The Sound of Silence. A Review Essay of Nancy Maclean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

63 Pages Posted: 22 May 2018 Last revised: 2 Jun 2018

See all articles by Jean-Baptiste Fleury

Jean-Baptiste Fleury

THEMA

Alain Marciano

Université de Montpellier; Université Montpellier I - Montpellier Recherche en Economie (Montpellier Research in Economics) MRE

Date Written: May 8, 2018

Abstract

This essay reviews Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, which triggered a huge controversy that virally spread on the internet and in various journals. We will evaluate MacLean’s almost biographical account of James Buchanan, which portrays the 1986 Nobel Prize laureate as the mastermind behind today’s attacks, by the foot soldiers of the radical right, on American democracy. This essay develops three main points. One, MacLean’s general narrative puts too much emphasis on Buchanan, and largely neglects the many other important characters who contributed to the intellectual criticism of government intervention. Two, MacLean’s account is marred by many misunderstandings about public choice theory, for instance about the role that simple majority rule plays in constitutional economics. Third, in the midst of abundant archival material, her historical narrative is at best sketchy, and is replete with significantly flawed arguments, misplaced citations, and dubious conjectures. Overall, MacLean tends to over-interpret certain aspects in Buchanan’s life and thought, while she overlooks others that are equally important in understanding his work and influence. In particular, we stress that Buchanan was first and foremost a scholar, not a political activist, who gave significant attention to ethical considerations in his analysis of markets.

Keywords: Buchanan, MacLean, Democracy, History of Political Economy, Public Choice

JEL Classification: B20, B25, B31

Suggested Citation

Fleury, Jean-Baptiste and Marciano, Alain, The Sound of Silence. A Review Essay of Nancy Maclean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (May 8, 2018). Journal of Economic Literature, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3175135 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3175135

Jean-Baptiste Fleury

THEMA ( email )

33 Boulevard du Port
Cergy-Pontoise Cedex, Cedex 95011
France

Alain Marciano (Contact Author)

Université de Montpellier ( email )

Avenue Raymond Dugrand, CS 79606
Montpellier Cedex 1, F-34000
France

Université Montpellier I - Montpellier Recherche en Economie (Montpellier Research in Economics) MRE ( email )

Montpellier
France

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