A review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America focuses on the implications of her historiographic method in reading Jim Buchanan’s work and the resulting failure to take seriously the underlying framework of constitutional political economy that informed both Jim Buchanan’s and Frank H. Knight’s work. MacLean’s historiography is that of social movement history, which sublimates the interests and motivations of the individual to that of the movement. The real scholar disappears into simply an agent of the movement’s master plan. Because MacLean is suspicious of the movement she believes Buchanan to be part of, his work is interpreted solely in light of what she assumes to be the master plan. In particular, she ignores Buchanan’s habit of returning to key themes in order to develop new modes of analysis. MacLean focuses solely on his public choice work, ignoring the latter developments of constitutional economics and even moral order.
Two issues in MacLean’s account are the focus on the review. The first is simply a research mistake that she drew unwarranted conclusions from regarding Buchanan’s connection to the “massive resistance” movement against desegregation of Virginia public schools. The second issue reveals MacLean’s unwillingness to consider the changes in Buchanan’s scholarship over his career. Taken together, the issues indicate that she refused to read Buchanan on his own terms in order to understand the progress of his work, even if she disagreed with him at the end.
Emmett, R.B. (2019), "Reading the Hermeneutics of Suspicion with Suspicion: A Review Essay on Nancy MacLean’s
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