An Austrian Frame of Mind

Professor Janek Wasserman, to his credit, is not a polemicist. His new book is indeed a leftist critique of the broad school of economic thought now colloquially referred to as “Austrian,” but it is not only that. It is also a lively and well-paced history of the astonishing influence pre-war Viennese intellectuals had on the greater world, and continue to have in areas far beyond economics. The author’s ideology intrudes at times, but never quite so obtrusively as to derail the book’s mission. The Marginal Revolutionaries first and foremost is a worthwhile historical account of major figures from the Austrian school, and not primarily an attempt at academic or ideological refutation.

Contrast Wasserman with Duke University history professor Nancy MacLean, who is a polemicist. Her now-infamous 2017 book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, was a broadside not only against the supposed right-wing takeover of academic economics, but also against the network of think tanks and university sinecures funded by business titans Charles and David Koch. In MacLean’s telling, anti-government libertarianism has taken deep root in the American political landscape courtesy of a vast and nefarious Koch campaign of intellectual subterfuge. MacLean claims this coordinated effort to capture economics departments across the country produced...

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