When you hear a familiar voice at the other end of the line…

About six weeks ago I got a call from a number in DC I didn’t recognize. I answered the phone warily, saying hello more as a question than a greeting. At the other end, I heard, “Professor Robin?” “Who’s this?” I asked. “It’s Nina Totenberg from NPR.” I started cracking up, almost uncontrollably, and finally said, hi, hi, of course, Nina Totenberg. She noted that I sounded “furtive.” I noted that I didn’t recognize the number.

Anyway, we wound up having a lovely chat about Clarence Thomas. Totenberg is as warm and friendly and personable on the phone as she is on air.

On Friday, a small bit of our conversation made it into the segment she did on Thomas in Morning Edition.

Here’s some other book-related news.

The first advance review of the Thomas book is in. It’s at Kirkus. They call it “a penetrating profile of the Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice.”

Here’s the full review:

Analyzing speeches, court opinions, and Thomas’ writings, Robin (Political Science/Brooklyn Coll. and CUNY Graduate Center; The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Donald Trump, 2017, etc.) argues persuasively that Thomas’ right-wing conservatism and black nationalism make him “the most extreme justice on the Supreme Court.” Thomas, writes the author, believes “that racism is permanent, the state is ineffective, and politics is feeble.” Noting that he rejects “virtually all of Thomas’s views,” Robin warns against dismissing them, and he presents them in detail along with critiques from other justices and analysts. Central to Thomas’ beliefs is the valorization of the black male provider and protector, “a figure of authority whose word is law for the women and children under his care.” Black men, “stolid, moral, responsible, authoritative, upstanding,” are essential to the black community. For Thomas, white racism and liberal politics combine to undermine black interests. Blacks, therefore, “should cease to look to electoral politics as a means of bettering their situation; any involvement in electoral politics will only confirm white power and reinforce black powerlessness.” Efforts such as affirmative action, for example, reinforce black powerlessness by failing to treat blacks and whites as equals, defining blacks as “inferior and deficient.” When Thomas considers the incarceration rate for blacks and liberals’ cry for judicial and prison reform, he counters that “the racist dimensions of the carceral state” actually benefit African Americans: Harsh policing protects black neighborhoods from crime, and stringent punishment fosters law-abiding behavior. Adversity—even slavery and society under Jim Crow—“helps the black community develop its inner virtue and resolve.” Acknowledging that we are all trapped “in the same historical moment” as Thomas, Robin asks readers to examine the premises underlying their own social and political views. Thomas’ “beliefs are disturbing, even ugly,” Robin acknowledges; “his style is brutal. I want to make us sit with that discomfort rather than swat it away.”

A penetrating profile of the Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice.

We’re lining up events in New York, DC, and elsewhere; I’m going to be in conversation with Jamelle Bouie, Rebecca Traister, and others.

For the political scientists among you, there’s going to be an author meets critics panel at APSA, with a great lineup of commentators that includes Dahlia Lithwick, Lawrie Balfour, Brandon Terry, Mark Tushnet, and Adrienne Davis, and is chaired by Jodi Dean.

I’ll have a fuller schedule of events, with dates and times and places, as the summer unfolds.

But for now, you can, um, pre-order the book!


  1. gracchibros July 15, 2019 at 12:28 pm | #

    Sounds intriguing, and blunt for the Corey Robin I am familiar with. Fascinating person and topic.

    I recall my thoughts and feelings when Thomas was nominated, the “Eureka” that must have resounded through the Republican right: a black conservative to overturn every liberal cliche! Someone whose broader political stance also reinforced the anti-regulatory, anti-state, especially anti-federal government currents of conservative thought.

    Good timing with the Harris-Biden confrontation over busing, where Biden could not make a good defense of his position. (I’m a Sanders-Warren person). Busing was the only major tool on the table, and arguably, morally correct, yet it was proving a disaster in the practical political arena, allegedly disturbing all the families ordered to transit. Biden might have argued that whatever the morality, it was killing progressives in the political arena, and giving the anti-federal bias in conservative thought great talking points – and more, real traction.

    A preview of reparations? What does Thomas say about that issue? I won’t be coy here: they’re morally right, if ever there was a case for reparations, as strong as for Jews from Eastern Europe receiving some money from Germany; but if the Democratic Party tries to make it a “practical” plank it will surely re-elect Trump – or lead to worse.

    I hope I’ve walked right down the center of the road here, and haven’t upset anyone.

  2. SocraticGadfly July 15, 2019 at 3:11 pm | #

    Looking forward to the book. Here’s my review of the second edition version of Reactionary Mind. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2872050957

  3. SocraticGadfly July 15, 2019 at 7:14 pm | #

    Gracchi, there’s at least a good of reparations claim by American Indians, who, if many other tribes have traditionalists like the Sioux, will want land, not money. What do you do when Cherokees want historic Georgia land that may be owned by African Americans in Atlanta subdivisions?

  4. gracchibros July 15, 2019 at 10:13 pm | #

    I do have an answer to the dilemmas you illustrated: the Second Bill of Rights, from FDR in 1944 and urged by Senator Sanders. Especially the right to a job, housing, medical care. The “universal” to bridge the gaps of our fragmenting and ugly identity politics. Framed by the Green New Deal Resolution.

  5. LFC July 24, 2019 at 7:15 pm | #

    The phrase that ends the Kirkus review should be “longest-serving of the current Justices,” rather than “longest-serving” period. I think most people will understand it, but it’s not as clear as it could be, imo.

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