Let’s Play Again by Nancy MacLean’s Rules for Scholarship

July 19, 2017
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Let’s Play Again by Nancy MacLean’s Rules for Scholarship

I’m going to write a book about Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s stealth plan to undermine the United States Constitution in order to subject all Americans to Soviet-style central planning and state terror.

My book, of course (being academic), will be larded with footnotes, many to unpublished materials not available to the public.  In my book, which will run to well over 300 page, I will claim – in the breathless tone fitting for the revelation of such an unbelievable and frightening plot – that all of the evidence that I painstakingly sifted through and studied carefully points to Nancy MacLean being influenced by Joseph McCarthyand Joseph Stalin (as well as, as will become obvious, Pol Pot).  She is, I will demonstrate, an admirer of these men as well as of their ideas, ideals, and tactics.   Her brilliant if quirky scholarship will, I will reveal, make her a central player in a stealth scheme to slowly re-create the Soviet Union in the U.S.

Assuring my readers that I’m an accomplished scholar who has examined all of the relevant source material, I will include near the very beginning of my book the following passage:

A Quiet Confab on the Charles

I can fight this [institution of private property rights and individual freedom], she concluded.  I want to fight this.

Find the resources, she proposed to the left-wing billionaire yearning to bring a Stalinist-like regime to the United States, for me to write a book praising Stalin and criticizing John Locke and everyone else who dares to support private property.  I will use my book to excite people everywhere to raise their voices and votes against all who support private property rights and freedom of contract in any form.  It would be an academic book, but one with a quiet political agenda: to defeat those who dare to stand in the way of turning the United States of America into a completely centrally planned, Soviet-style economy and society.

Wow!  Did Nancy MacLean really say all that!  My readers will be impressed with my discovery of this hard evidence of her evil intent.  The careful reader, however, will realized that I have no footnotes to any of the italicized passages.  A very careful reader will sift through the evidence to discover that the italicized words are not quotations at all.  They are merely my hallucination of what Nancy MacLean might have said as she launched what I also hallucinate to be her evil plot to Sovietize America.  I put completely made-up words in Nancy MacLean’s mouth in a way that excuses any reader for believing that MacLean really said the italicized words.

Of course, I’m not really going to write any such book because not only have I no evidence that MacLean yearns to Sovietize America, but I have no reason to believe any such fanciful notion.  You see, I – like most people – am unwilling to elevate any hallucinations, or even vague suspicions, that I might have into an account of reality that is passed off as factual.  Nancy MacLean, however, is not like most people.  She recklessly believes her hallucinations and passes them off as factual.

If you doubt me, read her book, Democracy in Chains.  (I cannot bring myself to link at this blog to such an abominably bad work, but you can find it on Amazon.)  Or, short of reading her book of tales, read, if you haven’t already, Mike Munger’s brilliant review of it.  Here’s the part of Mike’s review that is relevant to this Cafe Hayek post:

Early in Democracy in Chains, in a preface entitled “A Quiet Deal in Dixie,” MacLean recounts an exchange, a conversation really, between two conservatives. One is the president of a major southern university, the other is an academic worker intent on reverse-engineering a repressive sociopolitical order in America, working from the ground up, using shadowy methods and discredited theories.

The academic writes a proposal for a research center where these ideas can be given a pestilential foothold, a source of viral infection hidden in a legitimate academic setting. The goal, as MacLean tells it, was to begin a Fabian war to re-establish a repressive, plutocratic society ruled by oligarchs. MacLean has actually examined the founding documents, the letters in this exchange, and cites the shadowy academic as saying: “I can fight this [democracy] . . . I want to fight this.” (xv, emphasis in original reference).

In his proposal, the professor expands on the theme, which I quote directly from Democracy in Chains(xv, emphasis in original): “Find the resources, he proposed to [the University President], for me to create a new center on the campus of the University . . . and I will use this center to create a new school of political economy and social philosophy.” Wow! That’s pretty big stuff.

Except . . . there’s something odd. The italicized text above is written in the first person and is also italicized in the original setting. But, the italicized passage has no quote marks. It’s not footnoted.

I was curious about that omission, so I tracked down the founding documents themselves: “Working Papers for Internal Discussion Only—General Aims” (1959) and “The Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy and Social Philosophy” (1956) (both from Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.). And it turns out that the reason there are no quote marks, and no footnotes, is that this exchange, and in particular the first-person italicized portion, never actually took place. It’s not a quote. No, seriously: It’s not a quote. It’s made up. Fabricated. Fictional.

MacLean, to her credit, never actually claims it is a quote, although a careless reader could be excused for thinking it was, given the first-person voice and the italics.

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