Sometimes You Can Smell the Scotch Coming Off the Web Page (Updated)

Dear Professor Bruce Frohnen:

I set out this morning to read your critique of my work on conservatism “The Left’s Caricature of Conservatism.” I was stopped at the outset, however, by this lengthy quotation you attribute to me at the top of your post.

Conservatism is the attempt to prevent emancipation of the lower orders. It is a creed for those with privilege and a taste for violence who see their power being threatened and are willing to do almost anything to put down calls for freedom and equality whenever they begin to make headway. If forced to exist within a mass democracy, conservatives face the constant threat of marginalized groups seeking a true voice within public space, and respond by doing whatever it takes to instill fear in those groups. Conservatives for the most part have succeeded in the United States, driving leftist unions and intellectuals underground during the red-baiting McCarthy era and undermining calls for economic justice, especially in the Reagan era, but throughout the last several decades in which they have unleashed heartless capitalism.

Initially, you claim that this statement appears in my book The Reactionary Mind, but later in your post, you claim to have read it in a transcript of an interview with me that a “friend” sent to you.

Because I couldn’t recall ever writing or saying any of this—the garbled syntax bears little resemblance to how I speak or write—I googled each of the four sentences in the quotation. Lo and behold, there is only one site on the entire internet on which I can find any of them: your post.

While I have some experience with the phenomenon of fabricated quotations, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered one quite like this. Then again, you did write it for a website called “The Imaginative Conservative.”

I trust that you will issue a correction with, if not the requisite decency or embarrassment, then at least the necessary haste.


Corey Robin

Update (2:30 pm)

A few hours after my post appeared, Professor Frohnen’s post was revised to remove the various errors. The quotation marks around the alleged quotation were removed, as was the attribution to The Reactionary Mind (Error 1). And then the sentence that attributed the quotation to a transcript of an interview with me (Error 2) was substantially revised to remove any reference to any statement of mine. None of these edits was initially acknowledged. And then the following acknowledgment appeared at the bottom of the post:

Editor’s note: The opening block quotation was originally misattributed to Corey Robin. We apologize for this error, which was our mistake and not that of Mr. Frohnen, the author of this essay.

Needless to say, that’s not quite the whole story. There were two errors, not one, and while both errors were fixed, only one—the one that can easily be blamed on the editors of the website rather than Frohnen—is admitted. Despite my writing Frohnen directly, I never received any apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing from him. But this, I guess, is how imaginative conservatives roll. Their website, incidentally, is dedicated to those who seek the True, the Good and the Beautiful.”

Update (3:45)

Within an hour of my posting the update above, Professor Frohnen sent me the following email:

Prof. Robin. Am traveling, but saw your email, checked website, saw the attribution. Apologies, it was added by the editors as they apparently thought it a quote, not my intention to imply such. Contacted editors. Correction and note should be posted momentarily. BPF


  1. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 28, 2015 at 10:36 am | #


  2. Phil Scarr September 28, 2015 at 10:51 am | #

    If I can quote former fictional British Prime Minister James Hacker who (in)famously said, “He lies not because it’s in his interest, but because it’s in his nature!”

    • Chris September 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm | #

      While I remember that as a good show, I believe the source of your quote to Helmut Sonnenfeldt, re: Kissinger.

  3. graccibros September 28, 2015 at 10:56 am | #

    Good luck Corey – and keep us posted. I always find something of interest in reading bios, even “official ones,” to see where folks like Mr. Frohnen have studied and taught. An entirely new name to me.

    • Bart September 28, 2015 at 1:37 pm | #

      Some, when in the Witness Protection Program, are given new names.

      • graccibros September 28, 2015 at 1:41 pm | #

        Is that where we might be able to find Martin Winterkorn in a few months?

  4. realthog September 28, 2015 at 10:57 am | #

    The funniest part of this is that Frohnen, having dismissed The Reactionary Mind as garbage (you made a laughingstock of yourself by writing it, apparently), links to the page where readers of The Imaginative Conservative can buy it from the site’s very own bookshop. There they’re treated to a string of rave review quotes . . .

  5. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 28, 2015 at 11:13 am | #
  6. G Hiatt September 28, 2015 at 11:39 am | #

    “Conservatism is the attempt to prevent emancipation of the lower orders. It is a creed for those with privilege and a taste for violence who see their power being threatened and are willing to do almost anything to put down calls for freedom and equality whenever they begin to make headway.”

    I plan on using that quote…attributed to Mr.Frohnen of course.

  7. escott September 28, 2015 at 12:04 pm | #

    Corey, you should press the conclusion; that if he cant show where the quote originated he’s a man capable of any crime or machination.
    For my own curiosity, Id be interested how you’d rewrite the quote.

  8. Roquentin September 28, 2015 at 12:10 pm | #

    That picture at the top…it’s more important than what is written. Notice how much space it takes up and how it is the first thing you see so it can’t be missed. This is how he views you and the left, how he wants you to be seen by his readers. A bunch of hipster kids with ridiculous mustaches, doing antiquated thins like smoking pipes, donning the trappings of intellectuals, completely disconnected from the thought of serious people. He’s like an old man saying “Hey kids, get off my lawn.”

    I do find it odd that he (poorly) paraphrased some of your arguments rather than directly quoting the text. I can only conclude that he never actually read the book and wanted to give off the appearance that he had. He was too lazy to even thumb through it to find a few relevant quotes, so he cobbled together his idea of what he thought you sounded like. That’s my guess.

    • Tom October 5, 2015 at 12:21 am | #

      You’re right about the photo illustration, which looks like something out of a high school newspaper. But, hey, they really are high-minded (they say so). Because, according to the website: The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest. – Russell Kirk

      • Some guy October 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm | #

        Frankly, I’d really like to see some of this “conservatism at its highest”.

        It would certainly be an improvement over all the usual delusional hysteria about guns, fetuses, taxes, homosexuals, Sharia Law, government over-regulation, WMD’s, etc. etc.

  9. Joel in Oakland September 28, 2015 at 12:59 pm | #

    Syntax aside, it sounds right on target to me. Add 60 years of the Politics of Resentment (over lost or threatened privilege) as adroitly practiced by Nixon, his hatchet men, and their allies, and here we are.

    Paul Krugman summed up the last 6 years of it pretty well in his NY Times column today.

    If only those falsely attributed words (or Krugman’s) had come from the mouth of, say, David Brooks, we could start getting ready for a Rapture into something like sanity, leaving behind Hannity.

  10. Glenn September 28, 2015 at 7:55 pm | #

    Another reactionary mind emulating an imaginary left, although not quite appropriating its biting rhetoric to his own ends.


  11. Thomas L. Dumm September 29, 2015 at 12:28 pm | #

    Could we call this “reverse plagiarism,” falsely attributing to someone else your own words? That is, this guy Frohnen writing the words and then claiming them to be Corey’s?

    • Snarki, child of Loki September 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm | #

      Well, that’s just Corey (Yogi) Robin, isn’t it?
      He didn’t say half the things he said.

  12. wetcasements September 30, 2015 at 11:21 pm | #

    This is who they are.

  13. Some guy October 12, 2015 at 8:36 am | #

    Well, this leftist’s caricature of conservatism doesn’t resemble the pipe-smoking poseur featured on Bruce Frohnen’s web page.

    Mine looks more like the kid from Deliverance…

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