NYT’s review of Nancy MacLean’s book, “Democracy in Chains,” ignores the debate about her use of evidence

Historians in the News
tags: Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean

Heather Boushey is the executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Click HERE to follow the debate on HNN about Democracy in Chains.

... MacLean doesn’t hide her antipathy to Buchanan’s goals. As a historian of American social movements, she brings this expertise to her study of Buchanan, showing how his work helped to sow doubt that anyone — whether individuals, groups or institutions — can act in the public good. Nevertheless, her overt moral revulsion at her subject can sometimes make it seem as if we’re getting only part of the picture.

American democracy was unprepared to defend itself against the agenda of Buchanan and conservative benefactors. Buchanan may not have been the only actor in this movement, and the role of conservative donors and economists has been documented elsewhere, but we are now living in a world he helped shepherd into reality. Public choice economists argue that those with the most to lose from change will pay the most attention, which has certainly been the case with Charles and David Koch. They and their friends have invested enormous sums in organizations that have changed the national debate about the proper role of government in the economy. Our politically polarized and increasingly paralyzed government institutions are the result.

With this book MacLean joins a growing chorus of scholars and journalists documenting the systematic, organized effort to undermine democracy and change the rules. In “Dark Money,” Jane Mayer tells the tale of the Koch brothers. In “Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal,” the historian Kim Phillips-Fein shows how a small group of businessmen initiated a decades-long effort to build popular support for free market economics. The political scientist Steven M. Teles writes about the chemicals magnate John M. Olin in “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.” ...

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