The Corner

Politics & Policy

Michael Munger: The Ultimate Nancy MacLean Slayer

Ramesh and Jonah have done an excellent job summarizing the various criticisms of Nancy MacLean’s very sloppy book Democracy in Chains. I like how Jonah puts it:

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid there’s that great bit about the super-posse that chases the outlaws. They’re led by a legendary law man, Joe Lefors, and an Indian Scout (Lord Baltimore), who can follow horse tracks over rock and water.

I mention this because if I were Nancy MacLean, I’d much rather have Lefors and Lord Baltimore coming after me than to have Don Boudreaux, Steve Horwitz, Jonathan Adler, Russ Roberts, and the rest of the libertarian super-posse on my ass.

No kidding. But little did Jonah know that the biggest takedown was yet to come. In a sublime and devastating essay for the Independent Institute, Michael Munger delivers a lethal bow to the whole work. As he points out — after exposing another “It’s made up. Fabricated. Fictional” example in the book — you don’t understand MacLean’s work until you understand this:

Democracy in Chains is a work of speculative historical fiction. There is considerable research underpinning the speculation, and since MacLean is careful about footnoting only things that actually did happen she cannot be charged with fabricating facts. But most of the book, and all of its substantive conclusions, are idiosyncratic interpretations of the facts that she selects from a much larger record, as is common in the speculative-history genre.

The rest of the article is even better. However, there are too many wonderful parts to relay them all here. Besides, I couldn’t even begin to properly summarize Munger’s article because I believe every part is worth reading. This, in my opinion, is the perfect example of how it’s done.

In addition, throughout the whole article, Munger remains calm, polite, and even open-minded. He even praises MacLean when praises are due: “Decoding and paraphrasing, rather than charitable quoting, is the organon of MacLean’s book. Not of her other work, however, which as I have said is admirably academic and careful.” He is transparent about his potential biases and humble about the quality and importance of his own work. But always a teacher, he seizes the opportunity to give everyone a refresher on what public-choice economics is all about and why it is first and foremost an exercise in protecting minorities from oppression.

In other words: Begin reading Munger’s essay to witness another exposure of MacLean’s deception but finish reading it because you will learn so much in the process. This is a masterpiece that establishes Michael Munger as the ultimate Nancy MacLean slayer.

The whole thing is here.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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