Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Buchanan-MacLean Controversy

The book, Democracy in Chains (with an even more lurid subtitle) by Nancy MacLean, a respected (until now) historian at Duke University makes a strong argument that the late James M. Buchanan of UVa, VaTech, and George Mason was the crucial link between the ancient states right racism of John C. Calhoun and the current Trump administration. From Calhoun, incredibly inaccurately labeled a "libertarian," through the Agrarian Populist literary movement that was popular at Vanderbilt where Jim wanted to go but did not (he went to Middle Tennessee State, a poor boy claiming to be a "socialist,"), Buchanan becomes supposedly an effective supporter of racial segregation in Virginia in the 1950s, and then becomes the inspiration for all of later Austrian libertarianism, having attended the opening meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 (where they chose to be called "neoliberals"), and then after founding the Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy at the University of Virginia, and then running to  VA Tech in the early 70s, and then to George Mason in the early 80s, well, then he had a connection with the Koch Brothers, although this fell apart in the late  90s, but nevertheless he is the main link proving that Trump is a racist enemy of democracy.

This account has brought forth a massive counterattack from many current libertarians, much of it looking to me to be justified, involving many  serious factual errors.  I am not going to list them but note these sources for discussions of such matters: Munger, Horwitz, which includes other sources.  I shall try to deal with matters not covered by them, noting that I largely agree with their critiques.  The hard bottom line is that this may be a left version of  rightist climate change denial: those reading this book need to be aware of how deeply flawed and erroneous it is, although it makes some valid points.

So what is valid?  There is a very hard point that was not a main point in the book and has largely not been discussed, with most of the attention being on the deeply flawed account of Buchanan and G. Warren Nutter's role in the matter of 1950s Virginia school desegregation (more on that  later). The hard point is Buchanan's role in Chile.  MacLean is right that while there has been much been more publicity about the roles of Hayek and Friedman in Pinochet's regime in Chile, Buchanan's role there, nailed in by a crucial visit in 1980, may have been far more influential in forming the eventual  constitution, although this happened well after the original coup by Pinochet in 1973.  He played a key role in developing their constitution, which MacLean claims has anti-democratic elements that have in place defenses for the rights of capitalists that can only be overcome by two rounds of legislative votes. Yes, does put  a pro-capitalist tilt in there, but two  rounds of the legislature to overturn it?  In fact it was accepted by a referendum and has been amended numerous times since and reestablished a parliamentary democracy. Does not exactly look like Stalin or Hitler or Mao or  Kim Il Sung or something deserving the label "democracy in chains.".  But it is not  pretty, given all the blood Pinochet spilled, and just like Hayek and Friedman, Buchanan has this  matter on his late conscience, and it is notable that he never published anything on this, and aside from a meeting in Palo Alto right after he did it, he never publicly bragged about it or acknowledged it, although apparently he did so at that  meeting.  But maybe he realized that it was the stain on his career that it is, and he was  in the end embarrassed about it and wished to cover it up.

The second matter is the most controversial, and indeed is the centerpiece of MacLean's book.  This is the matter of his role with Nutter in 1959 in the school desegregation issue in Virginia, the one point regarding which an actual professional economist has come out for MacLean, namely Brad DeLong.  This is a much murkier matter, and after looking at it I see it as unclear with MacLean leaving out crucial  details, quite aside from ignoring crucial exculpatory evidence, even as she has some case.  This has to do with a report Buchanan and Nutter wrote to a specially appointed commission to deal with the school desegregation issue in 1959, in the context of Prince Edward County going for massive resistance against the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education SCOTUS ruling that led to the racial integration of public schools.  I think Buchanan should have signed the petition of VA academics supporting that ruling, but he did  not.  His proposal with Nutter suggested allowing vouchers for private schools along with  public schools, and MacLean and DeLong claim that this supported the effort to close down public schools in Prince  Edward County.  MacLean is right that at the time this did  effectively support that movement, although the Buchanan-Nutter proposal did not call for ending public education, and Buchanan has been in many places on record supporting the existence of public education, if with private school competition in the form of vouchers.

This  is  the central part of the book's argument, and it is the most heatedly debated, and I do not  have the bottom line on it, although it looks to me that MacLean has overstated her argument. A crucial issue has to do with race, obviously.  MacLean herself accepts that there is zero  evidence that Buchanan was himself a racist and that all of  this was just part  of his  supposedly libertarian/Koch/Trump view of the world. As it is, I think that whatever was really going on in 1959, the bottom line on Buchanan's views is given on p. 56 of her book where she grants that he supported "voluntary" and "local" desegregation based on local conditions, which she then effectively dismisses with a remark that he did not know what was going on in Arkansas and elsewhere, a comment that looks to me to be seriously stupid, to be very blunt.  Bottom line here is that Buchanan and Nutter may have effectively played a role in supporting the pro-segregationists in Virginia in 1959, but that was not their  position.

What about major problems with MacLean's arguments?  I shall note three, starting with one noted by others and effectively granted by MacLean herself.  This is the claim she makes in the final chapter that Tyler Cowen supports suppressing democracy.  This is based on a quote she supplies that was definitely taken out of context, a context where it was clear that the content of the isolated quote was contradicted by what immediately followed it.  Even those who have supported MacLean's book on Facebook such as Gary Mongiovi have agreed that MacLean was simply out to lunch on this matter, although while she has recognized that the quote is problematic, she has not fully retracted her argument related to it.  This is almost certainly tied to Cowen being director of the largely Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason, with this being sort of the final piece de resistance of her book and argument, supposedly from racist anti-democratic John C. Calhoun to supposedly anti-democratic and implicitly racist Koch-funded libertarians at George Mason and Donald Trump.

A second problem reflects that MacLean is not an economist and seems to seriously misunderstand public choice theory, with her views on rent seeking being a strong example.  In discussing rent seeking, a concept originated by Buchanan's important coauthor, the  late Gordon Tullock, and labeled by the centrist liberal development economist, Anne Krueger, she consistently identifies the supposed rent seekers as politicians seeking voting support from activist liberal groups such a unions and civil rights groups, especially the latter, whom the the supposedly anti-democratic tendndencies of Buchanan are directed against.   But in fact in public choice theory the rent seekers are priviate interest groups that use government to create artificial monopolies, which generate the rents these groups are seeking.  It is really a quasi-Marxist view that sees capitalists using the government to enhance their  corrupt  profits.  It is ironic that I have seen public choice economists show up at URPE social gatherings at meetings to discuss how they have this in common with the radical left URPE folks, opposition to corrupt use of the government by rent seeking private interests.  I am not sure the URPE  people were all that open when I saw this, but there is no doubt that MacLean simply is completely wrong here and totally misrepresents public choice theory on this point, although the strongly pro-free market stance of both Buchanan and Tullock can easily mislead people on this.

Finally we have her misuse of the term "libertarian," which is also a central part of her argument, that there was this stream of essentially anti-democratic racist thought and action going straight from John C. Calhoun through the Agrarian Populist literary movement through James Buchanan and public choice theory to Koch-funded modern libertarians who are responsible for Trump and all he represents, an argument essentially made in the opening chapter, where she has Buchanan starting the Thomas Jefferson Center at UVa and his memo with Nutter being crucial centerpieces of this wholel strand.  The problems with this are numerous.  For starters, Buchanan never was a libertarian, even if he was somewhat sympathetic to their position, and he certainly was not a more radical anarcho-capitalist type of libertarian.  Public choice theory does analyze how government agencies and actions may be corrupt and self-interested and involve rent seeking, but most public choice theorists certainly argue that the state has legitimate roles in society and the economy.  Like the Austrian Hayek, whom Buchanan respected although he was not himself an Austrian, he preferred the label "classical  liberal," which MacLean at one point recognizes but simply dismisses as not being a useful term because of all the confusion with how Americans use the term "liberal." But this was indeed what both Buchanan and Hayek called themselves.  Hayek specifically rejected the term "libertarian" in his famous essay "Why I am not a Conservative," with Buchanan himself later writing a similar one entitled "Why I am Also not a Conservative," although MacLean for discussions of what was going on in Virginia in the 1950s that "libertarian" and "conservative" were essentially the same.  Oog.

As it is, MacLean seems to be unaware that the origin of the term "libertarian" was originally from the left, coming out of France, with there actually being people who identified themselves as "libertarian communists" in the 1920s.  There are still people who consider themselves to be "libertarian socialists," with Noam Chomsky being perhaps the most prominent example.  It was only in the 1950s that the term began to be used by people more on the political right than the political left, but still people like Hayek and Buchanan did not identify with it or use it for themselves.

This problem continues right up to the present situation, where indeed the Kochs claim to be libertarians, as does Tyler Cowen.  I agree with her that they have been supporting many things I do not support and have been massively influential with their massive funding campaigns over a long time in many places.  But I note that indeed they have supported some things I support out of their libertarianism, including prison reform, drug legalization, liberal approach to immigration, enlightened views on gay rights, and relatively dovish foreign policy, among some others, even as they support many other things I do not like, some of which Donald Trump supports, such as rolling back environmental regulations and crushing labor unions.  But when MacLean links the Kochs with Trump there is indeed a further problems: they did not support him, certainly not in the GOP primaries, where reportedly they preferred  pretty much anybody but him, although it would appear that they may have made at least some peace with him since he entered office.  But they disagree with him on many of his policies, see the list above of things they support I agree with and which Donald Trump by and large disagrees with.

What this represents is something that MacLean is clearly unaware of but which is important, that there is a major split within the Austrian School of Economics and among libertarians themselves, with the public choice people really on the side of all this, something that makes her main argument all the more ridiculous.  This is the split between the Rothardian-Misesians and the Hayekians.  The former, more influenced by the late Murray Rothbard than by von Mises really, have their great base at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (LvMI) in Auburn, Alabama, whereas the latter pretty much have their main HQ these days at George Mason University, precisely the crowd that MacLean has her story end up with.  These former are much more inclined to Trumpian views on race and immigration in particular, and they actually fit her main argument much better, also defending neo-Confederate "Paleo-Conservative" ideas.  Thus they are fine with the argument that a business owner has the right to discriminate against someone on racial (or gender) grounds.  Curiously one of the politicians closely linked to the LvMI who has expressed such views is none other than Ron Paul, who long opposed civil rights legislation when he was in the US  Congress representing an East Texas district, and the longtime director of the LvMI, Rockwell, was his former chief of staff.  These are the people who fit MacLean's story, but the split between them and the George Mason Hayekians has been steadily widening, with the matter of Donald Trump adding to this, as basically none of the Masonites supported him, while quite a few of the LvMI crowd have done so.  MacLean seems really to be amazingly misinformed and misguided about crucial aspects of this whole matter, quite aside from her errors regarding the work of the late James M. Buchanan himself.

Barkley Rosser


Peter Dorman said...

Minor point, Barkley: the far left and the far right have shared the libertarian moniker since the mid 19th c. Max Stirner is considered a generative thinker of individualist anarchism, and anarcho-individualism (right wing libertarianism) had a subsequent presence in the US, e.g. Benjamin Tucker.

Anonymous said...

You stated:
"Bottom line here is that Buchanan and Nutter may have effectively played a role in supporting the pro-segregationists in Virginia in 1959, but that was not their position."

If that was not their position, then why did they play such a role in supporting segregation in direct opposition to the Surpreme Court's clear-cut decision? Your statement is uttlerly illogical inthe most obvious way. To make it logical you have to append some other coercive force that forced them to support segregation when it was not their own supported position. You didn't append such coercive force however, so without it your statement is illogical and irrational.

So tell me why Buchanan was a good guy? MacLean says he was a bad guy. You dismiss MacLean's arguments as b.s. thus denigrating her opinions and assertions that Buchanan was a bad guy. If you don't accept or believe MacLean's arguments for why Buchanan was a bad guy then the question is do you believe Buchanan was a good guy or a bad guy, or maybe you have a weighted average value (along the good/bad spectrum) you can provide? Just to be clear and to level set, segreationists were the bad guys. anti-segregagtionists were the good guys on this issue. said...


I said that I thought Buchanan should have supported the SCOTUS decision, so I think she has at least somewhat of a point. But putting this as "good buy/bad guy" in some overall judgment is too much. MacLean misrepresents lots of things, including public choice theory. I think there is much that is correct and useful about public choice theory, so I think his being the main inventor of it mostly weighs on the side of him being a "good guy," (see matter of rent seeking), even if at the bottom line I think he should have just supported the SC decision.

In terms of putting this into an overall morality matter, I think it gets down to whether he was racist or not, and I think the evidence is strong that he was not a racist. So he supported an approach I think he should not have, but not for immoral "bad guy" reasons.

Peter D.,

Yes, I agree. said...

So, Anon., a bit more.

While I think Buchanan acted unwisely regarding that memo, I do not think it was the centerpiece of his career or of applying public choice theory that MacLean makes it. Part of the reason is that indeed she seriously misrepresents what went on, especially her apparent claims at several points that he wanted to end public schools, which is simply false. I am not all that much of a fan of vouchers and all that, but most supporters of them see them as existing alongside a public school system and argue that their presence makes public schools better. This is a matter of ongoing debate right now.

On a broader note regarding Buchanan, I happen to have known Buchanan personally from the early 1980s onwards until the time of his death, and always had a favorable view of him as a generally principled man, even as I disagreed with him on many matters. MacLean does a useful exercise in making public both his work in Chile and this matter of the events around the desegregation of schools in Virginia. But I think she makes too much of the latter, and she is clearly wrong on a lot of matters about him, as well as some of those who were around him, and from what I gather she has not been particularly willing to acknowledge her numerous and serious errors.

Anonymous said...


I've Googled MacLean and her book. Every article opposing her book and statements is from a known and publically acknowledged libertarian. I could find no opposition from any other sources, though I will admit I only reviewed and read the opposition articles on the first two pages of my Google search results.

I also came across the following Atlantic article:

In that article the author writes:

"Far fetched though these schemes were, they gave ammunition to southern policy makers looking to mount a nonracial case for maintaining Jim Crow in a new form. Friedman himself left race completely out of it. Buchanan did too at first, telling skeptical colleagues in the North that the "transcendent issue" had nothing to do with race; it came down to the question of "whether the federal government shall dictate the solutions.". But in their paper (initially a document submitted to a Virginia education commission and soon published in a Richmond newspaper), Buchanan and Nutter were more direct, stating their belief that "every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing" -- the sanitized phrasing of segregationists.

Do you find this to be a Buchanan who was not a libertarian and not opposed to segregation?

If you don't view a segregationist after the SCOTUS decision as a morality matter, then as what do you view it? Personal freedom?

Anonymous said...


I make clear distinction between matters of personalities, whether people are amiable, likeable, etc. and the principles they stand for.

I knew a man (recently deceased) who was an out and out racist in every sense of the term, believed to his core that the nation was the worse off ever since the Confederacy lost the Civil War. He was unabashed in this and used the N word at every opportunity. He was also a misogynist to the nth degree. He stood for everything I oppose.

But I loved the guy. We talked together a lot, drank a few beers, discussed our opposing preferences and reasons without a hint of animosity --- not to try to get one another to change our minds, but only to get insight to one another's foundations, original sources for our positions and preferences. At the same time this guy was the kindest person ... not to non-whites, but to every white sole he came across... those who were down and out, poor, dirty or clean, and never had a bad word to say about any white person ... other than his view of their political or social beliefs. He even was congenial to gays though he thought they were an abomination to mankind. He didn't hate them nor did he hate blacks or Mexicans... he just wanted nothing to do with them and only disliked their being around and his having to pay for their support in poverty, single moms, etc. He didn't like them, but there was no hate. And he wouldn't have raised a fist against them.

So while I loved the guy, he was the epitome of a racist, xenophobe who wished the non-whites, and non-Christians would disappear from the U.S., if not the face of the earth. I hated his position and preferences for our nation and mankind, but I loved the guy (figuratively). He was the libertarian of libertarians, the far right conservative of all conservatives.

Fortunately he had no political sway outside his own circle of other conservatives, no influence in public policies, or political groups. He only had one vote.

Buchanan on the other hand had both influence and intent to influence as many people in political policy circles and wealth as he could. I don't give a rat's ass about his "character" or personality or whether he was amiable or likable. He was a bad guy... just as my deceased friend was a bad guy in the context of human rights and benefits.

So your friendship with Buchanan has nothing what-so-ever to do with what he stood for or promoted. He was a bad-guy in the context of what MacLean's book is all about.

(oh, and btw, we each understood (after long time friendly discussion that had we grown up in each other's environments we most probably would have had opposite preferences -- in other words we were both a product of our environment -- his from a conservative southern middle class family and relatives, and mine from a California liberal middle class family and relatives).

Michael Kochin said...

Do you have any evidence that Trump supports "crushing labor unions"?
Certainly union members didn't think so. said...


I think rather than being a good guy or a bad guy he was a naive guy. He thought there was a middle way between federal government imposed school integration and locally imposed racial segregation, his voucher plan. We can see now that this was naive, and indeed the bottom line effect was as MacLean argued to drag things out. Yes, he and Nutter used a phrase that segregationists used, but it is on the record that Buchanan in fact supported desegregation of public schools. But he did not like it being imposed by the federal government, which indeed had long been completely out of K-12 education. But this in the end was an untenable and naive position.

I never claimed to be some close friend of Jim's, just that I knew him from the early 1980s and respected him despite disagreeing with his views. I attended the conference for his 90th birthday, where the plenary speakers were Amartya Sen and Elinor Ostrom. When I saw Sen in the hallway, he said, "Ah, somebody I recognize."

As it is, I think you make too much of how much control peoples' backgrounds have in determining their views. I am aware of this, because my views are quite different from those of my parents. This is part of why I think arguments should be based on facts and that we should not just support things on purely ideological grounds for propagandistic reasons. This is my problem with this book, while it makes some valid points, it is crawling with errors, and those should be recognized by those who want to push it, but few of those praising it seem willing to do so.

There have been lots of reviews or at least posts praising the book, but none of them are economists. Again, the economists I have seen praising it have generally been willing to also note at least some of its flaws.

You are right that most of the critical reviews have come from libertarians, but that does not mean their arguments should therefore simply be dismissed. I would note an odd point made by Munger, that in the blowing up of Buchanan's role MacLean makes him seem like some sort of James Bond figure, the secret master of a whole conspiracy. There has indeed been lots of right wing conspiring and money handing out. But the case for Buchanan as the great centerpiece of it all is wildly overblown. said...

Let me remind everybody that indeed this is the argument that MacLean is making, not just that Buchanan developed an economic theory widely used by many conservatives and right wingers, although also by some on the left, but that he was part of a conspiracy to reduce democracy, to put it, as the book's title puts it, "in Chains." The evidence for this is astoundingly nonexistent. This is where her largely accurate account of the 1959 school episode ends up, with a claim that Buchanan's failure to get his voucher proposal accepted then turned him against democracy and him plot against it. This is a simply false and vacuous claim, and anybody seriously pushing it should be ashamed of themselves.

Regarding his role in apparently influencing the 1980 Chilean constitution, which is still in place with Chile a largely pretty well functioning parliamentary democracy, MacLean's argument about how Buchanan was the big anti-democrat, while advising on a constitution to replace the Pinochet military dictatorship, is that he put in place constitutional elements favoring free market capitalism and more generally made it hard to engage in amending the constitution, taking two rounds of legislative action to do so. As it is, the constitution has been so amended numerous times since it went into effect, far more times than the US constitution has been during the same time period. This is simply not a credible argument.

The Atlantic article that Anon. quotes also claims that somehow the economic advisers of Pinochet were "Buchananites," but in fact the "Chicago boys" were followers of Milton Friedman. As is well known their advice was not so great, and Chilean economic growth during the 1970s was not all that much to write home about, with the loosening of capital controls setting Chile up for a major crash in 1982. After that time, although Pinochet would not be out until 1990, the Chicago boys were largely dismissed, and by the mid-80s the state share of the economy was larger than it had ever gotten under Allende, quite aside from the fact that Pinochet never undid certain crucial policies he inherited, most significantly the nationalization of the crucial copper industry. said...


Point taken. Trump has never declared that he was out to "crush unions." But he has publicly stated he supports a national right to work law, which was a part of the GOP platform, although I doubt he will really push that idea. OTOH, his appointments as Sec of Labor and to the NLRB have all been very anti-labor unions.

As it is, it seems that his views very much depend on which union we are talking about. He seems to be most down on public sector ones, rather like the Koch-backed Scott Walker in Wisconsin (who also enacted a right to work law). But what Trump likes is anybody who is for him, and some unions have been, with police ones being prominent among local public sector ones.

There have also been some private sector ones supporting him to various degrees. Apparently building trades unions support him. Leaders of steel, auto, and machinists unions have mixed views, opposing him on many issues, but open to his protectionist views relating to their industries, and also the coal miners.

It is certainly true that many union members, especially in some of those unions mentioned above, voted for Trump, mostly for his support of protectionism. It remains to be seen if he will satisfy their desires, and even if he does whether that will really redound to any noticeable gains for them. I am among those who think that most of them will likely be disappointed, although quite a few will not be aware of it.

Calgacus said...

Calhoun, incredibly inaccurately labeled a "libertarian," Though he may not have used the word, it is not anachronistic, he certainly would have welcomed the word.

It is hard to understand for most moderns, but pro-slavery intellectuals most certainly considered themselves as the defenders of liberty, their opponents as the oppressors and hater of freedom. Their conception of freedom was different. That conception lost in 1865 & 1933, but the last 40 odd years have seen descendants of it become more rampant.

A very good and objective book largely on these differing conceptions, is Domenico Losurdo's Liberalism, A Counter-History, going up to 1900. It might help one understand a historian's association of Calhoun with Buchanan. Not a misleading association concerning the focus, the style of their concepts of liberty, imho. said...

Sorrry, Calcagus, not buying this crap. MacLean just looks ridiculous with this bit. This is up there with her claiming Buchanan was influenced by the Agrarian Populist literary movement because it was strong in Tennessee when he was young there, although he did not go to Vanderbilt and never cited them.

I do grant that Southern slaveowners thought they deserved the "liberty" to own slaves, and indeed that was the "liberty" that was fought for when Texans revolted against Mexican rule to gain independence. Those darned Mexicans had outlawed slavery, the anti-liberty bums.

Anonymous said...

"You are right that most of the critical reviews have come from libertarians, but that does not mean their arguments should therefore simply be dismissed."

What I read in the libertarian critiques was sole focus on the things they think MacLean got wrong and otherwise no acknowledgement of anything else. In short they dismissed the entire thesis by using the few things they think she got wrong as a means of mis-direction. I find it very difficult to take people who use mis-direction as a means of dismissal seriously. Mis-direction is a ploy as old as human history. It's a technique not a critique.

Anonymous said...

Your characterization of Buchanan as "naïve" is interesting. By that characterization then Jefferson Davis can also be characterized as being "naïve" as were Stephens, and Calhoun.

It's not possible for me to think of him as having been a bit naïve at the time... his objective was to limit Federal gov't control of the States... in particular the Southern States' way of racists life by suppression of non-whites and in particular blacks. He correctly saw the increasingly greater Federal control the SCOTUS decision that educational integration reforms would have on the other "cherished" libertarian objectives in the States Rights vernacular. His hope was that if the southern states could stall integration long enough then sooner than later a new SCOTUS right reactionary majority would develop to undo the damage.

Its a strong and probably 100% bet that Buchanan hoped Nixon would replace Ike in the 1960 election, and it might be considered "naïve" of him to have made that bet. But he had to wait until the 1968 election before Nixon was elected and then that sure didn't pan out in Buchanan's favor by a long stretch: He enacted the EPA, supported the Clean Air Act and OSHA, the national Environmental Policy Act, requiring impact statements. The only act of congress he vetoed the Clean Water Act (which congress overrode). He endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.

So Buchanan's anti-federalism, State Rights objectives were being taken to the cleaners by a conservative President and SCOTUS decisions (affirmative actions for desegregation, Abortion Rights)... and that was after Kennedy and Johnson's administrations with Johnson's Medicare and Civil Rights Act. The public was giving congress its directions and electing Presidents that had to take notice of the public's wishes --- while the southern aristocracy and racist policy preferences were being laid waste.

For both Nixon's terms (to his resignation) both houses of congress remained under Democratic majorities. Buchanan's objectives were being thwarted at every turn by the electorate.

By 1983 he hadn't made any headway at UofV or V-Tech or UCLA so he went to George Mason to get some sympathy for his right wing objectives with Reagan's ascendency.

I can't call Buchanan's characteristic being naïve ... pursued his objectives in every libertarian right wing venue he could find open to him, any more than I can call J. Davis, or Stephens, or Calhoun naïve.

You seem to have a strange definition of naïve... for a right wing anti-federalism economist at prestigious and persuasive universities, with leadership roles in the libertarian ranks, Buchanan was anything but naïve.

Peter T said...

No particular expertise on Buchanan, but I would note that intellectual ideas are generated and taken up for reasons. If Buchanan was big on states' rights at that particular time, it was not from detached consideration of the ideal polity. If he developed public choice theory (which personally I consider a load of codswallop), it was not in abstraction from what he thought the federal government might do to causes he cared about. And the link is the Civil Rights Movement.

The person who just muses about the centrality of property rights to a well-ordered society among a gathering of business owners in a strike has some share in the deaths of workers in the following crackdown. said...


You are upset that the libertarian critics have not said what is right (if anything) in the MacLean book? Well, as near as I can tell nearly zero of the favorable reviews of the MacLean book have admitted that there might be anything wrong with it, although I did see one that admitted that she might be off on "a few details," none of these spelled out. Offhand, I am one of the few commentators on this, possibly the only one, who has said that she is right about some things while wrong about a bunch of others. Overall, while I think she is indeed right on some crucial points, I think I have made it clear that I think she has gone way overboard on her broader argument, even if she is well-intentioned.

Sorry, but there is no comparison between Buchanan and Davis, Stephens, and Calhoun. These three were all open and out and out racists. Buchanan was not, with even MacLean agreeing with this. I suggest you actually read her book before you repeat such disgusting drivel again. The strongest evidence one can come up with that he was racist is by imputing that from his actions and positions in the 1959 Virginia episode. But these are easily explained by something well known, that he indeed was opposed to federal action on the education matter on broader principles. You can say it was racism but there remains no evidence of that. I think the charge of naivete is on the money. It is easy from this distance in time to say that of course he should have realized there was no middle ground, and that his position put him effectively on the side of the racist segregationists. said...


I am not sure what your comments about his views of Nixon in 1960 are all about. He was disappointed with Nixon later when he came in for reasons you list, and MacLean discusses this. He was also frustrated with Reagan when he came in because Reagan ran large budget deficits, while Buchanan was a strong supporter of strong limits on budget deficits (yet another area I disagreed with him on). I would agree that he hoped to influence politicians in Washington to follow ideas that he propounded, although the matter of when and why he moved from campus to campus in Virginia is a very complicated matter that MacLean does not cover accurately. I happen to know people who were involved at all three campuses, and I shall just say that it was very complicated, but your characterization as well as MacLean's are not very accurate.

On the matter of Nixon in 1960, I do not know what Buchanan's view was, but at the time the Dems were still controlling the "solid South," with JFK taking most states and not taking a strongly pro-civil rights stand. That only came after he was in office. Indeed, Nixon made appeals to African American voters, appeals favorably received in parts of the US. That was probably the last election where the GOP appeared to be the more pro-civil rights party at a national level. But MacLean says nothing about JMB's views of the 1960 election were, and I have no idea myself either. said...

Peter T.,

Sorry, but Buchanan's views on states' rights both preceded this matter in Virginia in the late 1950s and were more general. There is simply no evidence, and MacLean does not even make the claim, despite making plenty of false claims, that he developed those views because of how they fit in to the civil rights movement issues.

And again, everybody involved in this, aside from people who have not bothered to read MacLean or anything else, agree that Buchanan himself was not a racist. Again, he supported desegregation of public schools. He just did not want it done by the federal government. That this had become irrelevant is why I have labeled him in these comments as "naïve" for applying his general view to this particular case at that time.

Peter T said...

Someone talking about "states rights" in the 50s in the southern US was just disinterestedly musing on constitutional issues? Pull the other one.

I agree racist is the wrong label. It conjures up images of Bull Connor etc. But there's more than naivety here. There's an underlying belief here that, while personal racism is wrong, the structures that enable collective discrimination are essential, and more important than the injustices they inflict. MLK had some words about these people. It's a common attitude - people who would not support any overt or strong form of oppression are nevertheless opposed to active - and above all, organised, opposition to it. The police are bad, but demonstrators are blocking the streets and boycotts harm the innocent bystanders....It's not racism, but it hardly is the mark of a serious contributor to political economy.

Sandwichman said...

Pardon my going off topic a bit but Calhoun's "states' rights" was more specific. What he professed as states' rights was the right of slave-holding states to maintain that "ancient tradition." On that basis, he argued that is was the "sacred obligation" of the federal government to defend and protect the states from "whatever might endanger their safety, whether from without or within." Thus, as Calhoun interpreted it, as long as slave-holding states elected to remain slave-holding, the federal government was obligated to defend, with force of arms if necessary, the institution of slavery, which Calhoun insisted was superior to change of that policy.

Calhoun's rationale for states rights was that slavery was superior to non-slavery, especially where the numbers of the two races were nearly equal. Slavery was thus not some incidental, unintended byproduct of states rights philosophy but the motivation for it. States rights was mere means, the end was maintaining slavery.

As for Calhoun being a "libertarian," I think that the antebellum notion of liberty does indeed comport with current manifestations that creed. Liberty was construed as the sovereign right of the white, male "master" to do whatever he pleased with his "possessions." Fuck everybody else. Literally and figuratively. The difference between the plantation owners' notion of liberty and that of contemporary libertarians is that for the latter their "mastery" is all in their heads. said...

Peter T.,

If you do not like the term "naivete," then substitute "bad judgment" regarding political realities. But that does not make public choice theory therefore a non-serious political economy idea. It is very serious, whatever one thinks of Buchanan's particular applications of it.


There is an interview floating around that I have now heard with MacLean that provides as her defense on both the matter of Calhoun and public choice and also her only response to those pointing out her misquoting of Tyler Cowen. It is that Tyler and Alex Tabarrok published a paper in JITE a quarter of a century ago on public choice theory and the ideas of Calhoun (sorry, not providing precise title). It in fact discusses some overlaps, in particular regarding voting mechanisms, where when there was voting by groups rather than by individuals, for which case Buchanan supported unanimity as desirable, with Calhoun appearing to support something similar. The paper discusses both similarities and differences on this technical matter of group voting systems, while noting a sharp ethical difference over slavery.

It should be noted that although Buchanan and Tullock were certainly pro-free market methodological individualists, there were other public choice theorists who were much less pro-free market or libertarian or conservative, starting with Anne Krueger, but also including Mancur Olson, Elinor Ostrom, and Anthony Downs, among others, although none of these were (or are, not sure if Downs still alive) socialists. said...

BTW, Cowen and Tabarrok most definitely did not argue that Buchanan was influenced by or inspired by Calhoun, and he never cited anything by Calhoun in the entire 20 volumes of his published work. His influences were much more from the French encyclopedists and Knut Wicksell, not southern agrarians or advocates of states rights for slavery.

I would note that in her interview, MacLean does actually grant that what she is arguing it not a direct influences from Calhoun to Buchanan, but an overlap, although reading her book, especially its incendiary open chapter, it sure looks there like she is arguing that there was this simply straight line from Calhoun through Buchanan to now. In the interview she does make the completely silly remark that Buchanan wanted to go to Venderbilt, which she argued meant that he was influenced by the southern agrarian populist writers hanging out at Venderbilt, although as with Calhoun he never cited any of them either in any of his writings.

It is of course a fact, which she also emphasized in her interview, that he was born and raised in the segregated south, so in his youth certainly would have imbibed of the social and political surroundings he was in. But it is also clear that as an adult he eschewed racism, and I have personally known people who grew up in that environment in that time and also overcame the prejudices of their youth.

Anonymous said...

Sandwichman's comment is the precise basis for what States' Rights was all about and what it meant -- including the same during the Constitutional Convention -- defending the right to hold slaves and use them as your own property as the owner see's fit was the States' Right to decide (for Slaveholding and Slave dependent wealth creation States). We're not talking about house servants, cooks, nannies, and errand boys.

Next, you may be right that no written or known rhetoric can be ascribed directly to Buchanan in which he described himself as a racist.

That does however, by no means vindicate his racism or make him a non-racist.

This is however a matter of definitions, not one of fact.

A racist is anybody who subscribes to, supports, or promotes any actions by themselves or by any others that discriminate persons on the basis of their racial characteristics and/or ethnicities.

Nobody denies, not in Buchanan's lifetime nor now, that segregation was a racist policy, nor that the Jim Crow laws were racist laws, nor that overt and covert forms of discrimination applied to non-whites were racist.

It makes no difference whether racism was legal, socially or morally acceptable, justified by one's belief in their fictional god, or because it was commonly believed by many that blacks were an inferior, sub-human race. Racism is treating, proposing to treat, supporting others who treat or propose to treat somebody not of your own race in a manner differently than you would treat or justify treating one of your own race.

Buchanan is on record publically supporting continued segregation, in opposition to the law of the land. It is of no consequence what-so-ever that Buchanan didn't want the federal gov't to enforce desegregation because ... he was a "States Rights" advocate (see the source and basis for States Rights above). since he supported segregation which is a racist policy, promoted, supported, and maintained in laws by racists.

That makes him a racist.

Buchanan is on record supporting known and avowed racists and their policies and promotions.

That makes him a racist.

You can mince words all you want to try to salvage a racist from MacLean's clenches, but you know and I know just as Maclean knows Buchanan was a racist. Not only was he a racist but he opposed federal law --- no differently than Calhoun opposed federal law and the majority rule by representatives. Which is btw, the entire basis for Buchanan's book on Theory of Public Choice... in which (as you well know) he conditioned upon "conceptual unanimity" decision making, among other restrictive conditions for making or changing rules.

And oh, just btw, calling his prescription for what a gov't is or should be isn't a theory --- it's called a prescription for a different form of gov't. A theory is something all evidence suggests actually may exist in fact, but which cannot at that point be proven to exist. There was never in the history of human civilizations any form of gov't decision making that Buchanan's prescription requires as pre-conditions for it. So it isn't a theory by any definition. said...


This is reaching a point where there is probably not going to be a resolution. You have decided that Buchanan was a racist, and that is that. The question of states rights involves many issues, not just school segregation or slavery. He in fact opposed segregation in public schools. That is on the record. You are simply wrong to state the contrary.

I think he used bad judgment in the dispute in the 1950s in Virginia. He sought a middle ground that did not exist. But unless you say that particular act alone is proof that he was racist, you have nothing else. If you wish to make that claim, fine, that is your opinion, which I happen to disagree with. But there will be no point in running in circles on this, which is I think where we are on the verge of doing.

BTW, let me repeat for the record what I have said numerous times: I have a prima facie lack of respect for people who post here anonymously. I understand that some people are in sensitive positions where they must do so, but somehow I doubt that is the case with you, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...


You are right, you don't believe Buchanan was a racist, but you haven't said why you believe that... or far more significantly what is your definition of a racists and how does it differ from the definition I provided?

Secondly, I repeat that Buchanan is on public record of being a racists... unless you refuse to define a segregationist as a racist.

In that article the author writes:

"Far fetched though these schemes were, they gave ammunition to southern policy makers looking to mount a nonracial case for maintaining Jim Crow in a new form. Friedman himself left race completely out of it. Buchanan did too at first, telling skeptical colleagues in the North that the "transcendent issue" had nothing to do with race; it came down to the question of "whether the federal government shall dictate the solutions.". But in their paper (initially a document submitted to a Virginia education commission and soon published in a Richmond newspaper), Buchanan and Nutter were more direct, stating their belief that "every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing" -- the sanitized phrasing of segregationists.

But I'm still interested in how you define a racist? said...

Well, A., you gave a definition earlier that was not bad, although I also think that involves a subjective attitude of thinking that people in other racial groups as being inherently inferior or unworthy in some way, along with the action part of supporting discrimination against them on those grounds.

We have no evidence of him having any attitudes as described above, and most who knew him at all do not think he had such attitudes, although in the absence of any direct evidence it is impossible to know for sure.

Regarding what you consider to be the definitive proof, you yourself note that it is a "sanitized" statement, meaning one also does not know for sure. The statement itself is not clearly racist as it says nothing about race. One has to make a further imputation in order to assert that it is. You are willing to make that imputation, Anonymous; I am not.

Anonymous said...


Actually the statement was the quote from the Atlantic article... I didn't make it up that "every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing" -- the sanitized phrasing of segregationists"

More than that however is that the complete quote is in the actual newspaper article --- you can read it yourself:

"We believe every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing. We therefore disapprove of both involuntary (or coercive) segregation and involuntary integration."

The complete quote is taken from this article that linked to the actual newspaper article.

This is clearly both racist and in opposition to the law (Brown v Topeka Board of Education, 1954) and Brown 2, 1955. The newspaper article is from 1959, so not a knee-jerk reaction to SCOTUS.

What does the guy have to do to be an avowed racist? Be photographed in good light from chest to head wearing a KKK sheet while unmasking his face for the photo-op? Or be a card-carrying member of the KKK or some white supremacist group? Or publically say "I'm a racist, and proud of it."

I think you're in denial that Buchanan was a racist, but I can't figure out why you persist in that denial unless you sympathize with racism in some forms or others.

Anonymous said...


A person who denies they're a racist doesn't make it so.

A person who promotes or proposes discrimination by race, policies that discriminate by race, laws that discriminate by race, or actions that discriminate by race is a racist. That's the definition of racists.

If you don't agree that this is the definition, then by all means provide your reason's why you don't agree that this is the definition and then perhaps I can understand why you don't think Buchanan was a racist even though he meets the definition of a racist.

Incidentally or maybe not, I saw a comment on Angry Bear about Virginia Supreme Court legal ruling upholding anti-miscegenation laws in 1965 or '67 that used the same legal reasoning as was used to uphold those laws that the U.S. Supreme Court used in 1882. The legal reasoning in both periods and two different states was based on divine providence, or god's law and civilization being degraded by creating "mongrels" from mixed-race sexual relationships.

That's the LAW's legal foundation over the period from shortly after the Civil War (and presumably before it as well) until the Loving v Virginal SCOTUS ruling in 1967 (80 years plus) that simply chose to not invoke divine providence and god's natural law as a legal basis to overturn all prior precedent of law in the U.S.

Why is this relevant to Buchanan?

The SCOTUS ruling in '67 forced involuntary acceptance of mixed-race relationships and marriages on white people who thought it immoral or akin to bestiality (since black were "sub-human" and all) or were racists. This is no different than the same belief about gays' right to marriage in all its rights and privileges today. This is the same as occurred in Brown v Board of Ed. in 1954 by forcing involuntary choice of association of white people with people of a non-white race in order to give the identical rights and privileges of whites to non-whites.

In reality it appears that when the law no longer uses divine providence and god's natural law as foundation underpinning secular law then a hell of a lot of things have to change under the law.

That some people like the use of divine providence and their own gods natural law to support laws that discriminate against others is only testament to their racism, using their god to support their belief that discrimination is just fine and involuntarily forcing them to not to discriminate if they chose to do so is the reasoning they then use to oppose such secular law.

Does a parent who doesn't want their child to be close to or associate with or be taught by a person of a different race than their own not constitute direct and blatant racism? And therefore does any person who supports that condition also not constitute a racist position? So from any and all angles except the use of divine providence and some mystical god's supposed natural law, Buchanan was a racist.

Dannn said...

Just wanted to note that saying "everyone should be free to associate with whomever he wants" was NOT the segregationists' position. Their position was that segregation should be enforced by law, in both the private and public sectors, as it was during the Jim Crow era. For "anonymous" to argue that freedom of association was the segregationist position is ridiculous. It was, for example, the position of the famous Harlan dissent in Plessy.