I wasn’t attempting to “smear the entire work.” What I was doing was highlighting what I believed (and still believe) was an inaccurate assessment of someone’s worldview (Tyler Cowen’s) that I know quite well. When I looked at MacLean’s actual quotations of Cowen, I saw as I chronicled above, that she had quoted him both inaccurately and out of context. Worse, she ignored quotations from the same article that did not conform to her portrait of Cowen. Perhaps she was careless, a human, forgivable offense. Yet her response above showed no remorse and worse, portrayed a view of American democracy that I literally do not understand.

I am open to the possibility that the rest of the book is a paragon of scholarly accuracy. But then again, a number of people have pointed out that her treatment of James Buchanan’s worldview also has examples of scholarly failure in the name of advancing a particular thesis. Here is one and here is another where she quotes Buchanan out of context and distorts his views in the direction of the thesis she wants to advance.

These are not simply errors that any human being can make — getting a date wrong or misspelling someone’s name. These are distortions of what was said and intended by key characters of MacLean’s narrative. It’s legitimate to disagree with James Buchanan’s or Tyler Cowen’s philosophy of the world and as to whether it would lead to human flourishing. It’s not legitimate to take a quote out of context and use it to advance a characterization of Buchanan and Cowen that is the opposite of what they intended or believed.

Of course it is still possible that despite these distortions, the fundamental ideas of the book remain valid. I am sure I would learn something from reading the whole book. Just to reassure you, there are plenty of things about the history of the libertarian movement and the role of Kochs that disturb me. But I don’t think James Buchanan had a “twisted” philosophy. He was worried about the flaws in democracy and the role that constitutions and political institutions play in constraining the will of the majority. The Founders worried about those issues as well and that is why majority rule plays a very limited role in a constitutional republic which is the form of the governance we live under in the United States.

And finally, the word “shill” is Nancy MacLean’s not mine. I puzzled over her response to my invoking that word. My best understanding of her response is that because she said Buchanan did not “start out as a shill” that she wasn’t calling him a shill. But it does imply that he eventually became one, or at least that’s the way I read it. Happy to hear an alternative reading. At any rate, that’s a trivial issue relative to the rest of the questions her book raises.

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I host the weekly podcast, EconTalk and I'm the co-creator of the Keynes-Hayek rap videos. My latest book is How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.

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