28 Oct Has the National Book Award been ‘damaged by politics’?
Over at Balkinization, Northwestern law teacher Andrew Koppelman questions whether the National Book Award has actually been “damaged by politics.” His issues were triggered by the identifying of Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains” as a 2017 National Book Award finalist in the nonfiction classification.
As Koppelman notes, MacLean’s book is filled with unreliable and unproven claims, distortions, and misstatements (a few of which are indexed here). Composes Koppelman:
The book is well composed and a quick read. It narrates that is heartening to those who fear the Kochs’ growing power. It is, nevertheless, filled with mistakes and distortions, which have actually currently been thoroughly recorded. The choice, in the face of these well-known issues, raises uneasy concerns about exactly what the committee is believing.
Awards committees have actually sometimes acknowledged scholarship that later on ended up being severely flawed. They cannot inspect sources. Scholarship undoubtedly depends on standards of trust that are often betrayed. However this might be the very first time that a work was bestowed an election for a significant award after the defects were commonly understood.
While Koppelman is mainly supportive with MacLean’s job, and has actually been rather important of libertarian thinkers and activists (as in this book), he is aghast at the award’s obvious desire to honor such a deeply problematic work.
It is tough to prevent the reasoning that the book’s problems are surpassed, in the committee’s judgment, by the book’s significant denunciation of the Kochs. Possibly the committee so suspects MacLean’s enemies that it has actually not troubled to check out their claims. This advancement is bad news for the political left, which, previously, has actually prided itself on its capability to deal with bothersome facts.
MacLean’s main historic claim is incorrect. That claim is that the economic expert James Buchanan designed the “master strategy” … by which the Koch siblings are now overturning democracy. Buchanan devised no master plan, and there’s no proof that the Kochs’ political actions were affected by anything he composed …
Koppelman even compares MacLean’s deal with that of Michael Bellesiles:
Committees often make errors: after Michael Bellesiles won the Bancroft Reward for his book Arming America, the book was revealed to be filled with fabrications, the reward was rescinded, and Bellesiles resigned his Emory University professorship in disgrace. However the Bancroft committee did unknown about the book’s problems when it made its choice. What reason has the National Book Award committee?
The political left has actually previously prided itself on being the reality-based neighborhood. Unlike Fox News and Breitbart, it does not accept created truths when they support its melodramatic story. Previously. With a couple of honorable exceptions, it has actually gotten MacLean’s book with interest.
The election bespeaks a brand-new low in polarization: if you compose a legible book knocking the Kochs, we enjoy you, and we do not care whether anything you state holds true. The reward is being utilized to make a political declaration, like Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Reward, granted less than 9 months after he took workplace. Even he discovered that humiliating. Celebration uniformity now bypasses all other factors to consider. This is, naturally, the sort of believing that led otherwise thoughtful Republicans to elect Trump.
Once Again, it deserves stressing that Koppelman holds no short for Buchanan, the Kochs or libertarians. (Certainly, his next book is a review of modern libertarianism.) He is, nevertheless, a severe and mindful scholar– and among the couple of who has actually approached “Democracy in Chains” with a degree of hesitation.
[For a round-up of posts and posts talking about and critiquing MacLean’s book, go here]