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

Corey Robin
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 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


"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

" 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: 499 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 29, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005H5O20C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,245 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 43 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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27 of 30 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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55 of 65 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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for Understanding Modern Conservatism August 3, 2012
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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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive essays on the conservative ideology March 3, 2012
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Reactionary Mind in a Nutshell June 24, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Reactionary Mind

This is an historical/philosophical account of the reactionary/conservative mind from Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke to modern times. In a very readable style the author tells us that he seats "philosophers, statesmen, stockholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table: Hobbes next to Hayek, Burke across from Palin, Neitzsche in between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia with Adams, Calhoun, Oakeshott, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ernst Junger, Carl Schmidt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, Irving Kristol, Francis Fukuyama and George W, Bush interspersed throughout.(William Buckley, Jr. is not mentioned. He would be displeased.)

The first part of the book is entitled "Profiles in Reaction" and covers primarily Edmund Burke, Joseph De Maistre, Thomas Hobbes, Ayn Rand, Barry Goldwater, John Gray and Edmund Luttwak (2 conservative individuals who moved left) and Antonin Scalia. I'm not sure how representative this group is of the reactionary mind but the possibilities are numerous.

The author skewers Ayn Rand's intellectual pretensions in a chapter appropriately entitled "Garbage and Gravitas." "Saint Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin, and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both. Many other people have thought so too. . . . Far from needing explanation, her success explains itself. Rand worked in that quintessential American proving ground - alongside the likes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Glenn Beck - where garbage achieves gravitas and bullshit gets blessed. There she learned that dreams don't come true. They are true.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best explanation of the philosophical roots of conservatism
The best explanation of the philosophical roots of conservatism. They are all reactionaries trying to keep the masses from getting their wealth. Read more
Published 1 month ago by cinejevu
4.0 out of 5 stars This an intellectual work of the first order, but ...
This an intellectual work of the first order, but because it is a a collection of previous writing, the experience feels a bit disjointed.
Published 4 months ago by Patrick Dunroven
3.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag
Robin's book is a collection of recent essays. As such, it's focus can wander. For readers attracted by its title, the strength of the book is in its first few chapters, where... Read more
Published 5 months ago by D. Donaldson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent insight into what makes the hyper right wing mind tick.
Published 5 months ago by Keith
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Wish I could give it zero stars.
Published 7 months ago by Jfbgnuhgcdgh
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Rather academic IMO.
Published 7 months ago by harryhope
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 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
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 21 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 21 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 23 months ago by Robert Moore
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