Setting the Record Straight on the Libertarian South African Economist W. H. Hutt and James M. Buchanan

two headshots of W. H. Hutt and James Buchanan


In their stormy response to Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, some academics on the libertarian right have conducted a concerted defense of Nobel Laureate James Buchanan’s credentials as an anti-racist, or at least a non-racist.

An odd component of their argument is a claim of innocence by association: the peripatetic South African economist and Mont Pelerin Society founding member William Harold Hutt was against apartheid; Buchanan was a friend and supporter of Hutt; therefore, Buchanan could not have been abetting segregationists with his support for public funding of segregationist private schools. At the core of this chain of argument is the inference that Hutt’s opposition to apartheid proves that Hutt himself was committed to racial equality. However, just as there were white supremacists who opposed slavery in the United States, we demonstrate Hutt was a white supremacist who opposed apartheid in South Africa. We document how Hutt embraced notions of black inferiority, even in The Economics of the Colour Bar, his most ferocious attack on apartheid. Whether or not innocence by association is a sound defense of anyone’s ideology or conduct, Hutt, himself, was not innocent of white supremacy.