I offered a long reflection here the other day on what is shaping up as the most scandalously bad book since Michael Bellesiles’s fraudulent Arming America—Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. I decided to get a copy for myself (despite complaining that the criticism of the book is yet another Koch-directed conspiracy, MacLean must be delighted that the controversy is juicing sales), and there is literally a howler on every page. The book ought to be withdrawn by the publisher.
I wouldn’t bother piling on further, but I note that even Rick Perlstein, the very left writer of a series of increasingly bad books about modern conservatism (see my review of his book on the rise of Reagan here), has chimed in on Facebook to note the huge defects of Democracy in Chains:
“It pains me very deeply to say this, as Nancy Maclean is a friend whose past work I deeply admire, and whose broad political aims I share, but I totally endorse this article [The Farrel/Teles Vox piece linked in my post] about her book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for Democracy.” Maclean really does, at times, distort quotes from the subject to claim they mean the opposite of what they actually mean. Yet more damningly, in my opinion, the foundation of the entire book is a conspiracy theory that suggests that if you understand THIS ONE SECRET PLAN, you understand the rise of the right in America in its entirety. Which suggests you don’t need to understand any of a score of other important tributaries, some of them not top-down conspiratorial at all but deeply, organically bottom up, which gave us the political order of battle we know now. That you don’t need to read anything else. Which is actively dangerous to historical understanding.”
When you’ve lost Rick Perlstein. . .