Another Devastating Review of "Democracy in Chains"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

As readers may recall, Democracy in Chains by Duke History Professor Nancy MacLean is a very badly-flawed account of the life, career, and influence of the late Nobel Prize winning economist, James Buchanan. Despite the fact that the book has been shown to be replete with errors, exaggerations, and misinterpretations, it was a finalist for a National Book Award and more recently received honors from the Los Angeles Times. Most disturbingly, despite serious allegations of academic malfeaseance, MacLean is the plenary speaker at the AAUP's annual conference this Fall.

MacLean has refused to respond to any of the substantive critiques of the book, beyond to claim that her critics are almost all somehow associated with the Charles Koch Foundation, and thus somehow tainted. (In the book, she grossly exaggerates the influence of Buchanan on Koch, but the critics do not focus on that point, as there are so many other errors to deal with.)

A review by Alain Marciano of Université de Montpellier and Jean-Baptiste Fleury of the University of Cergy-Pontoise, forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Literature should, but almost certainly won't, be the final nail in the book's coffin:

This essay develops three main points. One, MacLean's general narrative puts too much emphasis on Buchanan, and largely neglects the many other important characters who contributed to the intellectual criticism of government intervention. Two, MacLean's account is marred by many misunderstandings about public choice theory, for instance about the role that simple majority rule plays in constitutional economics. Third, in the midst of abundant archival material, her historical narrative is at best sketchy, and is replete with significantly flawed arguments, misplaced citations, and dubious conjectures.

The authors are very polite and restrained, but basically the review amounts to a devastating critique of the book. If one reads it along with Brian Doherty's review for Reason, this review by Steve Horwitz, and these responses by Art Carden et al., and this review by Michael Munger, I think it would be difficult for an objective observer to conclude anything but that the book is academic trash.

Carden wrote on Facebook that at this point the issue is whether truth matters any more. My conclusion is that in large swathes of the history profession, it does not. Thus far, not a single one of the many critiques of MacLean's book has come from a member of a history department at an American university. Various historians have instead defended her book, based on some combination of argument-from-authority, hostility to libertarians, and the bizarre notion that because MacLean is a social historian, non-social historians must accept her interpretation of the facts, because reading lots of stuff and then coming to conclusions is what social historians do. Seriously.

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  1. Can we put Prof. MacLean and Councilman Trayon White Sr. in a room together so they can figure out the grand Rothschild/Koch conspiracy for us?

  2. “Carden wrote on Facebook that at this point the issue is whether truth matters any more. My conclusion is that in large swathes of the history profession, it does not.”

    “History is myth agreed upon by men.” Napoleon. In large swaths of the academic history profession, truth hasn’t mattered for quite a while.

    1. Dan, in other swaths of the academic history profession, you find methodologically rigorous truth seeking to match or excel anything you can find anywhere, including in the hard sciences. So you have to know how to pick your swath.

      Unfortunately for legal experts, that requires knowledge of what rigor in academic history looks like. That’s knowledge most lawyers not only don’t have, they too often don’t even suspect it exists. That leaves a lot of room for wrong-headed tirades by lawyers against historians they don’t understand. Bernstein, here, for instance.

      It also opens the door for pro se historical practice by untrained lawyers and judges who invariably end up practicing their history among the bad swaths. Scalia, in Heller, for instance.

      1. If you want bad history in Heller, Scalia wasn’t remotely perfect, but Stevens was worlds away worse.

        1. Brett, this summary from the third paragraph of Stevens dissent seems to cover the argument?as a matter of history it is entirely accurate:

          The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.

          What’s your complaint about Stevens? By way of giving you some help in advance, steer clear of charging Stevens with ignoring citations you like, unless you can show the relevance of those citations, as judged by usual historical standards. Stevens, mostly, does a good job with that. Scalia, not at all.

          It’s not enough to show a cite is accurate. You have to show why it is historically relevant. As an example, Blackstone doesn’t count, unless some founder can be found saying during the Convention, “For this, we rely on Blackstone.” That shows relevance. Noting that some founder read Blackstone? Not so much.

          1. “The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia.”

            He goes off the rails immediately. Maintaining a militia is a power of government, not a right of the people. And the amendment in question doesn’t, on its face, guarantee any right to maintain militia, but instead a right of the people to keep and bear arms.

            This does, of course, bear on the maintenance of state militias, but indirectly, by prohibiting disarming the citizenry from which they might be raised.

            Stevens, of course, was setting out to exclude from the 2nd amendment’s protection any private ownership of firearms, so he made the right out to be keeping and bearing arms solely in the context of militia service.

            If this had been intended, they would have written the amendment differently, as a right to organize and serve in militias. Their concern here was not just that militias might be prohibited, but also that they might be neglected. Guaranteeing private ownership of arms outside militia service dealt with this concern by assuring that an armed populace would be available to raise a militia from even in the event of such neglect.

            1. Brett, you’re the one who criticized Stevens for bad history. I then challenged you to at least show demonstrably relevant citations Stevens missed or ignored.

              What you came back with hasn’t a trace of history in it. You don’t even seem to be trying to use history. Are you even aware that not one thing in your 4 paragraphs has anything to do with history? History has to do with quoting and discussing stuff you can point to in the historical record. You did none of that. Not one citation. Not even a bad one.

              I admit, this takes me by surprise. I thought folks who said they liked Scalia’s “history” in Heller at least knew as much as Scalia did about what history is supposed to look like. If your response is typical of the gun enthusiast take on what history is, then I have to reassess whether it is even useful to mention history in these gun discussions?even when I’m talking to avowed fans of originalism.

              1. I didn’t say I liked Scalia’s history. In fact, I said that, if you want bad history in Heller, Scalia wasn’t remotely perfect. Neither side in Heller was practicing good originalism; Stevens was out to effectively moot the 2nd amendment, transform it into a ‘right’ to keep and bear arms when ordered by the government to do it! Scalia was content to neuter it, transforming our right to “every terrible implement of the soldier” into a right to own only such arms as didn’t frighten the government.

                I’m not better than Halbrook, so I’ll refer you to his writings. I’d say he covers it well.

                The founders thought a militia better than a standing army, on the theory that it would refuse to be used to oppress the people. Which is why it is necessary to the security of a free state. But they were concerned that some future tyrant might convert the militia into a standing army, by making it a select militia, consisting of only a small fraction of the population, and venturing to disarm everybody else.

                So the 2nd amendment protects the people’s right to keep and bear arms, so that neglect of the militia system, malign or otherwise, would still leave the country with the building materials of a genuine militia: An armed population.

                1. Okay, Halbrook. I hadn’t heard of him. You provided a link, so I read it. He’s not a historian. He’s a Scalia-style lawyer who, like Scalia, apparently doesn’t understand that there are historical standards about which cites are relevant, and which are not.

                  Once again, as Stevens understood and enunciated, the question is not about whether there were legal or customary protections for individual use of guns in American colonial society. The question is about the intent of the 2A, and whether there is any historical evidence to support the notion that the founders intended to use it to federalize protections for arms used for other than militia purposes. Halbrook, like Scalia, offers not a shred of relevant evidence in support of that proposition.

                  Instead, both Scalia and Halbrook go on and on about everything they can find in the historical record that mentions arms, apparently hoping to build a pile conspicuous enough to distract attention from the fact that on the central question in the debate, there is no relevant historical evidence on their side. There is a mountain of historical evidence on the opposing side.

                  One advantage of reliance on historians, is that they don’t start, as lawyers do, with a desired conclusion in mind. If you want to critique history, use historical methods, or rely on historians, not on lawyers and other advocates.

                  1. “One advantage of reliance on historians, is that they don’t start, as lawyers do, with a desired conclusion in mind.”

                    Probably best to leave the ‘professional historian’ trump card for a thread where Bellesiles hasn’t already come up. After all, Bellesiles was the one starting with the desired conclusion, while lawyer Jim Lindgren (along with Clayton Cramer) looked at the actual evidence.

                  2. Earlier…

                    “If your response is typical of the gun enthusiast take on what history is, then I have to reassess whether it is even useful to mention history in these gun discussions?even when I’m talking to avowed fans of originalism.”

                    Later…

                    “One advantage of reliance on historians, is that they don’t start, as lawyers do, with a desired conclusion in mind.”

                    Pot, meet kettle.

                  3. Justice Stevens made so many errors, especially errors of fact on the discussions around the Second Amendment, because he did not bother to look at the history of the issue. He simply formed his opinion before hand without doing so, and cobbled together references out of context.

                    No surprise that Stevens eschews and avoids rigor and any standards, when it comes to history, is he was a English student who went into the law without any of the typical background in history of the vast majority of pre-law degrees.

                    It has been remarked that reading a Stevens’ opinions are like reading top quality fiction. He is an artful writer, but he also imagines reality.

                    The reason why Stephen P. Halbrook puts poor Stevens to shame in terms of rigor, is Halbrook has a Phd in history and philosophy before getting his JD at Georgetown.

                  4. Lathrop Writes: Okay, Halbrook. I hadn’t heard of him. You provided a link, so I read it. He’s not a historian.

                    A PhD in history along with publications in peer reviewed history and legal journals makes Halbrook “not a historian?”

                    And which of his citations are not relevant? Justice Stevens packed in citations that even writers on the left t have admitted were wrong, and/or completely out of context, yet you offer no evidence of any of Halbrook’s citations as being either irrelevant or wrong.

      2. The Second Amendment and the history of gun control provide a bad example for your argument. Michael Bellesiles won academic history’s leading prize for writing a narrative that his colleagues favored but was built on falsehoods. People more learned in the relevant primary literature–like Clayton Cramer–were ignored because they lacked academic posts even though what they wrote pointed out the falsehoods. The merits do not matter if they oppose current attitudes.

        1. Nah, Bellesiles is a great example for my argument. What happened to him? That’s the test. He got stripped of his prize, and drummed out of the profession. That shows there are rigorous standards, and that members of the historical profession defend them. And that’s true even if the critic who points out the problems is not a member of the profession.

          That’s a pretty good record, not a narrative from which to conclude, “The merits do not matter . . .”

          1. Nah, Bellesiles is a great example for my argument. What happened to him? That’s the test. He got stripped of his prize, and drummed out of the profession. That shows there are rigorous standards

            Oh please. If that rigor had been exercised to begin with, his book never would have come to press to being with, much less won the Bancroft Prize. It wasn’t until after gun rights groups began pointing out the numerous errors in the text, followed by Bellesiles’ academic malfeseance when asked to produce his evidence, that Emory University smacked his pee-pee.

            “Arming America” didn’t do anything except show how eager liberal academics were to fluff a thesis they’d always believed because of their hatred of firearms; they were just looking for one of their own to confirm it. What’s pathetic is I still see gun control advocates cite the book as an evidentiary authority rather than the well-burnished fraud it actually was.

            1. Try to imagine what it would take to get Clayton Cramer treated alike with Bellesiles (what mechanism could even make that happen?) and maybe you will better understand my point.

              1. Try to imagine what it would take to get Clayton Cramer treated alike with Bellesiles (what mechanism could even make that happen?) and maybe you will better understand my point

                Well, we can play Land of Make-Believe, or we can see what actually happened.

                1. Red Rocks, your approach is to elevate tribalism over truth. So you can’t see the reason Bellesiles was publicly disgraced was that he was ostensibly practicing as a member of a guild of truth seekers?but broke the rules and got thrown out. You won’t concede that, because to you, doing that looks like giving credit to an enemy tribe.

                  I’ll try the reverse hypothetical again. Suppose I find evidence that Clayton Cramer’s “research” is badly flawed?flawed in a way that points toward deliberate misrepresentation (not claiming that here, just building a hypothetical to match the Bellesiles case). What would happen next? Would gun advocates say, “Damn, Lathrop nailed Cramer. Nobody on the pro-gun side is going to pay attention to him anymore.” I don’t think so. It’s laughable to suppose that would happen. Why? Because few on the pro-gun side even think it’s Cramer’s job to tell the truth. Gun advocates think it’s Cramer’s job to sound convincing and win the argument?while dishing out talking points for all the others who don’t do any research at all.

                  That’s a big contrast with what happened with Bellesiles and the historians. Of course you can deny the hypothetical, but to do that you have to be ready to make yourself ridiculous. Everyone knows how gun advocates would respond?they would circle the wagons for Cramer, and attack the messenger.

                  1. Red Rocks, your approach is to elevate tribalism over truth.

                    Your approach seems to be to throw up a strawman.

                    So you can’t see the reason Bellesiles was publicly disgraced was that he was ostensibly practicing as a member of a guild of truth seekers?but broke the rules and got thrown out.

                    Doesn’t change the fact that his fellow academics were slobbering all over his work and he was awarded the Bancroft prize. If that “rigor” you claim existed in the first place, it never would have passed through peer review, much less get published. This is a book that the academic journal for the OAH, one of the leading academic organizations in the history field, laughingly called “meticulously researched.”

                    A gun control advocate pimped a 600-page book claiming a type of gun culture existed that never actually did, he received hosannas for it from every nearly ever media outlet and academic in the field, and the backlash over the errors in his research–which should have been obvious from day one to practicing historians but had to be pointed out by people who weren’t gun-hating assholes–forced Emory to review the work and ultimately censure him. You’re arguing that these post hoc actions shows the rigor at work, when in fact it was the exact opposite.

                    Of course you can deny the hypothetical

                    One’s make-believe, one’s reality. So there’s really nothing to deny here, despite your desperate efforts to frame it that way.

                  2. And let’s face it, your own reflexive, automatic support for any and all gun control measures isn’t exactly elevating “truth over tribalism.”

                    1. I don’t recall seeing your “name” here, down through the years. But maybe you’re one of those internet shape shifters, and under your various “names” you have been following my gun control comments. If so, you have a bad memory.

                      I support some gun control measures you would hate, I’m sure. But I also reject proposals that can’t work?such as assault rifle bans based on cosmetic features. I reject as well some other measures which would not be constructive?such as ending concealed carry permits. So long as the legal terms for those are enforced, I support them, as a constructive beginning on gun registration. I note that their terms are too little enforced now, however.

                      And as far as I know, I’m the only commenter here who has offered a reasonable proposal to reinforce the 2A with a policy which would permit general access to fully automatic weapons?albeit under military discipline according to terms of the 2A militia clause, and the Article 1 and Article 2 militia clauses.

                      I’m no tribalist, and you’re full of beans. Tribalist beans.

      3. I know this much about academic history: (1) the footnotes are supposed to support the text, a test DIC repeatedly fails; (2) making stuiff up based on wild speculation unsupported by documentary evidence isn’t good history. Again, repeatedly fails.

        The idea that the various critics I linked to haven’t read the book is ludicrous, and should be embarrassed to suggest it (and yes, I read the whole book).

        1. Professor Bernstein, I tend to agree with you about DIC’s footnoting, or at least agree with anyone who finds it perplexing. In too many cases, the notes are not pinned tightly enough to the text. That’s my principle objection to the book, and it’s a big one.

          That said, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that charges of lying are accurate, or of making stuff up. (In fairness, that may be partly because it’s hard to refute with specificity when claims are made vaguely.)

          Since you have the book, maybe you can show me where MacLean’s footnotes, or her text, are contradicted by other sources we can be sure are factual, not just opinions or personal recollections. Let’s have some specifics from you, in support of your own arguments. Cite me some lying text, and give me a page number.

  3. MacLean has refused to respond to any of the substantive critiques of the book, beyond to claim that her critics are almost all somehow associated with the Charles Koch Foundation, and thus somehow tainted.

    I challenge Bernstein to support that assertion. Or, never mind. I quoted one of MacLean’s replies to a hostile review in a previous thread, along with the partial apology it elicited from the reviewer.

    More generally, there is a peculiar tendency among MacClean’s libertarian critics to build elaborate insinuations that MacClean’s account must be false, false false, because Buchanan’s ideology was true, true, true. This from the block quote above is an example: “MacLean’s account is marred by many misunderstandings about public choice theory, for instance about the role that simple majority rule plays in constitutional economics.” See, it’s bad history because she doesn’t understand (or disagrees with) our economics. There has been a lot of that in previous critiques as well.

    After reading MacClean’s book, I do have some doubts about her methods, and I have mentioned them in every comment on the subject. But she still strikes me as miles ahead of her critics, who for the most part seem not to have read the book, or only cherry picked stuff out of context. They don’t seem to think they need to read it, because she’s so wrong ideologically she must be wrong altogether. The not-reading part was what the above-mentioned apology confessed.

    1. You’re right – I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to. The reviews have identified enough egregious problems (which Prof. MacLean has failed to address in a remotely satisfactory fashion) that I can’t see the exercise being a valuable use of my time.

    2. More generally, there is a peculiar tendency among MacClean’s libertarian critics to build elaborate insinuations that MacClean’s account must be false, false false, because Buchanan’s ideology was true, true, true. This from the block quote above is an example: “MacLean’s account is marred by many misunderstandings about public choice theory, for instance about the role that simple majority rule plays in constitutional economics.” See, it’s bad history because she doesn’t understand (or disagrees with) our economics.

      No. This critique has literally nothing to do with whether Buchanan’s work (not his “ideology”) is “true.” It has to do with whether MacLean (not “MacClean”?one would think someone who claims to be an expert would get her name right) correctly described Buchanan’s work.

      But she still strikes me as miles ahead of her critics, who for the most part seem not to have read the book, or only cherry picked stuff out of context. They don’t seem to think they need to read it, because she’s so wrong ideologically she must be wrong altogether.

      No. Because she’s so wrong factually, not ideologically. When one finds multiple serious factual & logical errors in a work, that discredits the work. One can’t undiscredit a book by saying, “Not everything in here is false.” “Sure, he claims that Lincoln was actually a Scientologist, but he correctly quotes the Gettysburg Address, so stop criticizing his book.”

      1. I cannot tell from these posts whether she is indeed materially wrong because Prof. Bernstein’s posts betray a personal and ideologically disgust at her thesis, I get no proper perspective on what to think.

        If I cared enough, I’m sure there are more sober critiques and defenses. But this blog is also the only place I’ve heard of the book, so I’m not seeing it as having a huge effect on much other than the blood pressure of libertarian academics.

        1. Yeah, if you google “Errors in Democracy in Chains”, you’ll find plenty of people other than Bernstein criticizing the book.

          You’re probably not hearing much of the book because it was gutted in reviews before it could get much market penetration.

          And, to be fair, because the topic is of limited interest to the general public.

          1. If it was gutted and therefore failed, then why is Prof. Bernstein kicking a dead horse even now? Why are you below citing it’s future success as evidence of more coming conservative victimization?

            For the first, I think it’s as your final sentence indicated – this is what passes for Total War in the rarified area of…economic historians, I guess?
            For the second, to a certain sort of partisan almost everything is evidence that the other side is about to take over and oppress them (so we’d better stop playing so nice!!)

            Regardless, this thread is still more interesting than whatever that ‘In God we Trust’ thread became.

            1. If it was gutted and therefore failed, then why is Prof. Bernstein kicking a dead horse even now?

              Because a major article about the book was just published.

          2. If it was gutted and therefore failed, then why is Prof. Bernstein kicking a dead horse even now? Why are you below citing it’s future success as evidence of more coming conservative victimization?

            For the first, I think it’s as your final sentence indicated – this is what passes for Total War in the rarified area of…economic historians, I guess?
            For the second, to a certain sort of partisan almost everything is evidence that the other side is about to take over and oppress them (so we’d better stop playing so nice!!)

            Regardless, this thread is still more interesting than whatever that ‘In God we Trust’ thread became.

            1. In academia, dead horses can rise from the dead if you stop kicking them, if they support popular leftist causes, like smearing libertarianism, or making the Koch brothers out to be the secret masters of the Right.

        2. My disgust is only that she’s either incompetent or a fraudster, or both. The reason you don’t have to take my word for it is that I linked to six very “sober” academic reviews. And, unfortunately, as others have documented, her work is already being cited by other academics, and correcting academic fallacies is part of what academics do.

      2. When one finds multiple serious factual & logical errors in a work, that discredits the work.

        I remain cautious about MacLean, so still receptive to any better critique than I have seen so far. Why don’t you cite me some of those serious errors “one” finds, and give me some page numbers. I have the book right beside me, so I can check them out. But please, don’t refer me back to previous critiques by others. I already took a look at them. Now, I want to hear what you can tell me.

        By the way, what do you make of the news that George Mason and Mercatus Center were in cahoots with the Koch organization? That’s sort of a confirmation of MacLean, don’t you think? I’m especially interested in how anyone can justify giving a Koch representative ongoing oversight of the content of scholarship.

        1. Well, one of the more common critiques is MacLean suggested that Tyler Cowen supported weakening checks and balances in the american system: “‘The weakening of the checks and balances’ in the American system, Cowen suggested, ‘would increase the chance of a very good outcome.'”

          What he actually wrote:

          “While the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome, it would also increase the chance of a very bad outcome.”

          There are loads more problems that reviewers have uncovered, if you’d care to address them.

          Of course, the fact that she criticized libertarians for advocating for democratic rule in the context of Brown, which is itself a limit on democratic rule, makes me question how much political theory she understands to begin with.

          1. TwelveInch, the problem you cite, where’s the problem?

            MacLean wrote in the book’s text what you quoted, followed by, “Alas given pervasive reverence for the U.S. Constitution, a direct bid to manipulate the system could prove ‘disastrous.’ ”

            I don’t know if we had the whole of it in context whether MacLean’s characterization would seem like a natural reading, but I don’t see any important difference between, “. . . a very bad outcome,” and “disastrous.” Indeed, both seem to be quotes from Cowen, maybe repeating for emphasis.

            You and MacLean’s critics seem to be demanding that she interpret charitably everything she quotes. She seems to want to do it otherwise. The question whether she is doing it right will turn on which side can prevail on the question of which context properly illuminates which quotes. MacLean has built from the record quite a lot of context which suggests a highly critical approach might be justified. Her critics don’t bring as much.

            How any of that adds up to support a charge of “academic trash” is hard to see, except maybe to say that DIC doesn’t seem intended as a strictly academic book in the first place, as I think MacLean has said. I suggest the critics will either have to do better in their attempts to impugn her accuracy, or accept the book on its own terms as the polemic it seems intended to be.

            1. “I don’t know if we had the whole of it in context whether MacLean’s characterization would seem like a natural reading, but I don’t see any important difference between, “. . . a very bad outcome,” and “disastrous.”

              Well, it’s easy to find in context, and you probably should. You have added an additional sentence from MacLean, but not from Cowen. Here is the phrase from Cowen, with the corresponding additional context:

              “While the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome, it would also increase the chance of a very bad outcome. Furthermore, the widely perceived legitimacy of the US Constitution suggests that such a change would involve disastrous transition costs.”

              So MacLean has him suggesting that the weakening of checks and balances is a good thing, but that a “direct” attempt would generate the perception of undermining the US Constitution.

              In reality, Cowen says no such thing. He characterizes it as a risky proposition in itself, and it addition points out that it generates the perception of undermining the US Constitution.

              She can interpret Cowen as uncharitably as she wants, but she can’t eliminate half of what she said to suggest that he said the opposite of what he said.

              1. I don’t think you can get rid of “increase the chance of a very good outcome,” that easily. With nothing more to go on than you supply, I read the whole quote as including both an aspirational part, about a route to a very good outcome, and a cautionary part about disastrous costs.

                You seem to suggest Cowen meant disastrous costs as a matter of public policy. Having read MacLean, I’m sure she read that as disastrous costs for Cowen’s preferred political program, because an overt attempt to weaken checks and balances could mobilize an unwanted political backlash on behalf of the Constitution. Tell me why it’s your interpretation I should buy, instead of hers.

                More generally, I suggest this little point of contention illustrates the larger problem of interpreting MacLean, given her discursive style. MacLean apparently believes that her libertarian subjects frequently indulged in double speak, while they ruminated on radical departures from accustomed norms. I think the book produces enough citations to show somewhat convincingly that that did happen. MacLean’s critics don’t buy that, I guess, but to stay on track to that conclusion, they seem intent to ignore some scary language and scary conduct. That makes me at least as cautious about the critics as I am about MacLean.

        2. MacLean’s polemical final chapter about the Kochs is a topic deserving of its own discussion. The problem is that it has virtually nothing to do with Buchanan, except in her imagination.

          1. Put slightly differently, there is nothing especially interesting or original in her polemical account of the Kochs’ influence on American politics, nor does it draw on her skills or reputation as a historian. MacLean seems to think that this part of the book is what upsets critics, because they are hack libertarians who resent that she has revealed the truth about the Kochs. Nonsense. Polemics against the Kochs are a dime a dozen, and no one spends much time or energy refuting each of them. The contribution of the book, if any, is the rest of the book, describing the life and times of James Buchanan, which essentially portrays Buchanan’s work as an outgrowth of the racist reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, and Buchanan himself as a political mastermind in large part responsible for the growth of “anti-democratic” libertarian sentiment, both directly and via his influence on Charles Koch. But this story is in all its particulars is wrong. The most recent review gives a very good explanation of why it’s wrong, but one needs to read all the linked reviews, plus a new unpublished paper I just gave comments on regarding Buchanan and segregation, to understand just how deeply wrong it is.

            1. Too bad the link to the new paper won’t load for me. Maybe soon we can see the new unpublished paper.

              I hope they both take on the task of refuting MacLean’s narrative with regard to segregation?by which I mean showing that what she described is mistaken?and by which I do not mean, “Look over here instead, and we’ll show you lots of alternative explanations.” If MacLean’s account is left standing, then that latter approach will be entirely unconvincing.

  4. Sometimes politeness and restraint can be valuable, even go a long way, in helping enhance ones credibility and get ones point across.

  5. Plenary speaker? Was Michael Bellesiles not available?

  6. This is just an extension of what happened with “Arming America”, which got the Bancroft award after serious problems had been identified. If you were acquainted with the literature, and hundreds of thousands of laymen were, you could scarcely get beyond the intro without WTF moments. And then Emory did an after the fact review which actually avoided addressing most of those issues, concentrating on points that might theoretically have been overlooked, so as to pretend they hadn’t knowingly given the award for a fraudulent work.

    It’s just that the general problem has advanced to the point where it’s no longer possible to raise enough of a fuss for it to matter.

    Science, media, all of society, are bifurcating under the relentless pressure of partisanship. Soon we’ll shop at different grocery stores, read different media, have different scientific journals… The only thing lacking will be physically separating and putting up walls.

    1. I should add that I soon expect that non-leftists will need their own DNS system, because that’s the obvious next choke point in the system for the left to go after: Taking over DNS servers, and refusing to resolve URLs for sites the left doesn’t like.

      1. Obviously.

        1. Yes, obviously.

          It’s just an extension of persuading search engines to make disfavored sites hard to find, or delisting them entirely. Another step in the gradual escalation.

          1. I can’t see your link, but from what I’ve seen ‘disfavored sites’ is not liberal bias – it’s anti-terrorist, both Muslim and White Supremacist. And it’s not like far left loons are being ignored.

            That being said, I’m open to looking into the cost-benefits of treating Google and Twitter like as common carriers.

            1. These days “white supremacist” is used pretty loosely. The left doesn’t typically censor its opposition on the basis of, “we disagree with that!”, but instead based on claims that it is censoring violent or hate speech.

              But, once you’re censored, it’s hard to demonstrate that the designation is false.

              1. There is a censorious left, as there is a censorious right.
                But in terms of effective censoriousness, I’m not seeing it. Certainly not writ large in any way that would move debate. Indeed, social media remains quite open to some pretty loathsome stuff.

                But I find your protestations too general and self-fulfilling. Though It’s not dispositive, avowed white supremacists 14-88 and all remain all over Twitter.

                Also of note is that those sites that claim to be a safe alternative to those liberal censors at Twitter, Patreon, YouTube, end up becoming some hellpits of broken people being awful to one another, along with grifters and scammer. Useful for the occasional horrified delve, but something of a testament to the wisdom in severing those folks from your platform.

                1. Ok, you want an example?

                  I was looking to dispute Lathrop upthread, and did a google search on “judge Storey 2nd amendment”, expecting to be led to his commentaries, which have some bearing on the discussion. I’ve done similar searches in the past, so I knew what to expect. Or thought I did…

                  That was the first result, I’ll grant. The next 7 pages of results consisted of virtually nothing but sites arguing against the right to keep and bear arms, most of which had no mention of Storey. I averaged less than one pro-2nd result by page!

                  I tried the same search string at Duckduckgo, and yeah, there were anti-gun results, (I’d be concerned if there weren’t, that would be just another form of bias!) but it was a reasonable mix, and judge Storey at least kept cropping up.

                  Google has chosen sides, it appears; That’s not a thumb on the scale, they’ve put an elephant on it.

                  1. Brett, I think you need a stronger pattern than that google and duckduckgo return differing results. I routinely use both DDG and google, and they routinely return different results for non-political things; I don’t see why their differing algorithms wouldn’t return different results for political topics as well, for reasons other than thumbs on scales. There are a lot of ways to prioritize – how much priority should be given to recent results in the news, for example. That would find a lot of articles about recent court cases with the words ‘judge’, ‘story’ ‘2nd’, and ‘amendment’, because most of them contain ‘judge’ – your query searched for ‘judge story’ as individuals, not as a phrase. So a recent article containing three of your four words – everything but ‘story’ – might reasonably be ranked higher than articles that contained all four words but were older (or that only had 3 matches because ‘justice story’ seems more common than ‘judge story’).

                    Moreover, there is no guarantee that you get the same results (from either) when repeating the same query. I was playing around with variations on your query and the second time I ran your exact query the top result was on Justice Story; that page wasn’t in the first few pages of results the first time I ran exactly the same query. Google runs A-B tests, I’m sure. You’d have t test multiple search strings multiple times to draw any valid inference.

                  2. Brett, with regard to a historical basis for insight into the 2A, Judge Story is just another bit of dry spaghetti that won’t stick to the wall. His service on the Supreme Court long post-dated the founding era. His Commentaries were published in 1833. That means that, once again, the problem of historical relevance intervenes. Despite Scalia’s botched example to the contrary in Heller, you can’t explain what happened during the founding era by reference to stuff that came long afterwards. That’s a general rule of relevance with regard to history. Stevens (correctly) mentions that rule in passing, in his dissent. If it isn’t immediately obvious to you why a rule like that would exist, reflect that nothing which will happen in 2050 will have any power or utility to explain the Obama Administration.

                    It’s true that a historian in 2050 could, by researching records of the Obama administration, and the papers of participants, let them explain. If Story’s Commentaries worked that way, and quoted even one founder who said the 2A was intended to protect a right to arms for private self-defense, don’t you suppose it would have been the first cite mentioned in Heller? It’s not there, because it didn’t happen.

                    That said, it’s worth mentioning, that Story did comment on the militia, and every syllable supports primacy of the militia clause in interpreting the 2A.

                  3. Brett, it’s possible your Google search would have gone better had you searched for “Story,” instead of “Storey.”

          2. Right, Brett. It’s yet another leftist conspiracy, no doubt funded by Soros.

            It doesn’t seem to very effective, though. With virtually no effort I found Stormfront, The Council of Conservative Citizens, and DavidDukeOnline, just for starters.

            1. You found what you think are Stormfront, CCC, and DavidDukeOnline. And let me guess: the sites you landed on are perfect, odious dopplegangers of what the Left would have us think the actual versions of those sites are like. What a coincidence.

  7. I think us Originalists need to trust the historians more, Democracy is Chains is clearly proof that law professors don’t have the expertise to review history on their own. /sarc

    1. Right. Anything lawyers don’t know or understand is just gobbledygook anyway.

  8. I suspect that not one person in a thousand had heard of Buchanan before this dust-up. Of those who had, leaving aside that just about anyone born before the end of WWII could be presumed to have views on racial matters and racial politics that would be embarrassing today, not one in a hundred likely gave any thought to Buchanan’s racial views and politics. Hardly anybody was ever likely to read McLean’s book, but now thousands of people who never did or never will read it know there is a “controversy” over Buchanan’s racial views and politics, precisely because of the strident denunciations of a book that, left to the natural course of events, would probably have disappeared down the memory hole. I think the term for this is the Streisand Effect.

    1. “just about anyone born before the end of WWII could be presumed to have views on racial matters and racial politics that would be embarrassing today”

      What’s your sample size? I’m curious because between relatives and older colleagues I must know a few dozen people born before the end of WWII, and I’d summarize the views of almost all of them as ‘the only thing skin color reliably predicts is … skin color, and Jim Crow was an abomination’. Now, to be sure, I’m not suggesting that’s a representative sample – I was born in the Jim Crow south in the 1950’s, so I’m well aware that prejudice was widespread. But the whole country wasn’t the deep south, and even in the south prejudice wasn’t universal. IMHE ‘just about anyone’ is a huge overestimate.

      1. What’s your sample size?

        Over a thousand people of my own acquaintance — and I have lived north of the Mason-Dixon line all my life — and a fairly wide reading in history of famous people in that time span who expressed in letters or reliably sourced oral statements things they would be deeply embarassed about if they were alive today. There were, of course, probably a few million people of that vintage whose racial views would not be deeply embarrassing today, though the public reaction to the famous exceptions is revealing, but what odds would you need to bet against the presumption?

  9. McLean will be the first one against the wall after the marginal revolution…

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  11. Nancy Maclean’s argument against Buchanan rests on her opinion that all racial segregation is bad, regardless of how it comes about, and on the na?ve notion that all things she considers good came about as a result of majority rule. Consequently, there are two smoking guns against Buchanan. In 1959 he wrote in favor of school vouchers, the use of which could result in the de facto racial segregation of schools ? so therefore Buchanan favored the racial segregation of schools. Buchanan also expressed beliefs against unlimited majority rule, beliefs that are similar to those of John C. Calhoun. Since Calhoun was a racist, this means that Buchanan must be a racist, too. I believe this is the fallacy called Guilt by Association. It is the same as arguing, “You are a vegetarian, Hitler was a vegetarian, so you must share all of Hitler’s beliefs.”

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