The Controversy over MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”

I just became aware of this brewing controversy over the negative criticism of Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, in which she claims her many critics, mostly lawyers and political scientists it seems, are part of a coordinated attack to discredit her book’s thesis that Libertarianism was part of a racist, Koch-funded master plot to destroy American Democracy. Many of her critics seem to be connected, via George Mason University, to one of the book’s main subjects, libertarian economist James McGill Buchanan, and all funded, currently/in the past/in part, through Charles Koch Foundation money.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue this situation, but it seems serious enough. From what I can tell, there’s a bit of a divide here between historical and social science methods, but in the few examples I’ve read MacLean does also seem to have misinterpreted her sources. And, Amazon Review wars aside, I’m skeptical of conspiracy theories regarding negative reviews (though there was that British historian of Russia a few years back…Orlando…what’s his name…who anonymously trashed his rivals’ books until his game was exposed).

In any case, there are some posts that bear reading:

Colleen Flaherty’s thorough write-up in Inside Higher Ed: Stealth Attack on a Liberal Scholar?

And three critiques of MacLean’s book, one with a rejoinder from the author:

Jonathan Adler, WaPo, Does ‘Democracy in Chains paint an accurate portrait of James Buchanan? [With Updates]

David Bernstein, WaPo , Some Dubious Claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains.’

Russ Roberts, Nancy MacLean owes Tyler Cohen an Apology [with response from MacLean]

 

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