Nancy MacLean’s new book "Democracy in Chains" is under attack from the right

Historians in the News
tags: Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean



Collusion, alternative facts, shadowy billionaires: the words sound ripped from the political headlines, but they also describe the controversy surrounding Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking). And story keeps unfolding, with MacLean’s critics alleging inaccuracies and other problems with her book, MacLean in turn alleging a coordinated attack against her by libertarian scholars with ties to dark money, and others still accusing MacLean of trying to dishonestly promote favorable online book reviews.

MacLean declined comment on the matter through her publisher, which said it hopes discussions will soon return to the content of the book. Her named critics, meanwhile, deny any coordination in their takedowns of her work.

“The allegations she raised are fanciful and potentially libelous,” said David Bernstein, University Professor of law at George Mason University, who recently wrote unflatteringly about MacLean’s book in a blog for The Washington Post. No one “urged me, asked me, beseeched me, paid me or otherwise tried to influence me to blog about the book.”

Some nevertheless say they worry that swarm-style attacks on progressive scholars’ works -- especially in an era of online harassment of professors and plummeting public trust in academe -- could become a new normal. MacLean, they say, is the victim of just such an effort.

There’s “absolutely no question that left-wing scholars and scholarly ideas are under attack,” said Jacob Remes, an historian and clinical assistant professor at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Citing a recent pattern of threats against liberal professors, Remes said cases involving even more vulnerable faculty members “show how we need to defend scholarly norms and insist that debates over scholarship remain that -- scholarly debates -- and not become Fox News-like partisan free-for-alls.”...





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