The academic history profession has a problem with intellectual integrity. Over the past decade, a cottage industry has emerged in elite university departments that explicitly aims to tear down free-market economists (often misnamed as “neoliberals”) by accusing them of racism, fascism, and similarly discredited beliefs.
Although these are serious charges, the historians who make them seldom have evidence to back their accusations. Instead, they misrepresent historical records, make up falsehoods out of thin air, and even rearrange quotations by their targets to make them appear racist. One of the worst offenders in this regard is Duke University historian Nancy MacLean, whose 2017 book Democracy in Chains tried to portray pioneering Public Choice economist James M. Buchanan as a complicit partner of Senator Harry Flood Byrd’s “Massive Resistance” efforts against Brown v. Board of Education.
MacLean’s thesis collapsed under scholarly scrutiny. To build her case, she mixed up the contents of historical records, misread and conflated footnotes in the secondary literature, and simply fabricated salacious stories wherein Buchanan became a secret admirer of John C. Calhoun and Agrarian Poetry, despite providing no evidence of either. When she wasn’t making them up out of thin air, MacLean also altered quotations to change their meaning, usually in ways that depicted their authors as monsters. In a more honest academic climate, it’s the type of behavior that would earn a professor a stern reprimand from the dean and perhaps a few article retractions.
If you’re wondering how these transgressions on the text passed basic peer review with the journal’s editors, you are not alone. Contrary to the claims of MacLean and her co-authors, [W.H.] Hutt was not attempting “to undercut the legitimacy of apartheid’s black South African critics.” He was writing about the racist hypocrisy of South Africa’s white Afrikaner community. The Dutch-descended Afrikaners often complained of historical injustices against their community at the hands of British colonial authorities, yet as Hutt pointed out, they turned around and perpetrated injustices against black Africans in the form of apartheid.
MacLean et al. took Hutt’s attack on white racists and, through selective excerpting of the original quotation, altered it into an attack on the victims of apartheid.
If this quote-editing exercise was a single incident, it might be possible to chalk it up to sloppiness or incompetence. But Hutt’s explicit reference to Afrikaner hypocrisy appears in the very next sentence, making a careless oversight unlikely. More importantly, MacLean and her colleagues have a long track record of similar behavior, misrepresenting sources and abusing historical evidence.
To academics like MacLean and Darity, both of whom write from positions of power, holding endowed chairs at an elite institution, historical inquiry is no longer an exercise in pursuing truth and understanding about the past. It is a tool for their own far-left political activism. To borrow a phrase from ethicist Nigel Biggar, they treat history as “an armoury from which to ransack politically expedient weapons.” In the process of that ransacking, they cross the line into willful misrepresentations of their source material, all in the service of a modern-day political cause. It’s a pattern of scholarly dishonesty that the academy has tolerated (and even elevated) for far too long.
By taking millions of dollars designated for the fight against racism and doing nothing useful with it, does this not describe Kendi? He was in charge of this project — a project that he promised would “solve” the “intractable racial problems of our time” — and the result of his conduct was a failure to “maintain the nation’s largest online database of racial inequity data in the United States”; accusations of professional “mismanagement” that led to an “exploitative” environment that caused “employment violence” and “trauma”; and mass layoffs that left one staff member accusing Kendi of having engaged in “theatre, therapy, and marketing masquerading as institutional commitment,” and having “let down, betrayed, abused and neglected” his employees. It sounds to me like the man has some self-reflecting to do.
Even before the George Floyd riots, a whole crop of enterprising grifters were making out like bandits on this play. But afterward they ascended to national prominence — their feats are legion, their tales legendary. They belong to the ages now. Robin DiAngelo cornered the market on guilt-ridden professional white women, reaping massive financial rewards by explaining (also, in a way, confirming) their “white fragility” to them. Saira Rao — a former Cleary Gottlieb attorney and the extremely well-heeled daughter of two doctors — hilariously has managed to make ridiculous sums of money by convincing those same women to pay for the privilege of serving her dinner while she angrily lectures the attendees on you’re-all-racist garbage. (Seriously, this is an amazing grift. I tip my cap to a master.) Nikole Hannah-Jones’s adventures in The Project of 1619 have been so successful that she has written a single article for the New York Times since 2021 (a review of a children’s book). I’m sure she earns her berth through other diligent journalistic work, none of which will ever be written.
While America’s quality of care could be significantly better than it is, it’s still at or near the world’s pinnacle. The oft-cited comparisons with other countries rest mostly on one old, poorly executed, politically biased, wildly misused paper from the World Health Organization (WHO)—The World Health Report 2000. I won’t add a link to that paper as it should be considered NSFW (Not Suitable for Work)—assuming your work relies on accurate, meaningful data. For detailed explanations of the epic fails of that incessantly quoted study, see Glen Whitman’s “WHO’s Fooling Who” and Scott Atlas’s “The Worst Study Ever?”