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balkin critiques mclean

Andrew Koppleman, professor of law at Northwestern, offers a strong critique of Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains. The book argues that the economist James M. Buchanan was an enemy of the Brown decision and took Koch funding in an attempt to develop the intellectual tools to fight Brown. The book was discussed briefly on this blog.

On the “Balkinization” blog, Koppelman takes McLean to task, arguing that the book simply got the story completely wrong. He is not alone. There are numerous critics, ranging from personal friends of Buchanan to independent historians, who have argued that the major claims of the book are simply wrong. For example, GMU’s Phil Magness has reported on his blog that, among other things, there is ample documentary evidence that Buchanan and his colleagues did not support segregation.

Koppleman steps back and takes a look at the big picture. The problem isn’t that you can’t criticize economists or libertarian intellectuals with respect to their racial positions. Indeed, as a person who thinks that markets are very important, I think we need to be very critical of libertarians who have openly associated with racists, like Rand Paul, or Murray Rothbard, who actively relied on the political ideas of Southern politicians. However, as far as I can tell, James Buchanan was not like that. To quote Koppelman,

Democracy in Chains has been testing the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  There has been an explosion of documentation that MacLean gets facts wrong, misunderstands her sources, and invents quotations or pulls them out of context to mean the opposite of what they said.  You can find all this easily if you just google the book’s title.

Koppelman then puts his finger on the real issue: People have dropped their standards because the author has the right politics. You are definitely allowed to criticize Buchanan, the Kochs or anyone else – but you aren’t entitled to twisting the facts:

MacLean states a valid and important complaint against the Kochs. They threaten to impose a new quasi-feudal hierarchy in the guise of liberty.  But a work of history is supposed to be more than a denunciation of bad political actors.

Koppelman then reviews the piles of errors and odd inferences in the book. How can people openly support a book so rife with error? Koppelman again:

The nomination bespeaks a new low in polarization: if you write a readable book denouncing the Kochs, we love you, and we don’t care whether anything you say is true.  The prize is being used to make a political statement, like Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded less than nine months after he took office.  Even he found that embarrassing.  Party solidarity now overrides all other considerations.  This is, of course, the kind of thinking that led otherwise thoughtful Republicans to vote for Trump.

Critique is good and I support it. But we should also demand quality.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 30, 2017 at 4:02 am

Posted in books, fabio, uncategorized

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