News of the Book

Paul Hockenos, journalist and author, reviewed The Reactionary Mind for The National, which is published out of Abu Dhabi and features a lot of great cultural reporting. His verdict? “Robin, a New York-based political scientist and regular contributor to publications like The Nation and the London Review of Books, has written an original book with an armful of theses that shed revealing light on the whys and wherefores of right-wing politics in the United States and beyond.”

Andrew Tonkovich interviewed me for his show Bibliocracy, which airs on KPFK out in Los Angeles. It was a fun interview, in which he had me read some passages from the book. Listen here (link should be good for another 90 days).

David Johnson of The Boston Review did a great interview with me, in which I got to explore some of the deeper strands of conservatism that I don’t always get to talk about.

And if you didn’t catch the Bloggingheads interview I did with Michael Brendan Dougherty, you can watch it here on my blog, or here on Bloggingheads where the wingers chime in with their comments.

Update (April 3, 12:30 pm)

The New Criterion has just published a review of the book.  It’s titled “The Echo Chamber”—a reference perhaps to the fact that there’s nothing in this review that hasn’t been said before? The reviewer complains that I apply “an ideological template to familiar material in order to make it seem unfamiliar.” Making the familiar unfamiliar—and the unfamiliar familiar—is usually considered an achievement in my line of work. But, then, I’m just a “professor.”


  1. scrantonius March 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm | #

    Hi Corey, a question about how you define conservatives (and feel free to virtually hit me over the head with your book if I’ve simply overlooked the arguments): Suppose someone were to say that your definition of conservatism is too broad, since it can potentially comprise too many heterogeneous political movements. For example, the bureaucrats and party leaders in the old Soviet regime presumably were interested in hanging on to their personal power, such as it was, in the face of civil society groups that were advocating for their own freedoms. So this is basically the question of the left-wing authoritarian.

    What then makes conservatives conservatives? There is a Marxist answer that would define political actors according to their position in the relations of production, but perhaps you don’t want to go there. If not, how do we tell apart specifically *conservative* defenders of entrenched power from other defenders of the status quo? The Socratic version of saying this is, what is the special feature of conservative acts of power-preservation that allows us to pick those actions out as “conservative”? Thanks for a response if you have the time!

    • Corey Robin March 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm | #

      It’s important to note that I don’t think conservatism is about powerful actors defending *their* power. As I point out repeatedly in my book, many of the foremost conservative intellectuals and theorists were not defending their own power at all. They were outsiders, articulating a vision of society in which hierarchy and inequality — of which they were not necessarily the beneficiaries — were central. And that I think is the difference with the Soviet Union. As far as I can tell — I’m no expert so correct if I’m wrong — but based on the reading I’ve done, no Soviet ideologue ever articulated a vision of society in which hierarchy and domination, permanent inequality, was conceived as the basis of the good society. While Lenin and others certainly talked about party hierarchies and saw them as critical to making a revolution, there was no sense in which that inequality was anything more than a temporary expedience (meant to overcome the absence of any democratic civil society in Tsarist Russia); it was not thought to be the condition of social flourishing and excellence. So conservatism is not a defense of one’s own privileges or even a simple defense of privilege; it’s an argument about why privilege is necessary for a good society. This applies not only to the obvious candidates — Burkean traditionalists, for example, or defenders of slavery in the Old South — but also to a great many libertarian theorists. Hayek has a lengthy discussion in chapter 3 of The Constitution of Liberty about why inequality is so necessary for progress and the good life.

  2. Todd March 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm | #

    Corey said at Boston Review:

    “I don’t have a theory of false consciousness; I don’t think anyone’s being distracted.”

    Really? How do you square that with people who are losing jobs? The right has, for example, a typical discourse about The Other taking away “good people’s jobs” (when it’s the elite that does it in order to make more money or save their own asses) which isn’t true, but it gets repeated until people who aren’t otherwise in the know believe it is. And they offer the ones losing jobs power over these Others eg attacking feminism to put women back in their traditional place at home where the one losing his job can lord it over “his” woman despite his getting little to no work.

  3. partisan April 1, 2012 at 2:56 am | #

    And now the New Criterion has a review out: Any comments?

    • Corey Robin April 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm | #

      I thought this line said it all: “he applies an ideological template to familiar material in order to make it seem unfamiliar.” In my line of work, making the familiar unfamiliar (and the unfamiliar familiar) is considered to be the highest duty. I feel genuinely honored that he thought I succeeded in doing so.

  4. Nathan Tankus April 1, 2012 at 5:43 am | #

    didn’t you do an interview yesterday morning on this is hell? how was that (if it happened)?

  5. Cliff Tassie April 2, 2012 at 11:30 am | #

    Do you think there is any intellectual relationship between conservatives defending hierarchy and oligarchs defending wealth/income, c.f. Jeffrey Winters, Oligarchy?

  6. jonnybutter April 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm | #

    Finally had time to read the whole book in a couple of sittings. My only ‘complaint’ is that it was the book you (Corey) wanted it to be rather than the kind of book *I* wanted it to be – a very cheesy complaint! For purely selfish reasons, I would have loved something longer, zoomed in a notch or two. But it’s probably better the way it is: long enough to offer important specificity, but not so long as to be potentially mind-numbingly enumerative and therefore more easily ignored (i.e. for academics only).

    Reading it evoked in me a feeling similar to the one I got devouring the brilliant ‘Before the Storm’ – finally, some really fresh and readable scholarship coming from the American left. What a nice cool breeze! One consequence of a key observation in ‘Reactionary Mind’ – that conservatism is an ‘idea-driven praxis’ – is that Liberal scoffing attitude about that fact, or denial of it, is surrender. Part of the actual *antidote* to Reaction is intellectual work like Dr Robin (and R. Perlstein) and others are finally getting around to doing.

  7. jonnybutter April 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm | #

    “…intellectual work like Dr Robin (and R. Perlstein) and others are finally getting around to doing.”

    Hmm..that didn’t come out right. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that it is Corey and Perlstein et. al. who have been lazy and are finally getting around to doing what they should….

  8. jonnybutter April 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm | #

    The reviewer complains that I apply “an ideological template to familiar material in order to make it seem unfamiliar.”

    Say hello to the New Criterion/same as the Old Criterion

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