More on Nancy MacLean’s Egregious ‘Scholarship’

by Don Boudreaux on June 28, 2022

in Archived writings, Myths and Fallacies, Virginia Political Economy

My latest AIER column is the second of a two-part series looking back five years to the publication of ‘historian’ Nancy MacLean’s scandalously reality-challenged book purporting to show that the late Nobel-laureate economist James Buchanan was a oligarch-loving racist. (As I’ve often said since June 2017, one of the few relevant facts that MacLean gets right about Buchanan is the spelling of his name. She does seem to be a good speller. Not much in her book beyond that is correct.)

Here’s a slice from my latest column:

Finally, I share here my letter, of August 1, 2017, to MacLean – a letter to which I received no reply:

Prof. Nancy MacLean
Department of History
Duke University
Durham, NC

Prof. MacLean:

On page 151 of your book Democracy in Chains you write that my late Nobel laureate colleague James Buchanan (in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty) “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.” Yet you supply no quotation from Buchanan’s book to support this harsh accusation.

So I challenge you to find in any of Buchanan’s writings a single passage that you are willing to offer to the public as evidence that Buchanan had as an ultimate desideratum a political system in which “the wealthiest and most powerful” exercise “chronic domination … over all others.” If you find such a passage I will post it on my blog and offer to you a public apology for having accused you, on my blog, of falsely portraying Buchanan on this score.

Note that I am not asking for evidence that Buchanan proposed policies that you believe will lead to the domination of the many by the wealthy few. Buchanan certainly did endorse much greater freedom than you would accord to individuals to interact as they choose in markets. But being a scholar, you surely understand that even if you are correct that Buchanan was wrong not to predict that the free markets and limits on government that he endorsed would lead to the domination of the many by the wealthy few, his different assessment of the likely consequences of free markets and limited government does not establish the accuracy of what you accuse him of – namely, desiring the domination of the many by the wealthy few.

If you fail to offer to me (or to post in some other public venue) – by, say, the end of September 2017 – evidence from Buchanan’s own writings that his goal was the domination of the many by the wealthy few, I will interpret this failure as proof that you in fact have no such evidence. And the conclusion that I, and others, will reasonably draw is that you simply fabricated this offensive charge.

Donald J. Boudreaux

A full list of the many posts that I’ve written at Café Hayek in response to MacLean’s shoddy ‘scholarship’ is available here. ‘Scholarship’ is here in scare-quotes because, as I note in this post from November 4, 2017, “Nancy MacLean is to scholarship what Cap’n Crunch is to nutrition” – children swallow it eagerly, while sensible adults never touch the stuff.


I fear that I am, with the above comparison, unfair to Cap’n Crunch.

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