28 Jun 2017

More Hatchet Jobbery From MacLean

Rothbard 3 Comments

David R. Henderson reports on another outrageous (and I use that term carefully) smearing of her opponents in Nancy MacLean’s book on Buchanan. First I’ll do the Buchanan one, and then I’ll showcase how she also smeared Rothbard (HT2 Roderick Long).

Regarding Buchanan, here’s what MacLean wrote:

Koch learned as a young adult, from his mentor Baldy Harper, that “the great social problem of our age is that of designing the preventive medicine that will stop the eroding of liberty in the body politic.” Harper warned that “once the disease has advanced, a bitter curative medicine is required to gain already-lost liberty.” James Buchanan revealed just how bitter the medicine would be. People who failed to foresee and save money for their future needs, Buchanan wrote in 2005, “are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to . . . animals who are dependent.”

Whoa! You can imagine a young Hillary Clinton supporter reading this passage and thinking, “Man, I knew these right-wingers were horrible people who wanted poor sick people to die, but I had no idea of the depths of their depravity. To admit that in print?!”

Go read David’s post to see what the context was for that Buchanan quote. I think you’ll find the fuller quotation gives a slightly different interpretation.

Likewise, according to Roderick Long, MacLean discusses a Rothbard essay on “The Negro Revolution” and says, “His hope was that it ‘might be crippled and defeated.'”

So here’s the Rothbard essay in question. Now it’s pretty long, and I actually was going to give MacLean the benefit of the doubt on this–at first. Here’s some of the context:

ONCE THE REVOLUTIONARY crisis-point is passed, the revolution becomes almost unbeatable, because: (1) if the white governments yield to the stated demands, this adds fuel to the revolutionary movement and induces them to increase their demands; but (2) if savagely repressive measures are taken, as at Birmingham, this will make martyrs out of the Negro victims, multiply their revolutionary fervor, and greatly intensify support of the revolution throughout the country, among white and Negro alike. Indeed, it was this treatment, as we have seen, that made the Negro cause a revolution. In short, the governments are now damned if they do and damned if they don’t. With the Negro movement now in a revolutionary situation, it seems therefore impossible for the governments to stop or defeat it.

This does not mean, however, that the Negro Revolution will inevitably be victorious. There are two ways by which it might be crippled and defeated. First, the retaliatory creation of a white counter-revolutionary mass movement, equally determined and militant. In short, by the re-creation of the kind of Ku Klux Klan that smashed Reconstruction and the Negro movement in the late 19th century. Since whites are in the majority, they have the capacity to do this if they have the will. But the will, in my opinion, is gone; this is not the 19th century, nor even the 1920’s. White opinion, as we have seen, has drastically shifted from racism to egalitarianism; even the Southern whites, particularly the educated leadership, concede the broad merit of the Negro cause; and, finally, mob action no longer has respectability in our society.

Now of course, since I know Rothbard’s work very well, it’s obvious TO ME that he is clearly not saying that he’s rooting for the Negro Revolution to be crushed. Rather, he’s offering a dispassionate analysis of the political and social forces at work.

However, I truly was prepared to give MacLean a pass on this one, and say that she botched her treatment of Rothbard through an honest mistake. In other words, whereas she clearly had to know she was making Buchanan “say” the exact opposite of what he really said, in this case I thought it conceivable that MacLean really believed Rothbard was rooting for the crippling defeat of the Negro Revolution.

But alas, I can’t even give her that fig leaf. Because if you scroll down in his essay, Rothbard writes in his concluding paragraphs:

TO PASS BRIEFLY from the analytical to the evaluative, what should be the libertarian position on the Negro movement? Perhaps the most important point to make here is that the issue is a complex one; the Negro Revolution has some elements that a libertarian must favor, others that he must oppose. Thus, the libertarian opposes compulsory segregation and police brutality, but also opposes compulsory integration and such absurdities as ethnic quota systems in jobs. The ethnic quota is no less objectionable than Hitler’s numerus clausus; if 25% of bricklayers must be Negro, must not the proportion of Jewish doctors be forcibly reduced to 3%? Must every occupation in the land have its precise quota of Armenians, Greeks, Montenegrans, etc. ad infinitum?

For his over-all estimate of the Negro movement, the libertarian must weigh and formulate his conclusions according to what he believes to be the most important priorities. In doing so, incidentally, he should not overlook a generally neglected point: some Negroes are beginning to see that the heavy incidence of unemployment among Negro workers is partially caused by union restrictionism keeping Negroes (as well as numerous whites) out of many fields of employment. If the Negro Revolution shall have as one of its consequences the destruction of the restrictive union movement in this country, this, at least, will be a welcome boon.

So with the parts I’ve put in bold, Rothbard makes it crystal clear that his earlier line about “There are two ways by which it might be crippled and defeated” were not his hoped-for outcome, but simply his positive analysis of the situation. If Rothbard hadn’t included those final two paragraphs, I would be prepared to believe that MacLean genuinely misunderstood him (though it’s still bad for a historian to write something so inflammatory about another academic when she’s wrong).

But nope, she could not possibly have read the whole essay and thought that’s what Rothbard meant, unless she went into it looking to do a hit piece and have plausible deniability. [EDITED TO ADD:] She is clearly leading the modern reader to believe that Rothbard back in the day was opposed to the movement for equal legal treatment of blacks etc. To the extent that he expressed concerns, it was over things like mandatory quotas, which is what plenty of modern readers would object to as well.

3 Responses to “More Hatchet Jobbery From MacLean”

  1. RL Styne says:

    MacLean has exposed herself as a complete partisan hack. When those who are tackling her claims are finished, I have no doubt her work will go down in history as nothing more than a dishonest book-length hit job.

  2. Bob Roddis says:

    As I’ve been pointing out since 2009, no anti-libertarian or anti-Austrian EVER understands and/or fairly engages our positions on anything. Why do libertarians act surprised when a critic doesn’t get us or simply lies about us? Our opponents will throw a fit if you simply try to pressure them into identifying that magic moment in history when laissez faire allegedly failed.

    I will act surprised when we finally discover the person who fairly engages what we are saying. I have been searching in vain for the person since 1973.

  3. Tom Woods says:

    It was immediately obvious to me what Rothbard meant. One would have to be reading with extreme prejudice to think Rothbard was calling for a white counter-movement. When he was in the midst of an alliance with the New Left? How stupid can this woman be?

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