How American democracy is being destroyed by powerful libertarians.
Focusing on Nobel Prize–winning economist James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013), whom Charles Koch funded and championed, MacLean (History and Public Policy/Duke Univ.; The American Women's Movement, 1945-2000: A Brief History with Documents, 2008, etc.) elaborates on the revelations about the Koch brothers’ insidious, dangerous manipulation of American politics that has been presented forcefully by Jane Mayer in Dark Money (2016) and Daniel Schulman in Sons of Wichita (2014). Based on Buchanan’s papers as well as published sources, MacLean creates a chilling portrait of an arrogant, uncompromising, and unforgiving man, stolid in his mission to “save capitalism from democracy.” To Charles Koch, he seemed a kindred spirit. Buchanan believed that growth of government undermines individual freedom. Government overreach, he maintained, included public schools, the Postal Service, prisons, labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid for the poor, guarantees of voting rights, foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the graduated income tax. Government’s only role, Buchanan and his followers believe, “is to ensure the rule of law, guarantee social order, and provide for the national defense.” MacLean traces Buchanan’s career at several universities—the last was the fledging George Mason, which the Wall Street Journal called “the Pentagon of conservative academia”—where he reigned over his own economics institutes, backed generously by wealthy libertarians; and his embrace by exclusive think tanks, such as the Mont Pelerin Society, the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, the Club for Growth, and the Heritage Foundation, among many other Koch-funded organizations. Besides influence at home, Buchanan helped design a constitution for the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a document that ensured constraint of majority power. MacLean offers a cogent yet disturbing analysis of libertarians’ current efforts to rewrite the social contract and manipulate citizens’ beliefs—e.g., by spreading “junk pseudo science” about climate change.
An unsettling exposé of the depth and breadth of the libertarian agenda.