Synopses & Reviews
At present, there is a strong popular push against the progressive portions of the Obama agenda. While there are many elements to the reaction against it, just about all of them fall under the catchall label of 'conservative.' But what is conservatism today? And what is its intellectual lineage? In The Reactionary Mind
, political theorist Corey Robin (author of the acclaimed and prize-winning Fear: The History of a Political Idea
) gathers together many of the essays he has written over the years in venues like the London Review of Books
, and the Nation
to make a strikingly bold claim about the right's intellectual foundations.
He contends that from the seventeenth century straight through to Antonin Scalia and Sarah Palin, the right has been united on the one hand by a defense of inequality and privilege, and on the other by a deep hostility to all forms of progressive politics that have as their ultimate aim increased freedom and equality. The book ranges very widely, covering thinkers and movements such as Burke, de Maistre (the intellectual godfather, he contends), John Calhoun, Nietzsche, European fascists, Sorel, Any Rand, and Sarah Palin. Robin demonstrates an awareness of difference and change among all of the various thinkers and movements over time, but he stresses that our tendency to prioritize variation and internal conflict blinds us to the unifying themes of 'counterrevolutionary experience'--the defense of privilege and a profound aversion toward freedom and equality. The variation that one sees, he claims, is as much a product of tactical adjustment than anything else--the right has always learned from the left's approach, and abhors stasis. Its dynamism and ability to innovative (often via violence) has been crucial to its continued vitality.
"Corey Robin's extraordinary collection, constantly fresh, continuously sharp, and always clear and eloquent, provides the only satisfactory philosophically coherent account of elite conservatism I have ever read. Then there's this bonus: his remarkably penetrating side inquiry into the notion of 'national security' as a taproot of America's contemporary abuse of democracy. It's all great, a model in the exercise of humane letters."--Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland
"This book is a fascinating exploration of a central idea: that conservatism is, at its heart, a reaction against democratic challenges, in public and private life, to hierarchies of power and status. Corey Robin leads us through a series of case studies over the last few centuries--from Hobbes to Ayn Rand, from Burke to Sarah Palin--showing the power of this idea by illuminating conservatives both sublime and ridiculous."--Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
"Beautifully written, these essays deepen our understanding of why conservatism remains a powerful force in American politics."--Joyce Appleby, Professor Emerita of History, University of California-Los Angeles, and past president of the American Historical Association
"The Reactionary Mind is a wonderfully good read. It combines up-to-the-minute relevance with an eye to the intellectual history of conservatism in all its protean forms, going back as far as Hobbes, and taking in not only restrained and sentimental defenders of tradition such as Burke, but his more violent, proto-fascist contemporary Joseph de Maistre. Some readers will enjoy Corey Robin's dismantling of different recent thinkers--Barry Goldwater, Antonin Scalia, Irving Kristol; others will enjoy his demolition of Ayn Rand's intellectual pretensions. Some will be uncomfortable when they discover that those who too lightly endorse state violence, and even officially sanctioned torture, include some of their friends. That is one of the things that makes this such a good book."--Alan Ryan, Professor of Political Theory, Oxford University
"Robin is an engaging writer, and just the kind of broad-ranging public intellectual all too often missing in academic political science. ...Robin's arguments deserve widespread attention."--The New Republic
"This is a very readable romp through the evils of Conservatism."--The Guardian/Observer
"...an insightful book ... In a world where the old distinctions between left and right seem to be getting stale, Robin's book concentrates our minds on the deeper divisions."--The Daily
"It is a thoughtful, even-tempered sort of book. The old maid tendency that dominates liberal polemic in the U.S.--the shrieking, clutching at skirts, and jumping up on kitchen chairs that one gets from a Joe Nocera, a Maureen Dowd, or a Keith Olbermann--is quite absent. "--The American Conservative
"...the common opinion on the Left is that conservatives are fire-breathing idiots, who make up in heat what they lack in light. Robin's book is a welcome correction of this simplistic view and puts the debate where it ought to be: on the force and content of conservative ideas." --Alex Gourevitch, Dissent
andldquo;There have been books before on the history of the American Socialist Party, but none that I know of takes the story from the partyandrsquo;s roots in the late nineteenth century through its devolution after World War II into Michael Harringtonandrsquo;s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the proto-conservative Social Democrats USA. Ross tries to answer the difficult question of why the American Socialists never became a major party, providing an important history not only of the American left but of the right as well.andrdquo;andmdash;John B. Judis, senior writer for theand#160;National Journal
andldquo;Jack Ross has performed a prodigious and provocative feat of recovery and historical interpretation. In Rossandrsquo;s telling, the Socialist Party of America is not just a dreary dress rehearsal for Cold War liberalism or neoconservatism but rather, at its best, a living, breathing embodiment of populist American radicalism.andrdquo;andmdash;Bill Kauffman, author of Ainandrsquo;t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism
andldquo;Not only does Jack Ross cover the history of the [Socialist Party of America] and its leading adherents, he also offers an analysis of socialismandrsquo;s rise, decline, and persistence as a marginal movement in the United States that is more complete and original than that of any other scholars of the political left. . . . This history deserves the attention and respect of every reader.andrdquo;andmdash;Melvyn Dubofsky, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history and sociology at Binghamton University, SUNY, and coauthor of John L. Lewis: A Biography
What is conservatism today? And what is its intellectual lineage? In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin makes a strikingly bold claim about the right's intellectual foundations. He contends that from the eighteenth century through today, the right has been united by a defense of inequality and privilege and power and a deep hostility to all forms of progressive politics. The book ranges widely, locating the origins of conservative thought in the works of Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre before turning to figures such as John C. Calhoun, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, and even Sarah Palin. Robin acknowledges that there are differences among various thinkers and movements, but he stresses that focusing on internal conflict blinds us to the unifying "counterrevolutionary experience" that threads through modern history--the defense of class privilege and a profound aversion toward freedom and egalitarianismequality.
What is conservatism today? And what is its lineage? In The Reactionary Mind,
political scientist Corey Robin (author of the acclaimed and prize-winning Fear: The History of a Political Idea
) makes a strikingly bold claim about the right's political and intellectual foundations.
Robin contends that from the eighteenth century through today, the right has been united by a defense of inequality and privilege and by a deep hostility to all forms of progressive politics. The book ranges widely, covering figures as various as Edmund Burke and Antonin Scalia, John C. Calhoun and Ayn Rand, Joseph de Maistre and Phyllis Schlafly. While mindful of differences within the right, and of change across time, Robin insists upon the unifying themes of the "counterrevolutionary experience"--the defense of rule in the face of movements demanding freedom and equality. The variation on the right that one sees, Robin claims, is as much a product of tactical adjustment as anything else. The right has always learned from the left. Abhorring stasis, it has opted for a dynamic conception of society, involving struggle, violence, and war. This capacity for reinvention and partiality to violence has been crucial to its continued vitality.
Late in life, William F. Buckley made a confession to Corey Robin. Capitalism is "boring," said the founding father of the American right. "Devoting your life to it," as conservatives do, "is horrifying if only because it's so repetitious. It's like sex." With this unlikely conversation began Robin's decade-long foray into the conservative mind. What is conservatism, and what's truly at stake for its proponents? If capitalism bores them, what excites them?
Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.
Despite their opposition to these movements, conservatives favor a dynamic conception of politics and society--one that involves self-transformation, violence, and war. They are also highly adaptive to new challenges and circumstances. This partiality to violence and capacity for reinvention has been critical to their success.
Written by a keen, highly regarded observer of the contemporary political scene, The Reactionary Mind ranges widely, from Edmund Burke to Antonin Scalia, from John C. Calhoun to Ayn Rand. It advances the notion that all rightwing ideologies, from the eighteenth century through today, are historical improvisations on a theme: the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.
At a time when the word and#8220;socialistand#8221; is but one of numerous political epithets that are generally divorced from the historical context of Americaand#8217;s political history, The Socialist Party of America presents a new, mature understanding of Americaand#8217;s most important minor political party of the twentieth century. From the partyand#8217;s origins in the labor and populist movements at the end of the nineteenth century, to its heyday with the charismatic Eugene V. Debs, and to its persistence through the Depression and the Second World War under the steady leadership of and#8220;Americaand#8217;s conscience,and#8221; Norman Thomas, The Socialist Party of America guides readers through the partyand#8217;s twilight, ultimate demise, and the successor groups that arose following its collapse.
Based on archival research, Jack Rossand#8217;s study challenges the orthodoxies of both sides of the historiographical debate as well as assumptions about the Socialist Party in historical memory. Ross similarly covers the related emergence of neoconservatism and other facets of contemporary American politics and assesses some of the more sensational charges from the right about contemporary liberalism and the and#8220;radicalismand#8221; of Barack Obama.
About the Author
Jack Ross is a freelance editor and independent historian in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in the American Conservative, Tikkun, the Mitrailleuse, Daily Caller, Mondoweiss, and Antiwar.com. He is the author of Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (Potomac, 2011).and#160;and#160;
Table of Contents
Profiles in Reaction
Conservatives and Counterrevolution
The First Counterrevolutionary
Fascism and Counterrevolution
Garbage and Gravitas
Out of Place
The Ex-Cons: Right-Wing Thinkers Go Left
On Justice Scalia
The Virtues of Violence
Easy to Be Hard: Violence and Conservatism
Dedicated to Democracy
Remembrance of Empires Past: 9/11 and the End of the Cold War
Protocols of Machismo
Was he? Had he?
Language and Violence: From Pathology to Politics