It is with great relief that I announce that Duke University professor Nancy MacLean did not win the National Book Award for Nonfiction, for which her book Democracy in Chains was a finalist.
MacLean casts the Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan in the role of grand conspirator who aimed to destroy American democracy as a response to racial integration.
This assertion is absurd on its face. The real Buchanan was a strong scholar in the public-finance tradition, who worried about not only state-enforced racism, but the tendency of people to self-segregate by race and class. This supposed right-wing conspirator wrote a book about his liberalism called Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative.
The Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, a fellow Nobel laureate, considered Buchanan our age’s equivalent of Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet. Indeed, so influential was he that his analyses of political action inspired the best-ever TV comedy, the BBC’s Yes, Minister.
Democracy in Chains, which has been thoroughly debunked by left, right, libertarian, and center, is no good-faith critique. It features fabricated quotes and ellipses to flip the meaning of actual quotes, and invents “facts” out of whole cloth.
Buchanan’s closest collaborators teach at Duke, but MacLean never once approached them as sources for her study, which is a bit like being Representative John Lewis’s neighbor and writing a book about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. without ever asking him questions.
As a historian, I found the nomination of such a book for such a prestigious award to be distressing. While it is unfortunate that she still received recognition as a runner-up, it is a relief that she didn’t win.
Let us hope that the Bannonization of my discipline does not continue unabated.