Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Viking Press, 2017.)

Democracy in Chains, historian Nancy MacLean’s account of James McGill Buchanan and public choice economics, has caused an unusual stir in the few months since its publication. You may have followed the lengthy and determined attacks on MacLean, and the charges that she has misrepresented Buchanan’s work, on social media. Intellectual historian Andy Seal’s response to those criticisms here at Public Seminar has also drawn a storm of comments from MacLean’s critics.

You might ask: what’s the fuss about? Certainly an accessibly written book about Buchanan, a Nobel Prize winning economist, was long overdue, particularly given the rise of libertarianism over the last few years. I’m surprised that no one more sympathetic to his views, but with some objective distance from the man himself, has written one. I found only two secondary sources when I searched, one of which was written by a former student and collaborator of Buchanan’s at George Mason. What has been particularly striking is that MacLean’s critics — mostly scholars linked to Buchanan himself, to the Cato Institute, and to The Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University — seem to have read only the first few chapters of the book. Prominent complaints are that MacLean has misrepresented Buchanan’s intellectual history, and that the book smears him as a racist.

Nearly every historian I know who has read Democracy in Chains is mystified by the intensity of these complaints. One theme, for example, is that MacLean neglects the influence of Hobbes on Buchanan’s thought: indeed, Buchanan’s thoughts on Hobbes are not well represented, but who cares? The book isn’t about Hobbes, nor is it written for dedicated Buchananites who might have reveled in a few thousand words about Hobbes. MacLean also over represents the influence of slave-owning political philosopher John C. Calhoun, they argue; but MacLean’s extended analysis of Calhoun is not intended to amplify Buchanan’s intellectual history, but to explain why the South was fertile ground for modern libertarianism.

To me this seems like not very careful reading, even as these critics pepper one with quotations, often edited, taken out of context and massaged to “imply” things that they don’t imply at all. My own engagement with some of these people on social media, while often tedious and repetitive, has also made me aware that these men (they are all men) take their connection to Buchanan very personally, and appear to believe that the possibility that MacLean has “smeared” Buchanan as a racist implicates them as well.

But there is something else at work too in this campaign. Exaggerating the role that race actually does play in MacLean’s analysis of Buchanan’s work is also a convenient distraction from the larger picture Democracy in Chains proposes: exposing the mostly backstage role that Buchanan played in taking libertarianism from the intellectual fringes to the academic mainstream. These stakes are potentially quite high. What MacLean has done is to chart the normalization of a well financed form of conservative sectarianism that seeks a transformation, not just of the United States economy, but of the economic theories that undergird public spending around the globe.

The ugliest misrepresentation of Democracy in Chains is that MacLean is the ideologue, not Buchanan, and that she has deliberately twisted and misread her evidence. Multiplied across the Internet, these criticisms have produced some  deeply reductive assertions, not just in the conservative troll-a-sphere, but in the mainstream media.  “Quite how anyone could come to believe that the observation that politicians have economic motives,”economic writer Tim Worstall noted in a Forbes blog post two days ago (August 6 2017), “which is what public choice theory really says, that they have the same regard to economic self-interest as the rest of us — means that in fact you’re a racist opposed to the desegregation of schools is difficult to work out.”

Worstall’s summary of Democracy in Chains is deeply misleading, both about MacLean and the benign simplicity of public choice economics, unless you are getting all your news about the book from libertarian Twitter feeds. I read the book after the controversy was well underway and found not one sentence that substantiated either of these statements.

I saw just the opposite. MacLean goes to some length to actually not say that Buchanan is a racist, displaying a form of writerly craft (not to mention tact) that every modern American historian should emulate. How she handled the issue raises some important questions: What does the word “racist” actually mean? How do we contextualize racism as a dynamic lodged a set of specific political, social or economic events? When do  — or can — scholars use such a word effectively, if ever, and not risk a loss of precision? How do we think and talk about those whose ideological beliefs accept racial inequality as an acceptable cost of a given policy? Does our modern understanding of what a “racist” is and does cover whites who have benefitted from segregation, but failed to acknowledge an ethical relationship to people of color?

These are all questions to which MacLean appears to have given great thought as she wrote the early chapters of Democracy in Chains. Her description of Buchanan’s rise to prominence within the context of Virginia’s long history of slavery, Jim Crow law, and segregation is grounded in well-established historical facts. She also draws on a historical consensus (which is apparently not shared in economics) that these phenomena have had consequences for how whites and blacks understood their worlds — and each other. I don’t know any historians, conservative or liberal, who would dispute this, although apparently libertarian economists do.

Racial segregation was calculated to deprive African American people of access to public accommodations and to social benefits that their tax dollars and fees paid for, usually without any right to to political representation. As MacLean notes, Buchanan leaped to the defense of segregationists when challenges to Jim Crow segregation gathered momentum after World War II. He encouraged white policymakers who feared that racial equality would pry open the door to social and political change, racial and otherwise to stand firm against federal court orders.

But MacLean never says Buchanan did this because he was a racist: his primary motivation was that the social  and political crisis of desegregation created an opening for his own scholarly work. By 1954, the year that Brown v. Board of Education was decided, Buchanan had already begun to develop the theories that would make not only make him famous, but also distinguish him from the Chicago and Austrian schools that had influenced him. Wedding economics to political theory, public choice theory postulated that no one could be free of economic self interest simply by becoming a politician or policy maker. Claiming to act on behalf of the “public good,” progressives were, in reality, “rent seekers” who sought to solidify their influence among the masses by redistributing tax dollars and rights through new social policies. In this context, the expansion of civil rights by politicians was simply another form of rent seeking, the expansion of democracy an invitation to corruption.

Buchanan, his intellectual allies, and his graduate students may not have actually believed that their reason for supporting massive resistance to Brown was to preserve the exploitative and violent racial order of the South. I am willing to be open minded about that, and clearly MacLean is as well. In fact, I would actually love to see someone illuminate this further. What we do know from MacLean’s research, however, is that for Buchanan, Brown promoted his ambition. It was an opportunity to strike a blow against the most basic democratic, tax payer funded, entitlement that existed — the education of the poor. Public education, segregated or unsegregated, relied on reallocating tax dollars and enforcing the collective good. Like many in the school choice movement today, Buchanan found the whole idea of compulsory, tax-supported public education noxious: when Prince Edward County, Virginia closed its public schools in 1959, defied order after order to reopen them, and permitted white parents to open so-called “segregation academies,” it proved that there was a way forward — however narrow — for public choice as a theory of governance.

Sound familiar? Sure it does. It’s the intellectual kernel of what has become the home schooling, charter school and voucher movements, in which activists attempt to reclaim their own tax dollars to educate their children in ways that they choose.

But here’s the question I would love to see answered, and it may lead back to why Buchananites are so sensitive on the racism question. What Buchanan did may have been principled, and it may have been an intellectual experiment, but he was clearly on the wrong side of history — even at the time, since most white Virginians were inclined to capitulate to integration in order to save their schools. So you have to ask: what kind of a person takes a look at the dilapidated schools black children had available to them in 1950s Virginia, and not only fails to develop any empathetic response, but also determines that the correct response is to put a stop to education for an indefinite period of time? What kind of a person looked around the campus at all-white University of Virginia and decided that that was what the intellectual world should look like in perpetuity?

You find a word to describe that person.

Whatever his personal beliefs about race and racism, Buchanan was clearly an ambitious man who took advantage of the chances life presented. What this also meant was cutting sweetheart deals with universities like Virginia Tech, The University of Virginia, and George Mason University when they were undistinguished, underfunded and in need of some glamour. In exchange, Buchanan demanded — and received —  a free hand with hiring and grad student admissions, raising millions to support his institutes from wealthy donors who sought to expand the political and intellectual influence of libertarianism. In fact, one aspect of MacLean’s story that I have not seen disputed is that as Buchanan became more influential as an economist, and as a fundraiser in a conservative network that eventually included the Koch brothers, he was able to demand more autonomy from his home institutions, as well as from the norms of academic hiring and graduate admissions, even when they evolved in the 1970s to emphasize competitive searches.

Does this make Buchanan uniquely horrible as a human being? No — and MacLean makes it clear that he was a beloved teacher, his various institutes hives of intellectual excitement and camaraderie (where only libertarians were allowed in.) Here MacLean has opened another door that subsequent historians should rush through: the role of colleges and universities in accepting money intended to mainstream extreme forms of conservatism. Universities, institutes, and think tanks provide legitimacy for ideas. An institute, or program, easily disguises agenda-driven research of all kinds: it is why many institutions, while they may accept funding from some of the same sources that funded Buchanan, don’t accept those funds if a particular research or teaching outcome is required.  But the universities where Buchanan made his home over the years put such scruples aside: when they arose, Buchanan moved his work and his money elsewhere.

Buchanan — like the many economists associated with the Chicago school and Austrian economics — understood that libertarian economics told an alternative story about what democracy was, and why a strong state unencumbered by checks, balances and civil rights was the best hope for freedom. Interestingly, there has been an almost complete silence among MacLean’s critics about her chapter on Buchanan’s role as a critical constitutional and economic consultant for the US-backed Chilean junta in 1980. By helping the new government legally eliminate its political competitors, the economist also helped set the stage for decades of dictatorship, oligarchy, exploitation and the collapse of Chile’s economy .

This opens another important lens on our contemporary moment: the libertarian craving for political strongmen who will represent “freedom” while keeping a firm thumb on majority rule. Witness the hopeful glee among some libertarians that Donald Trump’s chaotic destruction and neglect of the government he was elected to lead will bring their glorious revolution ever closer.

In fact, MacLean and her critics have a core disagreement, less about how to do history (as these detractors claim), or about who is or is not racist, than about whether libertarianism itself is an ethical political philosophy that is consistent with modern democratic governance under advanced capitalism. You don’t have to have an extended quarrel about Buchanan’s intellectual biography to make an argument that he, his Virginia school, and Chicago economists like Milton Friedman, have promoted the dominance of the 1% as the best form of democracy. By making this point central to the book, MacLean has, in fact, called attention to something far more insidious about libertarianism than any racism for which it may be responsible: that its proponents view human suffering and deprivation more typical of the nineteenth century as an acceptable price for the society they wish to bring into being.

With their faux outrage about the impugning of Buchanan’s reputation, MacLean’s critics have attempted to obscure important questions her book raises about the scope and ambition of the libertarian movement, as well as its costs to democratic society. What do small government conservatives and neoliberal policymakers think they are doing when the most obvious and immediate effects of not redistributing tax money to public institutions and programs are to cause demonstrable, human pain that, for many, will be unrecoverable? What does constitute a kind of bad luck, deliberate aggression against the poor, or ethical malpractice that cannot be explained by economic theory or parables about freedom and personal responsibility? What ethical ties wed the fortunate to the unfortunate, and how should those ties be strengthened or reinforced by law and the state?

That said, the failure of these MacLean’s critics — and let’s say Buchanan — to take race and racism seriously, at all, as a force that has shaped American history, is striking and worth pausing on. Being “race blind,” as many different kinds of conservatives say they are, may, in fact, lead to fundamental misapprehensions about the world. Consider, for example, last February, when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos mischaracterized historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as “pioneers of school choice.” This was widely recognized as a completely idiotic and ahistorical statement, since for almost a century after many of these institutions were founded most African-American people were largely excluded from institutions that were not HBCUs.

Yet, one has to ask: why does a woman who may be wrong about many things but is actually not an idiot believe something that peculiar? The answer, I think, is the role that ideology plays in libertarian historical thinking. DeVos may, indeed, have thought that HBCUs were not dissimilar to the segregation academies that sprang up under the tutelage of policy intellectuals like Buchanan, privately segregated schools where white parents “chose” to send their children in response to Brown. Perhaps this falsehood — that black students were happier forming their “own” schools — has taken on the status of truth among libertarians. Furthermore, if your ideological position dictates that race and racism have never been a barrier to anyone’s individual progress, and in fact do not exist, how else would DeVos understand the continued existence of HBCUs at all?

This is what is at stake in America today in our debates about health care, education, housing, energy, and even clean water: must the wealthy live in some ethical connection to the rest of the country or not? And what are the consequences for the nation, and for democracy, if they don’t? Democracy in Chains puts these questions front and center, and — whether you are conservative or liberal — could not be more important to thinking about the next stages of reclaiming our public sphere.

Claire Potter is Professor of History at The New School and Executive Editor of Public Seminar. You can follow Claire on Twitter.

84 thoughts on “What Are the Costs of Libertarianism?

  1. In a previous discussion, I provided a list of historical errors in Democracy in Chains, which was only a partial list. Prof. Potter asked for documentation in the form of page numbers where each of these errors appeared. I provided the page numbers. Numerous other scholars have pointed out fabrications, misrepresentations, altered quotations, factual errors, and unsubstantiated claims in the book. Prof. Potter is undoubtedly aware of this, because she has been, as she states, engaging with critics on social media. It’s remarkable, then, that her essay doesn’t address whether the book is fundamentally accurate. if it’s not, then it’s hard to see its value, even if we accept the assertion that we should largely ignore the rest of the book and focus on the “critical aspect” of the book, “exposing the mostly backstage role that Buchanan played in taking libertarianism from the intellectual fringes to the academic mainstream.”

    For example, Prof. MacLean alleges that a particular speech given by Charles Koch in 1997 shows that Koch took inspiration from Buchanan’s work, and that his plans ever since have been a practical manifestation from what he learned from Buchanan. Brian Doherty, in his review of the book at, revisited the speech and discovered that Koch was not referring to Buchanan’s work, but to Michael Polanyi’s, and to Koch’s own interest in so-called “market-based management.” I’ve copied the relevant excerpt from the review below. By pretending that the entire controversy is over whether MacLean “smeared” Buchanan as a racist, and that her critics haven’t carefully read the book, Prof. Potter has done readers of this forum a significant disservice.

    Excerpt from Brian Doherty’s review:

    Of course, Buchanan’s ideas can still influence Koch even if the two aren’t getting along. But MacLean provides no specific analysis showing that some idea uniquely attributable to the economist—as opposed to ordinary free market libertarianism—suddenly appeared in Koch-funded organizations around this time. Her actual evidence for Buchanan’s supposedly central role is wafer thin. It consists entirely of some things Koch said in “Creating a Science of Liberty,” a speech he gave at a 1997 Institute for Humane Studies research colloquium.

    For MacLean, this talk proves that Koch found in Buchanan’s work “the set of ideas he had been seeking for at least a quarter century…the missing tool he had been searching for, the one that would produce ‘real world’ results.” Summarizing the speech, MacLean writes: “James Buchanan’s theory and implementation strategies were the right ‘technology,’ to use Koch’s favored phrase. But the professor’s team had not employed the tools forcefully enough to ‘create winning strategies.'”

    The full speech makes it abundantly clear that Koch did not say or even imply what MacLean has him saying. The “technology” to “create winning strategies” that Koch spoke of is not public choice or anything else related to Buchanan. It was “market-based management,” Koch’s philosophy of applying incentives and knowledge-seeking processes to his business and philanthropic endeavors.

    Indeed, the speech that supposedly marks Koch’s adoption of Buchanan as his guru reveals that the actual fresh influence moving Koch in the late ’90s was Michael Polanyi, a scientist and social philosopher whose ideas are beyond the scope of this review except to note that he (a) isn’t James Buchanan and (b) isn’t mentioned by MacLean at all.

    Buchanan’s name comes up exactly twice in the speech, once because he had spoken the previous day at the same colloquium, neither even hinting that Koch had suddenly embraced Buchananism as his new tool. That whole key part of MacLean’s narrative, her connection of Buchanan with everything the Koch network has been doing in the 21st century, is pure invention.

    1. Bernstein, get a life. Your attacks on this book shift as people challenge them, and seem increasingly self-interested.

      1. My criticism of this book has and remains that it’s wildly inaccurate. Speaking of “smearing” I have no self-interest in the book. Meanwhile, this is your opportunity to address the question you neglected in your review: is the book fundamentally accurate? When I and other scholars have pointed out errors, fabrications, etc., are we wrong? Why? Your defense of the book appears to be that it’s “truthy” so its accuracy is irrelevant.

        1. “Your defense of the book appears to be that it’s “truthy” so its accuracy is irrelevant.” Yet another instance of what a terrible reader you are. This has nothing to do with what I wrote, nor does anything compel me to write an essay to your specifications. You a truly insufferable and arrogant person.

          1. You acknowledge that critics state that MacLean “has deliberately twisted and misread her evidence” you address only a criticism or two out of dozens, and not including the factual errors that you asked me to document by page number. Did you bother to check the footnotes from those pages to see if, as I alleged, they don’t support and in some cases contradict her statements? If yes, was I right? Have you checked other similar criticisms? If not, on what basis do you accuse critics of an “ugly,” rather than accurate, criticism of the book? I expect you to respond with further insults.

          2. We can even limit the question to this: Is MacLean right that Koch’s speech in 1997 shows that “Koch found in Buchanan’s work ‘the set of ideas he had been seeking for at least a quarter century…the missing tool he had been searching for, the one that would produce ‘real world’ results.'” Or is Doherty right that she just made that up? It’s a key claim in the book, so the answer would be telling. The speech is available online, so it’s easy enough to check.

        2. It’s curious how Prof. Potter continuously evades addressing any substantive historical point raised about this book or her interpretations. Instead she spews insults, complains that we spend “too much time on twitter” (even though she tweets about 4x as much), accuses us of having “self-interested” financial motives that she neither documents nor cares to substantiate, or – her latest favorite – makes bizarre and misandry-tinged references to the genders of MacLean’s critics.

          I still await someone making a substantive defense of MacLean’s use of historical evidence in the dozens of documented instances where she altered quotes, misrepresented facts, and even made stuff up out of thin air. Instead we get thousand word screeds like the above that breeze past MacLean’s transgressions against the most basic norms of historical method and instead attempt to turn the discussion into an attack on the motives of MacLean’s interlocutors.

          1. “Spew”? Do you know that people might come to view you as an overly dramatic person?

          2. You’ve fully validated the accuracy of the descriptor “spews insults” with your antics in this review and elsewhere.

          3. I HAVE mounted a “substantive defense of MacLean’s use of historical evidence” in the case in which I am most qualified to comment: Buchanan was in service to the segregationist cause. See, for example here:


            As far as I have been able to determine your case in favor of Buchanan amounts to: “She didn’t PROVE he got this from Davidson or Calhoun!” (OK, he defended segregation for another reason) and “In 1965, after massive resistance collapsed, Buchanan brought an economist known for his anti-union writings to Virginia where he (the visiting economist) gave some speeches against segregation! And THAT exculpates Buchanan’s actions in 1959!”

            And, I note, though Buchanan’s activities are a major part of Claire Potter’s argument in this article, you have not chosen to defend him here but rather direct our attention to other matters. Have you nothing substantive to offer on the issue?

            And, to me, this is the interesting thing: it would be completely and utterly unremarkable for Buchanan, as a white Virginian in the 1950s, to have been indifferent to the plight of its black citizens and to seize on the segregation issue to advance his political agenda. And, from all the available evidence, that is what he did. Why do Buchanan’s defenders not just admit the point? What is at stake for them?

          4. You gave it a try, John, that would exhaust the patience of a saint. But all it produced was a string of non-sequiturs. If you want to resume, I’ll simply note the following:

            1. MacLean presented Davidson & Calhoun as intellectual influences upon Buchanan, both as direct assertions and innuendo (“seemed” etc). The burden of proof for these claims is on MacLean since she’s the one making them in the first place. As we’ve been over though, her cited sources don’t support these contentions – not even if one grants your indulgences in word games and treats them only as innuendo.

            2. The suggestion that Hutt was primarily known for his anti-union writings is deceptive. His academic reputation was at its peak ca. 1964 due to one specific work: his anti-Apartheid book, published that year. It gained him international acclaim and media coverage because he spoke out so aggressively against the South African government. That, and not a decade-old labor union book, was the reason Buchanan recruited him to come to UVA.

            3. You’re making a significantly more limited argument that MacLean makes re. UVA and segregation. You’d have the discussion restricted to 1959 and the school choice paper, linking it to Byrd’s call for massive resistance and thus predating Hutt’s arrival. MacLean presents a much more expansive story in which Buchanan’s Thomas Jefferson Center is a decade-long operation to provide intellectual heft behind segregation. She’s still portraying it as segregationist in 1965 and even implies at one point that Hutt’s recruitment was a nod to the Byrd operation.

            4. Even as the 1959 paper goes, neither you nor MacLean have produced evidence that it influenced anybody in Virginia politics, let alone that it provided an intellectual foundation for the Byrd machine’s segregationist strategies.

          5. your work is wonderful, and I’ve been pointing people to it who are tempted by the anti-reasoning offered by Magness, Bernstein, et al. Thanks for it.

  2. the book clearly didn’t have enough approving language of bombing muslims for mr. bernstein. as for the rest of these “libertarians” when you criticize their beloved hero Pinochet and his junta, that’s a bridge too far for them.

    1. Bombing Muslims? The libertarians have been in the forefront in their criticism of Bush’s, Obama’s and Trump’s warmongering and Islamophobia. The LP has a long line of pro-immigrant/antiwar candidates, most recently Gary Johnson and is a libertarian dominated site. On Chile, see here;

      “She paints Buchanan as important influence on Augusto Pinochet’s repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule.”

  3. “Interestingly, there has been an almost complete silence among MacLean’s critics about her chapter on Buchanan’s role as a critical constitutional and economic consultant for the US-backed Chilean junta in 1973.”

    Michael Munger devoted a large part of his review to discussing Chile and Buchanan. Maybe his arguments are shoddy, but why not engage them?

    “What has been particularly striking is that MacLean’s critics — mostly scholars linked to Buchanan himself, to the Cato Institute, and to The Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University — seem to have read only the first few chapters of the book.”

    That’s a remarkable statement. I note that Claire Potter does not link to – or even *name* – any of the academics who have written negative reviews, but only quotes and links to a finance journalist’s throwaway blogpost.

      1. Since Phil and I have offered criticisms of specific text in all parts of the book, it would have been remarkable for you to call us out for only reading the first few chapters. Unless we have some special mental power that allows us to quote and discuss text that we haven’t read.

      2. If you linked to them, your readers could see that reviewers had evidently read the whole book, had discussed Chile, or (like Steve Horwitz or Brian Doherty) had noted that MacLean avoided explicitly claiming that Buchanan was personally racist.

  4. Both Professors Magness & Bernstein (and to a large extent Doherty) seem to think that by caviling about specific words they find in MacLean’s text or claiming that if they offer a different interpretation of some evidence that is proof that MacLean “made it all up,” they are scoring significant points against her. You’ll note that in none of the responses below have they tried to maintain the significant point that Claire Potter makes in this review: that it is not credible to maintain that Buchanan’s “school choice” plan was anything other than a cynical attempt to leverage segregation to advance his political agenda. No, They’d rather have us forget about that and address their interpretation of a particular speech by Koch.

    Let me quote rhetorician Kenneth Burke on these kind of argumentative tactics:

    “It would seem they are no longer seeking good arguments; rather they are seeking any arguments, if only there be enough of them to keep running through the headlines, an avalanche of arguments, condemnations, prophecies of dire calamity, “statistical proofs,” pronouncements by private and institutional “authorities,” a barrage, a snowing under, a purely quantitative mode of propaganda, Are there no eagles among their utterances? Very well, let them be instead a swarm of mosquitoes. Before you could refute this morning’s, there is a new batch out this afternoon.”

    I address this at further length here:

    1. What John Jackson is actually saying here and in everything else he’s written on the issue is that an intellectual historian doesn’t have to support her “interpretation” with any actual evidence. We should just trust said intellectual historian to read lots of stuff and tell us her conclusions, which we take on faith. If I want faith I’ll go to synagogue; in academia, I want evidence.

      1. And I await evidence. ANY evidence that disputes that Buchanan was a segregationist. Please, do talk more about the single footnote that is Koch’s speech. Maybe, just maybe, if you keep talking about that stuff you can distract everyone from how his school choice plan helped the segregationist cause, how he ignored that it resulted in African Americans children going without schooling for five years, and how, when it was all over and done he said that Virginia had no racial problems. And how none of MacLean’s critics have ever presented a scrap of evidence that her account of those actions is in error.

        But…. yeah….. that footnote to the one Koch speech, THAT is the key to whole thing. Why bring that up here in the first place when such a large part of Clair Potter’s article is about Buchanan and segregation?

        1. You’re offering argument from magic decoder rings here, John.

          If you wish to make specific claims about an intellectual connection between two historical figures, the burden is on you to provide the evidence. The issue with MacLean is not a matter of contested interpretations of the evidence she provided – it’s a matter of her not providing any evidence at all.

          1. I had this out with you above, Phil. In most cases it absolutely IS a matter of interpretation. Is her interpretation of Calhoun wrong. You say there is “no evidence.” To repeat part of what I wrote up there, here’s one of her sources:

            Here is Peter H. Aranson, one of MacLean’s sources for the Calhoun stuff:

            “”My principal thesis is that Calhoun’s political thought, when read in the light of modern public choice theory, forms a coherent whole, complete in its entirety, including within it even those parts that appear to be contradictory.Earlier interpretations of Calhoun’s thought remain devoid of an overarching theory that would allow for unification. But public choice theory makes possible such unifications of observations and truth claims, which once seemed impossible.”

            Did she misinterpret Aranson? Maybe. Is it the case there is “no evidence?” No. Unless you deny that Aranson wrote that piece. Or that Tabarrok and Cowen wrote the other cited piece. Show how she misread those sources, but you cannot deny they are there. And, once you have shown her interpretation is in error, ask yourself if you have scored any major points against her.

          2. I said – and maintain – that neither you nor MacLean has any evidence linking Calhoun to Buchanan. Do you have anything showing otherwise? If not, you’ve failed the most basic standards of citing your sources – literally the type of thing that gets you a failing grade on a term paper for a freshman year American History 101 survey course.

            As a separate issue, both you and MacLean attempt to import other sources that are not Buchanan. But that also fails. Aranson and Cowen/Tabarrok were both written in the 1990s – decades after the bulk of Buchanan’s academic work, and are not cited or referenced in anything he ever produced. Are you suggesting that they own a time machine, went back to the 1960s, and quietly tipped Buchanan off to Calhoun as he was writing the Calculus of Consent?

          3. John: Speaking of errors. Perhaps you can help with cite checking In the paragraph on the GOP platform of 1964, I was unable to find two quotation in the listed sources. Moreover, the platform as opposing the 1964 Civil Act and call for subsidies for private K-12 schools but that was not true. The platform is silent on subsidies to private schools and actually supports the 1964 CR Act, Again, I’d appreciate a second set of eyes for that paragraph. Perhaps you can be those eyes.

          4. I gave Prof. Potter a list of the page numbers of 8 or so factual errors I enumerated, at her request. She proceeded to ignore those and all the other factual errors that have been pointed out. The position of MacLean’s defenders appears to be that she arrived at a meta-truth, making the consistent errors in her factual statements irrelevant to the “real” point of the book.

          5. Sorry, I wandered away and didn’t see this until today. Are you talking about Chapter 6? I’m not sure she’s actually talking about the platform as adopted there. She’s seems to be referring to a speech by Goldwater offering a “a justification for another innovation in the GOP platform: support for state subsidies for private schools.” Perhaps the justification didn’t carry the day so it never made it to the platform?

            And, the text is ambiguous. It reads:

            ‘Goldwater went even further in his anti-Brown position, citing the Virginia Plan’s argument: “Freedom of association is a double-edged freedom or it is nothing at all.” Liberty entailed “the freedom not to associate,”’

            So, is the quoted material from Goldwater? Or from the Virginia plan? If the latter, it is possible that the citation merely refers to Goldwater’s support for the Virginia Plan which she then quotes? I honestly have no idea.

            I don’t have those books at hand and obviously don’t have the Rusher letter (which seems incidental to the text so probably isn’t the source of the quoted material). Once I’m back home I can try to help but it’ll be a while. Feel free to contact me directly if you really think I can help.

          6. The Goldwater quotations are on p. 75 of the Lowndes book. They are from a speech in 1964 that was co-written by Rehnquist. There is also much longer excerpt of that speech from White’s MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1964. I don’t have access to Perlstein’s book right now but maybe it discusses the impact this speech did or did not have on the platform.

            The speech came about 3 months after Goldwater voted against the CRA so maybe he urged the private school stuff and lost that battle? Which could also explain why the platform supported the CRA when their candidate had opposed it. Just spitballin’ here.

            I don’t see any mention in the Republican Platform about private schools either.

            Ian Haney-Lopez has an interesting take on Goldwater’s October speech if you are interested:


          7. it’s hilarious that Bernstein and Magness can be seen to literally be arguing against the words of Tabarrok and Cowen’s article. and yet they’ll claim it’s MacLean’s claims. they are shameless.

          8. Showing that some people think that X’s theory has similarities to Y’s theory simply doesn’t show that X’s theory influenced Y’s theory, even if “some people” are completely right. This is elementary logic.

        2. Phil has it exactly right below, burden of proof is on the historian making the assertions. Meanwhile, how many errors in MacLean’s chapter on school choice, Brown, etc., would Phil and I have to show you before you’d concede that the book is untrustworthy? I can think of 4 or 5 offhand, but given that this is a matter of faith on your, I suspect the answer is that no number would be sufficient.

  5. Oh, crap, I can’t help it. Here is Peter H. Aranson, one of MacLean’s sources for the Calhoun stuff:

    “”My principal thesis is that Calhoun’s political thought, when read in the light of modern public choice theory, forms a coherent whole, complete in its entirety, including within it even those parts that appear to be contradictory.Earlier interpretations of Calhoun’s thought remain devoid of an overarching theory that would allow for unification. But public choice theory makes possible such unifications of observations and truth claims, which once seemed impossible.”

    But, yeah, MacLean just “made up” the whole thing about the similarities between public choice theory and Calhoun. Tell you what, address further comments regarding Calhoun to Aranson and Tabarrock & Cowen, the other paper she cites. Once you’ve shown their errors, then you can talk about MacLean’s book again.

    1. Aranson, Peter H. “Calhoun’s constitutional economics.” Constitutional Political Economy 2.1 (1991): 31-52.

      Apparently Mr. Jackson thinks Peter Aranson owns a time machine!

      1. Huh? No, I’m showing her sources that public choice “mirrors” Calhoun. Which Aranson shows quite clearly. Which MacLean is why MacLean cites him to this point. Again, it is a damn analogy. Is it wrong? Perhaps. Is your beef with Aranson? Yes.

        1. You’re struggling to differentiate your own argument from MacLean’s.

          MacLean did not simply claim that public choice or Buchanan mirror Calhoun – she claimed Calhoun was their “intellectual lodestar.”

          She failed to produce even a minimal amount of evidence to sustain that exceedingly strong claim.

    2. (Of course as a separate empirical exercise, one could go through the main public choice journal and count up the number of times Calhoun is cited & how, then compare that total to the thousands of academic articles published in the public choice field between the 1950s and today. I’d be surprised if you came up with much more than a couple of obscure articles by Aranson and Cowen/Tabarrok – again, out of thousands published – which is a laughable basis for a claim that Calhoun was some sort of “intellectual lodestar”)

    3. You don’t understand that demonstrating “similarities” between something written in 1832 and a body of work written over a hundred years later isn’t evidence that the former influenced the latter? Public choice has “similarities” to Madison, to William Leggett, to H.L. Mencken, to Cato’s Letters, really to any work that expressed concern about concentrated political power, and/or tried to devise constitutional structures that would promote the public interest. For that matter, libertarians have pointed to the fact that libertarian ideas can be found in such ancient sources as Sun Tzu. But it argue that therefore Sun Tzu must have been Murray Rothbard’s intellectual lodestar, or even influenced his becoming a libertarian at all, would be absurd.

      1. I take this up extensively below. Please respond to my long comment there and I will take up your response there.

    4. She thinks the libertarian cause traces back to Calhoun, because she doesn’t understand what libertarianism is. She thinks at base it means, “preserve the power and wealth of the already well-off.” No actual libertarian thinks it means that. So, yes, if you accept MacLean’s bizarro-world definition of libertarianism, you could trace it back to Calhoun’s defense of slaveholders. In the real world, actual libertarians admire abolitionists like Lysander Spooner, and more generally share the natural rights philosophy of the abolitionists, and the hostility to special interest legislation and government corruption of the Loco-focos. Now, she could have written, “libertarians think of themselves as heirs to the natural rights and anti-special interest traditions, but (in my opinion) the effect of their ideas in the real world is to preserve power and privilege, like Calhoun. So ironically, they are doing the opposite of what they think they are doing.” That would have been a defensible expression of opinion. Suggesting that libertarians are consciously trying to do the equivalent of Calhounite policies, much less that they were influenced by his ideas, is not.

      1. Not what she’s arguing. At all. See my long comment below. And Aranson, Tarrabok & Cowen disagree with you about Calhoun. Take it up with them, not MacLean.

        1. No, they argue that Calhoun’s concern for protecting the rights of minorities within a federal system is similar to concerns raised by public choice scholars. That’s not saying that Calhoun influenced public choice, much less that Calhoun was a significant influence on libertarians. As I pointed out elsewhere, the libertarian New Individualist Review published at the University of Chicago in the 1960s contains not a single reference in its index to Calhoun, but multiple references to many other, often significantly more obscure, classical liberal intellectual figures. It would be strange if a historian writing 50 years later was more attuned to who influienced libertarians than the libertarians themselves were. And note that 50 years ago there was little if any shame in citing Calhoun, if they had been inclined to do so.

          And that, the idea that Buchanan and libertarians in general seek to protect the wealth and status of “incumbents”, is exactly what she’s arguing. I listened to a few minutes of one of her podcasts today, and she was describing public choice pretty well until she explained what she thought Buchanan meant opposing special interests using the government for their own purposes. She said that meant to Buchanan preventing redistribution from the rich to the poor. That’s exactly why she traces his thought to Calhoun, and it’s complete bullshit that completely misunderstands the rent-seeking literature. The prototypical rent-seeker is a major corporation seeking to benefit itself at the expense of the public, not someone calling for highermarginal taxes on the wealth (remember that Buchanan himself favored confiscatory inheritance taxes, a fact never mentioned in DIC).

        2. The Aranson article on Calhoun has a grand total of 9 citations in over 25 years. Cowen & Tabbarok has 3. In no reasonable way could either article be described as influential, let alone the makings of an “intellectual lodestar.”

          Oh, and yes. MacLean is absolutely does claim that public choice’s lineage traces back directly to Calhoun.

        3. “Aranson, Tabarrok, Cowen, and the Mises Institutie are all very minor players in the libertarian universe to whom nobody pays any attention!” — latest insane counterfactual from the House of Koch. Next, GMU is not an important university, and there has never been a Heritage Foundation

          1. Nobody said that. We said that articles pointing out similarities between one school of thought and another doesn’t mean that the earlier one influenced the later one. But if you want to defend the book, in particular with insults, why don’t you do so under your own name? I don’t agree with Jackson or Potter, but at least they put their own reputations on the line rather than hiding behind anonymity.

          2. An even stronger case for “influence on MacLean” by the “Calhoun standard” would be John Commons and Richard Ely, who she cites favorably. Both were apologists for racism and eugenics. Does that MacLean, despite her failure to note these views in her praise of them, an apologist for racism? No….of course not.

        4. Nancy MacLean has been years in the trenches developing a critique of “NeoConfederate” ideology, a states rights orientation designed to delegitimize the federal government as an agent of social change and secure the privileges of established business interests. This is precisely what “competitive federalism” does, rather than to facilitate human migration to more tolerant jurisdictions (unless the Underground Railway was itself a testament to the doctrine).

          Libertarians are quite aware of problematic dimensions of their own thinking, the occasional convergence with the openly racist philosophies of Southern partisans like Thomas Woods.
          I hope they continue to explore the relationship of libertarianism to the ratification of economic hierarchy, racist or otherwise.

  6. 1. So just to be clear: You continue to blather on about how your strange word parsing exonerates MacLean from having to meet basic evidentiary standards for her claims about Calhoun and Donaldson BUT you also refuse to engage any further on the particulars of her evidentiary deficiencies. That’s a strange doctrine.

    2. Hutt, W.H. “Unanimity Versus Non-Discrimination As a Criteria for Constitutional Validity.” South African Journal of Economics. Vol. 34 (1966).

    3. I’ll take that as a concession that MacLean has nothing more than innuendo and speculation about things she cannot prove with actual evidence. It still doesn’t get her around the problem of Hutt though, as Hutt’s scholarly activities and lectures while at UVA were harshly critical of the very same segregationist positions that Byrd and Kilpatrick held dear.

    4. MacLean does in fact claim that Buchanan and Nutter’s paper influenced policy. Where is her evidence?

    As for Potter’s claim, I’d ask the same. She claims to know Buchanan’s innermost thoughts about black schools in 1950s Virginia. Where’s her evidence? And no, an innuendo-laden misreading of an obscure and highly abstract academic article on the economics of school vouchers doesn’t even come close to substantiating the spin she’s giving here.

  7. “The book isn’t about Hobbes, nor is it written for dedicated
    Buchananites who might have reveled in a few thousand words about
    Hobbes. MacLean also over represents the influence of slave-owning
    political philosopher John C. Calhoun, they argue; but MacLean’s
    extended analysis of Calhoun is not intended to amplify Buchanan’s
    intellectual history, but to explain why the South was fertile ground
    for modern libertarianism.”

    Potter is shifting from the debunked claim of MacLean’s defenders, and MacLean, that Calhoun had a direct influence on Buchanan to the fallback argument that the South was “fertile ground for modern libertarianism.” This is completely untrue. The South had been absolutely the least fertile grond for libertarianism in the U..S. In every presidential election since 1972, for example, the Libertarian candidate has consistently received the lowest vote percentages in the South. The strongest areas, by contrast, have been the west, followed by certain parts of the Northeast such as New Hampshire. New Hampshire, Nevada, and Alaska to my knowledge are the only states to have had Libertarians in the legislature..

    Moreover, in my experience, Buchanan (who I would not call a libertarian but that is a separate debate) was one of the few free market economists who were Southerners. Libertarian economists, philosophers, and legal thinkers were, and are, far more likely to be from the Northwest and/or are from New Immigrant backgrounds (Jewish or Italian, etc).

    1. MacLean does not claim a direct influence of Calhoun on Buchanan. I have a very long comment below that explains this in some detail.

      Tying libertarian ideas to the fortunes of the Libertarian Party is probably a mistake. There are a lot of libertarians who don’t support the LP. Someone like Rothbard is an illustration of that.

      On the topics that concern MacLean: the disenfranchisement of great swaths of the population, the demand that the federal government not encroach on state prerogatives, suspicion of governmental regulations about things like the environment, anti-unionism, etc, the south has been very fertile ground indeed for libertarian ideas. Why waste your vote on the fringe candidate when Reagan or the Bushes are doing all those things anyway?

      This is not to deny that many libertarian intellectuals are from the northeast nor that libertarian ideas aren’t welcomed in the American west. And certainly on more modern libertarian positions on same-sex marriage or legal pot the west is much more receptive to those ideas than the south. But, the big-money libertarians, like the Kochs, don’t care about those ideas at all. Or, certainly aren’t giving their hundreds of millions of dollars to support such ideas when there are environmental regulations to roll back and taxes on the 1% to be eliminated.

        1. I never saw it. Some of my comments were marked as “spam” by Disqus so it might not have been posted at all. Disqus is acting weird.

  8. i hope anyone remotely tempted to take seriously the many responses here by Phil Magness and David Bernstein will think again. Go back and look at the other critiques and their voluminous repsonses. Note how nearly every time they change the issue they are responding to, the pieces of evidence they use, and the orientation of their very personalized attacks. Note how often–this story being the very best example–no matter how clearly major issues are highlighted as the point of MacLean’s book, both Magness and Bernstein prevaricate, change the subject, lob ad-hominems, and claim to have proven things they have not proven, while never taking the main subject head-on.

    And note this most of all: as in the attacks on work by Jane Mayer and Naomi Oreskes, Berngstein and Magness work very hard to convince readers that the major themes addressed in MacLean’s work are the idiosyncratic product of a single deranged academic, or represent a minor thread in libertarianism that nobody really subscribes to. Then do yourself a favor: read not just MacLean’s book, and Mayer’s book, and Oreskes’s book, but the huge amounts of additional scholarship and journalism they refer to. Then go and read the primary documents if you are so inclined. The idea that US libertarianism is a profoundly anti-democratic movement is no secret. Read Murray Rothbard. Read Charles Koch, who as Potter says is almost more central to MacLean’s book than Buchanan is. These things are not secret. These people viscerally hate core features of the American system of governance. They hate democracy. They love wealth. They hate whatever gets in the way of their own accumulation of wealth, especially if it involves helping the poor and minorities by any means other than saying “you can be wealthy too, just like me!” as if that is remotely true for any but a very lucky few. These are not secrets. They are the open, overt, incontestable policies and philosophies of the most politically and economically powerful people in the US.

    Bernstein and Magness should be ashamed at their ongoing attempt to deceive readers about the content and grounding of MacLean’s book, but having observed their conduct over many “responses,” I am certain they have no such ordinary interpersonal ethics to fall back on.

      1. This person is also so eager to “block” us on Disqus that he/she penned a half dozen incoherent and unsolicited replies attacking us by name.

  9. at least I’ve learned one thing from Bernstein and Magness: how easy it is to block users in Disqus.

    thanks for this really excellent piece, Claire. it is almost exactly what I’ve been saying to friends behind the scenes, although better said.

  10. Hi folks. I awoke this morning to see that Disqus marked some of my lengthy comments as spam and didn’t post them. Go figure. Anyway, I reworked my responses into a blog post you can find here:

    Short version. 1. Magness and Bernstein engage in egregious strawmanning of MacLean’s arguments. I go through this in painstaking detail. 2. It is time for libertarians to produce counter-evidence to MacLean. Show us how Buchanan fought segregation. Show us how Prince Edward County was a great example of school privatization.

        1. Well….geez, let me then take the opportunity to plug my book on T.R.M. Howard, a key mentor to Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers. The segregationist world that Howard fought was filled with examples of rent seeking.

    1. show us how GMU academics have spent their careers advancing the rights of African-Americans through any means other than “you can get rich too if you just support eliminating the EEOC, EPA, FDA, etc!”

      1. And here is Tollison, who headed the Public Choice center while Buchanan was still there. Here are the final lines of that piece:

        “The massive and indefensible market imperfection was slavery itself. The restrictions on importation softened its sting. The case of the prohibition of slave importation (achieved, at least in part, through the efforts of those expecting to net wealth as a result) suggests that sometimes rent seeking may enhance not reduce net social welfare.”

      2. And here is from David Levy:

        “Carlyle is hard to take seriously because he is so outrageous. Yet it is
        important not to underestimate his influence. By laying out the
        argument against economics in detail, Carlyle revived the pro-slavery
        movement in mid-19th century Britain. His argument was taken up by
        calmer critics, who eschewed his polemical excesses while retaining his
        basic assumptions. For example, W. R. Greg,5
        who together with Francis Galton, founded the eugenics movement,
        attacked Mill for arguing that land-reform would help solve the problem
        of poverty in Ireland:”

    2. The original claim was that he supported Jim Crow and was aligned with it, now it is that didn’t fight enough but I’ll bite. It was of Buchanan that brought in W.H. Hutt to UVA who was (a fact not mentioned by MacLean) best known of all that time for his anti-Apartheid book, Economics of the Colour Bar published in 1964. It was Buchanan who recruited Jennifer Roback, who wrote often on race, including how the introduction of streetcar segregation was an example of racist rent seeking. It was Buchanan who brought in David Levy and Robert Tollison who wrote often about the evils of slavery. If you want me to provide links I can. Let’s end with the quotation from Hutt:

      Those who accept the logical content of the C[alculus] of C[onsent] may
      well differ widely in their forecasts of the exact sphere in which,
      under the unanimity they envisage, legislative edict or the discretion
      of officialdom should be allowed to decide either ends or means. But all
      who really understand the argument must, we feel, accept the principle
      that collective decisions should be non-discriminatory, except with the
      prior consent of those discriminated against. Unless this condition is
      fulfilled, laws of any kind which, directly or indirectly, discriminate
      in favour of or against any particular group (whether on the grounds of
      race, colour, ancestry, creed, sex, occupation, district, property or
      income) should be ruled unconstitutional and void.” – W.H. Hutt,
      University of Virginia, 1966

      1. 1965 was not 1959. Massive Resistance was effectively over. Hutt thought the best thing to do would be to eliminate minimum wage and bust the unions. THAT, not his anti-apartheid word brought him to UVA, and only AFTER the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. How do we know that? Because Buchanan manifest refused to bring in an anti-racist economist who was insufficiently “free market” in his eyes. From MacLean:

        n 1960,in the middle of the Prince Edward County debacle: “Broadus Mitchell, reached out to Buchanan. Mitchell, who had resigned from Johns Hopkins University two decades before over its refusal to admit a black student, challenged the Thomas Jefferson Center to leave the realm of fine philosophical abstraction and hold a program on “democracy in education”—and, in the name of “social decency,” stand up for the integration of UVA. Buchanan answered curtly that “Virginia, as a state, has, in my opinion, largely resolved her own “democracy in education”—and, in the name of “social decency,” stand up for the integration of UVA. Buchanan answered curtly that “Virginia, as a state, has, in my opinion, largely resolved her own problems” in education. He then sent the new university president his rebuke to the “annoying” letter, calling Mitchell “a long-time joiner of all ‘soft-headed,’ ‘liberal’ causes,” and lied that his critic had made “no notable contributions” as a scholar”

        Note several things here: First, 1960 is when Prince Edward County had privatized their schools, just as Buchanan had advised. Black students had no education at all. Buchanan’s evaluation? That Virginia had “largely resolved her own problems.” Second, there is zero evidence that Hutt was brought in BECAUSE of his work on apartheid. Indeed, the example of Mitchell seems to indicate that anti-racists weren’t welcome unless they signed on to Buchanan’s free market fancies. Hence, a good inference is that Hutt’s anti-Apartheid activity was incidental, not central to his UVA visit.

        And, finally, Hutt’s visit does nothing to justify or explain Buchanan’s actions in 1959 when he clearly allied himself with the segregationists by urging privatization.

  11. The South is the least fertile ground for libertarianism. If we go by public opinion polls old Confederate states rank lowest when it comes to social freedoms, a major plank of libertarianism.

    If we look at actual votes for Gary Johnson we find the highest vote percentage he received in a Southern state was 3.5% in Missouri, which is the only Southern state to have a percentage of LP votes exceeding the national average of 3.24%. Next highest southern state was Texas with 3.2% at 30th in the ranking. All Southern states, bar Missouri, gave Libertarians votes below the national average.

    Of the 15 states with the lowest LP vote count 9 are Southern states. In races I’ve followed libertarians tend to do better in liberal areas.

    1. This is a discussion among intellectual historians. Don’t confuse everyone with data. Impressions from reading are more salient.

    2. I believe my basic assumption is that trying to measure “libertarian ideas” by voting for LP candidates for president is probably a very poor measure.

      As for libertarian social issues….. I think that if someone offered the Koch bros. this deal: We will roll back all environmental regulations, let the market sort out all those externalities. We will eliminate social security, the income tax, and a bunch of corporate taxes. We will get rid of the minimum wage. We will eliminate Medicare and Medicaid. We will ramp up the war on drugs, we will eliminate same sex marriage, we will overturn Roe, we will stop federal enforcement of civil rights law, and we will appoint nothing but Scalias and Gorsuches to the bench. I think the Koch bros would take that deal in an instant.

      David Koch, running in 1980 on a platform that included pretty much (not all) of the above and also included a pro-gay marriage plank and a pro-legalization plank doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. First, because those issues never, ever had a snowball’s chance of passing anything and second, because they’d happily pay lip service to those issues if it meant also getting what they think are the serious economic issues passed.

      And I think Ron Paul’s deep involvement with Rothbard, including the neo-Confederate racist Rothbard, speaks volumes about libertarians’ commitment to social issues.

      As for the Koch Bros. joining with the ACLU and the NAACP, good for them! But, I really do think their priorities are with the economic issues and if they had to choose, they’d toss the NAACP aside without a second thought. Perhaps I’m wrong though.

      1. You cited Reagan not the L.P. but did no address that Reagan had a lower vote percentage in 1980 than other regions. Reread my post on this.

  12. Added to the above, still like to see the answer to the following regarding the claim that South was (uniquely?) “fertile ground” for “modern libertarianism.”. If the low LP vote percentages for the LP in the South (compared to other regions) don’t mean anything because “libertarians” voted GOP instead, how can the fact that Reagan did more poorly in the South in 1980 than he did in other regions (ditto Ford in 1976)? Again, I make this claim in far greater detail in my earlier post which, also, notes the fact that Wallace voters were more likely to back Carter in both elections than they dd Reagan.

  13. I’m afraid we have both suffered from some miscommunication.

    On my end, I thought you genuinely could not find the quotations from Goldwater and so that is what I went looking for. My explanation of MacLean’s prose was merely an attempt to explain why you couldn’t find the quotations. I now find out that you know exactly where the quotations are from. So, if you wanted me to know she had simply cited the wrong page number of the book, you could have just said that. I’m easily confused.

    On your end, I’m afraid you think I’m claiming to be an expert on all things MacLean and the person to go to bat for her on every footnote. This is not the case. I’ve only commented on the first couple chapters because that is where my current research is. On school privatization, etc, There, I find her account sound and supported by her evidence. I find the attacks on those portions of the book without merit and have tried to make clear on my blog why I think so.

    As for 1964 Republican platform, when it was drafted, and pretty much everything you have mentioned, I have no special expertise and have not carefully read those sections of the book. I am not prepared to defend or deny anything she has said there. Yet. I’m moving that direction in my own research and I’m sure I will eventually take a position on that.

    As for how “libertarian” the south was/is: My only point is that it is that presidential election returns are probably a very poor measure of any *specific* idea. Tracking LP candidates is probably even a worse measure since fringe candidates are…. fringe. As for Reagan underperforming or whatever, I honestly just don’t think that tells us a great deal about any specific idea, libertarian or not. Such information might be very useful for a political history, but I’m not a political historian.

    I’m working on the libertarian response to racial issues in the postwar US. Your own work on this is formidable and I certainly need to deal with it. I hope we keep in touch because I feel as if we will have a lot to say to each other, even as we disagree.

  14. When I started reading Democracy in Chains, I had hoped to find a discussion about the book as a whole. What I’ve found here and elsewhere are bullet points exposing Dr. MacLean’s interpretations which some people interpret differently. Unfortunately, these points did not expand my understanding of the book.

    I read this book as a cohesive work. I find the number of endnotes, and the range of sources impressive. In addition, Dr. MacLean stated she used other sources “which informed my understanding,” but she didn’t use in this book because she wanted “To keep the book inviting for general readers.” (303) She mentioned her desire to do this several times in her acknowledgements.

    As a non-researcher i.e. general reader, I appreciated that she valued and utilized the expertise of historians and researchers from other fields to enrich her understanding of the material. She had others read, and critiqued her drafts. One of those people, S.M. Amadae, “alerted me to the existence of the Buchanan House Archives.” (BHA)

    I was fascinated that she had the opportunity to use James M. Buchanan’s own words. It must have been thrilling to read through pages and pages of his letters, clippings, memoranda, meeting notes, drafts of speeches etc. At least 130 of her endnotes credited his files. Isn’t paper great!

    In each of us, not every strand of our DNA is error free; those of us commenting here are functioning, intelligent humans regardless of a DNA glitch or two.

  15. Thank you for your sane review of this book and criticism of MacLean’s critics. I feel the critics are protesting just a wee bit too much.

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