Fight Club, or That’s the Year That Was

26 Dec

I only began blogging in June. But because so many of my readers are new to the blog and we’re approaching the end of the year, I thought it might be fun to review some of the blog’s greatest hits.

Traffic to the blog has been growing steadily every month, with the blog on some days getting nearly 6,000 hits. My two most popular posts, by far, were this roundtable on the Obama presidency from August and my recent take on Christopher Hitchens.  My personal favorite, which hasn’t generated nearly as much traffic, was this discussion of Ross Douthat’s views on sex.

In general, though, what seems to generate the most traffic are the periodic arguments I get into with various other bloggers. The debates can be divided into roughly three topics:

Capitalism and the State

The first big debate I got into was with Matt Yglesias about economic policy and the limits of neoliberalism. That series of exchanges wound up provoking one of the summer’s biggest arguments among liberal left bloggers. But it has remained an abiding theme of this blog, generating some further arguments with people like Will Wilkinson and friendly exchanges with friends like Mike Konczal.

Social Movements and the State

Obviously, questions of neoliberalism cannot be separated from the state. But on this blog, we’ve had a separate set of arguments with bloggers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Serwer, on the one end, as well as writers like Naomi Wolf, on the other, about the nature of the American state, the sources of its coerciveness, its potential as a transformative agent, and the limits and possibilities of progressive change.

Conservatism and the Right

Given my scholarly interests and the topic of my recent book, it’s not surprising that I’ve written a lot about the right. What is surprising, at least to me, is that through the blog, I’ve managed to engage quite a few prominent voices on the right. Andrew Sullivan has been a frequent interlocutor. More recently, I’ve mixed it up with Bruce Bartlett. Sometimes, my exchanges with the right have been edifying; other times, not so much. I’ve disagreed with critics of my views on the right. I’ve talked about Anne Coulter, Sam’s Club Republicanism, Ross Douthat (again), and the relationship between the American slaveholders and European fascism.

Oh, and there was this little disagreement—and this one—with Melissa Harris-Perry.

And I won a nice prize.

And that’s pretty much the year that was. Look forward to more discussion with all of you in the new year.

13 Responses to “Fight Club, or That’s the Year That Was”

  1. Phil December 27, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    Your blogs been a great find. Thanks! Any plan for that Hayek group reading on the blog that you spoke about on Doug Henwood’s show a few months back?

    • Phil December 27, 2011 at 12:50 am #

      Not sure why my name above has been linked to a chfourier at gravatar. Apologies.

    • Corey Robin December 27, 2011 at 12:52 am #

      No firm plan yet. Hoping to get it going by late January.

  2. eric December 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    A brilliant debut.

    • Corey Robin December 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks, Eric. You were one of my early models of the informed academic blogger that I hoped to emulate.

  3. Grandma December 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Any truth to the rumor that Matthew Weiner has been pitching your blog to HBO as original series starring Barbra Streisand?

  4. partisan December 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Any response to the recent NYRB review by Mark Lilla?

  5. Philip Wohlstetter December 28, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I don’t have time to critique Mark Lilla’s critique of Corey. But briefly: like Shari Berman, it seems to stem from the ‘Neither Right nor Left’ approach of Zeev Sternhall, which privileges the seeming variety of the Right, using interwar France as a model (Croix de Feu, Action Francaise, Fascists etc.). The existence of so many parties supposedly proves that the Right is a spectrum. But, as has been shown, however diverse the platform of these parties, their common goal was (to borrow the title of Sean Kennedy’s book) “Reconciling France against Democracy”. Thus many Frenchman kept migrating from one party to another. In the end, any one of them would work. That’s why the paragraph that Lilla cites as Corey’s most extravagant claim–the vision of Palin, Burke, De Maistre et al. on the same bench–is in fact his most brilliant contribution. Corey would probably put this differently, but one can look at political conflict from the French Revolution on as a struggle between those who want ‘more democracy’ v.s. those who want ‘less democracy’ (not just self-defined Conservatives, but Tocqueviillean Liberals). At any rare moment when democracy flourishes and power is distributed more broadly, all the flavors of the Right sitting on that bench, whatever they call themselves, rise up as one against what they all perceive as the enemy. Traditional empirical American Political Science, with its Linnean clasifications, offers a static picture of political location. Corey has tried to depict the political imaginary of the Right, which is a way of capturing its dynamic. I think Lilla’s claim that Corey resorts to a “white hat/black hat” view of history is contemptible.

    • Aleksandar Jokic December 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      Philip, may I suggest taking the time to critique Mark Lilla’s critique of Corey Robin? I enclose a philosopher’s take:

      Lilla’s “Fallacy of Composition” Fallacy

      It is always cringe inducing when philosophers stumble on instances when people untutored in philosophy, logic, or critical thinking pompously display the vocabulary from our discipline in order to put someone down. Most of the time such people only manage to intellectually incriminate themselves. Such is the case, I am afraid, with Mark Lilla’s incoherent (from the left?) attempt to put Corey Robin in his place, one of “an über-lumper” guilty of a sophomoric and “a glaring fallacy of composition”. Yet, Lilla’s “argument” deserves an F in an undergraduate critical thinking class. The F must be now justified; students always like to know why and how they failed. Well, Lilla failed to identify a fallacy, show that he understands it, explain, and apply it. Hence, the F.

      Here’s the charge Lilla makes:

      [Robin] posits a class, isolates a characteristic of one of its members, and then ascribes that characteristic to every member of the class. Catholic reactionary Joseph de Maistre and George W. Bush are both on the right in Robin’s scheme; following his logic, since Maistre spoke flawless French, Bush must too.

      Poor Lilla, he describes something that has nothing to do with the fallacy of composition, hence and F in the fallacy identification department. As the meaning of the word “composition” indicates the reasoning in question is about (i.e., its conclusion purports to say something true of) a whole based on (premises that talk only about) parts that make the whole. That is, the conclusion of an argument that contains a fallacy of composition is not about attributing characteristics (or properties) to any member (or part) of a whole, but to the whole. Now, of course, Robin (nor would anyone sane think of doing it nor attribute to anyone sane of having done it) is not attributing to the “class” he had allegedly identified that, it, the class (i.e., the abstract mathematical entity which is a set composed of its members) also has the property of being “reactionary”. That would make no sense, which explains why even Lilla, the confused user of critical thinking terminology, does not even say that Robin says as much. Instead, Lila interprets the conclusion of Robin’s alleged derivation to be about members, in fact, every member of the identified class. But, this sort of “reasoning” has nothing to do with the “fallacy of composition”. To state, as Lilla does, that it is that fallacy is itself a fallacy (hence the title of this post).

      But let us take a look at the passage from Corey Robin that Lilla finds so offensive that he is hallucinating a fallacy of composition, a glaring one at that, where there is none:

      I use the words conservative, reactionary, and counterrevolutionary interchangeably: not all counterrevolutionaries are conservative…but all conservatives are, in one way or another, counterrevolutionary. I seat philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table: Hobbes next to Hayek, Burke across from Palin, Nietzsche between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia, with Adams, Calhoun, Oakeshott, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, Irving Kristol, Francis Fukuyama, and George W. Bush interspersed throughout.

      Now, this passage, sadly for Lilla, contains no fallacy of composition as it contains no fallacy at all. This is because this passage contains just a single statement and no inference, no argument of any kind. You see, an argument is defined as a group of statements divided in two parts, where one part is a claim, something stated to be true, and the other is evidence (also taking the form of statements) offered in favor of the truth of the claim (that is the other part of the structure called an argument). Hence, Lilla is not only hallucinating a fallacy of composition, but he is hallucinating an argument in Robin’s passage, where there is in fact none.

      The worst in Lilla’s sorry writing is the comment about this passage from Corey Robin’s book is his invocation of an unsavory character: “Glenn Beck’s blackboard was never half this full.” Now, this ought to be an inspiration that we posit a new law of argumentation, polemic writing, and communication. The law I have in mind would be called Glenn Beck’s Law and, on a par with Godwin’ Law, he who invokes Glenn Beck first loses the argument. That would make Lilla a loser on more than one count, it seems.

      And there is much more, I am sorry to report, but I shall point out to just one more thing, glaringly (to use Lilla’s unfortunate term) outrageous from the perspective of critical thinking. Namely, Lilla’s attempt at the reductio ad absurdum about (we are all supposed to know) hopelessly dumb Bush being a speaker of French is so dim that it defies restrained comment. That a list is composed according to a single attribute (being reactionary) does not imply that all entities on the list share all of their properties, so that if one speaks French they all speak French. If anyone ever said that, and Robin certainly does not, he would be stupidly asserting that it is sufficient to establish, per Leibniz’s Law (a and b are one and the same if and only if a and b have all the same properties), that a and b are one and the same object as soon as it is established that they share a single attribute. What kind of intellectual disposition is required for one (like Lilla here) to attribute such a crazy claim to one’s colleague (Corey Robin), who is definitely not crazy, lazy, incompetent, or dishonest? To say that it is disconcerting to read such a curious charge against Robin’s book—ostensibly from a left-thinker is an understatement. The sorriest state a reader can be put in by a reviewer is to be forced, absent a clear understanding of her argument, to psychoanalyze her. This is a prospect that, though most unappealing, is likely the only one open to the reader of Lilla’s review.

  6. Philip Wohlstetter December 29, 2011 at 5:19 am #

    Let me change the word ‘contemptible’ (in the last sentence above) to ‘patronizing’.

  7. Jeremy December 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    For those who care about his opinion, Andrew Sullivan is a fan of Lilla’s review. He quotes the paragraph described above (about French speaking) and comments “This is not an exaggeration.” http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/12/the-new-apocalypticism-on-the-right.html

    My copy of the book just arrived in the mail yesterday, so I’ll hold off on my opinion. I think the post that brought me here was the “One Less Bell to Answer” one, which was one of the sharpest insights I’ve read all year. The sort of thing that I had never seen laid out so simply, when it was so obviously true. Everything since has been great as well.

    The post “It’s the Feudalism, Stupid” must have come before I started following this blog. Since it’s here, it gives me an excuse to point out a study from the five Nordic governments on the differences between Nordic, American, and German views of the relationship between family, individual, and state. It makes a strong case for the state acting as a guarantor of individual autonomy, rather than the common view in America of the state as a threat to individual liberty. Which seems to be one of the overarching themes of this blog. http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/01/britain_and_nordic_world_0

    Looking forward to reading the book and whatever 2012 has to offer here.

    • Rosa Luxembourgeoise December 30, 2011 at 1:00 am #

      “This is not an exaggeration.”

      It is difficult to resist a fit of laughter after reading Sullivan’s earnest conclusion. If Lilla’s paragraph does not feature what may well be the very epitome of an exaggeration, then one wonders, what could it be? Unironic performance art? Perhaps it is not an exaggeration in the way that Monty Python’s witch burning sketch is something other than exaggeration. It’s silly hyperbole and what one can only hope is a good-natured send up of twisted logic for a mature audience. Well done!

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  1. Check out BC pol sci prof Corey Robin’s blog | Brooklyn College MA in Political Science and International Affairs - December 29, 2011

    […] Fight Club, or That’s the Year That Was […]

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