I’ll be on The Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow—and here are a bunch of reviews and interviews

I’m going to be on The Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow, Wednesday, November 22, talking about the new edition of The Reactionary Mind. The show starts at noon, at least in New York. So while you’re readying for the Thanksgiving holiday, have a listen!

The book has begun to get reviews!

The inimitable Sarah Jones, one of my favorite journalists, gave it a thoughtful endorsement in The New Republic:

The book’s second edition, eagerly awaited, now swaps out Palin for the commander-in-chief.

Palin and Trump both demand some sort of unifying theory. How can it be that the party of Senator Ben Sasse—who enjoys a mostly-unearned reputation as a moderate—is also the party of Trump? The answer is even less difficult to discern than it was in 2011, yet the center-left seems befuddled by Trump, unable to describe his actions in any way more precise than in the mantra “this is not normal.”

The Trump presidency invited a re-evaluation of The Reactionary Mind: In 2016, a New Yorker headline called it “The Book That Predicted Trump,” while in March Bookforum recommended it as an “indispensable guide to how adeptly conservatives looked upon the age of Obama.” But the second edition is more truly a book for our time.

Robin’s new edition leaves Trump for the end, and builds inexorably up to his presidency through a combination of old material and newer essays….Robin’s second edition ties Burke’s conviction that the market, and the “monied men” who control it, should determine value to Nietzsche’s passionate attachment to the idea of an aristocratic, cultural taste-making class and both, eventually, to Trump.

In Salon, Paul Rosenberg had this to say:

Conservative intellectuals have led the way in denouncing Donald Trump as not a “true conservative.” Perhaps the most powerful rebuttal comes from the heavily revised second edition of political scientist Corey Robin’s book “The Reactionary Mind,”…

If the core of Robin’s argument remains unchanged from the first edition, the explication and implications are not. The new edition brings much deeper scrutiny to the economic side of conservatism, which Burke himself helped initiate (more on this below), including illustrations of internal tensions and ambiguities similar to those seen in Trump, who is the subject of the book’s concluding chapter. Trump’s contradictions and confusions may be more extreme, more outlandish, than those of most other prominent figures who have come before him, but they are not without precedent, as conservative intellectuals would like to pretend….

In this sense, Robin’s account challenges progressives as well. There have been recent progressive movements, he acknowledges, but they haven’t cohered to the point of scaring conservatives the way that Hobbes, Burke, Nietzsche, Hayek and even Antonin Scalia were scared by earlier movements.

In addition to these sorts of suggestions, there are others that cross over into different kinds of intellectual endeavors. Robin’s explanation of conservatism sheds a whole new light on the work of political scientists. His account helps provide a deeper explanation for why — as Grossman and Hopkins argue in “Asymmetric Politics” (Salon review here), the Republican Party is driven by conservatism as an ideological movement, in contrast to the Democratic Party, which they describe as a coalition of interest groups. In turn, the fragmented nature of that coalition helps provide a partial explanation for the weakness of the left Robin notes. That’s not to equate either party with left or right entirely — the messy world of party politics never works like that. But it does provide some insight into what’s been going on for the last 50 years or so of American party politics.

Another realm Robin’s work connects to is political psychology…

None of this proves anything more than tendencies and correlations, which is why Robin’s work based on close readings of classic conservative texts remains singularly important. Almost without exception, he is not imputing anything to conservatives that they have not said about themselves. But the clearer he manages to make the nature of conservatism, the more he makes it possible for other approaches to shed even further light, ask better questions and open more fruitful lines of inquiry. It’s why he deserves to be read carefully by people in multiple related fields.

Last, Damon Linker, a moderate centrist, had a more critical yet equally thoughtful take in The Week:

As a political centrist in a sharply polarized time, I’m sometimes asked by progressive friends to recommend contemporary conservatives they should read and wrestle with. Then there are the conservative friends who pose the equal and opposite question: Which writers on the left should I seek out to challenge my assumptions?

My answer is usually Corey Robin.

blogger, essayist, and political science professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, Robin is the author of an erudite, bracing, and productively infuriating book about conservatives titled The Reactionary Mind.

Could Robin actually intend to draw continuities between such wildly disjunctive figures?

When skeptical readers opened the book, they found that he could and did exactly that….In the significantly revised second edition of the book that’s just been published by Oxford University Press, Robin has strengthened his case, rearranging the chapters and adding three new ones, including one on Donald Trump (who’s now replaced Palin in the subtitle)….

That few self-described conservatives will recognize themselves in this account doesn’t mean that Robin is wrong. Sometimes it takes the perspective of an outsider — and the sensibility of a synthesizer — to perceive certain foundational assumptions and motives buried deep within an ideology, and this is one of those cases. Robin marshals too much evidence from too many seemingly disparate writers and politicians to dismiss his case entirely. He’s identified something real and important that readers from all points on the political spectrum would do well to take seriously.

But not too seriously.

And then Linker gets into his criticisms.

Jon Wiener, the estimable historian of the US, did a brief interview with me, posing some tough questions for my thesis about Trump.

The interview I did with Dan Denvir, which I mentioned in an earlier post, has now been transcribed over at Jacobin. It gives you a flavor of some of the new material in the book:

Denvir: You write about his [Burke’s] concern with reconciling market and manor, capitalism on the hand and the old regime of aristocracy on the other. Explain how Burke dealt with these and tried to mold them into one conservative movement that could take on the upstart revolutionaries on the Left.

Robin: This is a very rich and complicated terrain. Before the French Revolution — which is really the crucible in which conservatism is born as an ideology — and throughout the eighteenth century, there is this struggle between conceptions of virtue and commerce.

Burke himself was involved in some of these pre-revolutionary struggles, particularly over the East India Company. He was a scorching critic of some parts of the East India Company, and he often invokes the threat of these new men of money as low men of character who are degrading the political virtues — what they were doing in India, in the British colony, was representative of the threat that money posed to this polity of virtue.

When the French Revolution happens, it throws established hierarchies into question. It shows that hierarchies don’t exist from time immemorial, they’re really created and they’re uncreated. As the counterrevolutionary argument gets going — and Burke is very much part of this counterrevolutionary argument — there is this notion that hierarchies can be recreated. They are not traditional or ancient; they are plastic, they are contingent, they are artificial.

Once the revolution happens, there is also a new round of popular contestation around questions of economics, both in France and Britain. Burke is at the center of debates about what we call today a “living wage.” Burke begins to articulate what we think of as a very modern free-market idea, whereby wages should not be regulated or supplemented by the state but should be settled completely by the free market.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is there’s an awful lot of scholarship and popular understanding of Burke that says that he was always hostile to the free market, money, and what today we’d call libertarianism.

Denvir: Not based on the passages you quote.

Robin: Yeah, that’s just simply not the case. Burke really was in the front of a movement on behalf of very aggressive free-market policies, particularly when it came to labor and wages.

Here is where he begins to lay out a very modern vision: that the men of the market — not the landed aristocracy, not the inherited aristocracy (who he becomes very critical of toward the end of his life) but the men of money in the market, setting the value of things at the market — that this can be a new kind of ruling class that will arise in this new revolutionary age to contest the Jacobins.

Now, as I say in the chapter, he doesn’t ultimately go there — he kind of pulls back from this vision for a lot of different reasons. But I do think you see the beginnings of this vision that I argue is going to find its fulfillment in the twentieth century.

John Holbo, one of my brilliant (truly truly brilliant) co-bloggers at Crooked Timber, had a lengthy post on the second edition, which was super-interesting, and it’s provoked a lengthy—and ongoing, as of this afternoon!—debate in the comments section. Have a read and join in!

Last, the historian Andrew Seal, who reviewed the first edition for n+1, offers a really fascinating take (and re-framing) on the second edition here:

The new edition of Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind marks a leap forward in the scholarly understanding of modern conservatism. This is both because of what Robin has added—long and rich chapters on Edmund Burke’s late-career experimentations with a new theory of value, on the Nietzschean origins of Austrian economics, and on Donald Trump—and to some extent because of what he subtracted—mostly chapters that looked backward to the neoconservative moment of the 2000s. The removal of chapters mainly focused on war didn’t delete a concern with violence and with toxic masculinity: instead, it shifted and refocused it within the frame of the market. The market as war; the captain of finance or real estate as a warrior-prince.

But I would like briefly to try to put the book’s changes in contact with some of the historiographic changes that have occurred since the book’s first edition came out in 2011. The Reactionary Mind sparked some of those changes, of course, and so retracing this recent history is to follow something of a helical or dialectical path,  but it also means, I think, that we can look ahead and guess at some of the ways this second edition may come to inform emerging scholarship (and, hopefully, punditry) on conservatism, neoliberalism, and the Republican Party.



  1. mark November 22, 2017 at 5:46 am | #

    Some quotes to accompany the book reviews.

    1. “I am becoming a Burkean Whig” said Hayek late in his long life (in A Gamble, Hayek, p100, 1996).

    2. “Burke, at the same time, was formulating one of the most extreme arguments for economic laissez-faire that has ever been written” John Dinwiddy, Interpretations of anti-Jacobinism, writing about Burke’s ‘Thoughts and Details on Scarcity’ 1795.

  2. mark November 22, 2017 at 5:47 am | #

    quote 3. “I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair. The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033. Much that was predicted has already come about. It is highly unlikely the prime minister has read the book, but he has caught on to the word without realising the dangers of what he is advocating.”

    Michael Young, The Guardian, Friday 29 June 2001

  3. mark November 22, 2017 at 5:48 am | #

    Quote 4. “Michael Oakshott, the distinguished conservative philosopher, was delivering a lecture of Roman political thought when a group of Trotskyite thugs burst into the room, roughed him up and poured a jug of water over his head. It was all over in seconds. The elderly philosopher simply shook himself down, said nothing about the incident (which doubtless just confirmed his general view of the world) and calmly continued his description of the Roman understanding of potestas and auctoritas as forms of rule.”

    (Tony Wright, Doing Politics, p12, 2012).

  4. Matt_L November 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm | #

    Corey, do you identify more as a political scientist or as a political philosopher?

    • Corey Robin December 1, 2017 at 2:35 pm | #

      Both, though I would say political theorist rather than political philosophers.

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