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The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin [Kindle Edition]

Corey Robin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.


Editorial Reviews

Review


"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


About the Author


Corey Robin teaches political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, Harper's, and the London Review of Books.

Product Details

  • File Size: 478 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199793743
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005H5O20C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,798 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and not what you think January 10, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A lot of people seem to think that is book is an anti-conservative screed. In fact, it's a pretty sympathetic portrait of conservatism that gets to the appeal of conservative philosophy, in particular its inherent romanticism. As a political observer, I've always had trouble understanding how conservatives think. This book helped me a lot with that.

The introduction is the strongest part of the book, in my opinion. There is a bit of meandering in the middle -- in particular the discussion of two former conservatives and of American policy in Latin America seem a bit tangential to the overall discussion. Still, a very good, informative read overall.
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51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm so glad I ignored the NYTimes review of this book. Corey Robin provides a coherent synthesis of a whole host of thinkers and thinking, bringing them under one "conservative" umbrella. Robin connects each piece of his argument to an overarching logical framework and I therefore don't understand what it means that he is preaching to the "converted" and this is just red meat for lefties. While progressives may be more open than a conservative to Robin's ideas, this book doesn't preach or rally leftist troops at all. Rather, his book provides a comprehensive explanation, that sort of which I've never run across before summarized in this fashion, of conservative motives and thinking. Just because he pops Ayn Rand once or twice doesn't take away from a solid book.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on conservatism January 15, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There is not much literature on what it means to be conservative (outside the very specific US context). OK, there is an essay by Michael Oakeshott, but it was written in ... 1956.

So Corey Robin has written the most enlightening book on conservativism there is. In contrast to romanticized perspective of Michael Oakeshott, in this book conservativism is being viewed more as a revanchist outlook which develops as a reaction against emancipation initatives of the left.

Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia are treated quite harshly in the book - it is not for me to decide whether such attitude is or is not justified, but those two chapters are quite entertaining to read. The author does not insist that all conservatism is bad or silly though, the idea that stuck in my mind after having finished the book is that "the conservative speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value". I consider this to be a profound observation that in itself would have been a sufficient reason to read the book.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive essays on the conservative ideology March 3, 2012
Format:Hardcover
Corey Robin puts forward his unifying thesis of conservatism in the introduction and first chapter of 'The Reactionary Mind'. To Robin, what unites the disparate trends of conservatism is their reaction to the egalitarian challenge posed by movements of the left. Robin argues persuasively that conservatism "is not a commitment to limited government and liberty -- or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue." These are mere conceits or misunderstandings of the counterrevolution. "Radicalism is the raison d'être of conservatism; if it goes, conservatism goes too." But in the process of fending off the challenge of the left, conservatism requires more sophistication than a mere defence of the ancien regime. Indeed, Robin cites notable conservatives from Burke to Maistre to Goldwater as being contemptuous of the hierarchies of their day. In doing battle with the left, conservatives are notable for their appropriation of the techniques and language of their opponents, as well as their revolutionary outlook. The revolutionary claims that inequality is a human creation and can be undone - the conservative adopts this outlook in defence of recreating a grander, more pure hierarchy. "The revolutionary declares the Year I, and in response the conservative declares the Year Negative I."

This book is worth reading for these sections alone, which deftly elucidate the conservative ideology (although I doubt conservative readers would agree). Beyond this, the book is actually a series of previously published essays, nearly all of which are excellent - both in terms of insight and prose. In these, Robin applies his ideological framework to a variety of conservatives - from Thomas Hobbes to Ayn Rand to Antonin Scalia to Barry Goldwater.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for Understanding Modern Conservatism August 3, 2012
Format:Hardcover
This is a beautifully written collection of essays that I recommend to anyone interested in the history of modern conservatism. Note to conservatives: It will become clear early on that Robin is not from the right, but don't let that put you off...let it provoke you. The nuances with which Robins engages conservative philosophy and artfully brings 18th and 19th century political thought to the modern political landscape should please readers across the spectrum. -Michelle Nickerson, author of "Mothers of Conservatism"
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An in-depth dissection of how right-wingers think January 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover
Corey Robin's book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the complex mechanisms and tortuous evolution of conservative thinking.

The general sections of the volume have been a revelation to me. I had always sensed and intuited that conservatives (as well as fascists) operate in some sort of dialectical relationship with the left. And Robin's book indeed demonstrates that right-wingers exist precisely as a result of, in response to and in reaction to, the left. It all starts with Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre's virulent anger at the French Revolution, combined with a grudging admiration for its effectiveness and power.

Hence, in our time Phyllis Schlafly starts out as a virulent anti-feminist, but she later has to modify her stance to show that, actually, she IS at heart a feminist. For an analogous phenomenon, see Sarah Palin in this regard. (As you may remember, her defenders actually accused her critics of being "sexists!")

In another familiar instance, many naive, gullible, or cynical libertarians, taken in by the word "Socialist" in Hitler's party name as well as by some of the Nazis' pageantry, have really thought of fascism as a variant of socialism rather than what it was: a violent mass movement aimed at making war on communists and socialists.

And so, in their public statements and actions, militant and outspoken conservatives go so far as to replicate the rhetoric, the romanticism, the tactics, and even some of the terminology of their left-wing adversaries. Not for them just a static defense of the status quo, or a nostalgic longing for some idealized past (however much these are in fact part of their mind set).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Reasons
Corey Robin demonstrates, with 200+ years of quotes, the real agenda behind the issue-oriented propaganda of the right wing. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Don Roberts
4.0 out of 5 stars The Reactionary Mind in a Nutshell
The Reactionary Mind

This is an historical/philosophical account of the reactionary/conservative mind from Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke to modern times. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J. Alan Bock
4.0 out of 5 stars you'll learn a lot more than from neurobiology
There has been a number of books lately looking into the science of this or that, and especially the neurobiology of this or that. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Massimo Pigliucci
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener, as it were
A mirror image of revolutionary radicalism, motivated by loss - that's reactionary thought in two words. I found Prof. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Alex K.
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb survey of the conservative mind
Wittgenstein wrote in the preface to the PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS that in writing his book "The same or almost the same points were always being approached afresh from many... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Robert Moore
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Review
This book was very helpful in tracing conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. It's always good to have a perspective on the history of a way of thinking.
Published 13 months ago by Evelyn Harpham
5.0 out of 5 stars Reactionary mind
It pulled together a lot of ideas under one concept. Great book. I will recommend it to family and friends.
Published 13 months ago by Barbara T. Klein
5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for the key to unlock the conservative mind
Why do cons think like they do? Why is everything a bitter contest instead of a negotiation? This book has helped me understand although only partially why how the conservative... Read more
Published 13 months ago by john skowronski
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick Read
The introduction contains the meat of the matter. The rest of the book provides examples over time from Burke to Palin.
Published 17 months ago by Norman G. Mosher
4.0 out of 5 stars Political philosophy for liberals--a good read
Don't be put off by a title purporting to analyze conservative thought from Burke to the present. The book is an easy read, with thoughtful insights about conservativism from a... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Chrisd
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