Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains (2017) is an attempt to provide a narrative arc for the rise of free market ideas in political action during the second half of the twentieth century and into the first decades of the twenty-first century. The central character in her narrative is neither F.A. Hayek nor Milton Friedman, let alone Adam Smith or Ludwig von Mises, but James M. Buchanan, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics. MacLean argues that rather than extol the virtues of the market economy as Hayek and Friedman did before him, Buchanan focused on the dysfunctions of politics. Due to a series of argumentative fallacies and failures that follow from her ideological blinders, I argue that MacLean’s attempt is a missed opportunity to seriously engage some very pressing issues in public choice and political economy and understand how James Buchanan attempted to resolve them in a democratic manner. As such, Democracy in Chains is not only a mischaracterization of Buchanan and his project but also a poignant lesson to us all about how ideological blinders can subvert even the sincerest effort to unearth truth in the social sciences and the humanities.
I thank Andrew Farrant and Scott Scheall for their comments and criticisms. The usual caveat applies.
Boettke, P.J. (2019), "The Allure and Tragedy of Ideological Blinders Left, Right, and Center: A Review Essay of Nancy MacLean’s
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