Two weeks ago, Duke University historian Dr. Nancy MacLean gave a presentation on her book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, at NYC’s Unitarian Church of All Souls. During her presentation, Dr. MacLean described how Dr. James M. Buchanan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his work in public choice economics, was one of the ‘chief architects’ for the libertarian movement.
After her presentation, a young gentleman asked, “Where do [Buchanan’s] motivations lie? Are they ones of personal greed? It seems like it’s a little grander, is it malevolence?”
In MacLean’s response she shockingly said, “I didn’t put this in the book, but I will say it here. It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum—you know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have difficult human relationships sometimes” (start at 1:00:04 to hear the question and Dr. MacLean’s answer).
Is using a term for people that are, unfortunately and falsely, deemed as ‘unempathetic,’ not discriminatory and bigoted, in itself? How is calling those with whom you disagree ‘autistic,’ any different than Trump’s comments on the disabled reporter who lambasted him during the 2016 campaign? The mainstream media was up-in-arms about Trump mocking the disabled, yet now the left seems to have no issue with this offensive comment about autism.
Additionally, MacLean infers that people who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have poor empathy and communication skills. Anecdotally, I can say that my friends and family with ASD are some of the most empathetic people I know. Empirically, it has been proven that this is not the case, and, therefore, that MacLean’s statements are false. Dr. MacLean ought not to make comments about a disorder on which she is clearly not knowledgeable, nor professionally trained to recognize.
Regardless of the hypocrisy, it shows that Dr. MacLean misunderstands two main things, and is leading those who take her book as truth to also commit the same errors. First, Buchanan’s theory of public choice is not pushing a political agenda, rather it uses ‘positive’ theory instead of a ‘normative’ theory. ‘Positive’ theory is defined as “what is,” while ‘normative theory’ is defined as “what should be.”
In The Calculus of Consent, Buchanan and his co-author, Gordon Tullock, drew upon the work of left-leaning thinkers, such as John Rawls and Kenneth Arrow to make their claims and reach their conclusions. Additionally, in the appendix of this book, Buchanan wrote an essay titled, Marginal Notes on Reading Political Philosophy. In this essay, his consistent urge for social scientists to use more positive theory and less normative theory was evident when he said that, “Along with the economist and other social scientists, the political theorist should take his human actors as he finds them…he must take men as they are, not as he would like them to be.”
There are other misconceptions, including that libertarians and right-leaning people don’t have empirical evidence for their theories. On the first claim, we actually do, given the data in this article, and data in many, many other studies. Secondly, she misunderstands what economists and philosophers mean by ‘self-interest.’ Economists from Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, and Sowell, and philosophers from Smith, Hume, and Rand, can represent this better than I.
While there is no evidence that Dr. Buchanan had ASD, or many people who identify as libertarians have ASD, that isn’t the point. The point is Dr. MacLean makes too many presumptions outside of her training to write this book, and to comment on people with ASD. A week after this talk, I am astounded that more people aren’t lambasting her like they have done to people on the right. This shows even more the depths of the hypocrisy and ideological bias.
Dr. MacLean: Respectfully, you are a historian — not an economist, political scientist, medical professional, or ASD specialist. Given your profession, I would gladly ask you the history of the events leading up to the American Revolution. However when it comes to the inner workings of the economy, law, the differences between a ‘republic’ and a ‘democracy,’ or the neurological research on ASD, I would not ask for your opinion. Please refrain from making such false, inflammatory, and rather insulting statements, just to affirm your cognitive bias.
I’m sorry that I do not accept the ‘benevolent social planner’ assumption that helps you arrive at your progressive utopian conclusions, but you are misrepresenting the position of classical liberals in your book. This has allowed more people to see how hypocritical the left is, and how much the left’s members resort to arguments grounded purely in emotion, but entirely ungrounded in fact.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.