MacLean is not only wrong in detail but mistaken in the fundamentals of her account.
I have met both Farrell and Teles, at dinners organized by Teles and Brink Lindsey, for “liberaltarians.” The liberaltarian project always seemed to me to be quixotic, but it did demonstrate overlap between (some) progressives and libertarians on a few economic issues, particularly related to Public Choice. Farrell and Teles strike me as coming more from the liberal camp as opposed to the libertarian camp. But because they are receptive to Public Choice ideas, some progressives might consider them to be heretics.
Historian Andrew Seal writes,
Some of my colleagues and I at the Society for US Intellectual History Blog and I are planning a roundtable to discuss Democracy in Chains as a work of intellectual history, in large part because we feel that the critiques of MacLean’s work have not adequately engaged with its core arguments and because these critiques often seem unfamiliar with the “best practices” of intellectual history.
For me, the central issue is scholarly ethics. I expect that when it comes to history, many books will be written that have narratives that are controversial and have flimsy support. That is acceptable.
The ethical issue is whether the historian has an obligation to make the effort to elevate truth above narrative. Did Nancy MacLean make that effort, as Seal’s use of the phrase “best practices” implies?
For example, I could wish to create a narrative that tries to portray Dr. Martin Luther King as a racist, and I could do so while staying within ethical boundaries. It might not be very persuasive, of course. But if I quote Dr. King as saying “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will…be judged by the color of their skin” (i.e., leaving out the word “not”), then that is unethical. That seems pretty clear to me. And it seems to me that MacLean’s conduct comes pretty close to that, yet I do not see it condemned outright as unethical by Farrell and Teles, much less by Seal.
Let me put it this way: if MacLean’s actions do not constitute easily-recognized and serious violations of the ethics of the history profession, then that profession has no ethics. And historians on the left ought to be thinking about whether that is what they want.