A Duke University professor, Nancy MacLean, claimed the “architects” of libertarianism “seem to be on the autism spectrum” during a lecture last week at New York City’s Unitarian Church of All Souls.
MacLean, the William H. Chafe professor of history and public policy at Duke University, wrote a controversial book, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” published in June 2017. The book focused on modern libertarianism, along with Nobel Prize-winning American economist James M. Buchanan and his involvement with the public choice economic theory. While discussing her book during the lecture Thursday, MacLean speculated that many libertarians suffered from autism.
An audience member asked MacLean (shown above, during her lecture) where she thought Buchanan’s “motivations” for her work came from and whether they were “ones of personal greed” or “malevolence.”
“As an author, I have struggled with this, and I could explain it in different ways,” MacLean responded. “I didn’t put this in the book, but I will say it here. It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum — you know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have kind of difficult human relationships sometimes.”
Admitting her remark was “speculation,” MacLean told the audience member that “a part of me feels like there was some kind of wound in [Buchanan].”
Although MacLean made no secret of her dislike for Buchanan and libertarianism, it’s one thing to critique a political philosophy — but quite another to suggest that political opponents fall on the autism spectrum or suffer from other developmental disorders.
The Soviet Union abused psychiatric evaluations and misdiagnosed political opponents throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, unjustly sending people to psychiatric wards. The Soviet Union and other East bloc countries often diagnosed patients with “sluggish schizophrenia” as a manner of dealing with political dissidents.
MacLean, during her speech, also emphasized that Buchanan’s grandfather “had actually been a populist governor of Tennessee,” noting that “as a white Southerner of his generation of a conservative bent, he was raised in this world that celebrated the Confederacy that we’ve lately seen so exposed in Charlottesville and elsewhere.”
The professor lamented, “There’s always a slide from libertarianism into the Alt-Right.”
“Then they have to explain why some people have poverty over generations … [and] are not able to lift themselves up out of their circumstances in the way the libertarians prescribe, and so they slide off into the kind of racist thought that we associate with the Alt-Right,” MacLean said.
MacLean offered high praise for the far Left, however, saying she admired “the creativity, the passion, the intelligence, the resourcefulness that exists on the progressive side of politics, and I just see some really extraordinary people.”
Pointing to her book, MacLean said that the “libertarian cause” went “nuts” about her book upon its publication.
“They really tried to kill it,” MacLean said.