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The Infantilism of Some “Intellectuals”

From a credible source, I just heard a rumor that someone who has been a defender of the Duke University “historian” Nancy MacLean’s indescribably ignorant and tendentious effort to smear the late Nobel-laureate economist James Buchanan (a former colleague of mine) as a closet racist is writing a new paper obviously intended to defend MacLean’s indefensible case. This paper, I understand, prominently features Buchanan’s paternal grandfather, John P. Buchanan, Democratic governor of Tennessee from 1891 to 1893.

I sincerely hope that the rumor is false. But the high credibility of the source – and the history of the author of this rumored forthcoming paper – lead me to suspect that, alas, this hope of mine will be dashed. That’s too bad.

You see, the elder Buchanan, as a young man, was indeed a Confederate soldier and did not have today’s enlightened views on race. (He did, however, as governor apparently personally intervene to try to stop the lynching of a black man.) So MacLean’s champion – under, no doubt, the delusion that he’s a serious scholar doing serious scholarship – apparently supposes that he’s supplying reliable evidence in favor of MacLean’s case by showing that Buchanan’s grandfather was a racist. So you see the case! PawPaw Buchanan was a racist Confederate – which surely points to the conclusion that James Buchanan, who has no history of disowning his family, was also racist. And because we’ve now firmly established that James Buchanan was racist, then his economics is discredited. In both origin and intent it’s racist! Moving on: because Buchanan’s economics notably is in, and reinforces, the tradition of classical liberalism, then classical liberalism is suffused with racism and, hence, is also discredited.

Enter, ye enlightened ‘Progressive’ leaders, and save us from free markets and the troglodytes who would put democracy in chains by binding government to constitutional rules. (Hey, don’t forget this actual fact: James Buchanan – just like the slaveholder James Madison – was indeed an avid defender of keeping government constitutionally limited.)

Let’s stipulate, for argument’s sake, that PawPaw Buchanan was more racist than was the most knuckle-dragging Grand Wizard of the KKK. Let’s also acknowledge what is certainly factual, namely, that James Buchanan loved John P. as a grandfather and knew of PawPaw’s unseemly past and views. And let’s also even suppose (with no evidence) that James Buchanan the boy regularly ran throughout his family’s Tennessee farmhouse wearing blackface, dressed in a Confederate uniform, and carrying a pop gun that he shot gleefully at imaginary Union soldiers – all the while whistling “Dixie.” So what? The fact is that there is nothing – literally nothing – in the work (which is vast) of James Buchanan to indicate that he was a racist. Quite the contrary. Buchanan’s real sin – his unforgivable offense – in the eyes of MacLean and her lackeys is that he was a principled classical liberal who was also highly influential and the source of unimpeachable scholarship.

Only children and the feeble-minded put much stock in this sort of degrees-of-separation mode of ‘analysis.’ Because evidence within James Buchanan’s massive corpus of life-long scholarship supplies zero evidence of his alleged racism, papers such as the one rumored now to be in the works about Buchanan’s alleged racism are examples, not of scholarship, but of ideologically motivated hit-jobs. Such ‘research’ is to scholarship what horse dung is to exquisite meals at Michelin restaurants.