Twitter Thread: "If you are hanging with Mt. Pelerin...: Daniel Kuehn: "@delong asks why I don’t put stock in 4-6, which I’ll try to answer here. It’s not that glamorous because it’s basically that there’s no evidence (though I’ll try to say more). It’s important to realize Brad agrees these are not major drivers...
...On 4 we do have lots of evidence that JMB is frustrated when people talk down to Southerners and lots of cases where he think states should set their own course. That, I think, is what leads people down this path. But not liking getting talked down to (even if it’s all in Buchanan’s head, which it may be!) and having unusually robust federalist commitments doesn’t get you to Southern chauvinism, certainly about “peculiar institutions.” I wish Buchanan’s 14th Amendment jurisprudence was more like mainstream legal opinion but I don’t think this gets us to the actual advocacy communicated in #4. I think this is just running a little wild with his Southern and federalist identity. If there’s clearer evidence for this I’m happy to hear it but I haven’t seen it.
I discuss #5 here but to sum up I don’t find it very coherent to say that a democratic theorist with very obvious and well articulated respect for democratic rule thinks democracy was a mistake. There are anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian criticisms to level against him but they come from his Wicksellian political ethics that translate into (1.) problematic supermajoritarian rules and (2.) libertarian curtailment of collective action.
Buchanan does have ideas which coming out of anyone else’s mouth we might fairly tag as anti democratic but those need to be read in the context of his work on democracy. I think we can say in his hands Wicksellian unanimity and libertarianism lead to some conclusions we might not want to endorse but they’re part of a democratic theory and therefore hard to identify as anti democratic. Plutocrats may have liked him at various points but I’m not aware of him acting at their behest. Most claims of that are fairly read-between-the-lines in nature.
Brad specifically mentions Hayek here and I can’t emphasize enough how different the two men are on democracy. What Andrew Farrant has written on both men with respect to Pinochet makes this point very starkly.
Which brings us to #6. This is obviously Nancy MacLean distilled. I think MacLean’s book was important though there are many problems, but I think we need to move past MacLean, specifically on this. As far as I know this is entirely based on reading between the lines.
I think dog whistles are real. I think code is real. I think “hunting where the ducks are” was real. What I don’t think is that in a specific singular case we can establish this by reading between the lines. If we could it wouldn’t be very good coded language would it! To be good (i.e., efficacious) coded language it shouldn’t be obvious that the language is being used as code. Although all of this is real we can’t condemn every conservative mid-century Southerner on reading between the lines alone. While many may deserve condemnation some won’t, and if we were to imagine a short list of actual principled conservative mid-century Southerners that aren’t using coded language I think Buchanan would be on that list.
If anyone is sincerely motivated by actual federalism not as a cover for neo-Confederate sympathies it’s James Buchanan. Who knows? Maybe there’s something dark or opportunistic deep down. All I can say is that it’s not the vibe I get and there’s not evidence for it beyond mere reading between the lines. So I have trouble allotting #6 weight. It’s not inconceivable but I don’t have to declare it as true if no one has taken the time to demonstrate it.
All of the wisps of evidence that lead us to #4-6 can easily be explained by 2 and 3 (which we have direct evidence for, linked in Brad’s post). The responsible thing, then, is to stick to 1-3. No law of the universe keeps us from revisiting 4-6 if we get new evidence for it.
If you are hanging with Mt. Pelerin, with its Lykourgan moments and its "the merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally" and "by the slogan that 'it is not your fault' that the demagoguery of unlimited democracy, assisted by a scientistic psychology has come to the support of those who claim a share in the wealth of our society without submitting to the discipline to which it is due", either you dissent strongly and sharply or... we read between the lines.
A community of rough equals forming a Mayflower Compact might well decide that log-rolling and rent-seeking are sufficient dangers that expenditure programs should require a 5/6 legislative majority. A state that has been marked by a right-wing coup seven years before and that has been throwing leftists out of helicopters into the South Atlantic cannot legitimately have any such rule imposed on its post-return to democracy constitution.
You can say Buchanan was naive:
- naive about who he was hanging with at Mt. Pelerin,
- naive about the dangers of harnessing the energy behind segregation academies to his longer-run goal of privatizing public education,
- naive in seeing the milieu he had grown up in as not one of white supremacy but simply as two separate-but-largely-equal castes living side-by-side,
- naive in saying that a South left alone would harmoniously reform itself before the twelfth of never,
- naive in backing Orville Faubus against Eisenhower on Little Rock,
- naive in excluding those (like me) who do not see the New Deal as a serious threat to human liberty from his TJC.
But there is a point beyond which naivete, like stupidity, becomes a choice and a moral flaw.
You say that Buchanan has "ideas which coming out of anyone else’s mouth we might fairly tag as anti democratic but those need to be read in the context of his work on democracy. I think we can say in his hands Wicksellian unanimity and libertarianism lead to some conclusions we might not want to endorse but they’re part of a democratic theory."
And I say: a democratic theorist in Chile at the end of the 1970s could not have plumped for a 5/6 expenditure supermajority without also plumping for a steep wealth initial wealth tax and land reform.
All that said... the most important thing about Buchanan is (1) The Calculus of Consent et seq.
I AM ONE OF THE TWO PEOPLE AT THE MIT FACULTY LUNCH IN 1986 TO DEFEND BUCHANAN'S NOBEL PRIZE AS A REASONABLE THING.
But he was also (2) an academic operator overpromising the political mojo that his TJC would generate for right-wing causes, (3) going far beyond the bounds of academic integrity by claiming his TJC has no place for people who think that:
the enlargement of the functions of government, involved in the task of adjusting to one another the propensity to consume and the inducement to invest, would seem to a nineteenth-century publicist or to a contemporary American financier to be a terrific encroachment on individualism. I defend it, on the contrary, both as the only practicable means of avoiding the destruction of existing economic forms in their entirety and as the condition of the successful functioning of individual initiative"
people like me.
And then there is (4), (5), and (6):
- northerners should butt out of the southern power-structure's business,
- the people will vote themselves bread-and-circuses and produce economic chaos unless democracy is properly chained by the constitution, and
- racial animosity is useful in boosting the coalition to roll back the New Deal.
In (4) and (6) Buchanan is merely a southern white gentleman of his time, no better and no worse than the mean. But I like CoC so much that it breaks my heart that he was no better and wiser on these issues.
On (5) we seem to have a difference of opinion. Buchanan's political theory is "democratic" in the sense that he requires that everybody vote for the constitution when placed behind the veil of ignorance. And yet he reaches conclusions that are "fairly tag[ged] as anti democratic... in his hands Wicksellian unanimity and libertarianism lead to some conclusions we might not want to endorse".
I think the way to resolve this disagreement is to recognize that we have different definitions of what a "democratic theory" is. You see the starting point as primary. I see the ending point.
Not, mind you, that being democratic is the only thing we should ask of a government. Classical Athens was democratic but also, as Madison and Hamilton wrote, a horrific shitshow of a regime. Nevertheless, the peculiar blindness of the Virginia School to what always seemed to me (and to Olson) that the distribution of property is the greatest of all sources of rent-seeking, and that a Constitution that freezes the distribution of property can hardly claim to be anti-rent-seeking, deserves much much much much much more attention...