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In fact, race is the means by which MacLean tries to land her lowest blows on Buchanan, particularly when discussing Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision. When, rightly, the court imposed desegregation on the states (a constitutional restriction on the will of the majority that MacLean seems much more relaxed about), the responses of numerous small-state conservatives were dripping with racism. One of the tools the segregationists tried to use to stop the inevitable was school vouchers, which Buchanan and free-marketeers like him supported. Of a report on school vouchers co-authored by Buchanan, MacLean writes, “The economists made their case in the race-neutral, value-free language of their discipline, offering what they depicted as a strictly economic argument — on ‘matters of fact, not values’.”

The implication is that Buchanan’s real motivation was opposition to black and white children being educated side by side. But MacLean offers no evidence whatsoever to suggest this. Probably because there isn’t any.

Why look for an ulterior motive for Buchanan’s support for a policy entirely in keeping with his beliefs? In order to traduce a decent (and dead) man, painting him as a racist mouthpiece for plutocrats. Any inconvenient details that muddle this caricature — such as Buchanan’s support for a 100 per cent inheritance tax — are omitted. This, remember, from a professor of history at a leading university.

What would MacLean make of one her student’s essays if they engaged in the kind of out-of-context quotation she goes in for? Take, for example, this study in academic rigour: she quotes Buchanan’s protégé and leading economist Tyler Cowen as writing: “The weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome.” It sounds damning and Cowen did indeed write those words in that order. But here is the full sentence: “While the weakening of checks and balances would increase the chance of a very good outcome, it also would increase the chance of a very bad outcome.” Hardly A+ work.

There is an amusing coda to the story of Democracy in Chains. When more sceptical reviewers pointed out some of MacLean’s mistakes and deceptions, the professor took to social media, rallying the troops to counter what she called a Koch-funded smear campaign.

At which point it is probably worth pointing out that MacLean received $50,000 in taxpayers’ money, via the National Endowment for the Humanities, for her attack on a thinker who laid bare how and why government is as bloated as it is. Who, really, is smearing whom?

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