The progressive left won’t look at public choice theory with honesty, because they have bigger fish to fry: us.
One of the really unfortunate aspects of this book [Democracy In Chains] is that it is a missed opportunity for people in the humanities to get a better understanding of what public choice theory is actually about and why it might be helpful to the work that they do. Public choice could be a really valuable addition to the toolkit of humanities scholars. For historians, the uses seem obvious. Public choice is an analytical framework that need not generate any normative conclusions. Historians could use it to explain the machinations of the powerful without having to endorse any particular political views. Public choice’s focus on the pursuit of self interest in politics as well as in private life enables historians to offer new interpretations of historical events. Such applications of public choice theory would make for fascinating work in the hands of historians, but the worry is that MacLean’s book may have poisoned that well for the foreseeable future. If any time historians cite Buchanan or make use of public choice theory, the reaction is “isn’t that the racist theory that hates democracy?” then a huge opportunity for generating new knowledge will have been lost.
From my conversations of those on the political Left, I honestly believe there is so much prejudice there is no desire on the Left to understand the intellectually rich philosophical and economic theories on the Right, ranging from Milton Friedman to James Buchanan.
It leaves the Left with few options beyond name calling, and violent temper tantrums and playing political “gotcha” games with the police. But then, one could consider the vapidness of the modern Left by noting their most respected spokespeople are comedians.
It’s a shame there is little desire by those on the Left to actually read or listen to the arguments made on the Right. I myself have found myself on the receiving end of such nonsense–told that I’m a racist (despite being part Native American), a homophobe (those who know me well are laughing at that one), and a sexist (ditto the previous comment). And even when I construct an argument such as observing that poverty is a rational choice created by the poor design of poverty programs that take as much as $1.40 for every extra $1.00 earned by someone working their way out of poverty–the best I can hope for is a “well, you may be right there, but you are still a racist, sexist homophobe and a dupe of the Koch machinery.”
And I’m just a random blogger.
But I think the root of the problem with the Left’s complete lack of desire to understand the arguments raised by libertarians, public choice theorists and conservatives in general boil down to two things:
(1) Liberal Progressives in general hold to an unconstrained vision of mankind–one that holds that with the right arrangement of political, economic and social constraints mankind can evolve to a higher state of grace. Led by the right Bodhisattvas (a term I used to use sarcastically until I listened to Opera talk about Barack “The One” Obama), they believe that we can be led to salvation and ultimately gain re-entrance into the Garden of Eden.
And the conservative argument that this state of grace does not exist, that even the exalted ones are human–flawed, self-interested, and sometimes angry–just seems… cruel.
That is what Public Choice theory is to them: a mean spirited denial of mankind’s ability to evolve to salvation, offered by those who plainly deny the leftist “truth” that there is an arc to history, and that we can have everything we want if we only put aside our petty little concerns.
(2) Liberal Progressives have indeed appeared to have won all the major cultural avenues for how we learn–from universities to news papers to the Internet. Equipped with the “knowledge” that there is only one Truth, they see any corner where anyone disagrees–from a funny meme showing Trump throwing CNN to the ground to a paper on public choice and its impact on anti-trust enforcement–as a racist attempt to step in the way of Truth Inviolate.
And once one has reached the pinnacle of Truth Inviolate, there is no place to go but down. So the proper course of action is to close the mind, draw the shades, build the fence, and protect the Apex of Knowledge from any and all intruders.
It’s a shame, too, because I think a history of the United States from Reconstruction (after the Civil War) to the 1960’s, guided by the analytical tools of public choice (which seeks to differentiate between the statements offered by the rich and powerful in public office, and their actions) would make a fantastic book.
But it will never come to pass.
And instead we’ll continue to see histories constructed by the Left using the dominate Deconstructionist textual tools the Left has latched onto–textual deconstructionism mixed with Marxism which has led to so much vapid nonsense that they cannot be distinguished from computer-generated gibberish.
Having had our work so deeply misunderstood and maligned, including our commitment to improving the lives of all citizens, it’s understandable how strongly so many public choice scholars, and libertarian academics more broadly, have reacted to the book.
Well, no shit.