June 28, 2022

PHIL MAGNESS IS MANFULLY FIGHTING LEFTIST DISINFORMATION ON LIBERTARIANS: Setting the Record Straight on “Setting the Record Straight on the Libertarian South African Economist W.H. Hutt and James M. Buchanan.”

Nancy MacLean’s 2017 book Democracy in Chains has become a quintessential example of this literature. The book’s primary villain – described in MacLean’s words as an “evil genius” – is 1986 Nobel laureate economist James M. Buchanan, who she places at the center of an elaborate academic conspiracy to “enchain democracy” at the behest of a plutocratic elite. Race naturally plays a central part in MacLean’s argument as she places Buchanan in league with the segregationist “Massive Resistance” movement of 1950s Virginia as part of an intellectual project to allegedly rehabilitate the pro-slavery constitutional theories of John C. Calhoun.

In a paper published in 2019, we subjected MacLean’s thesis to careful scrutiny, including retracing her steps through the archival materials she claimed to have used and adding other sources that she missed. The results were not pretty for MacLean’s thesis. We found that she had failed to substantiate her central allegation of Buchanan’s complicity with the segregationists, while also ignoring extensive evidence that worked against this claim. Her archival work produced a long list of misrepresented sources, misread documents, mistaken citations, faulty inferences, historical anachronisms, and outright factual errors. They nonetheless allowed her to construct a narrative about Buchanan that many on the political left accepted for its “truthiness.” Quite simply, MacLean had told a tale that seemed “true” to others who wanted to believe it. Her evidence did not support that story.

One of the main areas where MacLean’s segregationist narrative falters is the case of South African economist W.H. Hutt. In 1965, Buchanan recruited Hutt for a year-long visiting professorship at the University of Virginia. Shortly before he arrived, Hutt published The Economics of the Colour Bar – a withering economic broadside against the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. The book built on decades of Hutt’s anti-Apartheid work, which had previously induced the South African government to suspend his passport in an effort to silence him. After arriving at UVA, Hutt continued his attacks on Apartheid and gave a string of public lectures pointing out its similarities to the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow South. Clearly, something did not add up in MacLean’s book. If Buchanan’s project at UVA existed to give an academic cover to the segregationist “Massive Resistance” movement, as MacLean maintains, why would Buchanan personally invite an economist who was widely known as an outspoken critic of Apartheid?

Because MacLean’s politics needed him to be racist.

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