillsintacoma

    It’s very insightful to observe that the conservatives have never wanted a small government, but rather a government big enough and powerful enough to make the world safe for big business and to spread conservative social values by force if necessary. Conservatives who are honest will admit this without hesitation.

    It’s also true, as observed by Ms. MacLean, that some libertarians – including the Kochs – have allied with conservatives, but there’s a great difference between libertarians and conservatives.

    Libertarians are interested in expanding both social freedom and economic freedoms. In that regard, libertarians tend to ally with progressives (to spread social freedoms like same-sex marriage, anti-war activity – including abolition of the draft, and and end to the War on Drugs); libertarians also ally sometimes ostensibly with conservatives to spread economic liberty – including lower taxes and business regulations.

    Practically, the libertarians have been more successful in spreading social freedoms than on lowering overall taxes and business regulation. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. Marijuana laws are on the decline, and the draft is ancient history – meaning that alliances with “the left” have been fairly successful. But, tax burdens have generally gone up, and business regulation is proceeding to grow.

    One of the reasons is that, while libertarians are often drawn to conservatives because of the conservatives’ rhetoric about “small government,” conservatives really aren’t much interested in small government even respecting taxes and business regulation. Truth be told, the history of political conservatism is one of crafting business-government alliances in what libertarians easily recognize as “crony-capitalism.” They often want lower taxes, but realistically, lower taxes on the rich – hence, for example, Steve Forbes’ interest in a “flat tax” that would subject the rich and poor alike to the same tax rate; it’s why conservatives champion so-called “right to work” laws that bar the right to freely contract with unions. Conservatives rarely are interested in any tax relief or business freedom for the poor, middle class, or small businessman.

    Because of that, libertarians who ally with conservatives have – for the most part – been wholly unsuccessful in expanding economic freedom by their alliance with conservatives. Some libertarians – like Ron Paul – get elected as Republicans, but then are wholly unable to pass any significant legislation because conservatives (who dominate the R party) just don’t share the policy prescriptions of libertarians.

    So, while it may be true that Koch and other libertarians are currently working with conservatives, it isn’t an alliance that works to accomplish much of anything libertarians want to achieve. If they have a “stealth plan,” it isn’t working very effectively to expand liberty.

    • JCL154

      As far as Libertarian philosophy you have hit the nail on the head.

      You either missed a bit on conservatives, or we disagree on who is a conservative. (Paul Ryan, McConnell, McCain, Graham, Rubio, Hatch etc. are NOT conservatives.)

      George Washington said: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.” That came to life for me when the US Supreme Court ruled a town could take a persons land and give it to a business, because the business would generate more tax revenue than the rightful owner of the land. What kind of miserable bastard would do that?

      • jmillsintacoma

        I think you are referencing the Kelo decision, which actually was somewhat different than an endorsement of what happened.

        The court, in a decision that hearkens back to Marbury v. Madison, said that, on some topics, the legislature gets to decide, and if you are unhappy, elect different people to office. It is a decision, like Marbury, that tells us the Supreme Court won’t put it’s authority on the line every time the legislature makes a bad decision, and basically “don’t come here expecting us to fix all problems caused by crappy legislators.”

        Conservatism – at its core – is a philosophy grounded in the idea that things long existing are entitled to respect on account of their long history of application to society. Thus, conservatives believe in conserving what exists and conservatives, are philosophically resistant to change. It’s why conservatives believe in deploying the power of government to fight many ideas that seek to change society – communism, same-sex marriage, unrestricted drug use, and a host of other things. The belief that change is to be resisted, gives conservatives the “green light” to deploy the force of the state to resist change. And, conservatives regularly deploy the state’s force to make the world safe for big business and to compel compliance with long-standing social norms.

        • JCL154

          The definition of Conservatism cited is unknown to me, and most conservatives do not fight any change to society, which is implied. They fight changes to the Constitution, which are numerous.

          In Kelo the court ruled: “Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded—i. e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public—in the process.”

          In Kelo it was the Conservatives who dissented (Scalia & Thomas) and moderate Sandra Day O’Conner joined. The opinion was written by liberal Justice Stevens.

          In 1852, Supreme Ct Justice J Story wrote, “The sacred rights of property are to be guarded at every point. I call them sacred, because, if they are unprotected, all other rights become worthless…”

          • jmillsintacoma

            OK, what you quote is from Justice O’Conner’s dissenting opinion. The majority opinion says:

            “Just as we decline to second-guess the City’s considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan, we also decline to second-guess the City’s determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project. “It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area. Once the question of the public purpose has been decided, the amount and character of land to be taken for the project and the need for a particular tract to complete the integrated plan rests in the discretion of the legislative branch.” Berman, 348 U.S., at 35—36.”

            It’s basically a deference to the New London council’s determination about public use, and essentially basically saying “go elect better people.”

            Justice O’Conner may, of course, be right, but the point is that this is a court declining to engage in “judicial activism,” and deferring to the legislative body making a decision. Supporters of private property rights may feel it’s an abdication of the court’s proper function, but there is a whole body of law involving the courts declining to intervene in matters. Basically, they decline to intervene (whether they say this or not) because the other three branches of government have their role to play.

            As to conservatism, I suppose there are as many definitions as there are claimed adherents to the label, but I think my description is generally accurate. Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

            a : disposition in politics to preserve what is established

            b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change;

            3: the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

            It is basically a commitment to “conserve” values, much like “conservationists” aim to preserve or conserve the environment in its existing form.

            It was the conservatives on the court who dissented, opting for a view of the law more in line with traditional private property values, but it shows the schizophrenia kind of built into conservatism, which really wanted an activist court to jump in and overrule the legislature – which conservatives do a lot.

            It means that conservatives don’t really want a small government, but one powerful enough and big enough to make sure the riff-raff or the mob don’t take over society. They very typically deploy the power of the state to protect the successful and well-connected in society believing that most change is just probably not a good idea.

            But, I admit, some people who self-identify as conservatives don’t share that outlook.

  • I Love Libertarians

    The book is a lie.

    Libertarians originated the civil rights laws, and the head of the Libertarian International, which is pushing the largest pro-democracy effort in history and as a young man helped conceive and bring direct democracy to Florida, a guy who had MLKJr and people like Loving and Bette Winbish at work in his living room, who founded the Libertarian Party Florida, lives right there in Tampa area. He has been on WMNF talking about election fairness, so it’s not like you can’t find him.

    Why don’t you interview him instead of smearing Libertarians, WMNF?