by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
In Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean attempts to smear James Buchanan and other public-choice economists as racist authoritarians who, with financial support from the nefarious Koch brothers, conspired to deliver America into the hands of a cabal of oligarchs.
The book has been thoroughly debunked. According to MacLean’s many critics, the book is tendentious, poorly reasoned, and riddled with false and misleading statements. One of those critics is economic historian Phil Magness, who published this spreadsheet listing 78 instances of “factual errors,” “misleading claims,” “misrepresented evidence,” and “quotation errors” (all with scholarly citations to back up his claims). Another is political scientist Mike Munger. Like MacLean, Munger is a professor at Duke, but, professional courtesy notwithstanding, he doesn’t pull any punches in this scathing assessment in the Independent Review. (For additional examples, see here, here, here, and here.)
Despite this torrent of criticism, or perhaps because of it, the Southern Regional Council (SRC) recently announced that MacLean two authors receiving this year’s Lillian Smith Book Awards In the announcement, the SRC explains that the organization was founded in 1919 “to combat racial injustice in the South” and that it established the award program “to recognize authors whose books represent outstanding achievements demonstrating through high literary merit and moral vision an honest representation of the South, its people, its problems, and its promise.” Regarding the book and its author, the announcement says:
This book explores the philosophies and strategies that animate those on the political right. University of Virginia economist James M. Buchanan provided the blueprint for the libertarian movement.
MacLean says her research uncovered the operation that he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to limit participatory democracy through Constitutional means.
She says Buchanan’s argument was “if you don’t like the outcome of public policy over the long term, don’t think about changing the rulers, but think about changing the rules.”
MacLean concludes that “what we’re seeing today is very much akin to the 1860s and the 1930s in terms of a very determined and powerful group of people who are hostile to democracy, as the Confederacy was, and the American Liberty League was in the 1930s, and they are moving along very successfully.”
The award ceremony will take place at the DeKalb Public Library in Decatur, Georgia, on Sunday, September 2nd at 2:30 p.m.