The Anglo world especially including the US, UK and Australia, and elsewhere, have been subjected to neo classical economics, monetarist etc. theories exemplified by demands for small government, low taxation, cuts to state services, low regulation etc., with unwitting support from conservative and other voters.
Nancy MacLean in ‘Democracy in Chains’ stumbled across odd bedfellows and links to discover this movement promoting nineteenth century economic ideology and eugenics.
‘Radical Right Libertarians – MacLean
Misinforming the Majority: A Deliberate Strategy of Right-Wing Libertarians
Mark Karlin, Truthout
July 9, 2017
When and how were the seeds sown for the modern far-right’s takeover of American politics? Nancy MacLean reveals the deep and troubling roots of this secretive political establishment — and its decades-long plan to change the rules of democratic governance — in her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout now!
Many individuals who follow politics and journalists think that the right-wing playbook began with the Koch brothers. However, in her groundbreaking book, Nancy MacLean traces their political strategy to a Southern economist who created the foundation for today’s libertarian oligarchy in the 1950s.
Mark Karlin: Can you summarize the importance of James McGill Buchanan to the development of the modern extreme right wing in the United States?
Nancy MacLean: The modern extreme right wing I’m talking about, just to be clear, is the libertarian movement that now sails under the Republican flag, particularly but not only the Freedom Caucus, yet goes back to the 1950s in both parties. President Eisenhower called them “stupid” and fashioned his approach — calling it modern Republicanism — as an antidote to them. Goldwater was their first presidential candidate. He bombed. Reagan, they believed, was going to enact their agenda. He didn’t. But beginning in the early 2000s, they became a force to be reckoned with. What had changed? The discovery by their chief funder, Charles Koch, of the approach developed by James McGill Buchanan for how to take apart the liberal state.
Buchanan studied economics at the University of Chicago and belonged to the same milieu as F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises, but he used his training to analyze public life. And he supplied what no one else had: an operational strategy to vanquish the model of government they had been criticizing for decades — and prevent it from being recreated. It was Buchanan who taught Koch that for capitalism to thrive, democracy must be enchained.
Buchanan was a very smart man, the only winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics from the US South, in fact. But his life’s work was forever shaped by the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. He arrived in Virginia in 1956, just as the state’s leaders were goading the white South to fight the court’s ruling, a ruling he saw not through the lens of equal protection of the law for all citizens but rather as another wave in a rising tide of unwarranted and illegitimate federal interference in the affairs of the states that began with the New Deal. For him what was at stake was the sanctity of private property rights, with northern liberals telling southern owners how to spend their money and behave correctly. Given an institute to run on the campus of the University of Virginia, he promised to devote his academic career to understanding how the other side became so powerful and, ultimately, to figuring out an effective line of attack to break down what they had created and return to what he and the Virginia elite viewed as appropriate for America. In a nutshell, he studied the workings of the political process to figure out what was needed to deny ordinary people — white and Black — the ability to make claims on government at the expense of private property rights and the wishes of capitalists. And then he identified how to rejigger that political process not only to reverse the gains but also to prevent the system from ever reverting back.
Why, until your book, has his importance to the right wing been largely overlooked?
There are a few reasons Buchanan has been overlooked. One is that the Koch cause does not advertise his work, preferring to tout the sunnier primers of Hayek, Friedman and even Ayn Rand when recruiting. Buchanan is the advanced course, as it were, for the already committed. Another is that Buchanan did not seek the limelight like Friedman, so few on the left have even heard of him. I myself learned of him only by serendipity, in a footnote about the Virginia schools fight.
How would you draw a line connecting Buchanan to the Koch brothers?
Charles Koch supplied the money, but it was James Buchanan who supplied the ideas that made the money effective. An MIT-trained engineer, Koch in the 1960s began to read political-economic theory based on the notion that free-reign capitalism (what others might call Dickensian capitalism) would justly reward the smart and hardworking and rightly punish those who failed to take responsibility for themselves or had lesser ability. He believed then and believes now that the market is the wisest and fairest form of governance, and one that, after a bitter era of adjustment, will produce untold prosperity, even peace. But after several failures, Koch came to realize that if the majority of Americans ever truly understood the full implications of his vision of the good society and were let in on what was in store for them, they would never support it. Indeed, they would actively oppose it.
So, Koch went in search of an operational strategy — what he has called a “technology” — of revolution that could get around this hurdle. He hunted for 30 years until he found that technology in Buchanan’s thought. From Buchanan, Koch learned that for the agenda to succeed, it had to be put in place in incremental steps, what Koch calls “interrelated plays”: many distinct yet mutually reinforcing changes of the rules that govern our nation. Koch’s team used Buchanan’s ideas to devise a roadmap for a radical transformation that could be carried out largely below the radar of the people, yet legally. The plan was (and is) to act on so many ostensibly separate fronts at once that those outside the cause would not realize the revolution underway until it was too late to undo it. Examples include laws to destroy unions without saying that is the true purpose, suppressing the votes of those most likely to support active government, using privatization to alter power relations — and, to lock it all in, Buchanan’s ultimate recommendation: a “constitutional revolution.”
Today, operatives funded by the Koch donor network operate through dozens upon dozens of organizations (hundreds, if you count the state and international groups), creating the impression that they are unconnected when they are really working together — the state ones are forced to share materials as a condition of their grants. For example, here are the names of 15 of the most important Koch-funded, Buchanan-savvy organizations each with its own assignment in the division of labor: There’s Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Mercatus Center, Americans for Tax Reform, Concerned Veterans of America, the Leadership Institute, Generation Opportunity, the Institute for Justice, the Independent Institute, the Club for Growth, the Donors Trust, Freedom Partners, Judicial Watch — whoops, that’s more than 15, and it’s not counting the over 60 other organizations in the State Policy Network. This cause operates through so many ostensibly separate organizations that its architects expect the rest of us will ignore all the small but extremely significant changes that cumulatively add up to revolutionary transformation. Gesturing to this, Tyler Cowen, Buchanan’s successor at George Mason University, even titled his blog “Marginal Revolution.”
In what way was Buchanan connected to white oligarchical racism?
Buchanan came up with his approach in the crucible of the civil rights era, as the most oligarchic state elite in the South faced the loss of its accustomed power. Interestingly, he almost never wrote explicitly about racial matters, but he did identify as a proud southern “country boy” and his center gave aid to Virginia’s reactionaries on both class and race matters. His heirs at George Mason University, his last home, have noted that Buchanan’s political economy is quite like that of John C. Calhoun, the antebellum South Carolina US Senator who, until Buchanan, was America’s most original theorist of how to constrict democracy so as to safeguard the wealth and power of an elite economic minority (in Calhoun’s case, large slaveholders). Buchanan arrived in Virginia just as Calhoun’s ideas were being excavated to stop the implementation of Brown, so the kinship was more than a coincidence. His vision of the right economic constitution owes much to Calhoun, whose ideas horrified James Madison, among others……
…..Having said that, though, I also believe that panic is the last thing we need. There is great strength to be found in the simple truth that Buchanan and Koch came up with the kind of strategy now in play precisely because they knew that the majority, if fully informed, would never support what they seek. So, the best thing that those who support a robust, non-plutocratic society can do is focus on patiently informing and activating that majority. And reminding all Americans that democracy is not something you can just assume will survive: It has to be fought for time and again. This is one of those moments.’
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