Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

Buchanan and the MacLean controversy in retrospect: 1.5 years later

| December 21, 2018

It’s been about a year and a half since Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains hit the bookstore shelves. Having been deeply involved in the controversy that followed from her depiction of economist James M. Buchanan, I’m happy to report that one of the main products of my own research on the subject (co-authored with Art Carden and […]

How Warren Nutter opposed Massive Resistance

| November 22, 2018

The Irish satirist Jonathan Swift once remarked that “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.” His words anticipated a common observation in scientific research wherein the time and effort that […]

Once more unto the breach

| November 4, 2018

An unusual event happened last week at Middle Tennessee State University, the alma mater of economist James M. Buchanan. Attempting to capitalize on that connection, the MTSU philosophy and religious studies department invited Duke University historian Nancy MacLean to deliver an attack on Buchanan based upon her book Democracy in Chains. MacLean gave her standard speech on […]

Euphemizing Eugenics

| September 11, 2018

The involvement of the early 20th century Progressive Movement with the racial pseudo-science of eugenics has only recently begun to receive a thorough and appropriately critical historical treatment. The reason for this late treatment likely derives from a polite reluctance to engage an ethical blot on the careers of several celebrated scholars and political figures […]

On Buchanan, Knight, and Arthur Krock

| September 4, 2018

Frank H. Knight One of the more fascinating pieces of evidence I examine in my article (with Art Carden and Vincent Geloso) on James M. Buchanan and the school desegregation crisis is an October 1957 letter that Buchanan sent to his old mentor Frank H. Knight. At the time of this letter, Knight was preparing […]

The problem with historical arguments from silence

| August 3, 2018

Historical arguments from silence are a common feature of academic work. Originally a means of dealing with historical subjects where a weak or missing evidentiary record makes direct examination of an event impossible, arguments from silence instead draw inferences from what is not said or not recorded. For example, if a historical document neglects to […]

Did Buchanan support segregated school vouchers?

| July 20, 2018

Last summer during the peak of the Democracy in Chains scandal, Georg Vanberg brought two letters to light in which James M. Buchanan shared his private thoughts on the relationship between segregation and school vouchers. Writing to his friend Arthur Seldon, Buchanan expressed his concern about “the evils of race-class-cultural segregation that an unregulated voucher scheme […]

Anti-voucher segregationism & the 1959 Virginia school crisis

| June 18, 2018

Prof. Hardy Cross Dillard Several months ago I wrote a lengthy post on an intriguing historical discovery. In March 1959, Charlottesville, Virginia school board attorney John S. Battle, Jr. laid out a case that school vouchers posed an existential threat to racially segregated schooling. Battle was an outspoken segregationist and member of the Virginia political […]

Democracy in Chains and the problem of misrepresented documents

| June 9, 2018

In my last post I discussed an example of how Democracy in Chains author and Duke University historian Nancy MacLean conflated a pair of historical documents written two months apart from each other to levy unfounded segregationist insinuations against economist James M. Buchanan. Despite the relative abundance of footnotes in Democracy in Chains, MacLean’s work is marred […]

On Nancy MacLean’s sloppy use of historical documents

| June 6, 2018

Jacobin Magazine recently put out a new podcast to promote Democracy in Chains by Duke historian Nancy MacLean. While the bulk of the episode simply repeats the conspiratorial claims found in MacLean’s book, it takes an interesting turn around the 27 minute mark when the host asks her to respond to her critics. While the […]