The Reactionary Mind

Late in life, William F. Buckley made a confession. Capitalism is “boring,” he told me. “Devoting your life to it,” as conservatives do, “is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.” Since that conversation nearly 20 years ago, I’ve been asking what is conservatism and what’s at stake for its proponents. This book is my answer.

From the French Revolution to Donald Trump, conservatism has been a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

Praise for the second edition

“…probably the most acclaimed recent book on conservatism.”

The Guardian

“It remains a keen and necessary book, one that informs our understanding of Trump’s particular grandiosities.”

The New Republic

“One of the most astute and useful interrogations of Trumpism to date.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

“One of the more influential studies of conservatism.”


“Well researched and brilliantly argued…”

National Review

“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.”

—Damon Linker, The Week

“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.'”


“This is a really unique perspective. What I really like about Corey is he is approaching the moment we live in with this vast and deep historical knowledge. This is a guy who’s taken the time to sit down and read page after page, chapter after chapter, book after book, of a long line of thinkers that allows him to offer unique and penetrating insights on a man I don’t think any of us would really call a thinker, per se, the current President of the United States.”

—Chris Hayes

“A leftie’s assault on conservatism.”

Karl Rove

Praise for the first edition

“The book that predicted Trump”

The New Yorker

The Reactionary Mind has emerged as one of the more influential political works of the last decade….Robin, by contrast, is a synthesizer and a brilliant and ruthless diviner of the hidden wellsprings of absolutely everything.”

The Washington Monthly

“When The Reactionary Mind first appeared in 2011, it met with a good deal of critical skepticism….Six years later, Robin has been vindicated.”


“I confess to being one of those who likes to divide conservatives into their parts as opposed to treating them as a whole. Robin makes a vigorous case that I am wrong, and I am tempted by his analysis….Robin is an engaging writer, and just the kind of broad-ranging public intellectual all too often missing in academic political science.”

The New Republic

“And I think that the best model [of conservatism] is, as I said the other day, the Corey Robin notion that it’s about preserving hierarchy.”

—Paul Krugman, New York Times

“A very readable romp through the evils of Conservatism.”

The Guardian/Observer

“‘The Reactionary Mind’ certainly cuts hard against the common view that the radical populist conservatism epitomized by Sarah Palin represents a sharp break with the cautious, reasonable, moderate, pragmatic conservatism inaugurated by the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke….This counterrevolutionary spirit, Mr. Robin argues, animates every conservative, from the Southern slaveholders to Ayn Rand to Antonin Scalia, to name just a few of the figures he pulls into his often slashing analysis.”

New York Times

“…ground-breaking book…”

Rolling Stone

“If conservatives have been the ‘left’s best students,’ Robin teaches the Left to become better students of the Right.”


“This little book will continue to spark controversy, but that is not the reason to read it: it is a witty, erudite and opinionated account of one of the most significant movements of our times.”

Times Higher Education

“‘The Reactionary Mind’ demands to be taken seriously by conservatives, and it helps that it’s written with panache. The series of scholarly strikes Robin makes against conventional wisdom are often exhilarating.”

The Daily

“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.”

The National

“Stemming from a conversation he had with the late William F. Buckley, Robin’s book provides clear, well-documented insight on how the right came to be what it now is.”

Washington Times

“I feel sure that if trapped on a desert island with the man, I should soon commit suicide.”

The American Conservative

“We asked our editors what they’ve been reading lately, and almost all of us have been reading for Occupy Wall Street. We recommend Corey Robin’s Reactionary Mind, the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.”


“Corey Robin’s extraordinary collection, constantly fresh, continuously sharp, and always clear and eloquent, provides the only satisfactory philosophically coherent account of elite conservatism I have ever read. It’s all great, a model in the exercise of humane letters.”

—Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland

“This book is a fascinating exploration of a central idea: that conservatism is, at its heart, a reaction against democratic challenges, in public and private life, to hierarchies of power and status. Corey Robin leads us through a series of case studies over the last few centuries, showing the power of this idea by illuminating conservatives both sublime and ridiculous.”

—Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University

“Beautifully written, these essays deepen our understanding of why conservatism remains a powerful force in American politics.”

—Joyce Appleby, UCLA and past president of the American Historical Association

“A wonderfully good read. It combines up-to-the-minute relevance with an eye to the intellectual history of conservatism in all its protean forms. Some readers will enjoy Corey Robin’s dismantling of Barry Goldwater, Antonin Scalia, and Irving Kristol; others will enjoy his demolition of Ayn Rand. Some will be uncomfortable when they discover that those who too lightly endorse state violence, and even torture, include some of their friends. That is one of the things that makes this such a good book.”

—Alan Ryan, Oxford University

Order now.