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The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin Hardcover


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The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin + The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; First Edition edition (September 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199793743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199793747
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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This book helped me a lot with that.
T. Tucker
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.
whiteelephant
So Corey Robin has written the most enlightening book on conservativism there is.
Iveta Kazoka

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By T. Tucker on 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 By AJ Casey on November 24, 2011
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 By Iveta Kazoka on 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 By whiteelephant on 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 By Michelle Nickerson on 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 By Gene H. Bell-Villada on 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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