Nancy MacLean Offers No Evidence to Support Her Serious Charge

by Don Boudreaux on October 3, 2017

in Books, Myths and Fallacies, Virginia Political Economy

On August 1st I e-mailed this letter to Nancy MacLean.  She has yet to respond.

My letter was sparked by MacLean’s harsh accusation that Jim Buchanan, in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty, was, as she wrote on page 151 of Democracy in Chains, “outlining a world in which the chronic domination of the wealthiest and most powerful over all others appeared the ultimate desideratum, a state of affairs to be enabled by his understanding of the ideal constitution.”  This accusation is very serious.  With it, MacLean accuses a Nobel-laureate economist – who is dead and, hence, unable to defend his reputation – of holding a view that all decent people rightly regard as reprehensible.

In my letter I asked MacLean to offer, by the end of September, just one quotation from Buchanan that she is willing to present to the public as evidence in support of her charge.  She offers nothing.  Her silence on this front isn’t surprising, for in her book where she levels this charge MacLean doesn’t even offer a footnote to any of Buchanan’s writings to support this charge; her footnote (#87) to the above-quoted passage is this:

87. Amadae, Prisoners of Reason, 175–76, 182, 187, and 191. The entire section she devotes to Limits of Liberty deserves close reading (175–92).

Notice that MacLean doesn’t even offer here a quotation from this book by Amadae!

Whether or not any section of S.M. Amadae’s book “deserves close reading” is an open question.  But what is beyond question is that anyone who really wants to determine if, in The Limits of Liberty, Buchanan “was outlining a world in which the chronic domination of the wealthiest and most powerful over all others appeared the ultimate desideratum, a state of affairs to be enabled by his understanding of the ideal constitution,” he or she should read The Limits of Liberty.

I’ve just re-read The Limits of Liberty, carefully on the lookout for any sentence or passage, in the text or in the footnotes, that might possibly be interpreted to support MacLean’s charge.  I found nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  (In fact, The Limits of Liberty‘s main thesis can fairly be described as one that stands in sharp opposition to the goal that MacLean alleges was Buchanan’s motivation.)

I’m confident in saying that nor has Nancy MacLean come across any such passage in Buchanan’s writings – not in The Limits of Liberty or anywhere else.  Not only does MacLean, in her book, not supply any such passage as evidence for her charge, she has since refused to offer to the public any such passage as evidence of her charge.  Surely if such a passage exists – surely if, when researching Buchanan, MacLean had encountered such a passage – she would have quoted it directly in her book rather than merely footnoted another author’s book about Buchanan (and even then offering no substantive text to support her charge).  Surely given all of the public criticism she has received from me and from others, MacLean would have leapt at the opportunity to quote Buchanan and then say ‘See! Here is where Buchanan championed the chronic domination of the wealthiest!’

But no.  MacLean offers nothing.  The reason is that there is nothing to offer.  MacLean’s charge against Buchanan is without foundation.  It’s false.  She leveled it at a late scholar in order to further her own fictional narrative.

I have until now accused MacLean only of being horrendously careless in her research and frightfully reckless in her interpretation of what her research has turned up.  Perhaps there’s no more to it than that.  But one conclusion is inescapable.  MacLean is either inconceivably stupid – with a stupidity that prevents her from understanding plain English as well as basic rules of logical discourse – or she is a fraud.  Accusing someone of fraud is a serious charge.  And while I believe that a great deal of evidence exists to support that charge (infinitely more evidence than exists to support MacLean’s charge against Buchanan), my best guess continues to be that MacLean is no fraud but, instead, simply a remarkably clueless, unintelligent woman who sees only the mirages that her ideology creates in her head – and whose ability to glibly describe those mirages impresses those who are equally clueless and who share her ideology.


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