My impression of Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains is that it is primarily an attack on Charles Koch. The Koch brothers are hardly an unusual target. What is special about MacLean's "contribution" is that she uses James M. Buchanan as a club. Yet another reason for the perfidy of the Koch's is that they are promoting and spreading the ideas of wicked Buchanan. And what is wicked about Buchanan? His ideas are at base little more than strategies to fight civil rights and maintain Jim Crow segregation.
Does this book help or harm Buchanan's legacy?
For those of us who would like to see Buchanan's body of work become more influential, I think the answer is that it helps.
There is no such thing as bad publicity. At least that is what P.T. Barnum said.
Friedman and Hayek were subject to hatchet jobs. Buchanan is joining the club of late libertarian Nobel-winning economists. (Bringing the level of attention Buchanan's ideas receive to that of Friedman and Hayek is a good thing in my opinion.)
That a left (far left?) historian trashes Buchanan can hardly hurt him on the right. A leftist tries to paint him as a racist? That is practically a badge of honor.
Surely, the field of intellectual battle is on the center left. And MacLean's careless errors makes her argument against Buchanan very weak.
Her status as an award winning historian at an elite university is more damaging for the reputation of academic history than to Buchanan. The more historians and humanities academics defend her--even claiming that making things up is good practice--the more they destroy their credibility.
I realize that academics seeking Koch money for some kind of university center will see MacLean's book used against them. Maybe it will be the motivation--filtered through leftist professors--for student protests. I admit that these are costs. But let faculty senates discredit themselves. Let university presidents do their jobs.
Is Buchanan some shadowy figure with a secret agenda? Of course not. His actual views can withstand honest scrutiny.
Picking apart MacLean's book is necessary. But don't get mad. See the opportunity.