Libertarian History/Philosophy

Is Libertarianism a 'Stealth Plan' To Destroy America?

Nancy MacLean's conspiracy tract Democracy in Chains grossly misrepresents limited-government philosophy and the work of Nobel laureate James M. Buchanan.

|

Viking, Amazon

As its title suggests, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Duke historian Nancy MacLean, is filled with all sorts of melodramatic flourishes and revelations of supposed conspiracies. Chains, deep history, radicals, stealth—is this nonfiction or an Oliver Stone film? Even the cover depicts a smoke-filled room filled with ample-chinned, shadowy figures! This book, virtually every page announces, isn't simply about the Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan and his "public choice" theory, which holds in part that public-sector actors are bound by the same self-interest and desire to grow their "market share" as private-sector actors are.

No, MacLean is after much-bigger, more-sinister game, documenting what she believes is

the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance…[and] a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation.

The billionaires in question, of course, are Koch brothers Charles and David, who have reached a level of villainy in public discourse last rivaled by Sacco and Vanzetti. (David Koch is a trustee of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website; Reason also receives funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.) Along the way, MacLean advances many sub-arguments, such as the notion that the odious, hypocritical, and archly anti-capitalistic 19th-century slavery apologist John C. Calhoun is the spirit animal of contemporary libertarianism. In fact, Buchanan and the rest of us all are nothing less than "Calhoun's modern understudies."

Such unconvincing claims ("the Marx of the Master Class," as Calhoun was dubbed by Richard Hofstadter, was openly hostile to the industrialism, wage labor, and urbanization that James Buchanan took for granted) are hard to keep track of, partly because of all the rhetorical smoke bombs MacLean is constantly lobbing. In a characteristic example, MacLean early on suggests that libertarianism isn't "merely a social movement" but "the story of something quite different, something never before seen in American history":

Could it be—and I use these words quite hesitantly and carefully—a fifth-column assault on American democratic governance?

Calling attention to the term's origins to describe Franco's covert, anti-modern allies in the Spanish Civil War, MacLean writes

the term "fifth column" has been applied to stealth supporters of an enemy who assist by engaging in propaganda and even sabotage to prepare the way for its conquest. It is a fraught term among scholars, not least because the specter of a secretive, infiltrative fifth column has been used in instrumental ways by the powerful— such as in the Red Scare of the Cold War era— to conjure fear and lead citizens and government to close ranks against dissent, with grave costs for civil liberties. That, obviously, is not my intent in using the term….

And yet it's the only term up for MacLean's job, since "the concept of a fifth column does seem to be the best one available for capturing what is distinctive in a few key dimensions about this quest to ensure the supremacy of capital." Sure, "fifth column" is a dirty, lowdown, suspect term among historians because using it trades in hysteria at the service of the ruling class rather than rational analysis intended to help the downtrodden. But come on, people, we're in a twilight struggle here, with a movement whose goals have included, among other things, ending censorship; opening the borders to goods and people from around the world; abolishing the draft and reducing militarism; legalizing abortion, drugs, and alternative lifestyles; reforming criminal justice and sentencing; focusing on how existing government operations, especially K-12 schools, have hurt poor and minority Americans; and doing away with occupational licensing and other barriers to entry for business owners, among other things. So much for hesitation on MacLean's part. Fifth column it is! As for carefulness, it's worth noting in passing that MacLean identifies former Attorney General Ed Meese and foreign-policy hawk Bill Kristol as libertarians, which must be as much of a shock to them as it is to, well, actual libertarians.

Clearly this sort of book, published by a major house (Viking) and written by an eminent historian (MacLean is a chaired professor at Duke and author of highly regarded books), is ideological catnip to people who dislike libertarianism and its growing influence in politics and culture. At the increasingly hard-left New Republic, Alex Shephard introduces an interview with MacLean by writing that Democracy in Chains "exposes the frightening intellectual roots of the radical right, as well as its ultimate ambition: to erode American democracy." At NPR, novelist Genevieve Valentine writes

As MacLean lays out in their own words, these men developed a strategy of misinformation and lying about outcomes until they had enough power that the public couldn't retaliate against policies libertarians knew were destructive. (Look no further than Flint, MacLean says, where the Koch-funded Mackinac Center was behind policies that led to the water crisis.)

Let's leave aside the fact that Flint's water supply contamination was due to decades of local mismanagement and a stimulus project gone wrong, hardly the sort of thing that mustache-twirling libertarians espouse. And let's ignore the shibboleth Koch-funded for the time being (go here for a realistic appraisal of the Kochs' influence on the modern libertarian movement). Democracy in Chains is chicken soup for the souls of liberals, progressives, and members of the "resistance" who want to believe that libertarians don't just want to destroy or reform ineffective and inefficient public-sector agencies and institutions, but actually want to kill people or destroy them irreparably. Because really, how else can you make a buck in a free market, right?

If liberals and leftists are uncritically celebrating MacLean's attack, scholars and writers with specific and general knowledge of Buchanan's work and libertarianism are taking a more jaundiced view. Reason will be publishing a review-essay in the coming weeks but in the interim, here's a survey of some of the sharpest rejoinders to date.

Historian Phillip W. Magness, trained at Buchanan's former perch of George Mason University, takes particular issue with MacLean's linking of Buchanan to characters such as Calhoun and the poet Donald Davidson, the leader of the self-styled Fugitives and Agrarians in the 20th-century South. Like Calhoun, the Agrarians treated capitalism and modernity with contempt, as a sort of mirror image of an equally soulless and totalitarian communism. MacLean asserts that Davidson, who railed against an increasingly centralized "Leviathan" state, was central to Buchanan's worldview. But Magness notes that Buchanan never studied with him nor ever quoted him in his collected works. As with her non-hesitant, careless use of "fifth column," MacLean's real purpose in linking Buchanan with Davidson is to smear the former. Writes Magness:

MacLean has a very specific reason for making this claim, and she returns to it at multiple points in her book. The Agrarians, in addition to spawning a southern literary revival (the novelist Robert Penn Warren was one of their members), were also segregationists. By connecting them to Buchanan, she bolsters one of the primary charges of her book: an attempt to link Buchanan's economic theories to a claimed resentment over Brown v. Board and the subsequent defeat of racial segregation in 1960s Virginia.

In another post, Magness notes when MacLean tries to link Buchanan to Calhoun, she instead starts citing work by Murray Rothbard, who actually was harshly critical of Buchanan. This sort of slippery maneuver permeates Democracy in Chains, as Case Western's Jonathan Adler documents at the Volokh Conspiracy blog in The Washington Post. At Medium, Russ Roberts writes about MacLean's treatment of George Mason economist Tyler Cowen, who also directs the Koch-funded Mercatus Center. MacLean suggests that Cowen welcomes the weakening of governmental checks and balances because doing so supports her thesis that libertarians want to take over the government by "stealth." As Roberts points out, MacLean is guilty of intellectual malpractice:

MacLean left out the word "While" that begins Cowen's sentence. Then she left off the key qualifier that completes the sentence?—?the point that the downside risk of weakening checks and balances is substantial. There is nothing here suggesting Cowen is in favor of weakening democracy or the Constitution. By quoting only a piece of Cowen's sentence, MacLean reverses his meaning.

Unfortunately, MacLean does not just quote Cowen out of context. She ignores anything in Cowen's essay that conflicts with her portrayal of Cowen as a sinister enemy of American institutions and democracy.

MacLean's Duke colleague, the political scientist Michael Munger, has authored the most exhaustive and harshly critical review of Democracy in Chains to date. Writing for the Independent Institute, Munger damningly characterizes the book as

a work of speculative historical fiction. There is considerable research underpinning the speculation, and since MacLean is careful about footnoting only things that actually did happen she cannot be charged with fabricating facts. But most of the book, and all of its substantive conclusions, are idiosyncratic interpretations of the facts that she selects from a much larger record, as is common in the speculative-history genre. There is nothing wrong about speculation, of course, but there is nothing persuasive about it either, in terms of drawing reliable conclusions about history.

The entire essay comes as close to required reading as any libertarian would decree. Munger is not simply scoring points or picking apart the argument made by someone from a different tribe or camp; he's actually laying bare how ideologically motivated texts paper over gaps in evidence and logic by focusing on small details to the exclusion of actually giving an accurate view of the larger picture. In the grip of a thesis she wants to be true, MacLean simply sifts through huge amounts of data and evidence, keeping only small chips of bones and fossils that she can use to construct a skeleton with which to scare people who already agree with her.

The contribution of Democracy in Chains…is to do two things…: Identify James Buchanan as the focal point of the revolution, and identify the content of Public Choice research and teaching as anti-Constitutional and anti-democratic…. Buchanan did not believe in unlimited majority rule. But then, as Buchanan often rightly said, nobody believes in unlimited majority rule. Democracy is and must be a balancing of, on the one hand, the rights of minorities, and, on the other, the ability of the majority to have its way within the domain established as "political" by the constitution. That's another thing that is remarkable about Democracy in Chains: MacLean does not assign Buchanan a straw man position. She (correctly) gives Buchanan's position as being the mainstream view, the one that everyone actually agrees with. And then she tries to defend the straw man position, the one that no one actually believes. Remarkable. The position she assigns Buchanan is this: He thought that democracy should be limited, to protect minorities. Um…okay. Yes, that's right. We all believe that.

Which isn't to say that Munger finds no value in the book:

Democracy in Chains is well-written, and the research it contains is both interesting and in many cases illuminating. But as an actual history, as a reliable account of the centrality of the work of James Buchanan in a gigantic conspiracy designed to end democracy in America, it turns far away from its mark. It is the story of an alternative past that never actually happened.

Despite its central failings, I too found the book interesting, if mostly as a way of understanding the ways in which libertarian thought is considered by those hostile to it. Ultimately, Democracy in Chains reveals less about a not-so-shadowy group of people who, as a t-shirt puts it, are "diligently plotting to take over the World and leave you alone" and more about progressives and liberals who choose to live in a dream world.

Other takes worth a read include ones by Jonah Goldberg, David Bernstein, David Henderson, Steve Horwitz, and Jason Brennan.

NEXT: Brickbat: Red Star Over Budapest

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Could it be?and I use these words quite hesitantly and carefully?a fifth-column assault on American democratic governance?

    Libertarians know of new methods of attack.

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do… http://www.onlinecareer10.com

    2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do… http://www.onlinecareer10.com

  2. Progressivism is the stealth plan to destroy America – it is American Menshevism, America’s version of the British Fabian Society.

    1. Yeah, it’s funny that she’d refer to John Calhoun as “the Marx of the Master Class” when, you know, *Karl Marx* would kinda sorta fit that description better. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that there is a Communist conspiracy to undermine American democracy and, really, all of Western Civilization and its faith in the sovereignty of the individual over the collective and its identity politics bullshit, how would this book read any different if it were part of that vast left-wing conspiracy?

    2. American Progressivism is Fabianism minus most of the intellectual exclusivity and the overt Marxism, and plus a lot of dumb populism.

    3. “Progressivism is the stealth plan to destroy America”

      At least it was in the 1930’s and 40’s, and 60’s. What the old timers don’t realize is that the “America” you idolize has been “destroyed” and replaced with something else a long time ago.

      Now to the question of the article: “Is Libertarianism a “Stealth Plan” To Destroy America?”

      I think that given my premise above, to many, it is.

    4. Having not read the book I’m not going to defend it, but what I will never understand is how libertarians have this incredible fear of unaccountable government bureaucrats yet think that they will somehow be able to control the private corporations that come to take their place. At least with governments you do have some say in how they operate and they are quite literally the only tool that the populous has to constrain the ultra rich and force them to behave in a way that benefits more than their bottom line. You seem to think that you will still have your current job, income, and status in your libertarian utopia. Trust me, you won’t. As it is now we have crony capitalism where businesses practically own the government making them only feign regret when they get caught ripping people off and get a slap on the wrist (every bank). You are delusional if you think you can use market discipline to ensure good behavior. If you have 4 firms, 3 honest and 1 not, as soon as the not honest one finds an unethical way to profit it puts the other 3 at a competitive disadvantage. They can either stay honest and lose business or go crooked too. With no watchdog in place you will end up in a neo-feudalistic hell, without a doubt.

      If you want to debate how much of a role the government should have in ensuring equality of opportunity then that is reasonable, but this whole kill government because it makes rules I don’t want to follow is childish and naive.

      1. We do not have an “incredible fear of unaccountable government bureaucrats,” nor do all of us believe that government could or should be abolished. In the first 20 pages of “Road to Serfdom,” Hayak points out that markets need some amount of governing to maintain competition and resolve disputes. The question is, “How much is the right amount?”

        As for government being the “only tool” to constrain corporations, that’s not true. The Greensboro sit-ins resulted in desegregation of lunch counters across the country before any laws were changed. More recently, Chik-Fil-A backed down from its opposition to gay marriage in the face of customer backlash. In fact, the people have as much, if not more ability, to oppose corporations because we can simply refuse to give them our money.

        How do you suppose that strategy works with the government? Don’t like our military killing civilians in the Middle East? Just stop paying your taxes — see how that works out. Of course, you are free to vote for new representatives, up to and including the President. And you can see how effective that has been in ending our involvement in foreign wars…

  3. Christ, what an asshole.

    And yet, it’s the only term up for MacLean’s job since “the concept of a fifth column does seem to be the best one available for capturingwhat is distinctive in a few key dimensions about this quest to ensure the supremacy of capital.”

    LEAVE KMELE ALONE

  4. MacLean identifies former Attorney General Ed Meese and foreign-policy hawk Bill Kristol as libertarians

    Own ’em, cuck.

    1. The closest SIV ever gets to a point is when he’s putting the tiny ball gag in his favorite chicken’s beak.

      1. You owe me a bottle of Windex, good sir, for the clean up I had to perform on my computer monitor after I spewed coffee all over it after reading your post.

  5. Poor Nancy MacLean. No doubt she started writing this thing with in mind a continuing string of Democrats in the White House. Bad timing. The libertarians might be the left’s allies in curbing Trump (depending on what parts of the administration’s agenda they find most troublesome).

    1. Well, considering how principled the left is, they seem mostly concerned with EVERYTHING TRUMP DOES BECAUSE HE’S EVIL INCARNATE.

      Then again, the conservatives are busy defending everything he does because he’s the godking.

      1. ^^This. It’s Trump Derangement Syndrome all the way down.

      2. What about the Never-Trumpettes? At least some of them still self-identify as “conservative”.

        I’m about as libertarian as USAns can get, & I, 63 YO, think he’s the most libertarian prez of my lifetime so far. Doesn’t make him a radical libertarian by any means, but remember that almost all politics clusters around the center, & it’s silly to judge by the ideal in ones’ head.

        1. “I…think he’s the most libertarian prez of my lifetime.”

          Than you’re either an idiot or this is some kind of tallest midget contest.

          1. *Then, dammit.

          2. I think “tallest midget” is a fair characterization.

            But my take is not so much “most libertarian prez of my lifetime so far,” but “now that we have someone making truly random decisions disconnected from ideology or planning of any kind, some of those decisions happen to have gone in a libertarian direction in stark contrast to all presidents in living memory who have deliberately avoiding anything even remotely resembling libertarianism.”

        2. Robert:
          “…it’s silly to judge by the ideal in ones’ head.”

          Where then, am I to go for principled government implementing reasonable policies in the service of the citizenry? Huh?

    2. The left didn’t like the last Liberaltarian Alliance because libertarians refused to shut up and follow orders.

  6. “back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation.” At least we agrees we don’t support segregation. She gave us that much.

    The part I don’t get is the whole James Buchanan thing. Though all my years of attending the secret meetings in smoke filled rooms, leafing through our core documents, the Federalist Papers, The Silmarillion, The Necronomicon, I don’t remember anyone mentioning James freaking Buchanan. There must be a level in SeaOrg I haven’t heard of yet. Better start saving up

    1. Wasn’t he the president from Pennsylvania?

    2. “At least we agrees we don’t support segregation. She gave us that much.

      I was surprised by that one. I figured the thesis was surely headed toward accusations of racism and/or fascism.

      But then she claims libertarian spiritual leader Buchanan was apparently driven by resentment of desegregation.

    3. The only place I can ever remember seeing references to James Buchanan is in the Liberty Fund books catalog.

      1. And James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa. I attended there for a year, and come to think of it, even they didn’t mention him much. His place in American political history is, I’ve always* thought, is equivalent to Greg Ostertag’s place in NBA history**. Or, now I consider it, Ms. MacLeans’ place among serious political thinkers.

        *-actually, never previously.
        **-from the remote duck blinds of Kansas, Ostertag can look up the NBA Hall of Fame on Google.

  7. When I first became aware of all the takedowns of MacLean’s diatribe, it reminded me of that book on guns from 5-10 years ago — purported to go through wills and probate records to show that Americans had not owned a lot of guns. Got national awards, and of course the gun grabbers loved it. Then someone found that some of the footnotes didn’t add up, more people investigated, and it turned out he had just made up most of them. Things like cities which didn’t exist, probate records which didn’t exist, and my favorite, he mentioned a whole bunch of records which had actually burned up in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. They took back the national awards, the publisher stopped publishing and I think even recalled what hadn’t been sold, I think he was fired form his professorship for conduct unbecoming, and he made gun grabbers look like the pathetic fools they have always been.

    I wonder if something similar is in the works here. Academics have very little going for them except their academic records, and the kinds of misquotes and outright lies and libel I’ve read about are about the worst kind of sin in the academic world.

    1. Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture is a discredited 2000 book by historian Michael A. Bellesiles.

      Statisticians could tell his numbers didn’t add up without needing to see the sources. Even for made up data they made no sense.

      My personal favorite was his misquoting the Militia Act of 1792 where the original states every member is required to supply his own gun and will only be provided for from state magazines if he can show he can’t afford a gun, and Bellesiles’ version where the state magazine holds all the guns and they are only released for drill. How could he get it that wrong absent intent, and how did he think it would go unchallenged?

      1. That’s the one! It astonished me that any writer, ley alone a famous author with a reputation already built and at risk from such lies, would in fact make up so much stuff that was easily checked. Maybe he started small, thinking that old records were safe to make up, who would go around to so many small courthouses to doublecheck?

        And here we go again, but this time it’s distorting quotes from living people (Tyler Cowen, really?) and people with an extensive written record (Buchanan?!?) in such ridiculous ways. She apparently had a pretty good reputation before this, but now that she’s drawn attention to herself for lying, people are going to go back over all her previous work with a fine toothed comb. What the heck was she thinking? Did her editor have zero knowledge of the subject?

      2. “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture is a discredited 2000 book by historian Michael A. Bellesiles.”

        And like the BS that “20% of Americans are starving”, it is still quoted as fact.

    2. You’re thinking of “Arming America” by Michael Bellesiles–damn thing won the Bancroft Prize until people started checking his sources. That whole fiasco is why I don’t take the concept of “academic review” seriously. They clearly accepted what Bellesiles wrote at face value because he told them what they wanted to hear, and ended up with egg on their face.

      1. Whoops, dan beat me to it.

        1. That’s ok, it’s still a good comment. Academics have shit in their bed too often for too long for me to trust them Either. Climate change alarmism is another such field; now the tipping point is 2020, just three years from now — I can barely constrain myself waiting, wanting to rub it in their faces in 2021 and ask them to please just shut up now that it’s too late.

          Same with statists — everything government does, it does incompetently, to the point that I don’t think government can do anything well, and anyone who says otherwise has a pretty high bar.

          1. I can barely constrain myself waiting, wanting to rub it in their faces in 2021 and ask them to please just shut up now that it’s too late.

            Why? Is that the way it happened when the last half-dozen “too late to save the world” deadlines came and went?

  8. It’s truly ironic that progressives, who take their name from a group of actual racists (and who still cite noted racists like Holmes and Wilson as heroes), are attempting to smear libertarians by making up links to racists like Calhoun.

    1. Yep, their ideological founders and forebears expressly advocated for racism and eugenic, not as any sort of byproduct or cultural artifact, but as practical expressions of their core principles.

      Yet they are the ones who want to play guilt by (exceedingly suspect) association.

      It’s always projection with that crowd.

  9. it’s worth noting in passing that MacLean identifies former Attorney General Ed Meese and foreign-policy hawk Bill Kristol as libertarians, which must be as much of a shock to them as it is to, well, actual libertarians

    Welcome to the team, Bill!

    1. Maybe someone should get him a set of hand libertarian principle reference cards. Because he needs ’em.

      1. Make sure the, “Don’t desire war against every country ever” card is the first to show for him.

        1. Or second, behind “The worst negative effect of most drugs is the increased risk of adversarial interaction with the police and the justice system.”?

  10. the term “fifth column” has been applied to stealth supporters of an enemy who assist by engaging in propaganda and even sabotage to prepare the way for its conquest. It is a fraught term among scholars, not least because the specter of a secretive, infiltrative fifth column has been used in instrumental ways by the powerful? such as in the Red Scare of the Cold War era? to conjure fear and lead citizens and government to close ranks against dissent, with grave costs for civil liberties.

    Sounds like the democrats to me – – – –

    By the way, which chapter was on Soros?

    1. The one on the “Sixth Column”. That’s “supporters of an enemy who assist by engaging in propaganda and even sabotage to prepare the way for its conquest”, after they are already in charge of the mechanisms of government.

  11. P-R-O-J-E-C-T-I-O-N spells projection.

    Also; it was one of the major signs that the Political Right had lost it big time that they began to tell themselves convoluted conspiracy theories. What we may be seeing here is the Progressive Left’s equivalent to the tired old “FDR planned Pearl Harbor” narrative.

    (Occam’s Razor; FDR didn’t plan Pearl Harbor; everyone in his administration and most decision makers in the military expected a Japanese attack. But they were (mostly) racists. They didn’t think the Japanese could mount an attack as far as Pearl Harbor. Oops.)

    1. And the primary reason FDR was pushing the Japanese and hoping they’d attack was that he could use it as an excuse to better help Britain fight Germany. But the Japanese attacked the US directly, instead of just some Dutch East Indies island. Oops!

      1. “And the primary reason FDR was pushing the Japanese and hoping they’d attack was that he could use it as an excuse to better help Britain fight Germany.”

        You and the guy who thinks Elvis has an alien love child might believe that, but that’s all.

  12. “…developed a strategy of misinformation and lying about outcomes until they had enough power that the public couldn’t retaliate…”

    Lefties project.

    1. Well yes, ALL of us good progs already KNOW that Glibertarians are conspiring to undermine all that is good and proggy!!!

      Forthwith, here I list the VERY latest (but very-little-known) Glibertarian conspiracy?

      Genetically Engineered Bacterial Spores at Root of New Conspiracy

      What I have heard is that the Glibertarians are cooking up yet MORE evil ways to bring down aircraft! They have deviously devised aluminum-eating genetically engineered microbes, which, as we speak (write and read), are being secreted into and onto the main weight-bearing aluminum structural elements of American and allied (non- Glibertarians) aircraft, military and civilian alike. At the release of secret radio codes, these aluminum-digesting microbial GMOs will spring to life, and then will destroy aircraft in-flight.

      What are the microbes called, you say?

      Wait for it now?

      ?

      ?

      ?

      ?

      ?

      ?

      ? The Aluminum-Eatee!!!

      1. Metal munching moon mice.

  13. Buchanan was a northerner who was sympathetic with the slave states, which is why he’s a good example of a bad politician, but that position makes him a poor example of a Libertarian.

    Buchanan was also anti-Mormon in the Utah territory, again, hardly a Libertarian position.

    Oh by the way, I’m sure she fails to mention he was, in fact, a Democrat in the mold of Andrew Jackson.

    1. I was confused about this as well, but reading Jonah Goldberg’s essay linked at the end of this piece helped clarify. I think that the James Buchanan referred to is this guy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_M._Buchanan and not the failed antebellum President.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. Now I have something to research at work 🙂

  14. “As its title suggests, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, ….”
    As opposed to literal chains the Democrats had slaves in.

  15. “…[and] a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America”

    If you or your editor don’t know what a phrase means, you ought not use it.

  16. I assume that a progressive democrat shooter, trying to literally assassinate his political opponents, isn’t an assault on democracy.

    Where are the calls to reduce the violent rhetoric, and for common sense gun control, so that these crazy left-wing lions don’t destroy our democracy?

    Who knows, because the media is now stealing the cop/solder line: “OHMYGERD, THE PRESIDENT SENT A SILLY TWEET! WE’RE THE REAL HEROEZ NOW!!!”

    Whatevs.

  17. I can’t recall another anti-libertarian book so thoroughly critiqued in so short of period by such a high caliber of critics in so short of time. Picketty looks like a giant of unassailable research in comparison.

    Of course, the Left won’t care. The book validates their narrative, and so will be cited until the end of time.

  18. Utterly chilling, Nick, at least in length. As for Sacco and Vanzetti once setting the record low for “villainy”, well, not for the left. They were supposed to be innocent, remember? But they probably weren’t. I (naturally) examined the case pretty thoroughly in my own little book “James Thurber: A Reader’s Guide”, since the reading of Vanzetti’s sentencing statement forms the crux of the plot of his play “The Male Animal”.

    1. I bet there’s some kind of obscure reference only Nick and you are privy to, but to those incapable of reading minds, your comment is a unintelligible as the musings and non sequiturs written by lunatics with their own feces on the walls of their nicely padded rooms. Perhaps you were hit in the head too hard, hmm?

      1. Anal Van-Man just wanted an excuse to mention his book that no one cares about, because he’s a narcissistic blowhard who compulsively talks about himself whether it’s relevant or not.

  19. You could as easily find the libertarian in the anti-bigness of E.F. Schumacher & Kirkpatrick Sale, and declare libertarians to be anti-business.

  20. “a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America”

    Maybe she’s right, but only because I don’t think reverse-engineer means what she thinks it means.

    1. Forget her misuse of the term “reverse engineer” — in what universe is Libertarian part of the radical right???

      Does she even Nolan chart, bro?

      I get that it upsets her and other leftists that libertarians refuse to fall into the left/right dichotomy around which they frame their entire reality, but wishing something to be true the way she defines it doesn’t make it true.

      Calling libertarians members of the radical right is about as accurate as saying Joseph Stalin belongs in the same group of non-violent change proponents as Gandhi and MLK. I guess some idiot could write a book to that effect, but it would carry absolutely zero credibility.

  21. So does she find the whole concept of Public Choice to be objectionable?

    “What kind of crazy person thinks government officials behave like humans and not benevolent, angelic overlords? You’re trying to destroy democracy!”

    1. No one who has ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  22. “is this non-fiction or an Oliver Stone film?”

    That’s unfair to Oliver Stone. His films are far less deceptive than MacLean’s characterization of Tyler Cowen.

  23. At the increasingly hard-left New Republic

    You must be talking about getting to the infinitesimal part of the exponential curve because New Republic has always been hard-left since they printed pro-Stalinist policy apologia.

  24. Johan Goldberg writes:

    As my friend Steve Horwitz writes:

    Finding examples of misleading, incorrect, and outright butchered quotes and citations in Nancy MacLean’s new book about James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains, has become the academic version of Pokemon Go this week.

    No better indictment could be produced against the clumsy attitude from the part of a scholar who pretends to criticize a movement she clearly understands not at all and has no interest in understanding all the while expecting to get away with it unscathed.

  25. […] the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance […]

    You should realize that MacLean is not even being very original or particularly clever with this assertion, as idiots like Tony have been repeating THAT VERY SAME tired and clich?d mantra for YEARS in these very pages. Is that what passes for scholarship today among the intelligentsia these days? Repeating paranoid diatribes and accusations coming from bloggers, forum commentators and Hit & Run trolls?

  26. MacLean admits she isn’t an economist. She also isn’t much of a polemicist, nor does she have a sense of irony. American society has become more free in numerous important ways, i.e., same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana. Libertarianism–as a political project–has been an abject failure. Ironically, Buchanan won a Nobel Prize for providing an interesting explanation as to why.

    MacLean’s work is more a fever dream than a text. She worries about the influence of the Koch brothers while the Democrat/Republican duopoly is working to prove America can become a supersized Greece. I further suspect that MacLean only respects “democracy” to the extent the body politic conforms to her world view. The left celebrates the common man (and woman) but only to the point they march in lockstep.

  27. Libertarians: Diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone.

  28. Take it from Hillary: IT’S ALL A VAST RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY

  29. You know, I consider myself a libertarian, I love libertar and all that. But I’m still not certain that we’re a major threatening force in American politics. Certainly, I don’t see the average person shifting to many libertarian beliefs.

    But I still keep seeing all of these paranoid take downs of libertarians. I feel like the amount of fear we inspire in people far outweighs how much we actually do. It’s like we’ve become the political bogeyman. “If you don’t watch out, the libertarians will come at night and allow you to act of your own free will and beliefs.”

    1. “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”

      In this case, monuments funded by private donations, of course.

    2. I generally concur although offer this point. Individuals are libertarians when it comes to themselves, statists when it comes others. And I don’t think any movement with Starchild as a leading member is going to set the political world a trembling. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that the fear of libertarians as much as it’s the fear that average idiots are going to pay attention and realize how fucked we are.

    3. I don’t know that as a part or a movement we’re gaining TOO much ground…

      But libertarian viewpoints are absolutely on the upswing, at least from my own purely anecdotal POV.

      Guys I served with in combat as young gung-ho “America Fuck Yeah!” types, are now overtly anti-war.

      My Southern Baptist parents are advocates for full pot legalization.

      Most people are more open to/aware of the corruption, cronyism and incompetence of BOTH major parties than ever before.

      Polls may not reflect it, but it sure seems like every election for the last year has been a flat-out repudiation of big government and the system as it exists.

      1. I question whether there has been any shift towards what I consider the core of libertarian philosophy. The recognition that government is an inherently flawed structure, and that it cannot be improved due inherent issues in how it functions.

        The people I see for pot legalization, for instance, still seem to think that the problem is that the government has the wrong laws, rather then moving towards the idea that the government is inherently fucked.

    4. But I still keep seeing all of these paranoid take downs of libertarians. I feel like the amount of fear we inspire in people far outweighs how much we actually do.

      It’s easy to dismiss Christian conservatives. However, libertarians inspire fear in progressives because the message actually makes sense: socially tolerant, economically free.

  30. Well Nick at least this indicates that Libertarian thinking has been influential enough to raise the ire of the hysterically paranoid narcissistic radical-left feminists. Since when has legalizing drugs and individual liberty been “radical right”? That’s news to me. She’s a nut.

  31. No the Corporatocracy and Liberals that took over libertarianism are what will destroy America if they ever get any power, they’ve already destroyed libertarianism. Sad so many who claim Libertarianism think everything has to be pro-business at the cost of individual freedom or BS like open borders under the guise of liberalism but is actually for big business to have slave labor.

    1. Re: Myk,

      Sad so many who claim Libertarianism think everything has to be pro-business at the cost of individual freedom

      Why are those two things mutually exclusive? You’re making shit up, Myk.

    2. Sad so many who claim Libertarianism think everything has to be pro-business at the cost of individual freedom

      Examples?

      BS like open borders under the guise of liberalism

      Freedom of movement is a libertarian principle. You have things backward. It doesn’t matter what billionaires think about the borders, because we don’t pick our policy based on who is icky, and who is a meanie-head.

      Principles before Principals.

    3. Sad so many who claim Libertarianism think everything has to be pro-business at the cost of individual freedom

      It’s progressives and fascists that are “pro-business”.

      Libertarians are pro-free-market.

    4. “Sad so many who claim Libertarianism think everything has to be pro-business at the cost of individual freedom”

      That is either a false dichotomy, or a highly pejorative meaning of ‘business.’

      If you are talking about cronyism, regulatory capture and such then probably better to be a bit more specific.

      Otherwise, most broadly speaking, and operating with the highest degree of liberty, business and personal freedom are effectively synonymous. As in, nobody’s business but mine.

  32. I was wondering when you would get around to this book. Conservatives have been attacking it quite some time, nice to see supposed libertarians finally defending libertarianism…

  33. Even as I type this, the libertarians are meeting at their local Denny’s to plot America’s downfall.

    They can be identified by their whiteness, Ayn Rand haircut and Ron Paul “It’s Happening” T-shirts. If not that, then a t -shirt with the marijuana leaf.

    “Hey this isn’t the YMCA”

    1. Even as I type this, the libertarians are meeting at their local Denny’s to plot America’s downfall.

      Oh shit – that’s tonight?

      *grabs keys and pipe and runs for car*

    2. Even as I type this, the libertarians are meeting at their local Denny’s to plot America’s downfall.

      Don’t be silly. Everybody knows that we libertarians may invite our friends over to our large rural estates for hunting endangered species, followed by an evening of social monocle polishing. We would never go to our local Denny’s, because there are no Denny’s within 500 miles of where we live!

  34. MacLean is guilty of intellectual malpractice:

    I think the term “liar” should be used more frequently and more loudly.

  35. To to the people trying to interact with M.Hihn =

    There is a better way

    *for firefox

    1. Hear that Gilmore? By not listening to the old fart you’ve attacked him. Nothing is more aggressive than the cold shoulder. Say sorry!

    2. Oooh! I’m punishing too!! I’m just surprised Hihn wasn’t used as one of the examples. Whenever a subject seemingly worthy of a hundred comments instead has 2-3 hundred, I consider that a Hihn warning.

      Anyway, as quoted in the app promotion, regarding Hihns’ formulaic ( a) attack Ron Paul b) accuse others of mis-defined “aggression” c) PROFIT!) commentarrhea “Nothing of value was lost.”

      Thanks, G. Short of kicking Hihn in the shihns, this is ideal.

  36. Mike, no one here is really happy you have your issues, but you really ought to work them out with medical help rather than posting here.
    Or, we might say: FUCK OFF, YOU TIRED PIECE OF SHIT!

  37. “Is Libertarianism a ‘Stealth Plan’ To Destroy America?”

    By the way whenever a headline is a question it means the answer is “no” but the author wants it to be “yes”.

    Conclusion: Nick Gillespie secretly wants to destroy America. Wait a minute that means the headline is true. Oh shit

  38. Ummm…..no!

  39. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Duke historian Nancy MacLean is just one more example of how collectivism warps perspective and leads its adherents to twist facts to fit their reality-denying worldview.

  40. Shoes pinch a little, Nick!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.