Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Libertarian-bashing historian Nancy MacLean accused of "getting nearly everything wrong"

To Duke Historian Nancy MacLean, Advocating Free Markets Is Something 'The World Has Never Seen Anything Like...Before' - Hit & Run : - Brian Doherty:

August 2, 2017 - "Duke University historian Nancy MacLean recently issued Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, an alas quite hot book that purports to expose the dark secrets of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan and the 'radical right'/libertarian movement he's allegedly the brains behind.

"MacLean has been convincingly accused by many who understand his work and the libertarian movement with both less built-in hostility and more actual knowledge than she has (including me here at Reason) of getting nearly everything wrong, from fact to interpretation. She recently took to the Chronicle of Higher Education to allegedly reply to her critics.

"A quick wrap up of many specific problems found in her book by her critics — by no means all — that MacLean ignores even while allegedly "respond[ing] to her critics," and which the editors at the Chronicle let her ignore:
  • Her claim of meaningful similarity between John Calhoun's constitutional vision and that of Buchanan and his public choice school cannot be reasonably maintained.
  • Her assertion that the modern public choice/libertarian constitutionalist vision has nothing to do with James Madison is not true.
  • Buchanan did not, contra MacLean, believe that all taxation above voluntary giving is theft akin to a mugger in the park.
  • She attributed to Buchanan the belief that those receiving government aid "are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to… animals who are dependent" though he used that phrase to describe the attitude that was the opposite of his.
  • Her attribution of Buchanan's use of the Hobbesian term "Leviathan" to (racist, uncoincidentally for her rhetorical smear purposes) Southern Agrarian poet Donald Davidson rather than, well, Hobbes, falls apart with study of when and how Buchanan began using the term in his work.
  •  She regularly cites libertarian thinkers as saying nasty things implying a contempt for the poor or for democracy that are not supported by the full context of the quotes; victims of her malicious misinterpretation including David Boaz and Tyler Cowen....
"MacLean speaks to none of the above specific critiques of her book in the Chronicle, merely generically complaining about being attacked and insisting that people who critique her work clearly hadn't read or understood it ...  she reached instead for sympathy by complaining these specific critiques on her methods and understanding as a historian made her 'feel vulnerable and exposed' and interpreting an intellectual metaphor for a physical threat...

"She certainly does not address a core problem with her book I detailed in my review: the 'historical fact' upon which her entire thesis depends, her book's distinguishing selling point, which she claims to have uniquely discovered through diligent archival work, that James Buchanan was the secret influence behind the political funding machine of Charles Koch and that that machine is deliberately and conspiratorially disguising its libertarian goals, is completely invented. She creates an illusion of proof by citing documents that do not support the thesis in any way, shape, or form."

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