U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Democracy, Brown, and Buchanan: Guest Post by Lawrence Glickman

Editor's Note

Lawrence Glickman is the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor in American Studies and History at Cornell University. He is the author or editor of four books: A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society (1997); Consumer Society in American History: A Reader (1999); The Cultural Turn in U.S. History: Past, Present, and Future (2008); and Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America (2009). Some of his recent online writing includes “Donald Trump and the Anti-New Deal Tradition,” “Everyone Was a Liberal,” and “The Conservative Con that Gave Us Trumpcare.”

Protests in Prince Edward County, VA, which plays an important role in Democracy in Chains

In Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean insightfully examines an understudied vector of the modern conservative movement She frames her valuable contribution as an origins story.  In MacLean’s telling, her protagonist, the Nobel-prize winning economist and founder of “Public Choice” theory, James M. Buchanan is “the man who started it all” (xxi).  As she writes,

In an attempt to find that master plan, to understand whose ideas were guiding this militant new approach, others attempted to link what was happening to the ideas of the celebrity intellectuals of the so-called neoliberal right….especially such avid promoters as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Friedrich A. Hayek. But such inquiries ran aground, because none of the usual suspects had sired this campaign. The missing piece of the puzzle was James McGill Buchanan (xviii).

I believe there are a number of problematic assumptions here: First, the rise of modern conservatism is, in my view, not so much the outcome  of a “master plan” that was “sired” by one person, or even several people, but the product of a variety of long-term forces.  Second, by systematizing and formalizing ideas already in circulation, intellectuals as frequently followed as led the way in promoting modern conservatism. The people that Hayek called “second hand traders in ideas” (83)—pundits, politicians, ministers, lobbyists, business leaders—often succeeded in popularizing or sometimes developing frameworks for understanding the world that were only later theorized.  Third, a good number of the ideas that MacLean treats as new can be backdated or shown to have multiple authors. For example, the idea that any expansion of the welfare state was “socialism” and that such socialism “was a sentimental and dangerous error,” while certainly associated with the so-called Chicago School, was not exclusive to it (36). Indeed, this was the refrain of the anti-New Dealers from 1934 onward.  Similarly, the notion that it was a delusion that “socialism and freedom” could be combined began long before Hayek’s Road to Serfdom was published in 1944. Indeed, it was one of the reasons for the popular reception of his Reader’s Digest piece, which was reworked in an American direction (39). Finally, MacLean’s claim that “the old Republican Party” has been hijacked in the last two decades by the Koch brothers and that it “exists no more,” suggests there was a time in the relatively recent past when the Party rejected extremism. But this is to underplay important points of continuity from Joe McCarthy to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump (xxvii-xxviii).

There are also issues of periodization. While acknowledging and indeed brilliantly tracing a longer-term history going back to John C. Calhoun and Jim Crow disenfranchisement, MacLean sometimes seems to suggest that the conservative backlash began in response to the Brown V. Board decision. But James J. Kilpatrick’s concern about federal “dictation” in the wake of Brown was merely a new twist on a popular phrase that had been used to decry the New Deal almost from its inception (19).  Similarly, William Buckley’s call in 1964 for a “counter-revolution” can be seen as yet another stage in the ongoing fight against the New Deal order, which had been characterized in this way since the 1930s (88).

MacLean might be correct that the “assault on American democratic government” in recent decades is “’something never seen before in American history” (xxx).  And she makes a persuasive, important and detailed case not just about the intellectual and organizational contributions of James M. Buchanan to modern conservatism but about the ways in which economics, politics, region and race are inextricably, if not always explicitly, connected.

In my view, the question of democracy lies at the heart of MacLean’s book, and it fuels many of her critics. For MacLean, Buchanan’s movement was characterized by “stealth” (xx) and a disregard, indeed, a deep suspicion of democracy. I’ll come back to how democracy operates in MacLean’s text but, first, I want to discuss how it has been misused by some of her libertarian-oriented critics. They suggest that MacLean is actually in agreement with Buchanan (and them) in supporting constraints on democracy, and they mobilize the Civil Rights movement as proof of MacLean’s hypocrisy, since the key turning point of her book was an undemocratic decision by the US Supreme Court. But not all constraints on majorities are necessarily anti-democratic. MacLean implicitly makes what would appear to be a common sense distinction between the Buchanan’s designs and the Koch brothers’ plans to short-circuit majority will and the protections for minorities that make democracy flourish. By highlighting the importance of “individual rights” and “national democratic standards for fair treatment and equal justice under the law” as well as the importance of protecting “those calling on government to protect their rights to provide for them one way or another,” she indicates that her notion of democracy is not limited to majority rule (xiv-xv).  We might call this the difference between democratic justice and democratic domination.

In July, shortly after the George Mason Law Professor, David Bernstein, published on the Volokh Conspiracy blog one of his several columns critiquing MacLean’s book, he changed the wording of the final full paragraph. Here is the amended version:

MacLean’s primary criticism of Buchanan is that his work on constitutional economics was fundamentally anti-majoritarian and anti-democratic. It’s illogical at best counter-intuitive to surmise that he came to his anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic views as a hostile response to an anti-majoritarian, anti-democratic supreme court decision.[i]

I believe he deleted the word “illogical and replaced it with “at best counter-intuitive” in response to a Twitter exchange that Richard Yeselson and I had with him.[ii] Bernstein’s edit was minor and, I believe, still misleading, reflecting a problem with many of the critiques of Democracy in Chains.

A number of the critics offer a problematic conception of democracy as simple majoritarianism, especially in the context of the Brown v. Board decision and the Civil Rights movements as a whole. Bernstein, Brian Doherty, and Ilya Somin have suggested that the Brown decision was anti-democratic in two senses: first, that the Supreme Court is not a democratic institution and second, that the decision went against the will of the majorities in the Jim Crow states. Doherty, for example, says that the Supreme Court overruled a “democratic outcome” in its Brown decision.[iii]

In reality, people like Strom Thurmond and many other white supremacists were perfectly capable of making undemocratic, antidemocratic, and minoritarian arguments against the Brown decision and the broader Civil Rights movement. Southern politicians depicted themselves and their region as an embattled minority that needed to be “more powerful and aggressive” in making political claims, as a Hattiesburg newspaper put it in 1958.[iv]  Moreover, the idea that it was somehow logically incoherent to oppose Brown, even attack the Warren Court, and yet be an aggressive constitutionalist is absurd. Critics of the decision wished to maintain a racial caste system and white supremacy — not democracy—which is why they disenfranchised black voters and staged “white primaries” until these were declared unconstitutional. These critics had reason to feel let down by the Supreme Court and by lower courts too, which had, from Plessy v Ferguson to Brown, upheld segregation. But they were not disappointed because they wanted democracy. This is why Bernstein’s substitution of “counter-intuitive” for his crossed-out “illogical” still doesn’t make sense.

These critics of MacLean depend on a problematic understanding of democracy as pure majoritarianism, which they seem to take to be democracy itself. And because MacLean tracks and decries anti-democratic trends (school “choice,” disenfranchisement, secretive forms of governance) that arose after the Brown v. Board decision and which have accelerated in the last few decades, they suggest that her support for democracy is somehow undermined by the heroes of her book. But the question is what kinds of constraints on democracy are legitimate and consistent with social justice? What Harry Truman’s Vice President, Alben W. Barkley, called in 1950 “mak[ing] democracy more universal” by promoting a policy of anti-discrimination, suggests a different meaning for democracy from the pure majoritarianism seemingly espoused by MacLean’s critics.[v] Perhaps, as Somin writes, “a consistent majoritarian democrat should be against Brown.”[vi] But Civil Rights activists did not take democracy to be simple majoritarianism, even in areas like Clarendon County, SC, where African Americans were in the majority. They believed not only in one person/one vote and in constitutional protections for minorities but in the necessity for all people to have a say in the decisions that affected their lives. For Martin Luther King, Jr., “the essence of democracy toward which all Negro struggles have been directed” is that “multiracial people” must be “partners in power.”[vii] Democracy meant being a “partner in power,” not being overpowered by a majority or, in the case of Clarendon County and many other parts of the South, by a white minority that gained power through Jim Crow, disfranchisement, and terror. King, Rosa Parks and the thousands of black participants in the Civil Rights movement believed deeply in democracy, and they said the Brown decision would extend and realize, not constrain, it. This is why William L. Patterson, the Executive Secretary of the Civil Rights Congress, wrote to Walter White after the NAACP’s victory in Brown v. Board of Education to call the decision “a victory for democracy.” A profile of Thurgood Marshall shortly after the Brown decision in the Pittsburgh Courier said that his task was “making democracy work.”[viii] It was the example of the Civil Rights movement that led leaders of Students for a Democratic Society to highlight the phrase “participatory democracy.”

A roundup of responses to Brown by NAACP and other Civil Rights officials included frequent comments like the following by Matt Anderson, a Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania General Assembly: “My hope now is that the Congressmen follow the precedent and pass some good civil rights legislation. Then our country will be a real democracy.”[ix]  Waites Waring, the South Carolina Judge who dissented in the South Carolina Schools case, similarly called the case a step toward making the country a “true democracy.”[x]

It is important to note that in the Brown decision, the Supreme Court upheld the following NAACP argument from the Briggs case: “In a democracy, citizens from every group, no matter what their or social or economic status or their religious or ethnic origins are expected to participate widely in the making of important public decisions.” This is a notion of participatory democracy in which all have access to power making and, I would argue, it is also a rejection of majoritarianism. Democracy, in this view, involves developing the “capacities” of all citizens, which “cannot be developed properly…if the students are segregated from the majority by law.” So the Court was invoking a democratic justification for its decision—a justification provided by the plaintiffs.[xi] Civil rights advocates stood for democratic justice and rejected domination in all forms, including that of the majority over the minority.

Nearly a decade after the Brown decision, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King, highlighting the connection between minority rights and democracy, wrote that, “An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population.” This was not an argument against democracy, nor an argument for majoritarian democracy, but an argument for just democracy.

Somin, like Doherty, also highlights the Topeka, Kansas case, one of five rolled into Brown, as the most important. “The Brown case itself actually arose in Kansas, where blacks did have the vote, but still lacked sufficient political clout to prevent the white majority from enacting school segregation.” I have challenged Somin’s claims on twitter and he has stuck by his guns, but only, I think, by holding to a narrow conception of what “arose” means.[xii] The Brown case combined five separate Civil Rights cases, the most important and earliest of which was Briggs v. Elliott, which originated in Clarendon County, SC. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP legal defense team made a strategic decision here, which is well explained by Richard Kluger in his classic history of the Brown decision, Simple Justice. As Kluger writes, discussing the political difficulty for Marshall of the Clarendon County case: “He would be asking not that a relatively few Negroes be admitted to the all-white schools of a prominently white community, but that the white children be mingled among the predominantly black enrollment in a county that was more than 70 percent African American. It would have been hard to find a more perilous test case. How much wiser it would have been to launch the attack on segregation in a border state, a Southern city, or any community where the white reaction would be less dire than in the old plantation country of rural Clarendon County in the Carolina black belt.”[xiii] Hence Topeka, Kansas made more tactical sense than Summerton, SC. Attacking segregation in a variety of places, including a state outside of Dixie helped their cause.

Finally, it is important to raise questions about Michael Munger’s claim that “desegregation … was imposed, at the point of a bayonet, at the command of an anti-majoritarian institution, the Supreme Court.”[xiv] This language suggests that the might of the federal government and the states lay firmly behind the effort to quickly comply with Brown. The history of desegregation in the South shows the opposite to have been true.  Desegregation was rarely “imposed” and then only belatedly and incompletely. For a long time after Brown, Civil Rights activists were more likely to face Bull Connor’s hoses attacking them than to be protected by the bayonets of federal troops.

Like these critics, I believe that Maclean could have done a better job clarifying what she means by “democracy” throughout the book, and she emphasizes conservative efforts to undermine the will of the majority as a key tactic of Buchanan and his followers, to be sure.

Clarence Manion

My own view is that, leaving aside Buchanan for a moment, the broader conservative movement has long been more agnostic and instrumental than hostile to democracy.  After World War II, for example, advocates of “free enterprise,” sought to win over public opinion with a sales campaign that would result in an elected government less hostile to the interests of big business than they perceived the New Deal as being.  And many of the assumptions of these advocates became part of the American common sense in the Age of Reagan.  But there have been other strands of anti-democratic thought as well, many of which predate Buchanan.  Clarence Manion, the conservative Dean of Notre Dame viewed “democratic government as particularly dangerous” and was one of many anti-New Dealers who regularly liked to remind people that the United States was a “republic, not a democracy.”

Another argument frequently made by conservatives in these years was that true democracy inhered in the free market rather than the ballot box. To make this claim was to take the politics out of democracy. “We glory in democracy,” as Claude Robinson the Chairman of the Board of the Opinion Research Corporation said in a 1958 address to the National Association of Manufacturers. “The free market is democracy in its purest form, for anyone to vote his coin according to his own private preferences and he can vote whenever and as often as he chooses.”[xv] This thin conception of consumer democracy is another way of limiting robust political democracy, by making it unnecessary.

Another connection to MacLean’s story of region, race, economics and conservatism is that many critics of the New Deal figured businessmen as an oppressed class, the “whipping boy” of the state, in their favored expression, and the business firm as being unfairly “shackled.” These concerns about creeping statism often included Civil Rights issues as part and parcel of a dangerous cluster of forces limiting their freedom.  In 1950, for example, Harry McDonald, a candidate for Florida’s First Congressional District seat, “hammered at deficit spending, the FEPC, and socialized medicine.”[xvii] Thurman Sensing, the leader of the Southern States Industrial Council, dismissed Senator Paul Douglas in 1959 as a “spokesman for the spenders and the new abolitionists.”[xviii] Even among business conservatives, the attack on the New Deal was often racialized.  In 1960, Sensing called the South “the whipping boy of the nation,” using the same language that had often been applied to business under the New Deal.

A longer-term examination of some of the forces that MacLean describes suggests that Buchanan and his movement built on rather than invented many of the issues.  Buchanan might better seen as an adapter, drawing on older lines of discourse. This is not to suggest that there is nothing new under the sun, or that a story of continuity can’t also have key turning points and inflections.   Nancy MacLean’s book has identified a crucial, heretofore unexamined, and particularly timely thread in the history of the conservative counter-revolution.



[i] David Bernstein, “Yet more dubious claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’,” Washington Post, Jul 6, 2017.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/06/yet-more-dubious-claims-in-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains/?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.394bb44c80cd

[ii] https://twitter.com/LarryGlickman/status/883351651821727746

[iii] Brian Doherty, “What Nancy MacLean Gets Wrong About James Buchanan,” Reason, Jul 20, 2017. http://reason.com/archives/2017/07/20/what-nancy-maclean-gets-wrong-about-jame

[iv] “Colmer,” Hattiesburg American, May 13, 1958, 6.  https://www.newspapers.com/image/277001710/

[v] Louis Stark, “Barkley Predicts a `Fair’ Labor Law,” New York Times, May 27, 1950: 8.

[vi]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/10/who-wants-to-put-democracy-in-chains/?utm_term=.a2528f78f7ae

[vii]  This quotation is from José-Antonio M. Orosco’s important 2001 article on King and Democracy from the Journal of Social Philosophy http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0047-2786.00102/abstract. I take the members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to be making the same point in 1964 when they called for “economic as well as political democracy.” Quoted in John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (University of Illinois Press, 1995), p. 428.

[viii] Marguerite Cartwright, “A Young Man Dedicated: Thurgood Marshall Fights the Good Fight for the NAACP And Civil Rights,” Pittsburgh Courier, Aug 28, 1954, SM4. https://search.proquest.com/cv_1703402/docview/202361145/22D445B5D7154D11PQ/1?accountid=10267

[ix] “Statements of Local NAACP Officials,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 22, 1954, 15. https://search.proquest.com/cv_1703402/docview/202324407/D4EE092B3C1D4E5CPQ/2?accountid=10267

[x]“Waring, Center of SC Furore, Feels Pretty Good,” Asheville Citizen-Times, May 18, 1954, 11.  https://www.newspapers.com/image/198206457/

[xi]  Quoted from a James Reston, “Ruling More Sociological Than Legal,” Des Moines Register, May 18, 1954, 5.  https://www.newspapers.com/image/127739329

[xii]  https://twitter.com/LarryGlickman/status/884586671311908865

[xiii] Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown V. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), 303.

[xiv]  Michael C. Munger, “On the Origins and Goals of Public Choice: Constitutional Conspiracy?” Jun 29, 2017. http://www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=9115

[xv] This speech and be found in the “Free Enterprise” files at the Hagley Museum and Library.

[xvi] In The Calculus of Consent, Buchanan and his co-author, Gordon Tullock, write that. “Both the theory of democracy and the theory of the market economy are products of the Enlightenment, and, for the eighteenth-century philosophers, these two orders of human activity were not to be discussed separately.”  http://files.libertyfund.org/files/1063/Buchanan_0102-03_EBk_v6.0.pdf (quotation on p. 24).

[xvii] “McDonald Cites States Rights in Opening Salvo,” St. Petersburg Times, Mar 19, 1950, 17. https://www.newspapers.com/image/314863762/

[xviii]  Thurman Sensing, “Coalition is Bad for Liberals, Rome News-Tribune, Jan 26, 1959, 3. For an excellent recent history of the SSIC, see Katherine Rye Jewell, Dollars for Dixie: Business and the Transformation of Conservatism in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

30 Thoughts on this Post

  1. This post makes a lot of very important points. The distinction between democracy as democratic justice or participatory democracy on the one hand, and pure majoritarianism on the other, seems entirely correct conceptually and also revealing as applied to past (and ongoing) debates and conflicts.

    It’s possible that Bernstein et al.’s identification of democracy with pure majoritarianism may owe something, consciously or otherwise, to Tocqueville who, if I recall correctly, sometimes identifies democracy with pure majoritarianism in his warnings about ‘the tyranny of the majority’. (I’d have to re-read or re-check the relevant parts of Democracy in America to confirm that that recollection about how T. is using the word “democracy” is accurate.)

  2. I get the sense that your discussion of majoritarianism differs from Bernstein et al not from a misunderstanding/oversimplification of the concept, but from two (or more) divergent literatures on its use.

    Buchanan’s use (and thus that of his defenders) generally follows an intellectual lineage rooted in a combination of Madisonian federalist theory combined with the empirical study of voting rules on outcomes, the latter being rooted in the early work of Condorcet and Jean-Charles de Borda and its modern formalization by Duncan Black (for a brief period Buchanan’s UVA colleague). There are certainly different conceptualizations, but it’s erroneous to jump from that difference to an assertion of fault in what appears to be a very straightforward application of Madison, Borda, Condorcet, Black, and Buchanan-Tullock.

    I’d further note that the biggest issue with overly simplified, ill-defined, and confused concepts of majoritarianism in this discussion rests with MacLean herself. Her references to majority will are frequent but also poorly articulated and difficult to differentiate from a stand-in term meaning little more than “everything in politics that I personally support.”

    • Thanks for engaging with this piece and for offering these thoughts. Democratic theory is obviously a huge area and I think your surmise is entirely possible. The only thing I’d add is that I don’t think Maclean’s critics have been clear about what they mean by democracy. They seem to suggest that constraints are in themselves somehow undemocratic. I just don’t agree. Some most definitely are; but I don’t think this is true overall.

  3. I wonder how many of MacLean’s critics are aware of how perfectly their arguments match those of the segregationists of the Civil Rights era? Munger’s comment on desegregation forced on helpless white southerners “at the point of a bayonet” was a standard line among hardcore segregationists of the time. I have no idea how they square these kinds of claims with their idea of what “freedom” means in a democracy.

    It also amazes me that the are shocked (shocked!) that Buchanan, a white southerner born in 1919 who was working at a segregated university in the state that coined the very phrase “massive resistance” could possibly have had any sympathy for segregation. Given who he was and where he was, it would have been remarkable had he NOT had sympathy for segregation. And, again, what does that mean for how they define “freedom?” I develop this argument here:


    • Thanks for linking to your excellent piece and for your contributions to this debate.

  4. “…the ultimate aim of tyranny…is to establish real differences between masters and slaves, and so, as it were, to make nature herself an accomplice of political inequality.”

    — Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit (1795)

    Ran across this quotation fairly recently; I’ll let others judge whether it has any relevance to this roundtable and whole discussion…

  5. (1) Robert Taft was a relatively strong supporter of civil rights, and also perhaps the leading opponent of the New Deal in Congress, and of course author of Taft-Hartley. Meanwhile, the pro-New Deal Adlai Stevenson selected a Southern Jim Crow supporter as his running mate in ’52. For that matter, the strongest supporters of the New Deal in Congress through 1938 were Southern (Jim Crow) Democrats. It’s not shocking, if not exactly uplifting, that anti-New Deal conservatives would later form a tactical alliance with those who disliked the federal government’s increasing intervention in civil rights to try to roll back federal power, especially given that the civil rights movement overtly allied with the New Deal Coalition. But that hardly suggests an innate connection between hostility to government regulation and support for segregation. Indeed, I’d say that until New Deal politics scrambled electoral coalitions, there was no demonstrable statistical relationship between one’s views on socialism/markets or regulation/deregulation and one’s support for or hostility to civil rights.

    (2) There are plenty of examples in which “democracy” ran counter to civil rights. If you don’t like the Brown example, take the example of California voters overturning the state’s fair housing law via referendum in the ’60s. There are many others. Several MacLean defenders, and MacLean herself, seem to believe that “true democracy,” whatever that may be, always leads to results they like. Some seem to believe that outside the manipulation of the capitalist class, workers would not have false consciousness and therefore not support racist public policy. It’s remarkable that such warmed-over Marxist nonsense still has such sway.

    (3) Are any of the participants in this colloquium going to address the numerous identified factual errors in the book, or do historians not care about such mundane things these days?

    • “Several MacLean defenders, and MacLean herself, seem to believe that “true democracy,” whatever that may be, always leads to results they like.”

      That’s not what Glickman says in this post; what he says, or suggests, is that there are different definitions of ‘democracy’ and under one v. reasonable, defensible definition of ‘democracy’ emphasizing participation of different groups in the society in public decision-making (or access to such participation), a majority vote in state X to disenfranchise all black voters would not be a democratic outcome. In other words, democracy on this definition means something more than pure majoritarianism.

      (Btw Glickman never uses the phrase “true democracy,” so your use of that phrase is inapt.)

      “If you don’t like the Brown example, take the example of California voters overturning the state’s fair housing law via referendum in the ’60s.”

      In that case democracy as majoritarianism did run counter to civil rights. But it’s different from the Brown example b/c the issue of fair housing, esp. in a state like CA not otherwise characterized by a whole legal structure of systematic discrimination, is different from dual school systems, which in the southern states were part of a whole pattern of exclusion of blacks from the mainstream of society and political life.

      Btw again, neither you nor P. Magness has acknowledged that Glickman actually does make some criticisms of MacLean in this post. It’s almost as if MacLean critics in these comments sections can’t conceive of the idea that someone might praise aspects of a book while criticizing other aspects.

      • I don’t dispute his mild criticisms of MacLean, Louis.

        I simply noted that (1) he seems to be talking past David’s argument and (2) there are serious deficiencies with MacLean’s use of democracy separate and apart from Glickman’s conceptualization.

        That can still be true, whether or not I specifically acknowledge the aforementioned mild criticisms in Glickman’s post. I’d also note that’s a strange complaint for you to make given how MacLean’s defenders have breezed past (or worse, made shallow excuses for) the far more numerous points of factual criticism of her book’s claims and her misuse of evidence.

      • What you are missing is that when I referred to “some MacLean defenders” I wasn’t referring to Glickman. If I meant Glickman, I would have said Glickman.

        The point is this: either you believe in unlimited democracy or you don’t. Very few, including MacLean, do. So you either have to (1) acknowledge that the real issues isn’t whether democracy should be in “chains,” but under what circumstances it should (which is the right answer); (2) pretend that whenever the outcome of democracy isn’t something you like it isn’t “real” democracy; or (3) simply change the definition of democracy when convenient. Some of MacLean’s defenders have been doing (2), and her book is sufficiently unclear that I’m not sure if she’s doing (2) or (3) or both.

    • Thanks for your comments. In term of your point 1), I don’t think there was “an innate connection between hostility to government regulation and support for segregation,” especially early in the New Deal order. But eventually these views did come into alignment and became fairly typical in the “conservative” worldview. Early in the New Deal, very few critics called themselves conservative but over time the modern sense of conservative and liberal formed. In term of 2) as I’ve argued I think “democracy” can stand in for many things. My sense is that very few democratic theorists today hold that majoritarianism alone defines democracy. This is why I used the term “democratic domination” in my paper. In term of 3), I don’t think any fair-minded reader of my review can say that I didn’t offer a critique of the book. Space and time limitations lead us all to focus on what we take to be the most important ones.

  6. It seems likely that there are different frameworks at work here. If I may be permitted to horribly oversimplify, public choice economics posits the rarity of arriving at a stable common good through collective deliberation. Also, public choice economics suggests that we may expect democratic politics to take the form of special interest politics in which narrow constituencies engage in rent-seeking behavior and capture self-interested politicians.

    We can imagine a different framework in which we assume that we can avoid factions and preference cycles, and our politicians will undergo what Michael Munger has called “moral transubstantiation.” In this framework, we can expect democracy to be the transparent process of our cooperatively discerning a common good that is conserved or renewed by public servants and embodied in such institutions as public schools.

    In this second framework, the concerns of public choice economists–for instance, to allow for federalism as smaller structures may impose fewer costs on minorities and more easily allow for negotiation–may seem quite strange, even sinister. In framework #2, after all, we can and should work towards “good” centralized authority–for instance, a public school system that all students should want to attend.

    Historically speaking, it can be argued that public choice economists can help us make sense of the sad history of segregation, including why segregation tragically advanced with the growth of the progressive state and why unions and New Deal officials were often complicit. At least in part, it was (and is) a matter of unacknowledged rent-seeking.

    • “It can be argued….” But is it? Are there public choice economists who make a case that “segregation tragically advanced with the growth of the progressive state” since it seems that the opposite has been the case. Or, at least that is my view, but I’d be interested in hearing the case made if you have citations.

      • If we are talking about the historical progressives, this is relevant: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2231122

        Also, all the recent work on how federal housing policy and non-racial zoning laws contributed to segregation.

        And my work on how labor laws excluded African Americans from the workplace. https://www.dukeupress.edu/only-one-place-of-redress

        The basic public choice story is that when black people were disenfranchised or otherwise lacked political power, laws were going to at best not take their interests into account, and at worst would intentionally be harmful to them.

      • One of Hutt’s major arguments in the Economics of the Colour Bar is that Apartheid advanced with the growth of the progressive state in South Africa. He specifically documents its link to several pieces of legislation aimed at advancing (white) labor unions and (white) worker interests in the early 20th century.

        This has been pointed out to you before, but you dismissed it as an inconvenience to MacLean’s timeline, or as simply being motivated by anti-labor sentiments.

      • I don’t think either response really proves the strong claim that “segregation tragically advanced with the growth of the progressive state.” I find Bernstein’s work completely believable that disenfranchised people would be screwed over by labor laws and racist labor unions. Same with apartheid-era laws in South Africa. I’m not sure that is an insight to public choice theory since Du Bois was arguing it in the nineteen-teens, but I absolutely take the point.

        The question then becomes, how do we enfranchise those people? Key moments in gutting segregation: elimination of the white primary, elimination of the enforcement of racially restrictive covenants, the Brown decision, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights act, etc. all seem, at least to my eyes to be victories for the “progressive state.” Racist labor laws and unions, notwithstanding. And it would seem the things like the FEPC would help in terms of labor, which was also “progressive.”

        There are two questions: First, can a history be told that explains these victories through the lenses of public choice theory? To me, such a history would be whiggish, but perhaps not. Second, is there any evidence that those we might call “public choice theorists” played any role in those civil rights victories I listed? That is a different question entirely.

        I guess, a third option is the public choice theorist claiming that my list is NOT a list of victories but of setbacks.

        Phil, you want to argue that Hutt in ’65 is an example #2. I don’t deny that he may well have been, I simply deny that his visit in ’65 helps us explain 1959. Oh, and nice to see you again. 🙂

      • To quickly provide one example, drawing from Roback’s work, see Berea College v. Kentucky (1908), in which the Supreme Court declared Kentucky’s “Act to Prohibit White and Colored Persons from Attending the Same School” to be constitutional.

        1. Why would Kentucky pass such an act, which would have very little economic impact? Roback notes “the desire of lawmakers to associate themselves with the widespread demand for segregation in a manner that was relatively inexpensive for themselves and their constituents.” This is, she deems, a form of “psychic rent-seeking.”

        2. What does this have to do with Progressivism? Roback notes that Kentucky’s so-called Day Law represents a use of the “government to provide enforcement for a social norm that had not been universally observed.” Progressivism served to increase the possibilities of such usage as as it enhanced the state’s police powers and diminished the legal significance of Berea College’s rights to private property and association.

        For more examples of public choice theory and race, see:

      • My apologies, John. I almost forgot that you believe segregation was – how’d you put it? – a “dead issue” in 1965.

        I still suspect a large number of people who lived in 1965 believed otherwise.

      • I wrote my comment before I had seen the previous comments. I think that public choice theory can illustrate some of the continuing difficulties in implementing some of the “victories,” such as Brown. I think that one main way is to highlight the impact of rent-seeking. Again, I’ll borrow from Roback:

        1. “[W]henever the government announces that one group or another may possibly be eligible to receive some kind of transfer, people will invest effort to obtain the transfers.”
        2. “The study of public choice has shown that small and narrowly concentrated interest groups are more likely to be effective at organizing to compete for rents than larger and more diffuse groups.”
        3. “Ethnic groups … have certain natural advantages in the rent-seeking process.”
        4. “The presence of ethnic-based rents also creates a necessity for legally defining who is or is not eligible for obtaining the rents. So, not only do the ethnic groups themselves have an incentive to define their boundaries more sharply, but the government itself must develop standards of group membership that can be impartially applied.”

        How can public choice help us? It shows us how what may have appeared to be “neutral” actions–regulations, licensing agreements, housing and educational–may predictably have had racially disparate impacts, insofar as they induced rent-seeking activities.

      • Oh Phil, you repeat your strawman arguments so much I’m beginning to think you actually believe them!

        There is no doubt that Progressivism (ie, the ideology/social movement) of the early 20th century was beset with racism. I don’t know anyone who really disputes that. I misunderstood the comment as small-p progessive throughout the 20th century, not capital-P Progressive of the early part of the 20th century. So, I apologize for my confusion.

        As for Roback’s work, I look forward to reading it carefully. However, it is not clear to me that it is not simply recasting well-understood historical episodes in the language of public choice theory. One can easily take pretty much any social theory and read selected past episodes through those lenses. Why do such a thing?

        1. You are using the historical episode as an *example* to prove inductively that the theory is correct.
        2. You are using the historical episode as an “*illustration* to show how the theory, which is already known to be correct, operates.
        3. The theory uncovers aspects of the historical episode that would be hidden unless we had the tools provided by the theory.

        I hope that Roback is doing #3. Otherwise it is simply a redescription of well-understood historical episodes in economic jargon.

      • (I hope that I am responding in the right place.) Yes, I think that Roback is doing #3, but let me know if you think otherwise. I think that I disagree that “One can easily take pretty much any social theory and read selected past episodes through those lenses”–for example, the aforementioned work of W.H. Hutt, in contrast with Marxist critiques of apartheid, seems to depend on apartheid being pushed more by unions than mine-owners, etc. Thank you.

  7. Railroad segregation (as in Plessy) was also “progressive” in a sense. The railroads were see as monopolistic capitalists putting profit first, at the expense of local mores. I.e., the railroads were allowing integration because it was cheaper and more convenient for them. Regulating them to require segregation was a method of restoring the natural, proper order at the expense of capitalist greed.

  8. Per the fact that Brown was NOT imposed at point of bayonet, the Civil Rights Movement in the South could have used some of that.

    For that matter, Reconstruction would have been better served in the South with 200,000 troops for a generation rather than 20,000 for a decade. (Poetic license on exact troop numbers.)

  9. Wm. Sturgeon, above, writes:

    “It seems likely that there are different frameworks at work here. If I may be permitted to horribly oversimplify, public choice economics posits the rarity of arriving at a stable common good through collective deliberation. Also, public choice economics suggests that we may expect democratic politics to take the form of special interest politics in which narrow constituencies engage in rent-seeking behavior and capture self-interested politicians.

    “We can imagine a different framework in which we assume that we can avoid factions and preference cycles, and our politicians will undergo what Michael Munger has called ‘moral transubstantiation.’ In this framework, we can expect democracy to be the transparent process of our cooperatively discerning a common good that is conserved or renewed by public servants and embodied in such institutions as public schools.”

    This strikes me as far from exhausting the real-world possibilities and actualities of democratic politics. Sturgeon posits two alternatives: either democratic politics involves a bunch of narrow constituencies and self-interested politicians or it’s a “transparent process of…cooperatively discerning a common good…conserved or renewed by public servants….”

    These might do as contrasting ideal types, but isn’t the case that democratic politics as it’s played out historically is a mixture of the two, with one mode more predominant at certain times and the other at other times? Also, there’s a third possibility, which is a coalitional politics where a lot of different constituencies with somewhat different agendas and concerns are able to coalesce around, if not a unified vision of the ‘common good’, then at least a programmatic agenda that is not “narrow” in the sense that it only helps one smallish group.

    Segregation might in some instances have advanced “with the growth of the progressive state,” but how did de jure segregation eventually end? It was a result of a combination of popular mobilization (as in the bus boycott(s), the lunch-counter sit-ins, the marches, civil disobedience, etc etc) and state action in the broad sense (including by the courts and legislature(s)). This was not a quick process, and for the most part was not imposed by brute coercion “at the point of a bayonet.” There were arguably some key moments or inflection points, such as the Brown decision — which for years was more symbolic than anything else, at least in the deep South where it wasn’t implemented or enforced for years — and the Voting Rights Act, and no doubt various others.

    But it was a long, slow process. As R. Mickey has observed: “…liberal democracy — with full adult suffrage and broad protection of civil and political liberties — is a relatively recent development in the United States. By contemporary standards, the country became fully democratic only in the 1970s [when the Voting Rights Act was effectively enforced].” [*]

    It’s a banal truism that politics is a messy mix of self-interest and idealism, of selfish tunnel vision and collective mobilization in behalf of fairly widely agreed-on goals, but, banal truism or not, it seems a more accurate way of seeing things than trying to force all the messy and contradictory movements and human impulses — greed and self-sacrifice, venality and altruism, disengagement and collective action — into the procrustean bed of an economic theory.

    Public choice theory doubtless has insights that can illuminate certain phenomena, but many social scientists, historians, legal scholars and so on have been looking for the ‘master key’ that will unlock all the apparent puzzles of social and political life for a long time. As far as I can tell they haven’t found it yet, and I strongly suspect they never will.

    [*] R. Mickey et al., “Is America Still Safe for Democracy?,” Foreign Affairs, May-June 2017.

    • I don’t think that politics has to look like one of two and only two options. Even unanimity is theoretically possible. The question is how politics is to be understood. Is it a matter of individuals cooperating (or failing to do so)? Do private and public actors behave in symmetrical ways? It is one tool among others that, yes, may fail to account for symbolic (i.e, idealistic) behavior. That said, it may help us make sense of the persistence of de jure segregation, esp. in the North, which, I think, may be seen as a form of rent-seeking.

  10. You people are smiling at me for making eccentric points about field theory and synthetic judgments, Herzog-letter style. But something big is going on here, and nobody is putting a finger on it. Nancy M. is bringing back a mode of argument that prevailed for about 150 years and was recently presumed to be gone forever. Her crossing of standard Karl-Popper norms about the use of evidence, in particular concerning the warrant connecting evidence to argument, is more than it appears. It is not sloppiness, convenience, confirmation bias, and so forth. It is the return of the synthetic a priori argument in historical analysis—that mainstay of historiography as practiced by vulgar Marxism (I use that in the value-neutral sense) and Bolshevism.

    Now before we say hold it, nobody here is flouting scientific norms of evidence, let me make it clear that you have to, if you concede really anything about Marxism. Marx was a young Hegelian who believed that progress toward the unification of the rational and real was apace, was imminent. An important quality of the unification of the rational and the real is that this condition precludes science. There is an immediacy to intuition that no evidence can gainsay—because that evidence, the “real,” is unified with the rational. All evidence confirms the rational in such a circumstance. There is no science, no discourse.

    It is no accident, I feel, that we hear in the statements of support for NM the language of “topology,” because (valid) theoretical mathematical statements automatically justify all evidence within their description. This is the particular attribute that caused Kant to advance the concept of synthetic a priori judgments—statements that must be true, and all evidence must conform to them.

    We must take seriously the obvious point that Hegel was Kant’s descendant, as Charles Parsons, and indeed Rawls, always told us to. Hegel’s purpose was to illuminate the progressive march toward the unification of the rational and the real, which he very much thought was at an advanced state in 1820, in which case all a posteriori and analytic judgments would fall away in the face of immediate, correct synthetic a priori judgments.

    Marx adopted these views wholesale, even if there is the contradiction of Marxism’s being materialist. Marxism cannot be materialist, because the material is a distinction that no longer applies in the unification of the rational and the real.

    To the extent that Marxists speak of late capitalism, they believe that notable progress toward the great unification has been made. And to the extent they believe this, their arguments must—there is no choice—be in the form of synthetic a priori.

    Popper’s early 20th-century critique thus was weaker than is supposed. It only shook out the pseudo-Marxists who were embarrassed that they were not observing scientific standards of evidence. But there is no science in the world of a unified rational and real. Science is a posteriori, a vestige of the period pre-Enlightenment.

    This left the vulgar Marxists, who were unperturbed by any status anxiety of being shamed by Popper. They said we’re right, so the evidence is. Same thing with Lenin and his movement. The supreme American example was Marcuse, who in his marriage of Marx and Freud held up the two great apostles of synthetic a priori judgments in the social sciences.

    Now through the 1970s and even the 1980s, vulgar Marxist historiography was everywhere. Then it died out. NM’s main distinction is that she is resurrecting this mode of discourse in a new time, and in a more contemporary and highly relevant topic area.

    The question is why it died out in the first place. 1989? Postmodernism? Linguistic turn? I don’t think Thomas Haskell would have said so. Haskell was always cutting to the problem of the intellectual’s ethical obligations. Not ethical in the typical sense—how might an intellectual serve justice and so forth—like Baptist’s claim that his work on enslaved torture could help in politics and society today. No, Haskell called on the original ethical critique of Hegelianism, namely Kierkegaard’s.

    Kierkegaard asked how ethically one might justify, to one’s self, personally, the arrogance of making synthetic a priori judgments about human affairs. The Hegelians never addressed the challenge, what with K. being peripheral, and Kierkegaard was buried until World War I made him indispensible. It was the ethical responsibilities of the intellectual qua intellectual, not qua a useful member of society, or as part of its vanguard leadership, and so on, that the Haskell type inquired of. Kierkegaard’s never-rebutted point that it is very hard to square ethical dignity with the presumptuousness inherent in making synthetic a priori arguments is probably, through osmosis somehow, what caused the surcease in vulgar Marxism after the 1970s. But it looks like it’s back.

    • I’m not going to address N. MacLean’s book, but re the first part of this comment and specifically the remarks on Marx:

      Marx didn’t care about evidence and science? Really? Why did he spend untold hours in the British Museum reading parliamentary blue books, the official investigations into factory conditions, etc. etc.? Why did he refer to himself as doing ‘science’ (see, e.g., the preface to the first edition of Capital)? Was it all simply an elaborate ruse to hoodwink readers? I must say these remarks about Marx strike me as more than a bit strange; I’m not sure how they survive any kind of encounter with Capital or some of the historical essays. And why did he take such pains w/ style and mode of writing, to the point where it can be and has been argued that the literary qualities of Capital are deeply intertwined w/ the substance?

      p.s. This has nothing to do w/ whether Marx was right about everything (or anything) or whether one thinks he did a persuasive job of connecting evidence to propositions. It has to do w/ what he thought he was doing and how he went about it.

      • I am not speaking of the formal justifications, explicit or implicit, scientific or otherwise, that Marx gave of his work. Rather I am referring to the conceptual rigors which Marx stepped into in following the course of Young Hegelianism. And I am not merely pointing out that Marxism will preclude science as a matter of necessity; it will also preclude discourse and that apparent sine qua non of Marxism, materialism.

        The warhorse line about Marx’s relationship to Hegel—Marx turned him on his head—has always begged questions. Hegel never thought of the material as a basis, as an element even, in his system? Of course he did, and he rejected it on strong philosophical grounds. When Marx picked materialism up off the scrap heap, he proceeded to do nothing to overcome the problems that had lead to the Hegelian dismissal in the first place. This led to mannerisms in Marxism, one of which was its famous fatuous doctrinairism.

        On the heels of not merely Kant but especially Fichte, Hegel found it difficult even to concede the external world, the objective, the most prominent constituent of which being the material. Surely it was all unified in a oneness—that of the Absolute. Perhaps the essence of the Absolute was so spread out in the eon-ic pre-enlightened period of history, including in the geologic-time spaced “natural history” that really was the history of the Absolute at a time of minimal consciousness and dormancy in the cunning of reason, that it appeared that there was a natural world. But certainly when time of enlightenment came, such illusions would fade away as reality, namely the oneness of the Absolute, came into focus.

        This was the “process/project of enlightenment,” which was very much “finishing” as Hegel gave “lectures” (note not engaged in “discourse”) on the culminations of world history in the 1820s. The unification of the rational and the real must be taken seriously as the crowning concept, the telos, of the Hegelian system. If Hegel’s own historical juncture was a time of enlightenment, of “lateness,” soon of a “last man,” then all details of the illusory disjunction between the rational and the real will fall away. These included all talk a posteriori as well as “analysis”—putting things together to see how they fit. Everything will be synthetic and immediate, synthetic a priori.

        All this was totally understood in the robust intellectual culture of the 1820s/30s, when Marx stepped in, with Kierkegaard asking his killer question: Hegelians, how will you know, as a matter of positive fact, when enlightenment is complete, that you will be moral? How will you know? Saying all your judgments are good ones isn’t enough—there needs to be an outside “oracle,” at least, for confirmation, Kierkegaard’s challenge being recapitulated in the incompleteness theorems of the 20th century brilliantly.

        Marx blew this off like he did everything else. And on the materialist point, it remains astonishing that Marx as he did absorbed Feuerbach, a projectionist (i.e., no material world) if there ever was one.

        Not everyone blew it off. There was a notable movement through the 1860s, largely associated with Schopenhauer, of recognizing that those who were enlightened needed to take care to be good. This was the cult of the “saint-genius” which was an active intellectual demimonde all of Marx’s life and in Marx’s context. Marx and Engels occasionally had to fight it off, in that Dühring was a participant, though the blows were only glancing.

        Marx is explicit about what will happen in the period of enlightenment, that of communism. There will be only hedonism. Only immediate satisfaction. Possibly there will be creativity—that is, expanding the bounds of the Absolute (which at present includes the entirety of the cosmos as one “organism”) by creating new cosmoses, presumably ones not beset with having to go through geologic time and wrenching homo sapiens (and that of other species: Darwin) history to realize they were just the Absolute at play in Marx’s Schillerian utopia.

        There is no science in Marx, no discourse, no experimentation—all that cannot be proper to an enlightened word, or even one on the cusp of it. When the rational and real are almost unified (as in late capitalism), insights are made in a flash. In late times, there is little distance to traverse in coming to the right answer. Daniel Rodgers was misplaced when he said that the free-market revolution brought about a “thinning” and an “attenuation” of discourse after the 1960s. Rather it was, of necessity, Young Hegelianism’s most influential progeny by far, Marxism, that specialized in exactly that.

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