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Nancy MacLean’s Sloppy ‘Scholarship’

Steve Horwitz has found yet further evidence – in a 1996 review of a 1994 book – that Nancy MacLean is such a sloppy and unscholarly “scholar” that her work is not to be taken seriously.  I paste below, in full, Steve’s short post, which appears at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

A Devastating Review of Nancy MacLean’s Book on the Klan


Good fortune has brought me a review of Nancy MacLean’s 1994 book on the KKK. If you think Mike Munger’s review of the new book was devastating, this is worse. And the author of the review has no Koch connections whatsoever. Plus, do the quotations below from the reviewer sound familiar?

“Leaving Athens behind, MacLean roams the country picking out statements that fit her case that the Klan was radical and violent. if someone connected with the Klan claimed to be a devotee of the Constitution and only against lawbreakers, particularly those associated with Demon Rum, MacLean doesn’t believe him, does not bother to examine his motives or statements, and does not herself set forth any rule of interpretation that enables one to determine when Klansmen were speaking from the heart and when they were dissimulating. Perhaps all of their Main Street platitudes were self-conscious lies, but on what basis can we conclude that?…

Her argument is circular and ahistorical. It is circular because a lack of evidence is said to be proof of the Klan’s power to suppress it, and that alleged power is then hold to imply that there must have been much more violence than there is evidence to support.”

I have tried hard to treat her as a serious scholar who went off the rails with the Buchanan book, but now we seem to have a pattern here: cherry-picking evidence, circular reasoning, ascribing conspiratorial power to organizations when she lacks supporting evidence, and a refusal to grant any legitimacy to her sources’ own words. It’s the same pattern we see in Democracy in Chains

And this reviewer, again, has no taint of Koch, yet found all the same sorts of problems.

As they say, read the whole thing.

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Author: Steve Horwitz