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 […]

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 […]

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discussed an example of how Democracy in Chains author and Duke University historian Nancy MacLean conflated a pair of historical documents written two months apart from each other to levy unfounded segregationist insinuations against economist James M. Buchanan.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On Nancy MacLean’s sloppy use of historical documents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 […]

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 […]

About MacLean and the matter of John C. Calhoun

| December 10, 2017

Several months ago when I first entered the discussion about Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, I called attention to her misuse of historical evidence to write pro-slavery theorist John C. Calhoun into the intellectual lineage of economist James M. Buchanan. MacLean’s claim struck me as odd at the time, because Calhoun’s name does not appear […]

On the matter of letting chips fall where they may

| September 26, 2017

As my post yesterday noted, I have spent the past several days source-checking a number of key claims in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains against the archival holdings of the University of Virginia. The latest installment takes a look at another of MacLean’s most inflammatory allegations regarding segregation, and her attempts to link it to the work […]

A Tale of Two Newspapers

| September 25, 2017

Virginius Dabney, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch   The ongoing controversy over Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean has provided no shortage of conversation material this summer, including an unintentional commentary on the degraded state of academic standards in the history profession. When I first read this book at the beginning of the summer, I was […]