Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

The Epistemic Toxins of False Historical Claims

| February 27, 2018

Allegations of racism carry a substantial social stigma in today’s intellectual climate. Provided that the allegation is valid, this may be a desirable effect. Racism is insidiously unethical as it fundamentally devalues the targeted person. This may make it worthy of not only condemnation, but the ostracizing that often follows a racist action. Knowledge that […]

How John Rawls tried to put Democracy in Chains

| December 19, 2017

I’ve spent the past week at the Hoover Institution, researching the early origins of James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock’s 1962 book The Calculus of Consent. While working in the papers of W.H. Hutt, South African economist who spent 1966-67 as a visiting professor at Buchanan and Tullock’s research center at the University of Virginia, I […]

Buchanan’s position on vouchers and segregation: the documents MacLean missed

| October 23, 2017

A central claim of Democracy in Chains holds that James M. Buchanan and the Thomas Jefferson Center (TJC) for Political Economy provided complicit aid and assistance to the segregationist “massive resisters” of late 1950s and early 1960s Virginia. As I’ve documented, this claim is both thinly attested in evidence and contradicted by what we do know […]

Speaking of Prince Edward County and school vouchers…

| October 22, 2017

As I continue the ongoing dissection of Democracy in Chains, I’d like to turn next to a claim that’s at the heart of its narrative on school desegregation: the notorious closing of Prince Edward County, Virginia’s public school system from 1959 to 1964 as a strategy to avoid racial integration. Nancy MacLean actually claims that she first discovered James […]

Is a 2017 National Book Award finalist built upon a simple typo?

| October 17, 2017

My other posts on the National Book Award-nominated Democracy in Chains have focused upon severe problems with its author’s historical account, including the misuse and misrepresentation of archival evidence. Today I want to look at another aspect of the book – its own origin story, as told by author Nancy MacLean. The book’s publicist has made […]

Did School Vouchers threaten Segregation in 1959 Charlottesville?

| October 12, 2017

Virginia’s desegregation fight has been a central point of contention in the ongoing controversy over Democracy in Chains. Author Nancy MacLean and several of her defenders in the historian community have attempted to depict a 1959 paper on school vouchers by Warren Nutter and James M. Buchanan as the product of an unholy alliance they allegedly struck […]

What did James M. Buchanan actually believe about segregation?

| October 1, 2017

James M. Buchanan did not write very much on the subject of racial politics. The topic did not appear in any of his major works. He also tended to steer away from day to day political issues in general, save for when they touched upon a relatively narrow set of issues in his immediate scope […]

Actually, documents prove the Virginia School condemned segregation

| September 30, 2017

In my last two posts, I highlighted substantial problems with the historical narrative and use of sources in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, particularly as they concerned the issue of segregation in 1950s and 60s Virginia. MacLean essentially claims that economists James M. Buchanan and Warren Nutter forged something of an unholy alliance with a group […]