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The Incoherent Nature of Nancy MacLean’s Narrative

Nancy MacLean is a professor of history at Duke University and she has written a book titled, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. The book purports to be about a “stealth” plan of how to overthrow democracy of the United States and the grand master of this diabolical plan was none other than the Nobel Prize winning economic James McGill Buchanan, one of the founders of the Public Choice theory subfield of economics.

In her book MacLean makes a number of extraordinary claims. The one that will not surprise many is that the entire conspiracy has been funded by Charles Koch. Yes conspiracy is the word I used because that is what MacLean’s narrative is about a “stealth plan” by “fifth columnists” who are seeking to overthrow democracy in the U.S. for their plutocrat masters. Some of her other claims are that Buchanan was greatly influenced by Donald Davidson, a Southern Agrarian. Southern Agrarians were a group of writers and poets in Tennessee that held that working the land and segregation were the ideal. The other was that Buchanan was also heavily influenced by John C. Calhoun (link, link). Calhoun, aside from being Vice President of the United States was also a political philosopher and an apologist slavery. The only problem is that there is no evidence that Buchanan was influenced by either of these men. Buchanan’s influences were in fact far more banal. These influences included Frank H. Knight, Knut Wicksell, Adam Smith, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, John Rawls, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, amongst others. But not one single reference to John C. Calhoun nor Donald Davidson.

In addition to attacking the late James Buchanan, MacLean also trains her sights on Tyler Cowen another economist at George Mason University. MacLean quotes Tyler Cowen as saying the following in this essay on why freedom waxes and wanes,

If American political institutions render market-oriented reforms too difficult to achieve, then perhaps those institutions should be changed.

The problem is this is a classic example of selective quoting. A more complete quotation of Cowen is given by,

Many individuals have suggested procedural or constitutional reform could lead to freer economies for the United States and Europe. Of American political institutions render market-oriented reforms too difficult to achieve, then perhaps those institutions should be changed. Nonetheless, the available evidence suggests that unambiguously beneficial procedural changes are difficult to come by.

From this we can see that MacLean’s quote of Cowen is quite different than what she implies. Cowen is not suggesting that we change such institutions, but that many people have suggested such changes. And Cown then offers a warning that such changes are problematic in that there is no assurance that such changes will be unambiguously good.

However, MacLean does not stop there. She goes on to quote Cowen,

“The weakening of the checks and balances” in the American system, Cowen suggested, “would increase the chance of a very good outcome.”

But what does a more comprehensive quote show us?

Given the instability of the Westminster parliamentary system, as discussed above, it is unlikely that the United States would be better off moving in that direction. While the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome, it also would 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.

That is rather different. First off, Cowen is putting the discussion in terms of the parlimentary system in the U.K. and he is clearly warning about making changes that would weaken the checks and balances in the U.S. system.

In fact, Russ Roberts called Nancy MacLean on this. Roberts noted the mangling and mincing of quotes by MacLean to dramatically change the meaning of the quoted passages to suit her narrative.

Now what I found interesting was MacLean’s response to Russ Roberts. MacLean writes the following (see the link above),

You may think that the material you cite definitely shows Cowen as not eager to pursue non-democratic alternatives. I read it differently and I stand by my interpretation. To say that nondemocratic forms of government can have unfavorable outcomes and that “I explicitly favor more democratic forms,” is not the same as saying that I support and would not be involved in any attempt to overturn the American democratic system of majority rule.

As important, many of Cowen’s actions depict a man who has not just flirted with the idea of shackling majority rule, but helped powerful actors think about how to make it happen. I am referring specifically to:

1. His decision to inform his funding source for the report in question (Charles Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies) on how to bring about radical change that both men know the vast majority of people do not want.

2. His decision to provide a guide to the operatives funded by the Koch donor network who would carry out this radical change, in what Cowen himself called “big-bang style clustered bursts.” Let me also point out that the report Cowen drew up carried the subtle suggestion that success in carrying out these big bang bursts might require “the weakening of the checks and balances” in our constitutional system — something now obviously underway.

It is the last part that intrigues me. Again MacLean implies that Cowen wants to undermine the checks and balances in the U.S. system. In fact, she notes that this very such tactic is currently underway.

Why is this intriguing? Well consider the extended quote from MacLean’s book below (sorry, I bought a digital version so I cannot give accurate page numbers, but I copy and pasted this quote).

Americans are taught from an early age to revere the checks and balances built into our political system by that document, features designed to act as imposing speed bumps, if not complete roadblocks, to radical change from hotheaded majorities, particularly those who may encroach upon the property rights of the minority. The most obvious among these binding features is our grossly malapportioned Senate, designed to put brakes on the House of Representatives, which was to represent the people directly. A state with comparatively few residents, such as Wyoming, has the same Senate representation as the most populous state, California. That means the vote of a Wyoming resident carries nearly seventy times more weight than the vote of a Californian in Senate elections and deliberations.[68] How fair is that? It’s not. It is precisely the kind of malapportionment that the Supreme Court, in the early 1960s, ruled unconstitutional in internal affairs of the states, whose officials were purposely overrepresenting rural residents over urban and suburban residents—indeed, a much more egregious departure from the “one person, one vote” standard. But because the apportionment of Senate seats is written into the Constitution, in the one section that cannot be amended, the remedy cannot be applied nationally.

On the one hand, this constitutional system has helped make the United States the most stable republic in the modern world. On the other hand, it has also made ours by far the least responsive of all the leading democracies to what the people want and need. It takes upheaval of truly historic proportions to achieve significant change in America, even when it is supported by the vast majority—as evidenced by the civil war required to end slavery, the tens of thousands of strikes and other struggles needed to achieve reform during the Great Depression, and the mass disruption and political crisis that civil rights activists had to bring about in order to win for African Americans the same constitutional rights enjoyed by other citizens.[69] The existing checks and balances, in short, create an all but insuperable barrier to those seeking to right even gross social injustice.

The problem is systemic. Built into our Constitution, the change-blocking mechanisms prevent us as a polity from addressing our most profound challenges until there is supermajority support for doing so. We can see the toll of these constraints by looking at the problem of economic inequality. As it has swelled in the United States to a degree not seen in any comparable nation, intergenerational mobility—the ability of young people to move up the economic ladder to achieve a social and financial status better than that of their parents, which was once the source of America’s greatest promise and pride—has plummeted below that of all peer nations, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom. Many thinkers seek to explain this divergence by citing a uniquely individualistic culture. We have all heard those claims, perhaps even floated them ourselves.

But two of the country’s most distinguished comparative political scientists, Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, recently approached the puzzle of U.S. singularity in another way: they compared the number of stumbling blocks that advanced industrial democracies put in the way of their citizens’ ability to achieve their collective will through the legislative process. Calling these inbuilt “majority constraining” obstacles “veto players,” the two scholars found a striking correlation: the nations with the fewest veto players have the least inequality, and those with the most veto players have the greatest inequality. Only the United States has four such veto players. All four were specified in the slavery-defending founders’ Constitution: absolute veto power for the Senate, for the House, and for the president (if not outvoted by a two-thirds majority), and a Constitution that cannot be altered without the agreement of two-thirds of the states after Congress. Other features of the U.S. system further obstruct majority rule, including a winner-take-all Electoral College that encourages a two-party system; the Tenth Amendment, which steers power toward the states; and a system of representation in the unusually potent Senate that violates the principle of “one person, one vote” to a degree not seen anywhere else. Owing to such mechanisms, Stepan and Linz note, even in the late 1960s, “the heyday of income equality in the United States, no other country in the set [of long-standing democracies] was as unequal as America, and most were substantially more equal.” As arresting, even the most equal U.S. state is less equal than any comparable country. What makes the U.S. system “exceptional,” sadly, is the number of built-in vetoes to constrain the majority.[70]

To this already singularly restrictive system the cadre seeks to add still more veto points. In the dream vision of the apparatus Charles Koch has funded to carry out Buchanan’s call for constitutional revolution, it would be all but impossible for government to respond to the will of the majority unless the very wealthiest Americans agree fully with every measure.[71] The project has multiple prongs.

Based on all of this I can only conclude that MacLean actually finds the checks and balances–veto points/players–as a problem. A problem that stymies the application of majoritarianism. A thwarting of the will of the people. “[A]n all but insuperable barrier to those seeking to right even gross social injustice.” Not only that the accusation of MacLean’s that Cowen and the Koch Cabal™ “are seeking ‘to add still more veto points.'”

Given this why is MacLean upset that Cowen wants to remove such “veto points”? Why did she mangle the quotes the way she did? This makes her narrative rather incoherent. Are the checks and balances good? Checks and balances that stymied the majority will as expressed in Kansas in 1954 and which was over turned that majoritarian outcome via Brown v. Topeka Board of Education? After all, Brown v Board was one of the supposed motivating factors of Buchanan, et. al. according to MacLean. Why would Buchanan et. al., want more veto points when it was precisely one of these veto points that gave us the very thing that supposedly horrified Buchanan, Brown v. Board, and which undoubtedly MacLean would completely agree with? I submit that not only is MacLean’s narrative incoherent she simply does not understand the political philosophy of Buchanan and other Public Choice theorists. Nancy MacLean is, to put it simply, an ignoramus.

Disclaimer: I receive absolutely no money nor support in any fashion from any source related to the Kochs. No grants, no funding, no honoraia, sadly no nothing. Not that I’d accept a grant, funding, or honoraia from the Kochs or anyone else that wants to throw money may way.

Related Posts:

About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    So it seems there are some serious problems with MacLean’s book.

    And, of course, it’s totally fine – welcome even – to point that out.

    Still, I’m getting the distinct impression that MacLean’s missteps are being employed here – as a red herring, so to speak – to cast overall doubt on the allegation that the (libertarian) Right is deeply hostile to majority-rule democracy.

    While it is abundantly clear, for instance, that:

    1. Allegations of non-existent voter fraud are being actively employed to disenfranchise voters who are likely to vote for the “wrong” party. (The promotion of which is actually funded by the Koch brothers, for whatever that is worth.)

    2. Right-wing politicians – and libertarians in particular – seek to systematically remove democratically instituted checks and balances in favor of unchecked corporate power, thus privileging wealth over majority opinion.

    3. The Right is constantly promoting the idea that relatively sparsely populated areas of the country, i.e., the “real America,” has a greater moral right to determine the course of the country than the much more densely populated coastal areas.

    4. The Right actively seeks to undermine the principle of proportional representation. See the Wisconsin State Assembly map for a particularly egregious case:

    The [Republican] party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote

    In other words, I think it makes it makes more sense to follow Rick Perlstein’s take on the Right’s hostility to democracy:

    Maclean really does, at times, distort quotes from the subject to claim they mean the opposite of what they actually mean. Yet more damningly, in my opinion, the foundation of the entire book is a conspiracy theory that suggests that if you understand THIS ONE SECRET PLAN, you understand the rise of the right in America in its entirety. Which suggests you don’t need to understand any of a score of other important tributaries, some of them not top-down conspiratorial at all but deeply, organically bottom up, which gave us the political order of battle we know now.

    In other words, focusing on MacLean may be (deliberately?) missing the forest for the trees.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    The seductive quality of grand-conspiracy explanations is that they neatly connect everything in a comprehensible way. Which is of course why they are usually bunk. Human affairs are never so sinple as we would like to believe, and we want to believe it because it gives us a sense of control over our lives. A conspiracy gives us a defined enemy to fight and to cast blame upon.

    MacLean’s knowledge of the relevant history here is, as Dr. Taylor makes explicit, ignorant. The ideas that influenced Buchanan stretch back nearly three hundred years. Many of them are discredited by history itself, but that has never stopped men from embracing bad thinking. And that ultimately undermines MacLean’s conspiracy argument: humans, whatever their intellectual qualifications, are prone to believing dumb things that confirm their biases. Once we accept this no darker explanation is required.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Even taking Verdon at face value, what’s happened here is someone on the left has written a conspiracy theory about the right and has taken some quotes out of context. A thing that happens twice a week on the right. BOTHSIDESDOIT!!!

    For a more scholarly treatment of the book, and the overblown reaction on the right, see The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Someone I never heard of wrote a book about a conspiracy theory based on someone I never heard of. Whoa…(mind explodes)
    Meanwhile the Republican Party is, in the real world, proving itself to be totally incompetent…and their leader is actively exploring pardon options for himself and his circle six months into his so-called presidency. And this is treated as normal.
    I’m only 58, but apparently I am experiencing early onset dementia…….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 7

  5. teve tory says:

    too bad we can’t downvote OPs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    As someone once said, libertarianism is astrology for men.

    The Koch’s tried to gut Cato, they’ve turned private detectives against people writing books on them. They are not people who are for freedom or openness on any intuitive levels. And libertarians are largely the same–they’re weird spectrumy shut-ins following the dumbest doctrines known to mankind. That they’ve been useful idiots for the right (which is one of the main arguments against Buchanan–that he happily offered his ideas in the fight against civil rights in education) is an embarrassing scenario. It’s like climate change scepticism/denialism. What’s worse–believing that it’s true, or being in on it because you are getting paid by some bogus think-tank?

    The book seems to be painting a huge conspiracy when there are more than one. But what’s getting under the skins of people at George Mason is the fact that their story is not being taken at face value.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    This is what’s driving the outrage:

    Today we remember ferocious civil-rights struggles waged in Birmingham and Selma. But ground zero for the respectable defense of Jim Crow was Virginia, where one of the nation’s most powerful politicians, Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., ruled with the authority of an old-style feudal boss. His notorious “machine” kept the state clenched in an iron grip; the oppressions included a poll tax that suppressed black voter turnout so that it was on a par with the Deep South’s (and kept overall turnout under 20 percent). Byrd had allies in the president of the University of Virginia, Colgate Darden, and the newspaperman James Jackson Kilpatrick, who, long before his lovable-curmudgeon TV role on the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of 60 Minutes in the 1970s, was a fanatical and ingenious segregationist.

    Buchanan played a part, MacLean writes, by teaming up with another new University of Virginia hire, G. Warren Nutter (who was later a close adviser to Barry Goldwater), on an influential paper. In it they argued that the crux of the desegregation problem was that “state run” schools had become a “monopoly,” which could be broken by privatization. If authorities sold off school buildings and equipment, and limited their own involvement in education to setting minimum standards, then all different kinds of schools might blossom. Each parent “would cast his vote in the marketplace and have it count.” The argument impressed Friedman, who a few years earlier had published his own critique of “government schools,” saying that “the denationalization of education would widen the range of choice available to parents.”

    I mean, it’s shocking to think that school choice and privatization were things used to fight desegregation. Who knew? Buchanan also advised Augusto Pinochet, who was notorious for how much he was for freedom and liberty.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 11

  8. Franklin says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The seductive quality of grand-conspiracy explanations is that they neatly connect everything in a comprehensible way. Which is of course why they are usually bunk. Human affairs are never so simple as we would like to believe, and we want to believe it because it gives us a sense of control over our lives. A conspiracy gives us a defined enemy to fight and to cast blame upon.

    The other thing about conspiracies is that they’re generally impossible to keep secret if there is more than about 2 people involved. And considering the definition of the word conspiracy is “a secret plan”, that means grand conspiracies are rare or non-existent.

    Although I do seem to recall a conspiracy to elect some Kenyan socialist who took away all our guns. Or have I misread history?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  9. DrDaveT says:

    A serious question for the author: Who cares?

    I mean that literally, not flippantly. Are there actual decision-makers, people in authority, who will be influenced by MacLean’s book? Who, besides academics, will ever know what she said, and act on that knowledge in ways that affect non-academics?

    We all like to think that our published works will influence future thinkers and change the course of history. We’re usually wrong, even when the work is solid and relevant.

    Let me put it this way: if MacLean’s scholarship is as shoddy and/or dishonest as would seem to be indicated by the quoted bits above, then I can’t imagine the book having any lasting impact beyond outrage (or at least pique). Are there any important scholars defending the book?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  10. MarkedMan says:

    Interesting to see what Libertarians are focussing on now. “Squirrel!!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  11. Scott O says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: That was my thought exactly. We’ve got a president totally disconnected from reality but somebody thinks the problem that most needs to be discussed today is a book that contains extraordinary claims.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Andy says:

    This is a book genre that I never read. I tried reading one once and it was like reading a book length post on a zealously ideological blog. Books in this genre come and go and are quickly forgotten. It doesn’t sound like this one will be any different.

    Plus, there is plenty of this kind of material that is available for free in more digestible chunks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Steve, why did you post this? Unknown academic writes loopy book, film at 11?

    NO. ONE. CARES.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    *tries to comment, but after reading the other comments is just laughing too hysterically to type*

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  15. Alex says:

    Re: “Right-wing politicians – and libertarians in particular – seek to systematically remove democratically instituted checks and balances in favor of unchecked corporate power, thus privileging wealth over majority opinion.”

    If you are concerned with unchecked corporate power you may actually find some common ground with the work of the public choice school that Buchanan contributed to. It is explicitly concerned about understanding the causes of corporate power over government. For example an important public choice is “rent seeking”, which describes the economic reasons how lobby groups representing concentrated interests capture government policy at the expense of majorities. For public choice, and I think also for many progressives, capture of the policy making process by corporate interests is one of the reasons why government sometimes does not work that well. Buchanan’s work on constitutional design is about reducing this type of concentrated political power, and certainly not about promoting greater oligarchic concentration. Overall though my point is that one need not agree with libertarianish solutions in order to profit from a “public choice” understanding of the cause of concentrated corporate power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Slugger says:

    I have not read this book, but there is obviously a tension between the need to be stable and predictable and the need to be responsive for any form of government. The idea that people in the inside of a system tend to be in favor of stability/no change and the outsiders in favor of responsiveness/change does not strike me as novel. I believe that advocates for a certain view may overstate their case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. wr says:

    Let’s see – on the one hand we have an academic book that some people have issues with. On the other hand, we have a critic who has devoted his life to libertarianism, a cause that depends entirely on its adherents ignoring every single fact about the reality of human existence. Tough call.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    There are several authors in the so called paleolibertarian and paleoconservative fields that refer positively to Calhoun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  19. Andre Kenji says:

    There are several authors in the so called paleolibertarian and paleoconservative fields that refer positively to Calhoun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Alex:

    For public choice, and I think also for many progressives, capture of the policy making process by corporate interests is one of the reasons why government sometimes does not work that well.

    This is true, but from what I see here and a skim of my link@gVOR08: Buchanan’s solution, and Libertarian’s generally, amounts to cutting out the government as a middleman and simply turning decision making over to corporate interests.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  21. MarkedMan says:

    There has been no successful libertarian society in recorded history. Temporary and horrific episodes of anarchy is the closest we’ve come. And modern libertarians have no demonstrated success in showing that more libertarianism results in a better society (Kansas, anyone?) Sorry Steve, but can you demonstrate the contrary?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  22. teve tory says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    And libertarians are largely the same–they’re weird spectrumy shut-ins following the dumbest doctrines known to mankind.

    when I read Atlas Shrugged as a teen, i had a vague sense that something wasn’t right. Then along came Adam Lee who demolishes the book page-by-page in 100 consecutive blog posts. It is a glorious read. That woman was an idiot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. drj says:

    @gVOR08:

    Buchanan’s solution, and Libertarian’s generally, amounts to cutting out the government as a middleman and simply turning decision making over to corporate interests.

    This actually makes sense if you believe (as most libertarians do) that only state power can be problematic and that power differentials in “the free market” either don’t exist or are A-OK.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. Mister Bluster says:

    Spicey we hardy knew ye…period!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Todd says:

    I read this post twice, and still have no idea what point Mr. Verdon is trying to make; other than that he thinks the book’s author is an “ignoramus” … seriously? That kind of ad hominem might pop up from time to time in the comments section, but from a writer on the blog?

    I’d never heard of this writer, or her book. But clicking the Amazon link, some of the reviews over there actually make for much more interesting reading than this blog post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  26. MarkedMan says:

    @teve tory:

    I read Atlas Shrugged as a teen, i had a vague sense that something wasn’t right.

    Read more: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/the-incoherent-nature-of-nancy-macleans-narrative/#ixzz4nU3Npmhe

    Ayn Rand’s writing falls into that category of polemic that creates a fictional situation that is ideally suited to their philosophical outlook and then demonstrates that their system solves all of its problems. Proof! There have been a number of best sellers in my life time that fall into that category, but god help me, I can’t remember the names of any of them right now. One or two about new age mysticism that are on the tip of my tongue… “The Force”? “The System”? Something about everyone moving to a country in South America where positive thinking has solved all problems? I still see the occasional hotel meeting room based “seminar” for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @drj:

    This actually makes sense if you believe (as most libertarians do) that only state power can be problematic

    You’ve nicely and concisely stated the problem with Libwertarianism. It’s all about “freedom”, with freedom defined very narrowly.

    Their favorite shibboleth seems to be the government ordering lunch counter owners in the South to integrate. While the owners lost freedom, didn’t the net freedom in the country increase markedly when black people could eat where they wished?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  28. teve tory says:

    The other thing about conspiracies is that they’re generally impossible to keep secret if there is more than about 2 people involved.

    The old line published in Poor Richar’s Almanac:

    “Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. MarkedMan says:

    The ultimate failure of libertarianism, or any other system of government, is that if a significant and empowered number of citizens feel the system is stacked against them they will overthrow that system and install another. (See the first sentence of the Preamble to the US Constitution for one example). In a libertarian society, power will inevitably concentrate, and individuals without power could only look to very weak or captured institutions to try to rectify what they perceive as wrongs. As such, they would have no incentive to see the libertarian government or society as legitimate and it would make sense for them to collectively overthrow it and replace it with another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. teve tory says:

    Ayn Rand’s writing falls into that category of polemic that creates a fictional situation that is ideally suited to their philosophical outlook and then demonstrates that their system solves all of its problems.

    What makes it such a failure is that it’s not even coherent within the novel. Even with rand having the godlike powers of the author, none of what happens makes any sense, the characters don’t act coherently to their philosophy, applying her philosophy to the scenarios therein would lead to disasters ten ways to Sunday, Plot Armor has to protect the good guys all the time, etc. She couldn’t even make her nonsense philosophy work out in her own book.

    Seriously, anybody who thinks Atlas Shrugged is anything other than laughable nonsense, start reading Adam Lee’s blog posts I linked to. By chapter 2 or 3 you’ll be wincing. That book is way more idiotic than you might think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. drj says:

    @gVOR08:

    While the owners lost freedom, didn’t the net freedom in the country increase markedly when black people could eat where they wished?

    Actually, these owners did not lose freedom as normally understood, but rather the ability to harness state power to advance their private racist beliefs. (They couldn’t call the cops anymore to throw black people out.)

    Ironically, quite a few libertarians think this was problematic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. teve tory says:

    They lost their Force Vouchers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Dave Schuler says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Tyler Cowen cares about it because he thinks he’s been maligned, reasonably enough because he has. Consequently, it’s a bigger deal inside the econosphere than it is outside it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. bookdragon says:

    @drj: Yep. In fact, one could argue that the lunch counter owners increased their economic freedom b/c their clientele was no longer limited by social and state enforced racial division.

    However, I once had a libertarian tell me with a straight face that the Emancipation Proclamation reduced freedom in the US because it was a ‘taking’ – the govt depriving the slave owners of their property w/o compensation.

    To be fair though, after I lit into him on how blatantly stupid that was (So you count giving hundreds of thousands of people the freedom to keep the benefits of their own labor as reducing freedom? Uh-huh …Is there some reason the increased freedom for that much larger group doesn’t count in your book…?) he did have the grace to admit he was wrong. In fact, he followed me around for the rest of the day trying to explain that he really wasn’t racist…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  35. MarkedMan says:

    In re-reading my post above about what would happen in a libertarian society I should have added, ” ..the power would accumulate to the strong and the society would quickly become an oligarchy, although probably keep proclaiming their libertarian credentials louder than ever. ”

    The idea that a grown man, Paul Ryan, still believes this fantasy is sad, but the fact that he is literally one of perhaps ten people who control the health care of tens of millions of people is frightening.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  36. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: ” While the owners lost freedom, didn’t the net freedom in the country increase markedly when black people could eat where they wished?

    That’s only important if you believe net freedom is more valuable than individual freedom. It seems to me that Libertarian philosophy contextualizes net freedom entirely within the context of the freedom of the individual; that is, the loss of individual freedom is a loss of net freedom regardless of the perceptions of the society at large of increased freedom for those who had less or none to begin with.

    @ Steve: Your ox got gored. You have my sympathy. Hopefully, he’ll recover fully. And while I am glad that, as you note at the end of your post, you are not for sale, I suspect that it is for the same reason that I find myself not for sale: No one is interested in buying.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    When I said “net freedom” I meant simply the sum of individuals’ freedom. Your source seems to mean something else. And I give up. I searched the OP, comments, and Google and failed to find that quote. Where’s it from? And did the source define “individual freedom” and “net freedom” in any not nonsensical way? It sounds an awful lot like saying some individuals’ freedoms counts and some individuals’ don’t.

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  38. Hal_10000 says:

    @drj:

    As opposed to the Left, which stood around like toilets with the lids up while Obama bypassed Congress with executive orders only to be shocked SHOCKED that Trump is using the same process. In my experience, libertarians are way more devoted to process than either the Right or the Left for precisely that reason: no one in government can be trusted with unconstrained power. But she seems to be veering all over the place. Checks and balances are a critical constraint on the will of the “majority”. They are important for any President but vital when you have a President like Trump. Any rational should be suspicious of direct democracy.

    The real motivation behind McLean’s book, I think, is to undermine Public Choice Theory. A lot of people don’t like it because it contends that politicians, government hacks and bureaucrats are often motivated by self-interest — just not direct financial self-interest.

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  39. Steve Verdon says:

    @drj:

    2. Right-wing politicians – and libertarians in particular – seek to systematically remove democratically instituted checks and balances in favor of unchecked corporate power, thus privileging wealth over majority opinion

    Did you read my quote from MacLean’s book and the extended quotes of Cowen? You have it exactly backwards.

    3. The Right is constantly promoting the idea that relatively sparsely populated areas of the country, i.e., the “real America,” has a greater moral right to determine the course of the country than the much more densely populated coastal areas.

    This is nowhere to be found in Public Choice as far as I know, nor the writings of Buchanan or Cowen. Soooo…what?

    Oh, and look you selectively quote Rick Perlstein, what a shock.

    It pains me very deeply to say this, as Nancy Maclean is a friend whose past work I deeply admire, and whose broad political aims I share, but I totally endorse this article about her book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for Democracy.” Maclean really does, at times, distort quotes from the subject to claim they mean the opposite of what they actually mean. Yet more damningly, in my opinion, the foundation of the entire book is a conspiracy theory that suggests that if you understand THIS ONE SECRET PLAN, you understand the rise of the right in America in its entirety. Which suggests you don’t need to understand any of a score of other important tributaries, some of them not top-down conspiratorial at all but deeply, organically bottom up, which gave us the political order of battle we know now. That you don’t need to read anything else. Which is actively dangerous to historical understanding.

    Perlstein was recommending against the book as it is rubbish, as do Farrell and Teles from Crooked timber (see the link in the Perlstein quote).

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  40. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: That wasn’t a quote from anybody. I set up a block quote by mistake. Both paragraphs are my personal thoughts on each topic.

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  41. teve tory says:

    In my experience, libertarians are way more devoted to process than either the Right or the Left for precisely that reason:

    It’s pretty easy for libertarians to sit on the sidelines and talk about how they’d do things so ethically and according to procedure. If libertarians ever got any power, then we’d see how corruptible they are. But they won’t get any power, because there aren’t enough of them. Libertarianism is most popular with young naive healthy privileged white males, but typically in a few years they grow out of it.

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  42. Andre Kenji says:

    @Todd: I read this post twice, and still have no idea what point Mr. Verdon is trying to make;

    Two; I thought that the problem was my reading comprehension since English is my second language.

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  43. @DrDaveT:

    A serious question for the author: Who cares?

    I mean that literally, not flippantly. Are there actual decision-makers, people in authority, who will be influenced by MacLean’s book? Who, besides academics, will ever know what she said, and act on that knowledge in ways that affect non-academics?

    Sadly, this will be used as yet another reason to bolster the narrative that academia is out to get conservatives and that experts will lie to accomplish their goals. The actual content of the book in terms of the debate itself will, of course, be limited to a small (in relative terms) academic circle.

    I have not read this book, although I have read some of the commentary surrounding it. I understand how people who knew Buchanan personally would be offended. I can also understand how those in the public choice school would see the whole thing as absurd (I have actually presented, once, at a Public Choice Society annual meeting–although my work was on the fringes of what that groups does. Whatever it may have been, it was not a cabal of right-wing conspirators).

    The most damning thing to me about this book, based on what I have read, is a egregious use of evidence by the author and the way in which is appears to weave speculation into what is supposed to be a history text.

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Sadly, this will be used as yet another reason to bolster the narrative that academia is out to get conservatives and that experts will lie to accomplish their goals.

    Yes, it will — and that makes sense, given that this seems to be an instance of exactly that.

    The recommended remedy is for honest academics, especially those on the left, to immediately and publicly repudiate the shoddy scholarship, deliberately misleading quotes, and general propagandist approach of the book and its author. Demand an apology, even. If the narrative is that academia is out to get conservatives (as opposed to debunking conservatism, which is a different thing), then instances of that need to be policed by academia — especially the Left — quickly and thoroughly.

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  45. @DrDaveT: I think that it already is, although in your normal academic way–you know, negative book reviews, panels at conferences, etc. None of it will stop Hannity and friends from using it as noted.

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  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    None of it will stop Hannity and friends from using it as noted.

    Hannity and friends will make up ‘facts’ to suit their narrative if they can’t find actual facts. This doesn’t really affect them, other than to make their ‘research’ a bit easier.

    Have you ever read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Gaudy Night? It’s a brilliant work, with nested layers. The outermost layer is a mystery novel — Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The next layer in is a romance novel, same principals. The next layer in from that is a feminist novel, concerning whether it’s possible for an intelligent woman to be happily married. The innermost layer is about academic integrity, and under what circumstances academic probity trumps family obligations and human feeling. I won’t spoil the novel if you haven’t read it, but Sayers’s opinion on that last question is clear as day by the end.

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  47. Guarneri says:

    The woman is of dubious character.

    But at least it allowed the usual suspects to spend another productive day. (Snicker)

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  48. Alex says:

    @gVOR08: I agree that progressives and libertarians would differ in their solutions to this problem. I would note that “turning it over to corporate interests” is probably not how libertarians would describe their own position. They would say that having a freer market (i.e. with competition, prices etc…) would limit corporate power in many settings. The point is debatable of course, but I would say it should be debated and not dismissed outright. Also, Buchanan is not exactly your typical hardcore libertarian. He actually supported a 100% estate tax and vigorous anti-trust enforcement. Overall, I would encourage progressives to read and engage on the level of ideas with people like Buchanan -serious thinkers that have made big contributions to understanding economy and government.

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  49. Anuj Agarwal says:

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