Education

Duke Professor: Libertarians ‘Seem to Be on the Autism Spectrum’

Duke Professor Nancy MacLean on Book TV, July 2017 (Image via C-SPAN)
Nancy McClean should be ashamed.

A history professor at Duke University stated that many of the architects of small-government philosophy seemed “to be on the autism spectrum.”

Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, made the comments during the Q&A portion of her February 7 speech at New York City Unitarian Church of All Souls.

The question:

“Where do [Public Choice Theory economist James Buchanan’s] motivations lie? Are they ones of personal greed? It seems like it’s a little grander, is it malevolence?”

MacLean, who has also written a biography of Buchanan, responded:

“As an author, I have struggled with this, and I could explain it in different ways. I didn’t put this in the book, but I will say it here,” she answered. “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum—you know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”

In other words: She managed to give an answer that was incredibly offensive not only to libertarians, but also to people with autism. Let me be clear: Having autism does not mean that you do not have empathy for other people, and it’s outrageously inappropriate for McClean to have made such ignorant and insensitive comments about something she clearly knows nothing about.

Having libertarian beliefs also does not mean that you lack empathy. I know, because I have both. Libertarianism does not rest on the belief that people should not have good things, but the belief that getting the government too involved in people’s lives actually does more harm than it does good. The entire idea behind libertarianism is to minimize this kind of harm — and, believe it or not, wanting to minimize the harm being inflicted on others is the exact opposite of not having any empathy. Libertarians want people to be happy and prosperous, and suggesting otherwise is downright asinine.

I cannot believe that I even have to write this, but having a libertarian view of how society can best manage things such as the economy and the health-care system does not mean that you want a garbage economy where everyone is sick — it just means that you have a different view of how we can achieve that best society. The goal is still to have an environment where everyone can live his or her own best life. Suggesting that having a belief in a different path to that goal is the same as not having that goal is ignorant and simplistic, and MacLean should be ashamed of herself for her comments.

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