Last week, in our pages, Jon Cassidy introduced readers to the fevered progressive thought of Duke history professor Nancy MacLean, who in her widely noticed recent book lambastes the great free-market economist James Buchanan as the logical successor of slave-owning segregationist John C. Calhoun. We had first read about her book, Democracy in Chains, in Don Boudreaux’s indispensable blog, CafeHayek.com. Now Don has issued an open letter to Prof. MacLean, challenging her to offer a hint of proof to support the smearing she has done of the late Professor Buchanan. He was a Nobel laureate, but still that didn’t stop her. She has until late September to save her career. Here’s Don Boudreaux letter:
1 August 2017
Prof. Nancy MacLean
Department of History
On page 151 of your book Democracy in Chains you write that my late Nobel laureate colleague James Buchanan (in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty) “was outlining a world in which the chronic domination of the wealthiest and most powerful over all others appeared the ultimate desideratum, a state of affairs to be enabled by his understanding of the ideal constitution.” Yet you supply no quotation from Buchanan’s book to support this harsh accusation.
So I challenge you to find in any of Buchanan’s writings a single passage that you are willing to offer to the public as evidence that Buchanan had as an ultimate desideratum a political system in which “the wealthiest and most powerful” exercise “chronic domination … over all others.” If you find such a passage I will post it on my blog and offer to you a public apology for having accused you, on my blog, of falsely portraying Buchanan on this score.*
Note that I am not asking for evidence that Buchanan proposed policies that you believe will lead to the domination of the many by the wealthy few. Buchanan certainly did endorse much greater freedom than you would accord to individuals to interact as they choose in markets. But being a scholar, surely you understand that even if you are correct that Buchanan was wrong not to see that the free markets and limits on government that he endorsed would lead to the domination of the many by the wealthy few, his different assessment of the likely consequences of free markets and limited government does not imply what you accuse him of desiring, namely, the domination of the many by the wealthy few.
If you fail to offer to me (or to post in some other public venue) – by, say, the end of September – evidence from Buchanan’s own writings that his goal was the domination of the many by the wealthy few, I will interpret this failure as proof that you in fact have no such evidence. And the conclusion that I, and others, will reasonably draw is that you simply fabricated this offensive charge.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
James M. Buchanan (Atlas Network/Flickr-Creative Commons)