“Democracy in Chains” – A List of Published Critiques

It’s been almost a year since I’ve updated this site, but recently a new book has given me the perfect excuse to do so. This post will serve to collect criticisms of what would undoubtedly be one of the more disingenuous books published about the history of political and economic thought.


Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to historical works that are too terribly one-sided to maintain a respectable baseline of accuracy: As misleading as such works may be, they still give insight into the mentality of the person who wrote it (and often the people who find it reliable). This was the case with Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” which (among many other errors) falsely claimed that Milton Friedman supported the Iraq war, and based the entire premise of the book on a quote mine.


Recently a book that takes a similar approach has hit the stores: “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” In a nutshell, the book claims that putting limits on majority rule (Bill of Rights anyone?) to protect minority rights is a sinister plan to impose an evil agenda on the masses. Additionally, it makes numerous false claims about the history and origins of public choice theory – which is really just the economics of how political affairs take place.


A List of Published Critiques

In just the past couple weeks alone (of this post being published at least) a number of glaring errors in the book have been discovered as more people have had the chance to analyze what the book claims. Here they are in the approximate order that they were published. I’ve included links in raw form so anyone who prints this post can still see what they are. From sliced quotes, to unsubstantiated claims, to outright misrepresentations of the field of public choice theory, this is looking more and more like one of the most deeply flawed works of historical revisionism to hit the shelves in recent years. Don’t take my word for it:


  1. “A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan” – https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/a-taxpayer-funded-smear-job-of-professor-james-buchanan/
  2. “Nancy MacLean Owes Tyler Cowen an Apology” – https://medium.com/@russroberts/nancy-maclean-owes-tyler-cowen-an-apology-e6277ee75eb3
  3. “Six Degrees of Jim Buchanan” – http://www.libertylawsite.org/2017/06/27/six-degrees-of-jim-buchanan/
  4. “How Nancy MacLean went whistlin’ Dixie” – http://philmagness.com/?p=2074
  5. “Nancy MacLean’s Distortion of James Buchanan’s Statement” – http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2017/06/nancy_macleans.html
  6. “MacLean on Nutter and Buchanan on Universal Education” – http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/06/maclean-nutter-buchanan-universal-education/
  7. “Some dubious claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/28/some-dubious-claims-in-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  8. “Does ‘Democracy in Chains’ paint an accurate picture of James Buchanan? [with updates]” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/28/does-democracy-in-chains-paint-an-accurate-picture-of-james-buchanan/
  9. “Nancy MacLean’s Calhounite Imagination” – http://philmagness.com/?p=2088
  10. “Against Guilt by Historical Association: A Note on MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”” – https://notesonliberty.com/2017/06/29/against-guilt-by-historical-association-a-note-on-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  11. “Nancy MacLean’s Ideologically Motivated Shortcuts” – http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/449110/nancy-maclean-james-buchanan-libertarianism-book-shortcuts-expose-evil
  12. “It turns out Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’ is ‘a work of speculative historical fiction’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/30/it-turns-out-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains-is-a-work-of-speculative-historical-fiction/
  13. “On the Origins and Goals of Public Choice” – http://www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=9115
  14. “The Butcher with a Smile – More Mangling from Nancy MacLean” – http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/butcher-smile-mangling-nancy-maclean/
  15. “Is Libertarianism a ‘Stealth Plan’ To Destroy America?” – http://reason.com/blog/2017/07/03/democracy-in-chains-argues-libertarianis
  16. “The Case for Abolishing the National Endowment for the Humanities Just Got Stronger” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2017/07/03/the-case-for-abolishing-the-national-endowment-for-the-humanities-just-got-stronger/
  17. “Another Misleading Quotation in Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”” – https://www.cato.org/blog/another-misleading-quotation-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains
  18. “The Juvenile “Research” of “Historian” Nancy Maclean” – http://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2017/07/05/the-juvenile-research-of-historian-nancy-mclean/
  19. “Yet more dubious claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/06/yet-more-dubious-claims-in-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  20. “”Democracy in Chains” Is The Perfect Book for the Age of Trump. The Reasons Why Will Surprise You.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2017/07/07/democracy-in-chains-is-the-perfect-book-for-the-age-of-trump-but-the-reasons-why-will-surprise-you/
  21. “Democracy in Chains versus Public Choice” – https://www.cato.org/multimedia/cato-daily-podcast/democracy-chains-versus-public-choice
  22. “Who wants to put democracy in chains?” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/10/who-wants-to-put-democracy-in-chains/
  23. “Nancy MacLean’s conspiratorial response to criticism of ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/11/nancy-macleans-conspiratorial-response-to-criticism-of-democracy-in-chains/
  24. “Even the intellectual left is drawn to conspiracy theories about the right. Resist them.” – https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/7/14/15967788/democracy-shackles-james-buchanan-intellectual-history-maclean
  25. “Duke professor Georg Vanberg on ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/14/duke-professor-georg-vanberg-on-democracy-in-chains/


At this point, Nancy Maclean has done nothing but insist her critiques can’t be trusted merely because the rare couple of Libertarians on the Forbes list (Charles and David Koch) support Libertarian causes – a circular argument that assumes the conclusion it tries to support. A new word for this fallacy has recently emerged, “Six Degrees of Charles Koch.” Basically, if someone who agrees with you supports your work, that’s evil – unless you’re a politically progressive polemicist.


For almost a decade I’ve asked myself the same question: If anything Charles and/or David Koch donates money to must be false, why not just point out the actual errors in the works they allegedly supported? I guess that’s pretty hard to do if there aren’t any to begin with.


2 responses to ““Democracy in Chains” – A List of Published Critiques”

  1. William says:

    Apparently we are supposed to believe that the large number or critiques is evidence in favor of the book being flawed. I wish it was that simple. Why for example, have I not written rejoinders to the critiques or a spirited defense of the book? Quite simply, I know enough about the imbalance of power and resources to know that anything I write along those lines would be quickly drowned out by the paid employees of Cato, Heritage, AEI, and numerous other well-funded libertarian groups. Of course that does not prove anything but it is an undeniable fact; at least to those open to the view. Money buys influence and, based on the way the Koch groups spend their funds, it presumably buys beliefs and votes. While I believe that the truth exists independently of anything that is written I have long passed the point when I believed the average person can sift through the propaganda intended to make sure the status quo is protected.

    • RJ Miller says:

      Your argument literally boils down to “Someone who agrees with some of the people writing the critiques has supported them so they must be wrong.” You realize this disqualifies just about everything she wrote for the same reasons?

      It’s the lack of substance in response to those listed critiques and the author’s dead silence at some very egregious errors that makes the book flawed. Sliced quotes, misattributed sources, the list goes on.

      If you have factual critiques of the articles that you’d like to share then be my guest.

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