- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Duke University professor is facing backlash after she suggested during a discussion about her 2017 book “Democracy in Chains” that many of the founders of libertarianism seemed to be on the “autism spectrum.”

Nancy MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at the Durham, North Carolina institution made the offending comments last week at New York City’s Unitarian Church of All Souls, the school’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, reported Wednesday.

She was answering an individual’s question about the motives of the late economist and libertarian theorist James M. Buchanan.

“It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum,” Ms. MacLean responded. “You know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”

She said Mr. Buchanan knew that he couldn’t make it as a politician, despite his parents trying to push him in that direction.

“A part of me feels like there was some kind of wound in him that he couldn’t be this political figure, and then he made his mission to kind of debunk the whole of politics to show that nobody who was in it was good,” Ms. MacLean said.

She later added that her comments were mere “speculation.”

Ms. MacLean’s speculation sparked the ire of Duke senior Hunter Michielson, president of Duke Young Americans for Liberty, who responded with a petition asking the university to condemn her remarks. The petition had 43 signatories as of Thursday afternoon.

“These comments are abhorrent and inconsistent with the high reputation that Duke University does and should elicit,” the petition states. “We at Duke Young Americans for Liberty (formerly Duke Libertarians) humbly ask that you sign this petition and share it with students and faculty alike, so that Professor MacLean may understand how her vile comments do not reflect the ethos of Duke University. We ask that the University issue a statement in support of the conservative and Libertarian students as well as autistic students on campus.”

Mr. Michielson told Campus Reform that he would like the opportunity to have a discussion with Ms. MacLean to lean more about her views on the matter.

Duke professors Georg Vanberg and Michael Munger have also taken issue with Ms. MacLean’s comments and her book.

Mr. Vanberg told The Chronicle that Ms. MacLean “prefers to dismiss ideas with pop psychology, or by ascribing sinister motives to individuals.” Mr. Munger said that while Ms. MacLean’s answer was clumsy and offensive, she’s not completely wrong to acknowledge that “there is good psychological evidence that libertarians are different when it comes to psychological ‘empathy’ scores.”

“Of course, individuals differ. But to the extent that one can compare the central tendencies of groups, it is true that libertarians as a group have lower empathy scores. That was really the heart of [Professor] MacLean’s argument, and she’s not wrong about that,” Mr. Munger told The Chronicle.

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment to The Chronicle on Mr. Michielson’s petition but noted that university provides its faculty academic freedom without interference.

Ms. MacLean did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.

Her comments come at approximately the one-hour mark:

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