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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and not what you think
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...
Published on January 10, 2012 by T. Tucker

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32 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfocused
This book begins strongly with an interesting introduction to conservatism, but unfortunately the book immediately loses any semblance of a unifying thread by the inclusion of eleven essays written on any number of individuals and events that, while related to conservatism, do little to develop and expand the author's initial thrust.

According to the author,...
Published on November 26, 2011 by J. Grattan


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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and not what you think, January 10, 2012
By 
T. Tucker (Rochester, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Holds together well (and I appreciate the occasional invective!), November 24, 2011
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This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (Hardcover)
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
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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
This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (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. The last few essays, focusing on the neoconservative movement and war, are quite insightful. To Robin, "conservatism requires defeat; failure is its most potent source of inspiration," meaning its practical triumph can explain its theoretical malaise, both in the late nineties, and again today.

Highly recommended, as Robin is able to tie conservatives present and past in a way that exposes the flawed notion that today's conservatism has somehow departed from its history.
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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
By 
Michelle Nickerson (Hamden, CT United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (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
By 
Gene H. Bell-Villada (Cambridge, Mass., USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (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).

Robin captures very vividly and eloquently the conservatives' desire for struggle, for danger, for some grandiose, sweeping, apocalyptic battle to define them--in marked contradistinction to the boring, predictable routines of politics as usual. His discussion puts into perspective the self-conception of e.g. those Randians who see themselves as revolutionaries fighting "the system," or of Rand herself saying at one point on a talk show, "I am not a conservative." The book also sketches quite clearly the conservatives' self-conception as victims who've somehow been left out (the fundamental template for all those conservatives who claim to be running "against Washington").

At one point, Robin quotes von Hayek's praise for Gen. Pinochet--and it will give some readers the willies. I knew that Hayek had defended the Chilean military regime, but to see it cited so starkly, in black and white, was pretty creepy. It was like discovering in the biographies of TIME-LIFE founder Henry Luce his frank and enthusiastic praise for European fascism throughout the 1930s.

Not all of Robin's book is on the highest theoretical level; its middle portions consist of book reviews first published in journals, gathered here in support of his general arguments. But the opening sections and the concluding chapter shed much-needed light on 200 years of conservative thought and practice.

And the volume is very nicely and elegantly written--Robin is not one of those political scientists whose prose is many shades of gray and all in a ponderous C minor. There is melody and grace here. Again, this is essential reading for getting a broad look at the right-wing world view. Highly recommended!
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely exceptional work., November 13, 2011
By 
John Philip Goan (A High School Student in Minnesota, United States) - See all my reviews
Simply put; this is must-read. I heard the author talking about his work on Australian Brodcastimg Company radio, on a show dedicated to decoding the tea-party movement. I was pleaseantly surprised with the well researched and academically presented work. Political hubris lacking, this is a masterful piece that attacks the question of conservatism with an ethmograhic and historical lens. Worth every minute and penny.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Reactionary Mind in a Nutshell, June 24, 2013
By 
J. Alan Bock "waltz lover" (Pittsford, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (Hardcover)
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."

Concerning Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, the author observes: "Barry Goldwater's mother was a descendant of Roger Williams. His father, who was converted to Episcopalianism, was a descendant of Polish Jews. When Goldwater ran in 1964, Harry Golden quipped, "I always knew that there first Jew to run for president would be an Episcopalian."

In "Affirmative Action Baby," his chapter on Antonin Scalia, Robin asks the question: "How does one explain the influence of Scalia on the court? Here is a man who proudly, defiantly proclaims his disdain for the "Spirit of the Age - that is when he is not embarrassingly ignorant of it." After citing of number of reasons, he concludes by saying: "But there may be one additional , albeit small and personal reason for Scalia's outsized presence in our constitutional firmament. And that is the patience and forbearance, the general decency and good manners, his liberal colleagues show him. When he rants and raves, smashing guitars and dive-bombing enemies, they tend to respond with and indulgent shrug. . . .For Scalia preys on and profits from the very culture of liberalism he claims to abhor: the toleration of opposing views, the generous allowances for other people's failings and the benevolent compassion he derides."

Robin devotes 5 chapters to the right's infatuation with violence beginning with a particularly brutal "slaughter of the innocents" in Guatemala during the Reagan administration.

"Torture" he says, is usually justified by the "ticking time bomb theory" which goes like this: "A bomb is set to go off in a densely populated area in the immediate future; the government doesn't know exactly where or when but it knows that many people will be killed; it has in captivity the person who planted the bomb, or, someone who knows where it is planted; torture will yield the needed information. What to do?" Robin demolishes this argument as follows"First, as far as we know, no one at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, or any of the other prisons in America's international archipelago has been tortured to defuse a ticking time bomb. Second at the height of the war in Iraq, anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of the Amercan held prisoners there either were in jail by mistake or posed no threat at all to society. Third, many U. S. intelligence officials opted out of torture sessions precisely because they believed that torture did not produce accurate information."

As the reporting of Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer makes clear, says Robin, the war on terror with its push toward torture, for overturning the Geneva conventions, for refusing the restrictions of international law, for illegal surveillance,and for seeing terrorism through the lens of war rather than of crime and punishment must be repudiated and reversed.

The author observes that conservatism has dominated American politics for the last 40 years. "Just as the Republican administrations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon demonstrated the resilience of the New Deal; so have the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama demonstrated the resilience of Reaganism." But, he concludes, the " end of the right's long march against the twentieth century may be in sight."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars you'll learn a lot more than from neurobiology, May 23, 2013
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There has been a number of books lately looking into the science of this or that, and especially the neurobiology of this or that. Some of these books have tackled complex human behaviors, such as political attitudes and ideologies. While there is surely something to be gained from applying science to the understanding political ideology, you will learn more about the conservative mindset from the first few pages of this book by Corey Robin than in the full volume dedicated to a similar subject matter by Chris Mooney (The Republican Brain). And I say this as a scientist and philosopher who respects Mooney. Robin does a marvelous job at sketching the roots and typifying the characteristics of reactionary thinking since it crystallized into a recognizable political ideology in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The various chapters - though written independently at different times (which is the major weakness of the book) - manage to weave together a surprisingly coherent picture of conservatism and some of its often neglected facets that may not be obvious even to conservatives themselves (such as, just to give an example, the conservative's penchant not for upholding the law -- as he so often loudly proclaims -- but rather for undermining it in pursuit of more "noble" and "virtuous" enterprises). While Robin's narrative at times veers from the ideal of a scholarly (if clearly rooted in a particular standpoint) analysis into more overt partisanship, the overall level of new insight you gain from the book is well worth the effort.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A leftist professor explores conservative intellectual foundations, January 3, 2012
By 
Chris (Washington state, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (Hardcover)
The conservative intellectuals discussed in this book include Edmund Burke, Jean de Maistre, Thomas Hobbes, Ayn Rand, Antonin Scalia, Friedrich Hayek, John Gray and Edward Luttwak.

According to Robin, the most basic desire driving conservative thought is to defend economic, political or social inequality. Burke and de Maistre strove to defend elite privileges under attack by the French Revolution. John C Calhoun and other southerners worked to reinforce slavery against the attacks of abolitionists. Ayn Rand argued that economic elites were the supreme benefactors of the human race and thus did not deserve to have their wealth redistributed to the unfit masses. A major reason for the respect accorded to Antonin Scalia, Robin suggests, is that his judicial philosophy is conducive to reinforcing the power of privileged groups. Racism is another tool used to defend hierarchy as when the National Review (Buckley himself?) editorialized in 1957 that blacks deserved to be subordinate in the south because southern whites were clearly the advanced race.

Robin describes some of the ways that conservatives seek to reinforce established hierarchies. For example, in the antebellum south, planters tried give whites of modest income a stake in the slave system by encouraging them to own slaves. If whites were too poor to own slaves, the ideology of the planters provided them with the consolation that they were racially superior to blacks. This consolation encouraged the non-elite whites to support the continued subjugation of blacks.

When circumstances change, conservatives, like those of other political persuasions, modify some of their tactics. For example, after the 60's, it was no longer possible for white politicians to use explicitly racist messages. Thus the Republicans adopted the "southern strategy", mobilizing working class white people with attacks on welfare and crime, which were codes for attacks on black people. Southern whites tried to maintain school segregation after the mid-60's by transferring their children to whites' only private religious schools. When the federal government began denying tax exempt status to these schools, the resistance of southern whites evolved into the birth of the modern Christian evangelical movement.

In 2000, the author interviewed William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol. According to Robin, both believed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no longer a major enemy bent on American destruction and that this fact caused the conservative movement, and American society, to weaken. Buckley, along with Kristol and other neo-conservatives, feared that, in the absence of existential threats, Americans were growing flabby and complacent under the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years. This is a not untypical example of conservative intellectuals violently championing the free market but also worrying that citizens have become so engrossed in material prosperity that their ability and willingness to defend hegemonic institutions and values have weakened. Buckley and Kristol, Robin shows, reflected the belief of such diverse conservatives as Ayn Rand, John C Calhoun and Edmund Burke that existential threats provide the best opportunity to strengthen the institutions and values they seek to defend. 9-11 of course provided conservatives with the titanic battle against evil that they had longed for since the end of the Cold War.

I think the best chapter in the book is on Guatemala. This was a place where a conservative world power, the United States, sought to prevent social change. The US overthrew Guatemala's democratically elected government in 1954 after the government, with a few Communist advisors in the lead, started redistributing land to the peasants. Robin points out that Guatemala's government, in implementing land reform was attempting to help move Guatemala out of feudalism and into a capitalist mode of development. The government set up mechanisms to give the peasants a political and social voice, uplifting them from the horrendous slavery they had endured for centuries. Conservative forces in Guatemala hated it, and so did the CIA. After 1954, the US installed dictators unleashed a hell on earth in Guatemala with American backing. Robin cites an example from 1966 of the terror unleashed: the Guatemalan security forces kidnapped 30 leftists, tortured them, killed them, and then dumped them into the Pacific Ocean. CIA officials were quite aware of this atrocity, Robin notes, and approved of it. In 1978, in another atrocity cited by Robin, Mayan villagers with aid from a union organizer gathered in the town square to petition the mayor for redress of grievances against local planters. The military came in and started firing, killing between 34 and 100. In the early 80's, the military launched a campaign of virtual genocide against Guatemala's Indians with Ronald Reagan's support. Robin notes that the day after Reagan proclaimed that Guatemala's military dictator Rios Montt was totally dedicated to democracy and getting a bum rap on human rights, the military launched a particularly horrific atrocity. The military entered a Mayan village, seized small children and infants for the purpose of smashing their heads against walls; forced people to kneel before a well where they were executed, some buried alive. Women of the village were raped; the pregnant ones were punched in the stomach to kill their fetuses and they all were executed and buried in the well. From 1954-1996, 200,000 civilians died in Guatemala, virtually all of them killed by the US backed government. Robin relies on works by academics Daniel Wilkinson and Greg Grandin for this chapter on Guatemala.

The author clearly enjoys discoursing in an expansive manner about philosophical subjects. That is what he does in this book. It is a fairly readable book, with prose that is certainly not dry, though it consists of much abstract discussion. There was one strand of the author's discussion about Ayn Rand's claim to have been influenced by Aristotle that I didn't fully comprehend, me being not well versed in Aristotle.

By the way, Robin is quite harsh on Rand, saying she was a fraud and quite lowbrow. He compares her social Darwinism to that of the Nazis.
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The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin
The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin by Corey Robin (Hardcover - September 29, 2011)
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