Will Wilkinson at the Niskanen Center:

51U+dO7eJML._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_In her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,which has been shortlisted for the National Book Award, the Duke University historian Nancy MacLean advances the surprising thesis that the hidden figure behind the contemporary libertarian-leaning political right was the economist James M. Buchanan . Buchanan is far from a household name, though he has been influential in economics and political science, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1986 “for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making.” MacLean argues that Buchanan, animated by Southern segregationist impulses and backed by dark Koch-brothers cash, quietly and effectively sought to undermine democracy — to put it “in chains” — to keep America safe for white supremacist plutocracy.

Scholars sympathetic to Buchanan’s project have swarmed. They say MacLean’s book is a slanderous, poorly argued, thinly sourced, intellectually shabby conspiracy theory. MacLean is overly fond of Infowars-style dot-connecting, but I’m not going to pile on. Instead, I’d like to focus on a couple of big things MacLean gets right: the libertarian-influenced American right is hostile to democracy, and it is a big problem.

The fact that MacLean’s pretty badly wrong about why (she’s a stranger to the right, with a hostile agenda) shouldn’t keep us from grappling with the significance of the small-government, free-market right’s antipathy to democracy. I’d like to offer a more sympathetic, if not much less critical, account of the libertarian-leaning right’s grudge against democracy.

More here. [Thanks to Steven Pinker.]