Sunday, December 25, 2011

If You Have Time, Read This Review of Corey Robin's Book, The Reactionary Mind, at the New York Review

It's a great piece, from Mark Lilla, "Republicans for Revolution."

I'd never heard of Corey Robin until last week, when progressives online were touting his piece on the death of Hitchens, "Christopher Hitchens: The Most Provincial Spirit of All."

Lilla's review of Robin's book will make you chuckle. He writes, for example:
Robin, who teaches political science at Brooklyn College, has been writing thoughtful essays on the American right for The Nation and other publications over the past decade. The Reactionary Mind collects profiles of well-known right-wing thinkers like Ayn Rand, Barry Goldwater, and Justice Antonin Scalia, and some deserters who turned left, like John Gray and Edward Luttwak. There are also a few that look beyond our borders, including an excellent piece on Hobbes as a counterrevolutionary thinker. But the book aims to be more than a collection. It is conceived as a major statement on conservatism and reaction, from the eighteenth century to the present. And this is where it disappoints. The problems begin in the opening paragraphs, where Robin lays out his general picture of political history. It is not overly complex:
Since the modern era began, men and women in subordinate positions have marched against their superiors in the state, church, workplace, and other hierarchical institutions. They have gathered under different banners—the labor movement, feminism, abolition, socialism—and shouted different slogans: freedom, equality, rights, democracy, revolution. In virtually every instance, their superiors have resisted them, violently and nonviolently, legally and illegally, overtly and covertly…. Despite the very real differences between them, workers in a factory are like secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a plantation—even wives in a marriage—in that they live and labor in conditions of unequal power.
This is history as WPA mural, and will be familiar to anyone who lived through the Thirties, remembers the Sixties, or was made to read historians like Howard Zinn, Arno Mayer, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, and Christopher Hill at school. In their tableau, history’s damnés de la terre are brought together into a single heroic image of suffering and resistance. Their hats are white, immaculately so. Off in the distance are what appear to be black-hatted villains, though their features are difficult to make out. Sometimes they have little identification tags like those the personified vices wear in medieval frescoes—”capital,” “men,” “whites,” “the state,” “the old regime”—but we get no idea what they are after or what their stories are. Not that it matters. To understand the oppressed and side with them all you need to know is that there are oppressors.

And this is no doubt why Robin is gaining traction with the idiots of the progressive fever swamps.

But Lilla has some props for Robin as one who takes conservatives seriously. I'm more interested in what Lilla has to say than what Robin does, actually, especially since I think "reactionary" is a utterly misused term in political discourse.

But continue reading the review. There's some excellent clarification of what conservatives are and what they stand for. And Lilla is another author who cites the isolationist trend among the GOP base that could well emerge as a more welcomed position for the party in the months ahead, especially depending on how things turn out in the primaries coming up in a few weeks.

I'll try to come back to this topic. It's Christmas though, and it's going to be a busy morning, with perhaps a little more sleep fitted in here somewhere among other things.