The Reactionary Mind, 2nd edition – Meet The New Boss

by John Holbo on November 15, 2017

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new edition out [amazon] of our Corey’s The Reactionary Mind. I have duly purchased the updated version. He didn’t just drop Palin and add Trump. It’s better put together, as he says in the Preface. I bought the basic argument first time round. I found some things quite clear and compelling that I know others did not. Perhaps this time the more benighted shall see the light. Here’s hoping this new edition wins over skeptics.

It would have been funny if the new subtitle were: ‘I totally told you so and now LOOK!’ But I guess Oxford doesn’t play that way.

Let me try to be frank and blunt about the standard complaint against the book and why I think it misses the mark. Robin’s line seems too reductive, too quick to cast all philosophical conservatives as moustache-twirling villains. Conservatism is a bunch of reactionary bastards punching down. Always has been, always will be. But surely – especially in the realm of ideas! – better can be said on its behalf, hence should be said. Doesn’t he miss the interest and sophistication of the best conservative thinkers? Even the fact that, yeah, Trump fits the model may fail to seem so powerfully predictive. A stopped clock is right twice a day. Someone standing on the corner shouting ‘hey asshole’ at everyone isn’t necessarily a prophet or great student of the soul, even if he’s right a lot. (I’m looking you, Bob McManus!)

Passages like this set readers off:

Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, and agency the prerogative of the elite. Though it is often claimed that the left stands for equality while the right stands for freedom, this notion misstates the actual disagreement between right and left. Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders. What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom. “We are all agreed as to our own liberty,” declared Samuel Johnson. “But we are not agreed as to the liberty of others: for in proportion as we take, others must lose. I believe we hardly wish that the mob should have liberty to govern us.”

Even more so when you see the seating plan:

I use the words conservative, reactionary, and counterrevolutionary interchangeably: not all counterrevolutionaries are conservative — Walt Rostow immediately comes to mind — but all conservatives are, in one way or another, counterrevolutionary. I seat philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table: Hobbes is next to Hayek, Burke across from Donald Trump, Nietzsche in between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia, with Adams, Calhoun, Oakeshott, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, Irving Kristol, Francis Fukuyama, and George W. Bush interspersed throughout.

Why isn’t this uselessly oversimplified? Why isn’t Robin an ‘Uber-lumper’, as some reviewer called him. (Lilla? Maybe that was him.)

First, I think Robin does a really solid job with the psychology – temperament – question. It’s classic to say conservatism isn’t so much a philosophy (we don’t do blueprints!) as an even-keeled temperament. Conservative philosophy is mellowed by mature attachment to the way things are. It is anchored by deep roots, not blow-away paper plans. Think Oakeshott, “Rationalism In Politics”. The problem is that this is just wildly false. A penchant for conservative political philosophy is, to a very noteworthy degree, negatively correlated with the temperament that is supposed to be its hallmark. From Burke to Maistre, all down the line – Kirk and Buckley, take your pick – we really have a bunch of excitable types, romantics, remnantistas, lost cause nostalgists, rebels, oddball outsiders, hothead eccentrics, ideologists, inky pamphleteers and all-around oozers of the fanaticism of the convert until it slicks every surface in sight.

Conservatives think the Ticktockman has taken over, so they go all Harlequin. (If Everett C. Marm could have stayed home with Pretty Alice, lived a nice, quiet life, he might have. But that wasn’t really an option by that point.)

It sounds weird but it’s true by the numbers. G.K. Chesterton. Huge favorite of mine, as you’ve probably noticed. (Robin never quotes him. That’s a damn shame. He could be Exhibit A.) The story is always same: to journey in a circle and know home as a magical place for the first time. Very conservative theme. Meanwhile, every protagonist is a chaos farmer, and that’s Chesterton all over. Least. Even. Keel. Ever.

I’m saying it nine different ways, so why stop now? Conservatives are supposed to be the ones who, unlike leftists, don’t think all of life should be politics. Conservatives are supposed to have healthy work-life balance. But, if you actually just look and see – I thoroughly recommend the exercise! – conservatives tend to be utterly convicted that the personal is political. They blame the other side for making it so. But there just wasn’t ever a moment where there was, as it were, healthy conservative political philosophy, recognizable as such, and then leftists attacked and it got personal. Conservativism as philosophy is what happens only after leftist politics gets intolerably but unavoidably personal in the sense that it is felt to threaten some or other private hierarchy of power that rightfully should stand as a rock against it. Conservatives are born pissed, not placid.

When the conservative looks upon a democratic movement from below, this (and the exercise of agency) is what he sees: a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. Witnessing the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Theodore Sedgwick lamented, “The aristocracy of virtue is destroyed; personal influence is at an end.” Sometimes the conservative is personally implicated in that life, sometimes not. Regardless, it is his apprehension of the private grievance behind the public commotion that lends his theory its tactile ingenuity and moral ferocity.

That’s more helpful than any damn thing Mark Lilla has to say in The Shipwrecked Mind. (Which is not a terrible book, honestly. But no great shakes.) This doesn’t just prove that Michael Oakeshott is the world’s least perceptive political psychologist. Beyond the persistent irony, this state of affairs is important to see for purposes of making damn sense of the scene.

Which brings me to the second thing Robin is good at: that seating plan. The only thing that is more often said about conservatism than that it is a prudent attitude (no mere spider-web of abstract ideas!) is that there really are all these different kinds of conservatism – to say nothing of reaction – and we just have to be ok with it being a very loose family resemblance concept. Libertarians and social conservatives and fusionists and on and on. That’s fine. I won’t say it’s false (like the temperament thing, which is just plain false.) There are, obviously, lots of deep, wide differences around that table. But it’s also true that we have some sense that there is some use to lumping a lot of these people under ‘conservative’ – at least loosely – and it’s worth asking: what are we feeling when we feel that way?

I get annoyed on Robin’s behalf when the likes of Mark Lilla will not put their damn Socrates hat on for a minute (they are too busy lecturing him about how he isn’t thinking clearly.) I’m old enough to remember when Socrates asked Meno whether, were he to define ‘bee’, he would say ‘oh, there’s big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, live ones, dead ones’. No, an account should look to similarities not enumerate differences within the set and leave it at that. Is there, or is there not, some property P, shared by members of the set, that is plausibly characteristic of that set, to a significant degree? Maybe we can’t go full necessary and sufficient. Maybe it’s just a very loose family resemblance concept. But let’s, you know, try to find some common feature, not assume its absence a priori.

And – lo! – the exercise is a significant if not utter success. There’s a significant reactionary strain running all around the table. Yes, it’s a bit weird to call Nietzsche a ‘conservative’, a bit off to call Friedrich “Why I am not a conservative” Hayek a ‘conservative’. But in my educated opinion it is true that Nietzsche is a reactionary – and Hayek, too. I actually got in an argument with Jacob Levy about the latter claim. I said that, just as it’s helpful to think that J.S. Mill is crypto-advocating a virtue ethics of cosmopolitan non-conformism, so it’s helpful to regard Hayek as crypto-advocating a vision of the virtuous life that is … kind of reactionary. Now maybe I’m right or maybe I’m wrong. (The Pinochet thing isn’t exactly a healthy sign, but I’m just talking about what you get from reading the books.) If I’m wrong, then Hayek doesn’t sit at the table, after all. Trying to work out whether he fits here is part of trying to size him up, get where he’s really coming from, not just dismiss him.

Psychologizing people, rather than just assessing their arguments, is valid – as far as it goes. ‘He’s a reactionary!’ is not the last word on what’s up with Nietzsche or Hayek. They are original geniuses and if you don’t read them because you heard they are reactionary, you are missing out on the good stuff. Nevertheless, it’s true. They are reactionaries. So at the table they go! That’s just being tidy. They are allowed to also be at other tables. The table isn’t jail. I happen to think that Robin’s reading of Nietzsche isn’t a very sensitive one, although I get why it would seem right to him. Nietzsche probably could have been clearer. But we could hash that out, perhaps profitably, around that table. And again, if someone has been mis-placed at the table – if they don’t belong – well, mistakes happen. It doesn’t mean the table is a bad idea.

If someone wants to argue that there is a significant school of philosophical conservative thinking – or some particular individual thinker – that doesn’t shape up a reactionary subset: make your case. That’s a good thing.

It is certainly the case that some abstract arguments that might be deemed ‘conservative’ won’t be inherently ‘reactionary’. The latter really is a psychologistic category; arguments, in the abstract, don’t have psychologies. That’s fine. Here’s a good case. G.A. Cohen’s paper, “Rescuing Conservatism”. Did Cohen have a reactionary mind? That is a totally interesting and valid question, within Robin’s framework. I think the answer is going to be ‘no’. But this is kind of the exception that proves the rule. We can imagine a sense of ‘philosophical conservatism’ that isn’t reactionary – that centers on the kind of attitude Cohen advocates. But this is at such odd angles to the term as we actually use it this is amounts to an argument that ‘conservatism’, as we use it, implies reactionary. Putting it another way: it makes sense to us that ‘conservative’ implies right-wing. It ought to be as intuitive that, if that’s how we use it, it also implies reactionary.

I am sure some people feel it’s a guilt-by-association cheat if the thing that all versions of conservatism have in common is not a shared virtue but a vice; a bad thing – or at least an dubious thing. Reactionism. Well, call ‘em like you see ‘em. Would it really be surprising if Nietzsche were great, and Hayek were great and Burke were great, but the common denominator, such as it is, is this distinctly dicey thing: reactionary attitude?

Suppose Robin had written – I dunno: Political Romanticism – and had drawn up some very expansive table full of mutually diverse yet individually likely suspects, plausibly fitting some stated account of what ‘Political Romanticism’ means. Now, a lot of useless books have been written about Romanticism, but some good ones. So this project could be a stinker. Or maybe it’s done well and you see enlightening, heretofore unnoticed features of these figures, forced to sit cheek-by-jowl for the duration of the exercise. You don’t just dismiss this as ‘lumping’. Proof is in the pudding. Maybe political romanticism is argued to be, on balance, bad – dangerous. I can imagine defending that thesis. That doesn’t make this just invalid guilt-by-associating. It doesn’t mean none of these characters are interesting or deserving of respect, despite kind of fitting the bill.

Obviously a lot of the interest here depends on filling out our sense of ‘what is a reactionary’ usefully. Fortunately, Corey wrote a book about it.

Bonus fun fact! My older daughter was home with a cold, just playing games on her iPhone so I decided to make life educational. Rather than reading my new book silently, I gave an audiobook performance of chapters 1 & 2. (My daughter likes podcasts and explainers, so this wasn’t as unlikely an option as it sounds.) Obviously he did the police in different voices. I did Burke using the plummy voice I use to do Nanny Ogg when we read discworld novels. Maistre is more a psycho Willem Dafoe. He would CUT you, man.

I did Hayek as Joshua the Dog. I’m kidding. I didn’t.

{ 243 comments }

1

Thomas Beale 11.15.17 at 11:00 am

When the conservative looks upon a democratic movement from below, this (and the exercise of agency) is what he sees: a terrible disturbance in the private life of power.

If the whole thesis of the Reactionary Mind revolves around this as the effective definition of ‘conservative’, it seems uninteresting at best, since it’s just a complaint against those with historical privilege seeking to maintain it and/or keep ‘the mob’ at bay, rather than a debate about what intelligent conservatives (Lilla, Scruton, etc) actually seek to conserve (and why they are generally against table rasa revolutionaries who want to erase history and culture).

The latter is a far deeper discussion about what matters, and is like to cross paths with e.g. postmodernists and their spawn, who think the answer is ‘nothing’.

2

Murali 11.15.17 at 11:14 am

John, this is a bit like some libertarian types calling all mixed economies fascist. Yes, fascist economic policy was some unhealthy marriage of the private and public spheres. Yes, this is a trait that all mixed economies share. It is also true that this private-public-getting-in-bed-together could be somewhat dodgy or questionable. Does it therefore follow that all mixed economies are fascist? That would be absurd. Does it mean that all mixed economies will lead to either Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy? Equally absurd.

Just as we cant legitimately tar all mixed economies with the term fascism, we cant tar all right wing philosophers with the term reactionary. Yes, they are not 100% on board with the progressive-democratic agenda*. That’s something they all have in common. Tell me something new or interesting.

*In light of Brexit, Trump and the victory or near victory of a number of far right figures throughout europe, a consistent liberal has to be at least somewhat sceptical about mob – rule.

3

Matt 11.15.17 at 11:17 am

I was going to ask you about the Nietzsche reading, because it seemed so obviously bad to me when Robin put it out before (and doesn’t fit at all well with, at least, recent people who are serious Nietzsche scholars.) I’ll admit that this post was a bit too round-about for me to know if I was completely following it, but it seems to me that you’re saying, “Well, Robin is probably not right on Nietzsche, but you can see how he could be right!” Is it more than that? (There’s more that I might want to say, but I’ve not read the book, nor do I think I’m likely to do so, so I’m a bit hesitant. Still, the Nietzsche reading seems to me to be, at best, too reductive to be useful. That doesn’t make me all that hopeful that, at best, someone such as myself is likely to find the book very useful.

4

John Holbo 11.15.17 at 12:12 pm

I forgot to mention: my daughter didn’t just listen to it. She said: ‘this is a really interesting book!’ So it gets the 16 year old girl who’s interested in politics vote. Matt, maybe I’ll write up my criticisms of the Nietzsche stuff later. My reasons for not caring SO much about that – although it’s interesting – is that Nietzsche on politics is inherently speculative. I mean: we need to speculate about what the hell he’s on about. There is no subject on which it is easier to read him as heading in different ways. You can read him as deeply caring about politics and not really giving a crap about politics. I think it’s understandable that people – not just Corey – grab a few bits and figure it fits so they’ve got it. But then other bits don’t make sense. My own suspicion is that Nietzsche doesn’t really think about politics much, and doesn’t think hard when he does. But to the extent he does, he is certainly reactionary in some ways. It’s one of those areas where I doubt there is so much interesting work to be done. It’s just guesses. And I get why the guesses seem plausible. So even when someone makes guesses that I think are less well-founded than they think they are, I don’t get so bothered. Because at most I only have slightly less-badly-based guesses. Hell, their bad guess might be right and my better guess might be worse. As I said in the last thread about Nietzsche on politics, I’m kind of ok with everyone building their own Nietzsche for household use, and nowhere more so then when it comes to Nietzsche’s politics.

5

ph 11.15.17 at 12:14 pm

Garrison Keillor

I’m conservative. I feel that what is inherited — family, community, culture and language — is more crucial than what is acquired — tattoos, an Armani suit, a taste for artisan beers, a cat who loves you — and there are as many conservatives on the left as on the right, maybe even more. I want my daughter’s school bus driver to be conservative, obsessively checking his rearview mirrors, and not resenting the rules of the road as an infringement of his liberties. I’d like her English teacher to correct grammar and usage rather than urging the kids to write about their upbringings and never mind if they misspell “abysmal” or “horrendous.”

6

John Holbo 11.15.17 at 12:20 pm

ph, this sort of gets to the G.A. Cohen point. Everyone is conservative insofar as there are things that exist that they definitely don’t want to change. And everyone is not conservative insofar as there are things that exist that they definitely want to change. This certainly establishes that there is a sense in which ‘conservative’ doesn’t imply reactionary, but only at the cost of changing the meaning of the term to the point where, arguably, we’ve just changed the subject. Conservatives in the political philosophy sense do frequently imply that they are more conservative in the Garrison Keillor sense – hence more human and grounded. But this has the defect that it is patently false. They aren’t more conservative than other people in the Garrison Keillor sense. Every human is highly conservative in that sense. And I defy anyone to sketch a plausible metric along which political conservatives are even plausibly relatively more conservative in that sense. (We could get into social psychology and ‘openness to new experience’ here if you like. There might be a plausible-seeming argument there, but I don’t think it will work.) I’m not saying you’re saying the opposite.

7

John Holbo 11.15.17 at 12:36 pm

Shorter Holbo on Nietzsche on P0litics: the literature is full of bad readings that aren’t dumb readings.

8

William Timberman 11.15.17 at 12:37 pm

ph @ 5 (11.15.17 at 12:14 pm)

Alas, this is the same Garrison Keillor who wrote Retribution vs. Restoration, urging us to forgive Bush Administration torturers, which concludes with this glorious passage:

Rather than square off in a bloody battle over war crimes, let’s return decent train service to the Midwest and test out the German maglev (magnetic levitation) system — the 360 mph trains — and connect Chicago and St. Paul-Minneapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Omaha, Kansas City. Let’s restore education to the public schools so that our kids get a chance to hear Mozart and learn French.

QED to Corey, I’d say.

9

ph 11.15.17 at 12:58 pm

Martin Luther Smiled

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops chose a conservative archbishop for a key post Tuesday, signaling resistance to Pope Francis’s vision for the church among the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S.. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City, was elected chairman of the committee on Pro-Life Activities. In a vote of 96 to 82, he defeated Cardinal Blase Cupich, of Chicago, who is seen as a liberal in the church and a close ally of the pope.

The vote breaks a longstanding tradition of the position being held by a cardinal—an unusual lapse of deference in a highly rank-conscious body—and suggests that Catholic leaders in the U.S. remain largely resistant to the changes Pope Francis is trying to bring to the church.

See also Robin’s brief remark on Burke’s supposed ultramontanism (Chap 5.) vs. Emily Jones’ 2017 argument that Burke’s conservatism was essentially ‘a catholic vision’ of history, and that Burke in fact sought to liberate the Irish catholic underclass from their protestant overlords. (pp. 45-46)

10

ph 11.15.17 at 1:09 pm

@8 Forgiveness would be a liberal, or a conservative value – NT, or OT?

“The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive…”

See MLK, Lincoln, Mandela, Gandhi…

11

Z 11.15.17 at 1:36 pm

I’ve been instantly convinced by Corey’s thesis myself, and I wonder if part of the resistance might be culture-dependent (that is to say, maybe one’s reaction to the word “conservative” or “reactionary” may depend on the general implicit cultural environment).

Conservativism as philosophy is what happens only after leftist politics gets intolerably but unavoidably personal in the sense that it is felt to threaten some or other private hierarchy of power that rightfully should stand as a rock against it.

I find it helpful to think about it in terms of the historical distribution of power within the Western social world. From the mid-17th century to the late 20th, there has been a historical movement of people asking for their share of power. Reactionary politics is the fight against this movement (seen from this perspective, I would slightly dispute the adjective leftist, though; surely leftist politics is a proper subset of the movement).

what are we feeling when we feel that way?

I think we feel all the people seated at Corey’s table were all on the same side in that fight. (And as usual, I don’t see that Nietzsche is particularly problematic: sure he wrote many vitriolic criticisms of both sides of that fight and, sure, the very tool his philosophy provides proved very useful for both sides, but I don’t think he himself wrote anything but demeaning insults about one side whereas he regularly writes that the other has at least some potential for greatness.)

12

William Timberman 11.15.17 at 1:53 pm

ph @ 10 (11.15.17 at 1:09 pm)

Forgiveness is something of a red herring here, and since I introduced it, I reckon it’s up to me to clarify. For me the issue is not how society deals with Bybee, Yoo, et al., but that GK, the folksy, adorable conservative, clearly prizes order above justice. Cruelty to others isn’t an issue for him as long as the trains run on time, and the arc of his own life remains what he’s comfortable with.

As for forgiveness, it seems to me that it’s due only to those who acknowledge their acts, and are willing to atone for them, which none of the Bush Administration offenders have ever been willing to do. Whatever conservatives may prefer to think, barbarism is hardly an exclusive characteristic of the lower orders, or of people foreign to us, whose humanity we therefore see no need to respect.

13

casmilus 11.15.17 at 2:51 pm

@5

“I want my daughter’s school bus driver to be conservative, obsessively checking his rearview mirrors, and not resenting the rules of the road as an infringement of his liberties.”

Thank you for confirming what I’ve suspected for 30 years: I’m not missing anything good by not reading Keillor.

14

Anarcissie 11.15.17 at 2:51 pm

John Holbo 11.15.17 at 12:20 pm @ 6 —
If ‘everyone is conservative’ then no one is conservative, and you all need a different word to discuss whatever it is you’re discussing. The language problem alone seems to require a large shovel and a strong back.

15

casmilus 11.15.17 at 2:57 pm

@6

This is where I got to when reading Ted Honderich’s book on the subject 20 years ago. There is nothing to say about “conservatism” as an abstraction raised to the same level as “socialism” or “liberalism”. This is because nobody is a “political conservative” in an abstract sense – they are Spanish conservative, French conservative, US conservative, etc. Each of those traditions has histories and owns what it regards as its achievements, regardless of whether anyone could construct a transnational political theory that validated all of them.

In Anglo-American political commentary there nowadays appears to be a presumption that Tories will endorse Republicans and vice versa, but there is no reason why either side should do this. A British Conservative could regard the NHS as an achievement not to be dismantled for the sake of arid Randian doctrine. Some of them already do, it’s not a thought experiment.

16

Glen Tomkins 11.15.17 at 3:59 pm

Well, for symmetry’s sake you have to identify the table our team sits around. Following your Joshua the Dog link, the page that brings up on my YouTube has this as the second video after the one cited: “Elite Dwarf Shield vs Massive Skaven Horde”. Face it fellow CTers, the common denominator we share is that we’re nerds and geeks. Okay, maybe some of the trolls aren’t nerds, geeks or technocrats. It’s a No True Scotsman sort of thing.

Our side still believes that, with enough theorizational diligence, you can make sense of the world we live in, and use that knowledge to make that world less chaotic and unjust. The reactionaries believe we live at the bottom of Plato’s Cave, that the world we see before us is all shadows of unreal things cast by a false light, and the only way back to the real things and true light is to Hulk smash our bonds of PC thought and go back to some imagined pristine state.

17

JRLRC 11.15.17 at 4:08 pm

Nice try, John -I say it in the nicest way possible.
“I use the words conservative, reactionary, and counterrevolutionary interchangeably: not all counterrevolutionaries are conservative — Walt Rostow immediately comes to mind — but all conservatives are, in one way or another, counterrevolutionary”. That´s precisely why those words are not interchangeable; it´s not the best choice to use them like that. Scandinavian socialdemocracy is not Revolutionary (with capital “R”), it has counterrevolutionary effects and implications (democratic, liberal and prosocial too), and it´s not conservative per se nor reactionary. Is Gunnar Myrdal conservative, reactionary AND counterrevolutionary?

18

Paul Kern 11.15.17 at 4:40 pm

I think there’s a strong dose of irony in everything Keillor writes. One doesn’t write with his erudite background without knowing the full historical significance of his wishing for the trains to run on time.

19

nastywoman 11.15.17 at 5:48 pm

– somehow – and as there is the ”Närrische Zeit” in Germany –
(each year from 11/11 to ”Aschermittwoch” – mostly end of february) –
and in this time everybody who likes to pick something else instead of the good ole Cowboy or Indian costume – the question really HIT us -(some so called ”Ex-pats”) –

Who to be?

There are Trump-Masks and Trump-Costumes around – and for sure at the Kölner (Cologne) Fasnacht there will be some HUUUGE floats again pretending to be US Conservatives – but who will still believe it as there is the ”Närrische Zeit” all year long in ”TEH homeland” and nobody of us can pretend anymore to (still) take it seriously in any way…?

20

nastywoman 11.15.17 at 6:03 pm

– forgetting (again!) the most important point – if you decide in ”Crazy Season” –
(the ”Närrische Zeit”) – to use your Costume to ”grab some ass” – don’t do it anymore – as there might be people who understand that you just use your (Conservative?) Costume in order to pretend NOT to be a Predator – or when I had lunch in a ”Bücherei” today there was this sign on the door that reading ”damages stupidity”…

21

Anarcissie 11.15.17 at 6:27 pm

casmilus 11.15.17 at 2:57 pm @ 15 —
But that’s small-c, archaic-meaning conservative — one who or that which prefers to maintain the old and distrusts change. Just so, the Democratic Party in the US is, or used to be, conservative about the New Deal. This is not how the word is most often used in contemporary political discussions, from the barking and grunting on Twitter up. Often the meanings are contradictory or at least incoherent. Reactionary used to mean not conservative but desiring return to an often imaginary previous state of affairs — which in the US at least would be a radical change from the present.

22

Stephen 11.15.17 at 8:15 pm

Casmilus@15: “Nobody is a “political conservative” in an abstract sense – they are Spanish conservative, French conservative, US conservative, etc. Each of those traditions has histories and owns what it regards as its achievements, regardless of whether anyone could construct a transnational political theory that validated all of them.”

Very true. But are there not equally separate traditions of American, Russian, German, French, Spanish, Swedish, British (etc) socialism and liberalism? Is there a transnational political theory that validates all or even most of them? Leave alone the Chinese and more exotic versions.

23

EWI 11.15.17 at 8:32 pm

I did Burke using the plummy voice I use to do Nanny Ogg when we read discworld novels.

My understanding of the deal with Burke and his family is that they were going either the crypto-Catholic or the assimilationist route (take your pick). But, seeing as though he was apparently raised in an environment where he became a fluent Irish speaker, he would have had a brogue in at least his younger years.

24

ph 11.15.17 at 9:21 pm

@12 “GK, the folksy, adorable conservative, clearly prizes order above justice. Cruelty to others isn’t an issue for him as long as the trains run on time, and the arc of his own life remains what he’s comfortable with.”

Mandela, Gandhi, Lincoln, and MLK were castigated for failing to privilege ‘justice’ over forgiveness. The question of GK and those who torture is moral – doing the right thing for the victims, protecting an ideal vision of self, and protecting the sanctity of laws.

Morality seems to be at the very heart of Corey’s view of conservatism and not at all a red herring. Conservatives are ‘deranged’ and unable to empathize with those outside their circle. Liberals very often self-describe using opposite terms, terms that are freighted with implied and explicit claims of moral superiority.

To what degree is Corey’s thesis an historically-grounded study of political philosophy in context, or an exercise in affirming identity values for a subset of an economic elite?

25

John Quiggin 11.15.17 at 9:35 pm

My only point of disagreement with Corey is that it seems to me that Oakeshott actually was conservative primarily in the temperamental sense. From what I can tell, he didn’t reciprocate the admiration of Thatcher (an archetypal radical reactionary).

What’s interesting is the eagerness of political conservatives to claim Oakeshott and a fictionalised version of Burke as their intellectual forebears, rather than, say de Maistre or Carlyle.

26

Ebenezer Scrooge 11.15.17 at 10:55 pm

I think that the conservative-reactionary distinction is pretty important.

The Red Tories were a relatively progressive (hence the “Red”) Canadian squirearchy (hence the “Tory.”) They believed that they themselves should have all the agency–their beneficiaries should not. Corey’s definition puts them around the conservative table. Does the right wing of the Democratic Party belong with them? What about the bien pensants of the left?

27

Sebastian H 11.16.17 at 12:01 am

Ugh. A fallacious method of analysis is fallacious even if done toward a good cause.

“Would it really be surprising if Nietzsche were great, and Hayek were great and Burke were great, but the common denominator, such as it is, is this distinctly dicey thing: reactionary attitude?”

To me, no. To you, no. To Robin, my impression (willing to be educated) is that he uses his typology dismissively. He links people together again and again for the purpose of dismissing them. And his linking method is eyerollingly conspiratorial. People who never seem to have read each other or interacted in any way get counted not just in the same lump, but get dinged for each other’s crimes (and often using interpretations that are incredibly uncharitable). Now his response appears to be something along the lines of: that’s fair because I’m identifying a nasty strain. But that’s a method we whine about incessantly with regard to the left.

So the left table under his methods would be what? Historically eugenicists obviously (clearly Sanger and the whole poor (often black) people shouldn’t be breeding crew counts since the way philosophies drift over time IS NOT CREDITED to conservatives it shouldn’t be credited to progressives either). Marx and Mao and Che I would think (I won’t require Stalin since he wasn’t much of thinker though I’m not actually sure he is out of bounds since Pinochet is considered in bounds). Mills obviously, so it isn’t all bad, and if you were put off Mills because of Mao it would probably be a bad thing.

The problem is that Corey falls into the classic tribalist trap–our group has lots of fine distinctions so we clearly can’t attribute faults X, Y, and Z to US, but their group is all one big lump so everyone is basically a secret Hitler.

28

Gabriel 11.16.17 at 12:25 am

This is both amusing and useful, John. Thank you. For what it’s worth, the ‘allowed to be at other tables’ argument is what I always add when people cry ‘racist!’ about Tolkien (to connect this with other recent articles). Yes, Tolkien was a reactionary and racialized some of that reactionary thought. Of course that is true. It’s important to note, but it’s just as important not to stop there.

29

Faustusnotes 11.16.17 at 1:01 am

Thomas Beale, have you read Scruton on the WHO? He’s not “intelligent”, he’s clearly a ridiculous idiot. What he writes on modern music is also a cringeworthy joke. It’s telling that your first example of someone who shouldn’t be lumped in with he rest is exactly the kind of raving loony who really should be. Why did you select this idiot as your example?

Which is part of a bigger problem a few people have here – they say you can’t just lump a bunch of arseholes together for being arseholes, then either can’t say why they’re not arseholes, or present counter examples who are obvious arseholes (Keillor above is another good example of this).

Then others do the same thing in their liberal counter example: Sebastian says things about Dangerous that aren’t true and says we should include Stalin because Robin included Pinochet, only Robin didn’t, and holbo said we shouldn’t.

Conservative defences can surely be better than this?

30

Lupita 11.16.17 at 1:27 am

philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table

Catholics? What about Frei Betto and liberation theologians? Why are Muslims not on the list? I suppose several Catholic countries would have to be under US military occupation to get us on the protected list.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, of Chicago, who is seen as a liberal in the church and a close ally of the pope

Liberal cardinals and the pope has liberal allies? What is happening here? To view a 2,000 year old religious institution through the lens of 2017 US party politics is crazy. Just leave Catholics out of this, OK?

31

Alan White 11.16.17 at 2:01 am

Very vigorous post John, which led me to wonder something about the nature of Robin’s characterization and criticism: is it at bottom expressivist? In other words, does Robin find an underlying “me-first” emotional tone that sweeps across many other conceptual distinctions but genuinely captures them all as an attitude? This is in part a reply to Sebastian H’s @27 very sharp final comment.

32

otpup 11.16.17 at 3:08 am

Okay, I’ll play devil’s advocate. What about conservatism that is emotionally fueled by anti-communism. That may or may not be a rational fear depending on this context but doesn’t exactly fit into the reactionary scheme. Being anti-communist doesn’t necessarily stem from being counter-revolutionary or from resenting the putative gains of the workers in the “worker’s state”.

33

nastywoman 11.16.17 at 5:52 am

– which actually reminds me on this… ”article” I once read about ”WHAT TRUMP AND KIM KARDASHIAN HAVE IN COMMON” and it was -(more or less) about this video of Kanye West ”Famous” which put a lot of naked people in the same bed like Bush and Hobbes and Hayek and Nietzsche, Rand, Scalia, Reagan, Tocqueville, Roosevelt, Thatcher,
Jünger, Schmitt, Churchill, Schlafly, Nixon, Kristol, Fukuyama, and Taylor Swift – and Taylor really didn’t like that…?

34

nastywoman 11.16.17 at 5:59 am

– and when I once read that Diogenes and Nietzsche had in common that both were ”nomads” as Diogenes lived in a bathtub and was ”homeless” and Nietzsche, too – wandered Europe writing – I thought: What a… strange exercise to put them both in the same bed – nakeed…?

35

Thomas Beale 11.16.17 at 10:21 am

FaustusNotes @ 29
“Thomas Beale, have you read Scruton on the WHO? He’s not “intelligent”, he’s clearly a ridiculous idiot. What he writes on modern music is also a cringeworthy joke. It’s telling that your first example of someone who shouldn’t be lumped in with he rest is exactly the kind of raving loony who really should be. Why did you select this idiot as your example?”

I have no idea if you mean the W.H.O. or The Who or what he might have said about either. He’s certainly said intelligent things about modern non-music (Boulez etc), but that’s pretty far from the basis of his conservatism, which isn’t rooted in his musical aesthetics (it’s the other way round).

His general philosophy is sound and his conservative viewpoint entirely coherent. Actually I just picked him as a representative of still living non-ideologues who have useful things to say about the definition of the classifier ‘conservative’; I could have picked Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalrymple) or Christopher Hitchens or any other writer or philosopher who doesn’t buy into class warfare. I’m sorry but you’ll have to do better than ‘ridiculous idiot’.

FWIW I have never voted right wing in my life. But the one thing I could agree with Peter Hitchens on is that the Tories haven’t got a clue about how to be conservative, and that in fact in the UK, true conservatism has no representative. (If it did, that party would be centrist / rationalist, rather than emotional / subjectivist, which describes both wings of today’s spectrum here and everywhere right now).

The original comment was merely to say that the likely thesis of the book is founded upon an obviously straw-man definition of ‘conservative’ that (probably) has no meaning. And at the end of the day, Reactionaries aren’t interesting, they’re usually just angry, and probably are defending their inherited interests – as expected. A good definition of ‘conservative’, which isn’t to do with temperament (merely a kind of subjective character-assignment), would be far more interesting.

36

Layman 11.16.17 at 10:21 am

otpup: “Being anti-communist doesn’t necessarily stem from being counter-revolutionary or from resenting the putative gains of the workers in the ‘worker’s state’.”

Odd, then, that anti-communism and anti-unionism seem to go hand in hand, and that anti-communists have opposed unions and the putative gains they bring to workers from the very start of unions, and that the anti-communist rationale for so doing was that the unions were tools of socialists and communists.

37

casmilus 11.16.17 at 10:54 am

@22

Many socialist movements, and some liberals, are committed to internationalism and ever closer integration, at least notionally. Marxist movements are going to be in favour of world unity in the long run, even if they are presently concerned with national liberation struggles.

Which is why some conservatives vilify them as “globalisers”. One commonality of conservatives would be that they want to keep the nation/nation-state united and apart, though of course that is not unique to conservatives. I’ve been at meetings with “People’s Brexit” campaigners over the last few years.

38

Robespierre 11.16.17 at 12:22 pm

Actually existing communism seems to be much more anti-union than, say, declared anti-communists such as the German SPD.

39

faustusnotes 11.16.17 at 12:27 pm

Well then Thomas Beale, I suggest you dig it out, because it’s a classic in the genre of bullshit about how the WHO is going to take over the world and send black helicopters to get everyone. It’s also funded by a tobacco company, I think. (And I was obviously talking about the World Health Organization, there is no need to be facetious). If your supposed intellectual buys into every single ridiculous line about transnational government and suppression of democracy, then he’s an idiot not an intellectual. Perhaps this is the indication of how these people all share the temperament that Robin identifies – not what they say when talking about topics in the core of their attention, but their willingness to completely uncritically regurgitate absolute bullshit when they’re paid to do so by a tobacco company on a topic slightly outside their core discipline. His work on the WHO shows that he is not a serious thinker, and you should question whether anything he has ever written was anything except hackery.

40

Lee A. Arnold 11.16.17 at 1:17 pm

Scruton has been excellent on the overall outlines of the evolution of 20th Century avant garde music.

41

Z 11.16.17 at 1:27 pm

Sebastian H He links people together again and again for the purpose of dismissing them. And his linking method is eyerollingly conspiratorial. […] Now his response appears to be something along the lines of: that’s fair because I’m identifying a nasty strain.

All this seems to me quite unfair to Corey. Corey can of course correct me if I misunderstood, but it seems to me he links people according to a simple criteria: whether they want to roll back the movement towards more autonomy of the dominated part of society, even (or in fact especially) if this entails destroying the social fabric. Call this the reactionary mind. Now, does X profess principles according to the reactionary mind? Nothing is conspiratorial in that question, and whether the reactionary mind is nasty and worthy of dismissal is an evaluation of the reactionary mind which is logically completely independent of whether a given X has it or not. Among the list above, there are people I don’t know at all or don’t know enough about but I think a very strong case can be made (often an obvious one) that Hobbes, Hayek, Burke, Donald Trump, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Antonin Scalia, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Margaret Thatcher, Carl Schmitt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush all have a reactionary mind in this sense. What’s your problem with that?

So the left table under his methods would be what?

In order to answer this question, you should specify which trait you consider the fundamental common link of the “left table”, as not having a reactionary mind is merely a negative property. Jesus, Erasmus and Levi-Strauss did not have a reactionary mind. That doesn’t tell you much about what they have in common.

What you could imagine is lumping together all the people who on the contrary embraced the movement towards autonomy of the dominated parts of society, even (or especially) if this entailed destroying the social fabric. Arguably, you would seat there for instance Rousseau, Robespierre, Marx, Frederick Douglass, Louise Michel, Durkheim, Rosa Luxemburg, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fanon, Bourdieu, Chomsky but not for instance Voltaire, Hume, Lenine (certainly in his practice of power but arguably already in his writings) or of course Staline. It is an interesting question which head of state could qualify. FDR, perhaps? Mandela?

42

MisterMr 11.16.17 at 1:42 pm

@Z 41

I always assumed Durkheim was right leaning.

43

steven t johnson 11.16.17 at 2:43 pm

Since Scruton has come up, this may be of interest: https://platofootnote.wordpress.com/category/nature-of-philosophy/
I found that by way of this: https://platofootnote.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/the-nature-of-philosophy-scruton-vs-williamson-edition/#comments

John Holbo no doubt would greatly enjoy the way Pigliucci vindicates philosophy against the vulgar. He creams the assholes. Nonetheless, I think the centrality of religion in this discussion highlights the non-centrality of religion in Robin’s book (first edition, at least.) Absent a coherent critique of relgion (or objective understanding, if you will,) I suspect Robin’s work ultimately is too shallow to serve as an advance in political science/philosophy.

Also, quite aside from the questionable value in distinguishing personal psychological flaw like reactionary minds from religion, or even actual politics, is hard. Conservatives believe some people are better than others, but reactionaries get crazy mad about it? Actually using this idea is stressing my telepathy big time.

And, in many respects the real muscle behind conservatism is women, especially (though not exclusively) religious women. Can’t say I’m finding much help in Robin on how that works.

And lastly, it just seems to me any practical politics has to address how conservatives decide which people are in the inner circle, and which are not. Personally I’m inclined to think part of the problem for conservatives in practical politics is that when the budgets get written, altogether too many of the good people, as they flattered themselves, discovered they were not. It is sort of the opposite problem to left politics, where personal costs in pursuing collective action are a barrier to success. In conservatism, it is the costs of collective action to the person that threaten an insurmountable wall.

44

nastywoman 11.16.17 at 3:14 pm

”but I think a very strong case can be made (often an obvious one) that Hobbes, Hayek, Burke, Donald Trump, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Antonin Scalia, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Margaret Thatcher, Carl Schmitt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush all have a reactionary mind in this sense.”

– but I think an even stronger case could be made that Donald Trump has much more to do with the mind of a Kim Kardashian than with a ”reactionary mind” – and that could be ”the thing” – that as much as somebody like the ”reactionary” Morning Joe always tries to blame Trump on some ”democratic mind” – the ”Predators” of our times are much less ”political animals” – as they are ”instinctive ones” – as they don’t have – and it might be time for everybody who tries to defeat them – to understand – not much of a ”mind” at all.
-(much less a ”political or ”philosophical” or even ”reactionary” mind)

45

bianca steele 11.16.17 at 3:42 pm

I agree with the book’s thesis for the most part. Probably the psychologizing has to be supplemented. Like others, I occasionally thought, isn’t this true of a lot of liberals and leftists too? But none of that means the analysis of the stream of thought is wrong. I also think the reactionary nature of today’s conservatism/right wing is wrongly concealed by the blander aspects of Burke and Oakeshott. But I think populism is a big problem for he argument.

Maybe Corey’s identified a sadistic reactionary, and we ought to consider the possible existence of a masochistic reactionary, as well? The idea that a subordinate position, consciously understood, is inherently a leftist one, doesn’t seem fruitful or persuasive to me. It’s just factually not true. Or maybe rightwing populism is just incoherent and has never been successfully theorized–except that right-populists do seem to think it has been.

It really isn’t clear though why so many self-declared liberals, like Lilla, jumped to the “defense” of the conservatives the book supposedly “attacked.”

46

Sebastian H 11.16.17 at 4:03 pm

Z–“What you could imagine is lumping together all the people who on the contrary embraced the movement towards autonomy of the dominated parts of society, even (or especially) if this entailed destroying the social fabric.”

Even here you are falling for the same problem that I talked about with “The problem is that Corey falls into the classic tribalist trap–our group has lots of fine distinctions so we clearly can’t attribute faults X, Y, and Z to US, but their group is all one big lump so everyone is basically a secret Hitler.”

A Corey level unifying feature for the left would be something like “Wanting to change society for their version of ‘better’ (your interest in their version of better definitely not required)”. He tries to capture the entire right without distinctions so this kind of left is a fairly similar application. It gets everyone from incremental reformers, to revolutionary terrorists. So the table includes everyone from Mugabe to Jesus, Robespierre to Martin Luther King, Stalin to Hugo Chavez. It certainly includes the militant Protestant Christian missionaries and empire building Muhammad. The Progressive Eugenicists definitely count–trying to restrict the breeding of the lower classes to improve the world you know. Strangely Margaret Thatcher should probably count too as should a bunch of the libertarians who want to have radically different social interactions.

What, a brush that broad isn’t useful you say? Hmmm….

47

Sebastian H 11.16.17 at 4:12 pm

If I were trying to make an actually useful, super-broad statement I would try something in this vein:

Conservatives tend to make errors in judgment about how the current society is doing things poorly. Their errors tend to justify the current structure because they downplay the current harms.

Leftists tend to make errors in judgment about what the current society is actually good at. Their errors tend to amplify the existing problems and downplay the bad sides of the solutions.

Both sides would do well to pay close attention to the types of errors that their mindset makes, but in reality they play close attention to the types of errors the other side makes compounding their own errors time and time again.

That is a super rough first pass, but much more useful.

It does have the distinct downside of not making it easy to demonize people, so I understand that is a fatal flaw in pursuing it further.

48

steven t johnson 11.16.17 at 5:12 pm

The important link at @43 was supposed to be https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/roger-scruton-timothy-williamson-philosophy/

Messed up my copy and paste. Even my simplest computer skills are about as good as my proofreading.

49

kent 11.16.17 at 5:24 pm

So did G.K. Chesteron stand for Garrison Keillor Chesterton?

50

Mercy 11.16.17 at 6:07 pm

@Z 41

Mao surely fits right along side Robbespiere as the Token Villain of the left table, for the Cultural Revolution alone, doesn’t he? Certainly he has a better claim than FDR. And as for head of states, do Caesar and all other the great senate smashing proto-emperors of the Roman Republic count?

51

Stephen 11.16.17 at 7:43 pm

Z@41: If the Left involves “movement towards autonomy of the dominated parts of society, even (or especially) if this entailed destroying the social fabric”, does that mean that the Right includes everybody who doubts whether destroying the social fabric is a good idea? Rather a large number, I would suggest.

Incidentally, given their viewpoint that the Jews dominated society, was not “autonomy of the dominated parts of society” exactly what the unspeakably evil Nazis wanted?

52

Thomas Beale 11.16.17 at 9:51 pm

faustusnotes @ 39
“Well then Thomas Beale, I suggest you dig it out, because it’s a classic in the genre of bullshit about how the WHO is going to take over the world and send black helicopters to get everyone. It’s also funded by a tobacco company, I think.”

I do remember its existence, now you mention it. I have not read it, but I suspect it’s not very good. Also not very defensible I suspect is the tobacco-company funded publishing era (although I have read none of the articles and never bothered to follow up the details).

“Perhaps this is the indication of how these people all share the temperament that Robin identifies – not what they say when talking about topics in the core of their attention, but their willingness to completely uncritically regurgitate absolute bullshit when they’re paid to do so by a tobacco company on a topic slightly outside their core discipline.”

That’s probably fair enough, assuming you are right about the nature of the BS in question. But I would see this as a failure of judgment not intellect. It’s pretty common, and not many are immune.

“His work on the WHO shows that he is not a serious thinker, and you should question whether anything he has ever written was anything except hackery.”

That’s untrue, and a basic error of logic to think that a person’s erroneous utterance renders wrong all the truths he has stated previously, or that it erases past brilliance. By your argument we should reject the excellent biology research and science writing of Dawkins due to his ill-judged foray into the faith wars; forget all of Auberon Waugh’s and Kingsley Amis’s good novels, and let’s not even mention Celine or Wagner… in fact we might as well reject the law of gravity, due to Newton’s later and dedicated engagement with alchemy.

Scruton’s good work includes a well-known and very coherent view of ‘conservatism’, good enough to disagree with, if you want. And there’s nothing wrong with many of his other publications in philosophy, even if you disagree with them, they are certainly serious. And Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands is really very entertaining, if not entirely serious, but then the so-called intellectuals that are its target are not even vaguely serious thinkers, so admittedly easy prey.

It’s convenient to dismiss good quality thinking (writing, acting, music, …) from anyone who has made lapses of judgment elsewhere in their career, especially if they are not in your camp. But good works tend to stand long after the complaints of critics about the author, not the work.

53

Suzanne 11.16.17 at 10:48 pm

@30: To say that Cardinal Cupich is seen as liberal and he is viewed as an ally of the Pope seems unobjectionable. Given that polarization between liberals and conservatives is very much a front-burner issue in the modern Church, and those conflicts play out in U.S. party politics, why should anyone “leave Catholics out of it”? Both sides were at play in the fight over the Affordable Care Act in the United States, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leading the charge against and the Catholic Health Association backing the law. The latter gave the Administration political cover that was important at the time. That’s only one example.

54

John Holbo 11.17.17 at 12:27 am

“Conservatives tend to make errors in judgment about how the current society is doing things poorly. Their errors tend to justify the current structure because they downplay the current harms.

Leftists tend to make errors in judgment about what the current society is actually good at. Their errors tend to amplify the existing problems and downplay the bad sides of the solutions. “

Sebastian, why does this pattern exist? Not to be dumb about it, but it isn’t exactly an accident, looks to me. This doesn’t look to me like a more useful correction to Corey’s stuff. It looks like an observed regularity one would like to explain, and Corey’s stuff is an attempted explanation. What are the values of conservatives, such that they are one-eyed this way (and progressives are one-eyed the other way.) You could say: it’s because self-interest. The haves will always be apologists for the status quo. And the have-nots will always want to shake things up. But I don’t think that’s quite right, although there’s truth to it. It’s not that conservatives are prudent or moderate, temperamentally, or sensitive to the law of unintended consequences. They are obviously none of those things, and quite extraordinarily insensitive to some unintended consequences. Then what? There obviously doesn’t need to be ONE answer. And we don’t need to be all ‘everyone get on the couch and get psychoanalyzed’. But it seems reasonable to try to understand things a bit more in depth than two opposed cognitive biases. What simple story would you most favor, if not anything like Corey’s?

I am sure Corey overdoes it in spots, but in some spots I think he’s spot-on, to a useful degree. A year or so ago I wrote a Peter Gay post about how he should have written a companion volume. The Insider As Outsider. It occurs to me that would be a good subtitle for Corey. The history of conservatism, in a philosophical sense, is not the history of prudence or appreciation of the law of unintended consequence or any of that. It’s the history of negative reactions of social insiders to realizing that some or other social justice struggle has made them into outsiders. Or at least made them feel that way. I think it’s a pretty good generalization. It’s specific yet still holds to a high degree and is better than the bare self-interest explanation.

55

bruce wilder 11.17.17 at 2:14 am

“why does this pattern exist?” (The pattern in question being different characteristic “errors of judgment” typical of Left and Right tendencies, proposed by Sebastian above.)

I would say that politics expresses human ambivalence. Most of us are wishy-washy or conflicted, and uncertain about a great many things. It is a psychic stimulus to encounter anyone with definite opinions about how things should be, and it can be a relief of sorts on our cognitive load to be able to reduce our own political will to simplified support or opposition. The great division in the French National Assembly was not left and right of the speaker, but floor to rafters. The spirited mountaineers of the upper rows of seats drove the plainsmen in the lower rows. The former had a passionate rhetoric, full of certain and radical conviction; the latter swayed from pole to pole.

That many people, perhaps most people, can have many contradictory opinions about the direction in which lies the public good is not the least obstacle to sorting people into symmetric ideological bins by Type label, though. A greater obstacle than ambivalence is sincerity. Sincerity is the key to great theatrical acting, if you can fake that you have got it made. Just so, politics, which is just another form of show business. Sebastian’s symmetry requires left and right to be sincere in their judgments, so their differing Type errors of judgment balance. But, I suspect that many people are ambivalent about any public good at all or invested in the politics of contradiction or negligence, not conservation or design. A bank robber is not usually a revolutionary; she attacks the institution, true, but wants the money she stole to be good for payments the morning after — she wills money capitalism to go on and is in that sense a conservative, even if she acts to disrupt the system ephmerally. We speak of the vested interest as defining a kind of conservatism, but we might think of a vested interest in parasitism as being the essence of reactionary conservatism — a politics of bank robbers yesterday, depositors and lenders today. What error of judgement should we apply to the livery of such a partisan configuration?

Was Milton Friedman “sincere” in his political argumentation on behalf of his vision of “classical liberalism”, the American public good, or neoclassical economics? Was his economics or politics a continuation of tendencies traceable at least to the 17th century?

I do not think Friedman was a trustworthy narrator of his own understanding of the economy; he was too good a polemicist to risk any but a fake sincerity in political combat. His power as a public intellectual rested on his cynical willingness to lie in order to win the argument, something he did frequently and with verve. If he was winning the political battle, he felt no need to win the argument for the sake of truth. If gold bugs were applauding him, he was not about to disabuse them of their faith; if the liberals were on him about the importance of an active, countercyclic fiscal policy, he was ready with a sophisticated narrative of economic history and theory.

Did Friedman have anything in common with hard money conservatives going back to Hume or Turgot? Not in the details of either his economics or his political positioning. And, yet, there is an outline of a perennial outlook there. A lodestone at work orienting him.

I find Corey’s work most useful in penetrating that layer of tactical concession to the times and effective opposition and revealing the perennial sentiments and orienting lodestones. I am convinced that the core of reactionary conservatism is the desire to dominate in a social and economic hierarchy. Not an error of judgment per se, though errors of judgment may be revealing of the truth of that core desideratum. This is where I think Corey scores, in penetrating to a common orienting desire.

Like other commenters, I think populism can be a bit problematic, because while the demagogues of populist rebellion may well, like Trump, epitomize the amoral seeking after social domination arguably typical of reactionary conservatives in every age and place, populism entails a body of followers invested in egalitarianism, even if it is only the egalitarianism of membership in their in-group’s club.

56

Collin Street 11.17.17 at 2:30 am

If Sebastian is correct and the errors leftists and rightists make are symmetrical… then this is a pattern would be repeated over history, and… say a hundred-and-fifty and two hundred years ago to remove it from two specific incidents.

A hundred and fifty and two hundred years ago, leftists and rightists were makung symmetrical errors. What, in your judgenent, Sebastian H, were these errors that leftists and rightists were making?

(And if Sebastian doesn’t have this information immediately to hand… then he’s talking out of his arse, isn’t he. This is precisely the information yoy need to reasonably conclude that leftist and rightist errors are symmetrical, Seb claims that he has reasonably concluded that leftist and righist errors are symetrical, ergo Seb is claiming that he has this info. Or he’s wrong and he’ll admit it, or he’s lying or crazy, in which case no further attention should be paid to him. 36 hours seems reasonable)

57

ph 11.17.17 at 2:53 am

“The Insider as Outsider” does seem a very good subtitle for Corey’s book. The history of conservatism, in a philosophical sense, expounded in texts for a literate class of the like-minded and the persuadable, is an apology/defense for the most part for the values of tradition and proven methods.

If we move our terminology from conservatism to those of Confucianism, a very conservative social and political philosophy, we understand this ‘conservatism’ as explicit and codified respect and veneration for the proven successes and practices of our ancestors, those who provided us literally with the right to venerate, or dismiss their experiences, values, and practices. Indigenous peoples are often very resistant to change, in many cases because proven practices appeared to increase chances of group survival in often hostile environments. There’s normally some logic to beliefs and practices.

I’m not sure that deploying negative, or positive terms adds anything to our understanding of the familiar, or the new.

58

Layman 11.17.17 at 3:05 am

Sebastian H: “It does have the distinct downside of not making it easy to demonize people, so I understand that is a fatal flaw in pursuing it further.”

How is this distinguishable from both-sides-ism false equivalency? Oh, it’s not? Maybe that’s its fatal flaw.

59

Faustusnotes 11.17.17 at 5:05 am

Thomas Beale, we aren’t here to defend scrutons record, were here to see if he should sit at robin’s table. You argued he shouldn’t, but I’m saying we can infer the truth of his reactionary principles from his errors of judgement in defenseman of conservatism, because from that we can see what his real social preferences are, unrestricted by the conventions of a field he knows well. And in that we see he will take money from the worst corporate actors oft he 20th century in order to present a bullshit conspiracy theory in defense of their right to poison as many people as they can. I think that tells us whether he should sit at that table. And no writing a while book paid for by the worst corporate scoundrels to defend their right to destroy the health of billions is not an “error of judgement” – it’s an illustration of the person’s judgement.

60

nastywoman 11.17.17 at 6:46 am

The tricky part in all of this – is – if in the future nobody wants to elect ”politicians” anymore – and so called ”reactionary” so called ”populists” – get erected in order to destroy what they supposed to be ”governing” – and as the next President we get a so called (Hollywood) actor – or (hopefully) a Comedian – ”comedy”’ just isn’t ”reactionary” – that’s why non-comedians like F…faces have such a hard time laughing…

then what we do with our ”Politische Schubladen”?

61

casmilus 11.17.17 at 6:54 am

Scruton’s big political statements are in “The Meaning Of Conservatism”, and also “Thinkers Of The New Left” (the original edition is more interesting than the recent reworking). He was a thing in the 80s, where his schtick was being one of the few outspoken pro-Thatcher anti-Left academics. Some of the essays in “The Philosopher On Dover Beach” (the 1990 collection, not the book about him by Mark Dooley, with the same title) are interesting, for example “Hegel As A Conservative Thinker” and “Analytic Philosophy And The Neglect Of Aesthetics”.

I think he may have changed his mind about homosexuality, from the notorious opinions expressed in “Sexual Love” and elsewhere.

Negative views of Scruton are a great source of delight though, and not all of them come from the Left. Eric Griffiths’s review of his “Guide To Modern Culture” (TLS, 1999) is a classic of the genre, and Stefan Collini has had numerous swipes. Neither of those gentlemen are the stereotype post-68 trendy cultural studies academic that is Roger’s preferred opponent.

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nastywoman 11.17.17 at 7:05 am

– and furthermore if even – the ”most reactionaries” of all ”reactionaries” – some German ones have understood that they have to adopt all kind of ”non-reactioanary” social policies in order to trick the people into voting for their so called ”anti-establishment” – and thusly only partly ”reactionary programs” – then there are the ”Trumpets” who are actually… nothing – besides being some mumbling, bumbling Moron – and they are allowed to sit on the table with old-fashioned reactionary… but without any doubt – ”thoughts producing” – ”conservatives” – anywhoo – what do we do with any type of… let’s not say ”reactionary”… but perhaps… ”outdated”? – classification of F… faces?

Especially if even the urban dictionary is more up to date?

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Thomas Beale 11.17.17 at 10:33 am

Faustusnotes @ 59
you argue that his behaviour rather than his mainstream writing (i.e. philo, etc) is the guide to his real thoughts. Maybe you are right, but then, if that’s the bar for anyone, we can just ignore writing and philosophy altogether, and examine everyone’s documented interactions with society, the corporate class etc. Which of course isn’t practically possible for the vast majority of writers / philosophers in history. Although Newton still doesn’t look good…

And we still don’t have anything close to a meaningful definition of ‘conservatism’ that isn’t either a question of ‘temperament’, or a question of self-interest and tribal allegiance. An interesting and useful definition would be one that a true philosopher would want to see applied universally, i.e. in the sense of Kant. Any other definition is just going to be in the service of self-interest (according to most here) and it thus just an excuse, not a real ‘position’.

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MisterMr 11.17.17 at 10:52 am

@Stephen 51
“Incidentally, given their viewpoint that the Jews dominated society, was not “autonomy of the dominated parts of society” exactly what the unspeakably evil Nazis wanted?”

No, Hitler was very clear that he believed in the “fuhrerprinzip” and that Nazism was based on inequality. In fact he believed that capitalism was already too egalitarian, and that communism was just a sort of extreme capitalism, both being jewish inventions.

Did you read the Mein Kampf?
I think you should, as you seem to assume too easily that “fascism” and “communism” are the same thing.
This is oftentimes passed as the summa of historical wisdom, but it’s really dubious and in fact is mostly an ideological construction of the cold war.
Obviously “real socialism” shared the illiberal and totalitarian attitude of fascism but it doesn’t in itself mean that the two things were the same, nor that they were economically similar as is often implied (generally without particular proof).

Also, the only leftish pro-eugenics guy I did read was Hobson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Hobson) and he in fact proposed eugenics as a limit to populationm growth, but explicitly not limited to the poorer classes and in fact he proposed it as something that had to take the place of “economic based” malthusian control of population.

Malthusian theories are not generally speaking linked to the left, unless you want to count Malthus and Ricardo as “left” but I think they were not considered such in their times (for example Marx considered Malthus a reactionary, he wrote so in the “theory of surplus value”)..

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bob mcmanus 11.17.17 at 11:02 am

Just started Georg Lukacs The Destruction of Reason, 1952, which I guess could also be subtitled The Reactionary Mind. From the intro:

For what ulti­mately determines an ideologist’s philosophical level is the
depth to which he fathoms the questions of his day, his ability to raise
these to the peak of philosophical abstraction, and the extent to which the
standpoint derived from his class base allows him to explore these questions
in their full depth and breadth.

1) Lukacs of course engages in immanent critique, embedded in history, economics, sociolology. The reactions he studies are partly determined, first by the bourgeois revolutions French Revolution etc, and later by the reaction to the Paris Commune; and partly determined by each stage of capitalism and imperialism. Lukacs “reactionary mind” is a defense against liberation movements and after 1870 an attempt to repress socialism. The reactionary mind is the anti-communist mind, and bourgeois liberal capitalism is simply a more subtle holding action.

2) It is also a modernism. The current forces in might be an the various multicultural movements as a bourgeois reaction, and the “Right” as their opposition. The 1960s-70s, in anti-colonialism, 2nd wave feminism, and black nationalism were revolutionary movements with socialist bases and support from global communism; the current manifestations I think are reactionary.

3) I have read an excerpt, and Lukacs turned me against Nietzsche in one paragraph.

4) I should try again to read Corey Robin’s book symptomatically and comparatively to the Lukacs. And should also read Mayer’s Persistence of the Ancien Regime. Busy busy.

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Matt 11.17.17 at 12:40 pm

Just started Georg Lukacs The Destruction of Reason, 1952

Interesting. In the otherwise moderately sympathetic “Modern Masters” volume on Lukacs, that volume comes in for special scorn for being unoriginal, pedantic, and a product of the Stalinist times in which it was produced. I haven’t read it, but I really doubt it should be enough to turn one against Nietzsche.

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engels 11.17.17 at 12:47 pm

I haven’t read Corey’s book but I wonder how an explaining conservatism as the world view of dominators who want to cling on to power explains its popularity? For me, an analysis of conservatism would start from the fact that it’s a modern ideology and needs to enable an alliance between elites and sections of the masses numerous enough to win elections….

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Faustusnotes 11.17.17 at 1:40 pm

Thomas Beale,you can’t just dismiss a book a guy wrote as “his behaviour”. Why is his book on the WHO less important for understanding his temperament than one of his random philosophical texts? I don’t think you could point to a work of Chomsky’s and say it was an example of lazy shitty thinking that he was paid to write by a band of rich arseholes, but you can for scruton. So why should I privilege his philosophical work over his hack work? You presented this dude as a model conservative so no you can’t just hand wave away the moment that he decided to write a nasty little hit piece at a successful international institution for his poisonous paymasters as “behaviour”. This is the core of his being: a philosopher for hire, selling his rhetorical skills to poisoners so he can defend their right to keep poisoning without government even intervening to teach the populace that they’re being poisoned. I’d say the book scruton wrote in service of continuing to kill millions of people is more relevant than some crap he wrote about art theory. Why does your mileage vary so much?

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Lee A. Arnold 11.17.17 at 1:54 pm

There seems to be two different kinds of conservatives, social and economic.

Social conservatives think there may be a systemic value in the continuation of ancient mores: of race, tribe, religion, sexual preference, etc. However, almost all social conservatives also accept the tenets of individual self-determination and democratic redress. (Contemporary social conservatives, at least.) This sets up a tension inside their camp, because we all learn more, and the mores change, and some change quickly.

Economic conservatives carry the premise, really the slogan, that everyone can be rich — if only people will put enough effort into it! Their more refined restatement of this premise is that everyone’s best efforts will put each one into the proper level of a material hierarchy of just deserts. But these ideal premises are empirically false and theoretically unprovable. It hasn’t happened in the 350 years of the market system, and there are a handful of reasons why it cannot.

Perhaps this is one thing that causes the economic conservatives to favor organized religion (making a connection to social conservatism). Poorer individuals will remain economically conservative by accepting their “failure” to make good as a part of Providence, “some are born to sing the blues”, and so they will not question the structure of the economic system. Thus religion is not only an opioid of the masses, it is a protective cloak that the whole system needs for justification, and which the rich use to justify their achievements. The hierarchy of just deserts is accepted by a wide social agreement that is arrived at from different avenues, rich or poor.

Economic distress causes both kinds of conservatism, social and economic, to reassert themselves (and so does war and personal existential crisis). Thus “social insiders realizing they are outsiders” makes a good subtitle for the history of published reactionary expression. But the published expression is not the ding an sich. There is something underneath it all. We may be forced to bring in the psychoanalyst’s couch because it is not addressed by intellectual argument. It is deeper than self-interest or need to dominate. It is bodily fear, comforted by having a bank account.

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LFC 11.17.17 at 2:37 pm

From Holbo’s OP:

Suppose Robin had written – I dunno: Political Romanticism – and had drawn up some very expansive table full of mutually diverse yet individually likely suspects, plausibly fitting some stated account of what ‘Political Romanticism’ means. Now, a lot of useless books have been written about Romanticism, but some good ones. So this project could be a stinker. Or maybe it’s done well and you see enlightening, heretofore unnoticed features of these figures, forced to sit cheek-by-jowl for the duration of the exercise. You don’t just dismiss this as ‘lumping’.

The OP goes on at unnecessary length, most of it making the above point over and over. I think the point is so obvious it doesn’t need to be made over and over (even if some of CR’s critics don’t understand it).

Obviously it’s not improper to take diverse figures and to suggest they have some important features in common. If one couldn’t do this, then neither historians of ideas nor political theorists nor anyone else could talk intelligibly about any ‘isms’ — conservatism, liberalism, Marxism, utopian socialism, pragmatism, political realism, and on and on and on. The criticism of Corey R should therefore focus not on the largely spurious charge of ‘lumping’ but on disagreement w the particular common feature he identifies and emphasizes (i.e., at least in the first ed. of the book, a partly psychologically driven defense of ‘private hierarchies of power’).

It wd also have been ok to write about a bk about the diversity of ‘the conservative tradition’, or the liberal tradition or the Marxist tradition or any other damn tradition of political thought. But that’s not CR’s project. He’s writing about what he sees as the common or unifying features of one tradition. There’s nothing wrong w that. People shd criticize his project for what it does or tries to do, not for what it doesn’t try to do.

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bob mcmanus 11.17.17 at 2:42 pm

66:that volume comes in for special scorn

I was aware of some of the controversy, and had hesitated for a long while. DoR is by its nature antagonistic to many trends in Western Philosophy and Western Marxism.

Here is a qualified defense by Janos Kelemen in 2005.

Although not dedicated or committed, I do find myself more open to approved Soviet science and philosophy than most, or than I used to be. They were not all robots, all the time.

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LFC 11.17.17 at 2:56 pm

For an example of a similar project in reverse — i.e., a conservative doing an anatomy of some (as he sees them) common features of the liberal tradition — see Kenneth Minogue, The Liberal Mind (1963; Vintage pb., 1968).

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Sebastian H 11.17.17 at 5:30 pm

John, you write “Sebastian, why does this pattern exist? Not to be dumb about it, but it isn’t exactly an accident, looks to me. This doesn’t look to me like a more useful correction to Corey’s stuff. It looks like an observed regularity one would like to explain, and Corey’s stuff is an attempted explanation.”

I wonder if maybe we disagree about the general direction of Corey’s book. You write as if he was aiming at a clear minded sociological or psychological investigation of conservatives. The book strikes me as much more in the vein of 18th and 19th century imperialist tracts–“Meet the scary savages and why we must conquer them Volume IX”. You don’t expect the imperialist tract to fairly and usefully discuss anything very deep about ‘the savages’. Sometimes they come across some tidbit that is insightful, but the general thrust of it isn’t meant to come to understanding them. Sometimes a very good author of such tracts accidentally end up humanizing their subjects, but generally the idea is to play up the differences so we can feel superior to them.

Why do conservatives tend to downplay the harms of the current order and fail to see the safer changes that could be made to it?

Why do leftists tend to downplay the value of the current order and fail to see the risks of changes that they want to make to it?

I don’t know. But but I’m pretty sure that the approach Corey takes in his book and most of the time in his posts isn’t helping us figure it out.

From the OP though helpful reminder from LFC “So this project could be a stinker. Or maybe it’s done well and you see enlightening, heretofore unnoticed features of these figures, forced to sit cheek-by-jowl for the duration of the exercise. You don’t just dismiss this as ‘lumping’.”

This feels like an unfair reduction of the criticism of Corey’s book. The objection is that it isn’t useful lumping. It isn’t useful in a number of ways.

First, it divides the left and the right and then makes a number of points which are if not equally applicable to both, are largely applicable to both. This ends up being intensified by–

Second, when drawing his distinctions he draws them broadly about the right and narrowly about the left.

So on authoritarian impulses we end up lumping everybody on the right as closet Hitlers drawing on numerous wide ranging historical examples, but on the left we have to be sure to limit ourselves only to the most modern non-authoritarian examples such that Mao and Stalin don’t count against our side. The problem with doing that is that you are only making things seem PARTICULARLY attached to the right wing by ignoring all the left wing examples.

This all gets horribly mushed up as soon as you realize that what he ends up describing as ‘reactionary’ could easily be applied to leftists in power. Stalin and Mao and Hugo Chavez act in many of the same ways that he describes as right wing reactionary once they gain power. But that doesn’t mean that they suddenly have mapped onto the right wing of most discussions. “People in power try to thwart people who challenge their power” is often a correct formulation, but it applies to Hillary Clinton vs. Sanders too, as well as Obama vs. Romney and Stalin vs. nearly everyone, so the right/left progressive/reactionary lens isn’t very informative there.

Third, or maybe 2a) he is super tribal about distinctions. Our side has millions of distinctions that let us escape ‘lumping’, theirs has none. Is that just super convenient or is it great analysis?

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novakant 11.17.17 at 8:41 pm

It seems to me that contemporary “conservatives” are mainly interested in money and power with a bit of casual cruelty towards supposed inferiors thrown in.

75

phenomenal cat 11.17.17 at 9:49 pm

“3) I have read an excerpt, and Lukacs turned me against Nietzsche in one paragraph.”
mcmanus @65

Can you drop a quotation of the excerpt here, or is it too long? I perused the link to Kelemen, but the few references to Nietzsche in it mostly have to do with Irrationalism. A term/concept that is useful (but rarely deployed in a way that’s actually useful) as a tentative and initial approach to some nasty metaphysical problems, but it is also aggressively vague and freighted with normative biases. As an analytical object it’s often called upon in such a way as to remove it from the plane of phenomena it seeks to address.

….Not that it’s surprising that Lukacs has problems with N. The antagonism many left thinkers have always found in N.’s thought is no real mystery, but it’s fascinating how consistently they have misperceived (or at least misrepresented) the basis of that antagonism.

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Thomas Beale 11.17.17 at 9:53 pm

Faustusnotes @68
“I’d say the book scruton wrote in service of continuing to kill millions of people is more relevant than some crap he wrote about art theory. Why does your mileage vary so much?”

For the simple reason that noone reads or cares about the WHO pamphlet (all of 65pp). Scruton doesn’t have any traction in the health or international NGO arena. Some of his other works stand up well. You refuse to consider them, including a very well-known one providing a sound defence of a certain type of conservatism, because of something irrelevant? I guess your bookshelves contain only the works of saints…

77

Mario 11.17.17 at 10:51 pm

[…]see Kenneth Minogue, The Liberal Mind

What? Even the names match.

I can understand the impulse. You think hard about the most important issues, spend years preparing yourself to apply the best and most erudite lore that there is.

And finally, you win the argument by multiple obliteration.

But then the other side basically doesn’t give a damn. What could be the reason? Ah! I know! They must be dysfunctional in some sense!

78

bob mcmanus 11.18.17 at 12:23 am

75, Pcat, re Lukacs contra Nietzsche:Can you drop a quotation of the excerpt here, or is it too long?

DoR Chapter 3 …Marxists.org. This is long, and many will find it tendentious.

I think the actual paragraph might have been quoted in a work by Domenico Losurdo. Whatever, just a snap-click moment.

79

Collin Street 11.18.17 at 1:21 am

It seems to me that contemporary “conservatives” are mainly interested in money and power with a bit of casual cruelty towards supposed inferiors thrown in.

They’re over-privileged fuckups who depend on the glass floors inherent in stratified societies for whatever place or role they’ve been able to maintain. Exactly what privilege they’re defending depends on the privileges that that society recognises; back when market economics were growing, the big reactionary thing was to defend the privileges of the aristocracy, but now money is king.

[thus the big push for inherited wealth, specifically: not a one of them has the talent/drive/social-skills to become or even remain rich on their own merits. Real-world markets depend on personal qualities, and the people who can succeed through personal effort aren’t the ones who need or support social ossification. But their children… ]

Reaction is the political equivalent of incessantly making monty-python quotes and wondering why nobody laughs.

80

Alison P 11.18.17 at 8:55 am

Every society has methods by which people can gain power and privilege over others in an orderly way – let us say kingship, or caste, or buying military commissions, or gender roles in marriage. These methods reduce conflict. So you don’t have a civil war every time the king dies.

Conservatives realise there are bad kings, bad officers, bad husbands, but they feel overall that the we should stick to these orderly means. That includes plenty of people who just want to avoid war of all against all. And because the orderly means mutate over time, the beliefs of conservatives keep changing a lot (ironically).

Reactionaries are broadly aligned to Conservatives but they always feel the means of orderly transfer of power have recently gone wrong (equal hiring practices for example). While fascists think any practice that gains power legitimates exercise of power.

And then Whigs – or liberals – are in the same game, but they think the means of getting power can be refined and better aligned to merit. Clearly because they see themselves as meritorious.

So I would call all of these movements variations on Conservatism. Liberals are just brainy Conservatives.

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John Holbo 11.18.17 at 2:36 pm

Sorry, busy today and unable to contribute. But I think this piece by Will Wilkinson is interesting and might soften the sort of resistance towards Corey that Sebastian is expressing. I get it. I get why psychologizing, plus ideological hostility (no point denying it) leads to some uncharity. But I still think the psychology is important for understanding conservatism, and even if you think Corey is painting in a few too many blacks, the picture is still basically right.

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/libertarian-origins-libertarian-influence-ruling-american-right/

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bruce wilder 11.18.17 at 3:31 pm

I suppose I see in my own attitudes or inclinations some of that Whiggish liberalism. I do not know that it is brainy. I would admit it is prone to self-righteousness and self-serving hypocrisy of the kind that favors change to conform to some ideal principle, but not yet, not soon. Contempt for the lower orders and exploitation, too, can be wrapped up in paternalism.

No political tendency exists in isolation, entire onto itself; politics, as I wrote earlier, is human uncertainty and ambivalence projected outward from the individual psyche into the political society as a division of labor in opinion. We hold the opinions we do from personal preference, but personal preference conditioned on the expression of attitudes and views by others. There is competition for cultural mindspace, if you will, just as species compete for their place in the landscape, and a kind of ecology of ideologies forms, as niches are formed and exploited. The landscape of political society is the institutional order, with the roles and functions assigned, and politics is preoccupied with the tasks of maintaining, reproducing, operating and altering that institutional order in which we, the political actors great and small are embedded. The rationale for, the design of, the management of and the legitimacy of the existing order are always at issue, and under the pressure of politics, that order, such as it may be, is deteriorating even as politics may plan and execute schemes of renovation and renewal.

In thinking about politics, the capital fact of deterioration in the existing order is sometimes uncomfortable to admit to our idealized theories, but it is what most political activity is about: taking advantage of the existing order’s entropy from day-to-day, cheating (innovating!) a bit around the edges to bring about some personally beneficial local erosion or subversion of the existing order.

The word, conservative, suggest a defense of the existing order, and reactionary, an impulsive and resisting response to critique or reform. But, now, in our own political moment, we are witnessing a self-described conservatism that seems bent on dismantling the existing order by some combination of outright demolition of public agreements and agencies, or simply removing the constraints on economic predation and parasitism. What is our semantic intuition to do with actually existing “conservative” political activism? Are we to assert that “conservatives” want orderly means of seeking power in a hierarchical social and economic order in order to avoid the destructiveness of civil dispute? Or, can we see things as they are, and admit that conservatives seek to suppress civil dispute and pushback from the lower orders in order to maximize the scope of predation and parasitism afforded those privileged by an hierarchical order?

Alison P’s reference to the historic affection of conservatives for the patriarchy of kings and venal office, Whigs and such prompted these thoughts. I wonder that we do not know more of the 17th century, when the stupidity of stubborn, cunning Kings (Charles I put George W Bush in the shade) really mattered and reactionary conservative meant cutting the ears off a Congregational preacher. Religious tolerance and the bejeweled dolls of constitutional monarchy were Whiggish solutions to political problems that erupted into costly wars, civil and international. Would that we were as inventive.

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b9n10nt 11.18.17 at 3:51 pm

Robin and Wilkinson (who must please Holbo by affirming the libertarian affinity with feudalism) both want to construct a theory of politics that is part historical/situationist and part ideological. To use an arboreal analogy, the roots are a particular ideology of authority and the branches and leaves are historical/situationist strategies of acting upon that ideology. Strains of conservatism (and, by implication, liberalism) represent strategies to either strengthen social hierarchies (or loosen them). And this hierarchical dualism is, again, rooted in ideology.

But this is rather old fashioned, no? Are we not forced to reckon with scientism? That is: if we are to take the modernist step and see that beliefs arise out some combination of historical circumstance and self-interest, we are equally compelled to see that beliefs themselves are rooted in biological veracities, not merely conceptual realities. This is necessary because we can no longer perceive a conceptual realm (anti/authoritarianism ) as anything but an emergent phenomenon of neurology and psychology.

So, when we say “conservatives are like this” and “liberals are like this” we must speculate on the naturalistic, biological grounds of this distinction.

My partner and I, for instance, were thinking about the typical way in which victims of sexual harassment or worse often describe freezing in the moment of violation. I suspect, as I think you must, that if someone perceived to be a social inferior to were to harass or abuse you sexually you would be less likely to freeze. A well-to-do woman being cat-called by construction workers might take offense but anxiety or panic would be less likely to arise. If your boss does this, however, it is more likely that the heart beats, the skin cools, and we are shocked into inaction.

Would this divergent responsiveness to stress, if empirically confirmed, not give us a window into some innate capacity to perceive and a react to authority? My partner equated the freezing to a conflicting impetus to fight/flight and, like a canine, lay down and show one’s belly to the alpha.

Our politics must be some manifestation of our nature as social primates. Obviously this is the subject of much recent and on-going research. Can any conclusions from these fields shed light on the topic of political typology?

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steven t johnson 11.18.17 at 4:25 pm

Sebastian H@47 “Conservatives tend to make errors in judgment about how the current society is doing things poorly. Their errors tend to justify the current structure because they downplay the current harms.

Leftists tend to make errors in judgment about what the current society is actually good at. Their errors tend to amplify the existing problems and downplay the bad sides of the solutions.”

This is incorrect. Conservatives see the punishment of inferiors as goods. Leftist rejection of conservative values is disagreement, not an error cost/benefit analysis.

The pattern simply does not exist. The fact that most conservatives cannot be reasonably convicted of voting their pocketbook acquits them of nothing. The fear that the left will capsize the boat convicts them of nothing.

That said, I find very little psychological insight in the first edition as to why reactionaries who don’t have property and power are reactionary. And I find very little discussion of why the belief that some people are worth more than others is anything other than self-indulgence on the part of the reactionaries who think so. And I find very little political analysis as to why some conservatives think the State is the Scourge of God punishing the sinners, and others claim not to.

Chasing links, I read “As Jacob Levy recently noted, a smart historian looking to spin a gripping dark yarn about the influence of libertarian ideas on the American right would pass right over James Buchanan, a high-minded scholar’s scholar, and fix on Rothbard, an obscure but colorful figure who has exerted extraordinary influence on American political culture at every level of brow. high, middle and low.” Everyone who went to a public school knows very well that pretending that you were too stupid to know better is one of the more successful excuses. Wilkinson appears to have learned the lesson somewhere.

It is extraordinary how one can claim that Rothbard was Svengali to the Kochs’ Trilby…except that if you admit that Rothbard’s “influence” was because people like the Kochs and Ron Paul found him useful for their ends, then you have to wonder how anybody knows the same wasn’t true of James Buchanan. It is very prudent to direct fire away from the king to the conniving courtiers, especially if you ultimately want a position at court yourself. It is especially convenient if you can magically assume that Buchanan is social science, because, after all, Nobel.

Chasing links further, from the Wilkinson post to a previous Jacob T. Levy post, I read “The claims MacLean makes are untrue about Buchanan. But the history of the postwar libertarian movement is rich with moments of flirtation or outright entanglement with the defenders of white supremacy.” I’m by no means convinced Levy is competent to refute the genetic fallacy he asserts MacLean perpetrated on Buchanan. But I am not one bit surprised at the assumption that Buchanan’s academic success was due solely to his intellectual acumen…and that his scientific proofs (as the popular presentations have it) that government offends against freedom by all sorts of unlikely things, like integrated education are left beyond question by hoi polloi.

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bianca steele 11.18.17 at 5:26 pm

I’d suggest the psychologizing is useful by reference to Alison’s reference to reactionaries’ “feeling.” We go wrong in assuming they are upset because of equal hiring practices. We probably go wrong in assuming they’re upset because of hiring practices at all–that they are worried about losing privilege in the sense that they were in line for a promotion that went to a woman or African-American they assumed they’d always be able to boss around. They are upset about *something*, though, and there is always an idealized image of the past ready to show them how this or that thing that happened yesterday, not only wouldn’t have happened before the fall, but is inherently related to the cause of everything bad.

They are not especially conservative in any sense an objective observer would recognize. All the people around them love the community, and continuity, as much as they do. They aren’t objectively more committed to conserving things. They’re “conservative” only in the sense that “conservative” is the word that’s important to them. If they got an actually conservative regime, they would still be miserable, and would have to find some new ideology to explain their misery.

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phenomenal cat 11.18.17 at 7:32 pm

@78

Thanks.

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Sebastian H 11.18.17 at 9:58 pm

Will Wilkinson’s piece is very good. I don’t see it as a piece with Corey’s at all because Will tries to understand the different nuances and break points instead of lumping everyone together. He mentions something that has been on my mind for a few years: the libertarian CRITIQUE of liberalism is very strong. Libertarianism as a stand alone philosophy sucks. That analysis is true of quite a few modern critiques. The Marxist critique is very useful. Raise Marxism to its own philosophy and it is more terrible than the systems it was developed to critique.

” I get why psychologizing, plus ideological hostility (no point denying it) leads to some uncharity. But I still think the psychology is important for understanding conservatism, and even if you think Corey is painting in a few too many blacks, the picture is still basically right.”

Ehhhh, I don’t think so. Corey isn’t good at understanding the psychology of conservatism and the picture he paints of THAT isn’t basically even close. What he is writing about would be much better characterized as a cluster of psychological techniques for defending the current order WHATEVER IT IS. If you look at it that way, suddenly it isn’t mysterious that a bunch of things he attributes to the right are often just as present on the left when the left is in power. It involves techniques that Hugo Chavez used but that isn’t shocking–not because Chavez wasn’t a ‘true leftist’, but rather because Corey isn’t identifying things that actually cleave along the right/left political axis. He’s identifying anti-democratic ways of maintaining power structures. The left uses that when they have the power structures (for modern tendencies in that direction see US university cultures as well as Communist countries). But like the right, there are different degrees of that (which Corey pretty much ignores).

If he had improved his book on any of the dimensions (properly labeling what he was talking about, understanding the different degrees of what he was talking about, or understanding the different cleavage points of conservatism) it would have been more useful. But he doesn’t really want to understand conservatives, the project is to demonize them. Because of that he can’t really notice that his labels are wrong, and he definitely can’t draw attention to when his critique applies to his side.

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Sebastian H 11.18.17 at 10:48 pm

John “Sebastian, why does this pattern exist? Not to be dumb about it, but it isn’t exactly an accident, looks to me. This doesn’t look to me like a more useful correction to Corey’s stuff. It looks like an observed regularity one would like to explain, and Corey’s stuff is an attempted explanation.”

and

B910nt “So, when we say “conservatives are like this” and “liberals are like this” we must speculate on the naturalistic, biological grounds of this distinction. “

“Our politics must be some manifestation of our nature as social primates. Obviously this is the subject of much recent and on-going research. Can any conclusions from these fields shed light on the topic of political typology?”

We are asking way too much from a very primitive science (psychology). Investigating some sort of deep ‘why’ in people’s conservatism and progressivism might someday give useful insights. But we aren’t even close now. I’m happy for scientists to try to figure it out someday, and even start looking today, but for the layman it doesn’t really matter.

We would be much better off with a very practical: I tend to be conservative, therefore if I want to come to wise decisions I need to pay close attention to not overlooking ways that changes can make things better and I need to try to overcome my inclination to reflexively resist change. Or: I tend to be progressive so if I want to make wise decisions I need to pay more attention to what things are actually working in the systems I want to change and be cautious about side effects of things if the changes I’m proposing are big.

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bianca steele 11.18.17 at 11:17 pm

politics, as I wrote earlier, is human uncertainty and ambivalence projected outward from the individual psyche into the political society

I’d say politics is an activity people do in groups. We don’t get to define political parties for ourselves personally, and we don’t get to define what the important political questions of our time are, either. I may feel that I’m importantly “conservative” because I like Shakespeare more than Jonathan Franzen, or importantly “liberal” because I like Lydia Davis more than I like Alice Hoffman, but I can’t exactly speak for “conservatives” or “liberals” on that basis. Or if I like living where my parents did versus moving to a city far away. We could develop an entire psychological system based on those definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” and it still would have nothing to do with actual politics; people who insisted on it would not and should not be taken seriously on the subject.

If we did, we’d probably have a lot of trouble understanding Corey Robin, though.

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bob mcmanus 11.19.17 at 12:07 am

86: The “snap” moment might have been as simple as “Nietzsche served in the Franco-Prussian war”

And I go wait a minute, 1865-1885 in “Germany” was a radical, revolutionary period in its particular form. Even if it isn’t obvious and overt in N’s work, I should start by looking for that, rather than wondering if the Eternal Recurrence is a logical coherent or plausible postulate. The ER is more usefully examined as a symptom, and expression, a reflection of N’s material circumstances.

Historical materialism. I, for instance, in reading the Wilkinson piece kinda wondered where is the Cold War in the Rand/Rothbard story? American Empire? Fordist industrialization, Keynesian demand management, Democratic Party dominance, suburbanization, liberation movements, decolonization.

“Heroes” don’t make their times at all. Times makes and finds their chroniclers and sometimes rarely their prophets.

This is not an irrationalism. It is the attitude that one can abstract ideas and concepts from their immediate and historical contextual totality and somehow then assess their truth or worth that is an irrationalism, an idealism.

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Jake Gibson 11.19.17 at 2:02 am

There is a lot here to digest.
I have not read Corey’s revised edition.
But referring to the original, I agree with his conclusion. I don’t always follow how he got there.
It seems to me that Conservatives view public goods as scarce resources. Particularly abstract goods. And you could agree that hierarchy and status are zero sum.
They also seem to see liberty as zero sum.
For a group of people who talk about liberty so much, they seem determined to prevent anyone else from using any.

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LFC 11.19.17 at 2:38 am

@ Sebastian H

In the introduction to the first edition of the book, Corey is explicit about what he sees as conservatives’ main underlying interest, at least historically: it’s not so much maintaining power in any form as it is maintaining private power, i.e. power in realms other than the state properly speaking: e.g., a husband’s power over his wife, for instance, or an employer’s power over his employees. Everything basically emanates from that, according to the book’s introductory passages. (Perhaps that’s changed in the revised edition — I don’t think so but I haven’t read the revised ed.)

Hence, your references to Hugo Chavez, Mao, and etc. are, at best, rather irrelevant to the terms of the argument as it’s set out, and, at worst, completely off the point. Mao’s Cultural Revolution was appalling, but it was not conservative or reactionary under Corey R’s definition, b/c far from maintaining traditional forms of private authority, Mao sought, among other things, to disrupt them. The book’s argument is not “having power (of any kind) and wanting to cling to it against people who want to take it away is the definition of a conservative.” If that were the argument, it would make virtually every incumbent president or prime minister a conservative, which is obviously absurd on its face.

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LFC 11.19.17 at 3:04 am

Another thing about conservatism, of course, which as I recall Corey incorporates but it isn’t original w/ him as he wd no doubt acknowledge, is that conservatives, again with the qualifier “at least historically,” have believed in the notion of a governing class: i.e., that some people, by virtue of having been born into circumstances permitting the acquisition of a certain kind of education and attitudes etc., are fit to rule in both public and private spheres.

This is not the same as e.g. the Soviet nomenklatura, who were party members and others who had accumulated power and/or wealth under the Soviet system. They were a sort of ruling class, but they were not a governing class as conservatives have thought of it, b.c the latter involves the significant accident of having been born into it. An archetypal historical instance is the centrality of the idea of a governing class in the worldview/ideology of British Conservatism (at least before Thatcherism), well described by Samuel Beer in his classic British Politics in the Collectivist Age.

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Chip Daniels 11.19.17 at 3:15 am

I think Corey’s basic premise that conservatives want to preserve private power is persuasive, but I’m wary of arguments that try to prove too much, that make it seem as if the other side is utterly without merit and completely irredeemable.
That usually works to rob us of our capacity for self-reflection and criticism.

There isn’t any aspect of conservative thought that can be defended? Are there any values that we have in common with them?

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JHW 11.19.17 at 3:32 am

Sebastian H at 87: Obviously the psychological pattern of being resentful toward people who challenge your power isn’t confined to one part of the political spectrum. But I take it that the account has a few more pieces than that. So, we might say something like:

“Conservatism is characterized by affirmation of traditional social hierarchies and intense opposition to disrupting them, an attitude/worldview often accompanied by a psychological component of perceived victimhood by one’s inferiors.”

You might resist people who challenge your power regardless of where you are in politics. But the stories you tell about it are going to look pretty different. To take your example, defenders of the Chavez government justified its authoritarian actions precisely as a defense of the “revolutionary” effort to upset Venezuela’s economic hierarchies in the face of determined opposition from the beneficiaries of those hierarchies. Compare to this, say, the classic conservative worry about democracy that it will lead to the poor unjustly seizing property from the rich. Equality is a justifying norm in the first case (even if used cynically to prop up deeply unequal power structures); it is the danger to be avoided in the second case.

Your earlier account of the biases of progressives and conservatives, however, does seem to be vulnerable to this type of objection. “Progressives” and “conservatives” alike are biased toward discounting the flaws of those aspects of our society that are congenial to them, and also toward discounting the flaws of proposed reforms to those aspects of society that are uncongenial to them. This is why (as other commenters have pointed out) the literal meaning of “conservative” as “someone who wants to conserve” is totally unhelpful.

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Alan White 11.19.17 at 4:28 am

I made the suggestion above that perhaps Robin’s thesis might best be given an expressivist twist, and though it was ignored–maybe rightly–I still wish to defend it.

First, expressivism is an emotivist position–that is, it takes communication about ostensibly factual matters as only expressions of emotional attitude. So “statements” about class-warfare or trickle-down economics yada yada are just linguistic gushings of subjective attitudes that may be shared in emotional tone among those so inclined, and thus increase the number who share one kind of attitude–a “base” like Trump’s.

Second, thus such expressions are not truth apt, and have no truth value as propositions beyond establishing subjective beliefs correlative with the expressed emotional attitudes. (So “Pepsi is better than Coke!” correlates with subjective belief that it tastes better than Coke–though that belief is irreducibly subjective. And so “LGBTs are evil!” etc.)

Third, the only goal of expressivist “argument” is to achieve agreement in attitude–to use any means whatsoever to move audiences of “arguments” to have the same attitude as the ones “arguing”. What are usually taken to be lies, distortion, playing sympathies, etc. are thus fair game in achieving that goal since truth has nothing to do anything.

Does this not sound a lot like Trump and Fox News?

So I elect to interpret Robin’s thesis as an emotivist/expressivist one, at least as it interprets in a functional way what all these seemingly different people are attempting to so, and how they are doing it.

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b9n10nt 11.19.17 at 5:15 am

Sebastian H:

But Wilkinson’s piece is of a piece with Robin’s: the ideologies of reaction take different forms based on historical circumstance. It’s right there in W’s insistence that “modern classical liberal worries about democracy largely motivated [propertarianism].” It’s precisely the mode of analysis that Robin engages in when he situates conservative political theory in contemporary circumstances. In both cases, what’s at play is status, authority, hierarchy. The ideologies are clothing for the true interest, and change with the historical weather.

And so I find your critique confused. First, your version of “conservatives are like this / liberals are like this” ignores Robin’s key finding: namely, that conservative ideological leaders aren’t weary of change, over-cautious of social changes as such.

Secondly, while I agree that we, as individual psyches identifying as discrete individuals who are making individual decisions (“should I wear this outfit”, “should I apply for this job”), exhibit a temperment that exists on a conservative/liberal axis, Corey’s topic is mass politics. Here, we identify with a collective. We are not considering our next play in the game, we are considering the rules of the game, as it were. Corey’s analysis suggests that, in this realm, another temperamental axis is equally or more relevant to predicting our behavior: our relationship to authority, our attraction to or resistance to explicit, stark social hierarchies.

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John Holbo 11.19.17 at 5:57 am

I’m still busy today finishing up stuff that must be finished. But this is a good discussion. Thanks.

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b9n10nt 11.19.17 at 6:28 am

Alison P @ 80

I would change “these methods reduce conflict” to “these methods appear to reduce conflict”. Surely, in any age, a disinterested observer could see that civil wars and their inverse, wars of conquest, as well as dynamic episodes of violent repression were all ubiquitous regardless of any preponderance of belief in orderliness and stability.

The exception proves the rule: in the capitalist democracies, elections supposedly show us the peaceful transfer of power. But this peacefulness really only indicates that power isn’t being transferred at all. A cop plants drugs on a citizen and arrests him: there’s your transfer of power.

We should likewise beware lest our apparent peacefulness isn’t a homogenized subordination, a tragic pacification.

bianca steele

“they are upset about *something* though.”

& that’s enough to know. The story about their ill-at-ease is fiction (“god damn libruls!”) and will just be a diversion, but the pain is real. An unmet need for…?

LFC & JWH

I’d argue that Stalinists and Chavezistas other cultists of mass politics are exhibiting the exact same attachment to their projections of status and hierarchy that, for instance, US racists show. Instrumental support for these regimes would not manifest the passion and cults of personality that are in evidence.

The Reactionary Mind is us.

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Z 11.19.17 at 7:19 am

“People in power try to thwart people who challenge their power” is often a correct formulation, but it applies to Hillary Clinton vs. Sanders too, as well as Obama vs. Romney and Stalin vs. nearly everyone, so the right/left progressive/reactionary lens isn’t very informative there.

But Sebastian H, that’s a spectacular misreading of Corey’s thesis (I write queasily because for all I know, Corey is going to show up and confirm that I misunderstood him completely and you got him exactly right). Corey is saying, look you have two logical criteria: 1) want to increase power-sharing in the private sphere and alongside traditional hierarchies or want to reverse the same and 2) being in favor of currently existing social structures on prudential ground or being in favor of disrupting or even destroying them. That from a purely logical point of view divides the world in four squares, and this is true whatever “your” side is, making incidentally this criticism of yours

Our side has millions of distinctions that let us escape ‘lumping’, theirs has none. Is that just super convenient or is it great analysis?

not to mention your

[Corey’s thesis] mak[es] it easy to demonize people

completely moot and even quite a bit absurd. Whatever you or anybody else think about the two criteria above (which side is “good”, which side is “bad”) doesn’t affect where you or anybody else find yourself. There are exactly 4 logically possible squares, period.

Now, the way I see it, Corey has two theses, one stronger and one weaker. The weak thesis is the following: a bunch of people (who may otherwise differ radically in a number of ways) find themselves in the “opposed to power sharing in private hierarchies/perfectly ready to smash existing institutions” square. These people unambiguously include – so says Corey – Burke, Nietzsche, Hayek and Ayn Rand. This does not mean Nietzsche and Ayn Rand are the same (in fact, I could hardly conceive of two more different people). This just means they are in the same logical square, whereas Marx is in another square (the same one as Robespierre and Chomsky, who are also very different people in other respects) and Voltaire in yet another one (with Rawls and, I find in closer examination, Durkheim and yet these three are also very different people).

Now Corey’s strong thesis. The way I understand it, it is as follows: he contends that the square “wants to reverse power sharing in private hierarchies/attached to existing structure on prudential grounds” – that is the square we would label the conservative square properly conceived – is in fact rather empty. That is to say, there are very few thinkers and politicians who rightly fit in this square.

Now, if you disagree, it should be very easy to to disprove at least the strong thesis: just exhibit an important thinker or influential politicians who clearly wanted power sharing in private hierarchies to be reverse and yet who was also clearly in favor of keeping existing social structures on prudential grounds. Disproving the weak thesis is harder, as it must be done case by case. John Holbo and Matt above are seemingly at the very least very skeptical about Nietzsche’s inclusion (whereas I personally completely agree with it) and I am personally a bit puzzled by Tocqueville’s.

But notice this important fact: if you dispute the inclusion of X in the square “opposed to power sharing in private hierarchies/perfectly ready to smash existing institutions” and even if you were to adopt the exact opposite of Corey’s thesis – that this square is in fact empty – all you’re doing is placing X and his brethren in another square. You are not introducing any supplementary distinctions about your side or the side you oppose, you are not doing any unlumping, you are not in any way less or more dehumanizing your opponents, whoever your opponents may be.

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Sebastian H 11.19.17 at 5:42 pm

Z, I’m not arguing that Corey doesn’t have a thesis which he faithfully follows. For any two criteria you can make a 2×2 logic box and make intellectually ‘interesting’ statements about the sections of the box. But you can do that for literally any criteria. That doesn’t make the analysis helpful or useful. You can choose “People born early in the year vs people born late in the year”. You can create charts. You can manipulate p values to get apparent statistical significance. You can notice that people born under Gemini get more of their bones broken in Australia but people born under Taurus get more bones broken in the US (because when you divide into bins and then sort for something else you can often find ‘differences’). That doesn’t make the exercise actually useful.

I’m saying that much of the dividing line criteria Corey uses is actually not very dividing across the dimensions he asserts (i.e. both sides of it are perfectly happy to try to enforce things through private structures and public so long as they are successful in doing so at a given time). I’m also saying that his method of sweeping disparate things together while making those ‘dividing lines’ (broad stereotypes for conservatives, super narrow characterizations of progressives) makes it worse. As such, by the time he gets to his logic square, he can find whatever he wants to find because it doesn’t really map onto a useful description of the landscape he claims to be describing.

I’m not saying that any attempt at describing broad things like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ is doomed to complete failure. But I am saying that it is the kind of project that needs something very different from what Corey puts into it. At the very minimum it would need to use similar styles of characterization on both sides of the divide. But that’s only because we are talking about it as if it were intended to be some sort of deep discussion of trying to figure that out. So far as I can tell it really isn’t intended to be that at all. It seems much more like what I described above: an imperialist “these are the savages and why we must defeat them” tract. It does a great job of that.

It is only when we insist on treating it as some sort of serious exploration of the human psyche that things fall apart–and only because we are treating it under the standards of a serious exploration of the human psyche. Accept it for what it is: an attempt at “The Road to Serfdom”. Both have an actual insight or two, mixed in with loads of unfair characterizations, dramatic misunderstandings, and confusion about how things link together because it is written by an outsider who isn’t really interested in understanding the side he is demonizing. You don’t go to “The Road to Serfdom” to get a deep understanding of socialist thought or why people might be attracted to it. And Hayek wrote other more fair/penetrating things too so it isn’t as if writing an unfairly polemic tract means you can’t do otherwise at other points.

But reading “The Road to Serfdom” to understand people with ‘socialist tendencies’ would be silly.

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Robespierre 11.19.17 at 6:21 pm

Z: fair enough, but you are making your job easier by switching from:

“Wants to keep existing (unequal) power relations” to:

“Wants to change power relations back to an earlier (and less equal) state”

Of course the second group will have a bigger to-do list than the first; and to tell the truth, has less reason to be cautious than the progressive who doesn’t actually have proof that his new society will work, or how.

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Sebastian H 11.19.17 at 6:33 pm

B9n10nt: “But Wilkinson’s piece is of a piece with Robin’s: the ideologies of reaction take different forms based on historical circumstance. It’s right there in W’s insistence that “modern classical liberal worries about democracy largely motivated [propertarianism].” It’s precisely the mode of analysis that Robin engages in when he situates conservative political theory in contemporary circumstances.”

I’m not proposing that psychological analysis is IMPOSSIBLE. I’m suggesting that it has to be undertaken with extreme care, especially with groups you aren’t a part of because:

A) you may think you understand them but be wrong;
B) you may attribute in whole things that are at most a part because of A);
C) you need to take lots of care when making your dividing lines because psychological analysis is very prone to in group/out group biases in which you play up the out group’s faults and play down the in group faults which ends up muddying your analysis;
D) you need to take care to choose your dividing lines because psychological analysis lets you select from millions of possible dividing lines, so you can often create a story that looks statistically interesting on naive analysis simply because when given enough degrees of freedom you can tend to find 1/20 chances all the time.

Corey doesn’t really take care with any of that. My short view would be that most of his dividing lines aren’t actually very clear differences between conservatives and progressives. This ends up being illustrated in all sorts of ways across is argument. He also seems to link VERY disparate things together without exhibiting an understanding of how disparate they are–which means he can’t (and really doesn’t try very hard) to explain why his psychological lines are the meaningful place we should draw lines instead of paying attention to the things that are dramatically different. There may be various explanations for why he does this and I’m not totally sure which one is correct. That one that seems most correct to me is that the purpose of the book isn’t really to deeply figure these things out, but rather to create a polemic meant to inspire his side by demonizing the other side. But I fully admit that I might be overreacting to it, and really he just has been very inattentive to the pitfalls of attempting a psychological understanding of people.

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Collin Street 11.19.17 at 7:18 pm

And again we get this long and articulate lump of prose from Sebastian that contains not a single damned scrap of evidence in support of his conclusions that isn’t argument-from-incredulity.

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b9n10nt 11.19.17 at 8:46 pm

Sebastian H:

Granted, your suspicion is welcome and reasonable. But now I’d say it’s time for a “For example,…”. When Corey argues that political conservatives aren’t conservative, he supports his thesis with examples. You are heartily invited to deconstruct his thesis with examples of your own: examples showing that conservatives really were/are conservative in the sense you originally proposed, or examples showing that other ridiculous criteria could also group these thinkers that Corey lumps and produce novel findings.

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LFC 11.19.17 at 9:47 pm

At least in the first edition, I think Corey could have elaborated more on what conservatives, as he describes them, mean by ‘excellence’ and could have unpacked the whole notion more. He writes that a world without private hierarchies of power will, conservatives think, “lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse.” (p.16) And again, in note 80 on p. 255: “The conservative defends a particular type of order — the hierarchical institution of personal rule — because he sincerely believes that inequality is a necessary condition of excellence.”

He didn’t really explore — at least as I recall — why someone might think that a particular kind of inequality is linked to “excellence.” Maybe it’s supposed to be obvious or tautological? Or maybe he did, e.g. when discussing Burke, and I simply don’t remember the discussion.

Then, too, there are non-conservatives who have to tried to rescue ‘excellence’ from the grip of the Right and de-link it from a connection to hierarchy or from — something favored, at least at one time, by certain progressives — a mechanical and inflexible kind of meritocracy.

Anyway, CR has said in blog posts that the new edition is more tightly knitted together (or words to that effect) than the first one, and if so that’s good, IME.

P.s. The identification of a core conservative tenet as a sincere belief that “inequality is a necessary condition of excellence” would not, at least stated in this abstract way, seem to be a form of demonization, contra Sebastian H’s suspicions that this is all about demonization. Rather, it’s a question of whether, again stated in this abstract way, the asserted linkage is accurate…

P.p.s. I think I do agree with Sebastian on one point: if someone is really interested in ‘deeply’ understanding conservative thought, he/she shd go to the original sources, just as one shd for socialist thought, etc. I don’t have the time or, perhaps even more crucially, the inclination to sit down with Burke, Maistre, Hayek, Buckley, Russell Kirk, Geo. Nash et al., but if someone is that interested in conservatism, he or she probably should.

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Sebastian_H 11.19.17 at 10:06 pm

“But now I’d say it’s time for a “For example,…”. When Corey argues that political conservatives aren’t conservative, he supports his thesis with examples.”

Sure. For example, Corey only excludes Mao, Stalin and Hugo Chavez from being ‘conservative’ by making a hyper technical private/public distinction that feels like the kind of add-on you make to manufacture statistical relevance. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of natural psychological distinction that he tries to hang much of the rest of thesis on. But they clearly aren’t ‘conservative’ in a politically useful way to him, so that won’t do.

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Mario 11.19.17 at 10:34 pm

1) want to increase power-sharing in the private sphere and alongside traditional hierarchies or want to reverse the same and 2) being in favor of currently existing social structures on prudential ground or being in favor of disrupting or even destroying them.

In a way, this all seems a bit anachronistic. The days where these categories were useful are somewhat gone, I think, and they are fading fast. The situation isn’t like it was when people were fighting against the criminalization of homosexuality. The world has become a murky place and now you may find yourself asking yourself: is a fully credentialed swedish leftist fighting against gender mainstreaming a reactionary? Is someone insisting on due process for men suspected of being guilty of rape automatically a conservative? Are people that insist that a woman can’t give credible consent to sexual interactions in the presence of a power differential, however tenuous, progressive? And there is more.

If anything, I think the success of Mr Trump is a sign of the times having utterly lost the plot. This book looks like it is going to be helpful to future historians to reconstruct that lost, old plot.

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dn 11.20.17 at 1:12 am

I liked Robin’s book, found it far more convincing than any of the rebuttals. I don’t think that its thesis is perfect but I do think one of its core points is resoundingly correct – all rightist ideologies originate as responses to the left. It’s his interpretation of the left that is flawed. The left is not just the revolt of the lower orders, but specifically the revolt of (or at least ostensibly on behalf of) the lower orders in the name of reason – its core contention being that the existing unequal order of society should be altered or abolished on account of its unreasonableness. The right’s raison d’etre is to provide reasons for the unreasonable, and this is why they talk a big game about prudence and caution and respect for tradition and all that jazz. All this is conceived as principled irrationalism and they do this entirely deliberately.

The presence of high-strung nutjobs advocating even-keeled temperamental “conservatism” is not at all a contradiction from this POV – it’s not the actual possession of an even keel that defines the conservative, but the idea of such a temperament and its supposed preferability to left-wing rationalist fanaticism which the conservative is concerned to defend in theory and practice, to whether he himself possesses it or not. (Much as in Robin’s first book he talked about not “fear” per se, but about the idea of fear and the ideological function it serves.)

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Collin Street 11.20.17 at 2:33 am

Seriously, Sebastian? “A-priori I don’t think Corey’s distinction is valid, so that means he can’t possibly have found anything”?

And that’s your best shot?

(Have you read the dunning-kruger paper, Seb? I mean, you need to trust me here: your arguments are terrible.)

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Sebastian H 11.20.17 at 3:36 am

Collin, no.

The whole problem with Corey’s method is that it was going to find SOMETHING because you can always find SOMETHING when you can divide things across hundreds of possible dimensions and then compare it to something else that you can divide across hundreds of possible dimensions. That’s what the garden of forking paths IS, which is why you have to be careful about it.

If you boil it down, Corey is asking us to believe that there is a whole constellation of things that adhere to a deep psychological trait dividing conservatives and progressives based on a public/private power dichotomy. Now I’m no big fan of psychological just so stories anyway, but we should note that he doesn’t come to this public/private distinction because of loads of psychological data which supports the dichotomy.

There are at least three major objections to this method. First, since we don’t have good data on this potentially misidentified deep psychological trait anyway, it would probably be better to just identify whatever you’re trying to identify based on the constellation of nasty things that you say are linked to that trait. But Corey can’t do that, because the left has done nearly all of the nasty things too. So he HAS TO come up with some distinction which gets to exclude Mao and Stalin. The distinction didn’t come from psychological research. It came from a gap in his argument. Which is fine as an academic “I wanted to talk about THIS and not THAT so I will draw distinctions until I can exclude THAT” exercise.

But just because his argument requires a deep psychological distinction doesn’t mean that he actually found a deep psychological distinction. And even if there is a deep psychological distinction between conservatives and progressives (which there very well may be) it doesn’t have to divide on the public/private power distinctions that he is making.

Second, the public/private power distinction is a weird place to find a deep psychological distinction. It sounds a lot more like another symptom of a deep psychological distinction than the locus of one. “I’m afraid of change” vs. “Trying something new can’t be worse than this shit” sounds like closer to a deep psychological distinction. “I want to control people through governmental power” vs. “I want to control people through non-governmental power” doesn’t sound like one at all.

I’m not saying that the distinction he is making is a useless thing to notice either. But he’s really looking at it from the wrong direction. The public/private distinction is something sort of imposed from a leftist point of view so it might be a poor descriptor for conservative thinking. Shooting from the hip, if he is on to something it isn’t so much that private/public is the right place to look for a deep seated psychological trait, but something more like “it feels like family/not family” might be.

Third, he is always willing to take progressive at their word, but conservatives are always full of hidden meaning. So when progressives SAY that they want to publicly take over power for the purpose of helping the disadvantaged, they are taken at their word even when what really happens is Soviet Russia or Chavez-Venezuala or Mao’s China. While when conservatives SAY that they want the market to help people out with the invisible hand, they get slammed for less than perfect outcomes in the US.

Why isn’t it possible that historically BOTH are deluded about how their ideals work out in practice. Now we certainly wish that neither of them were so deluded, but Corey’s thesis is that the delusion is damning evidence of deception for conservatives, but merely an ‘oops sorry about that’ for progressives.

I could definitely get behind a much more limited version of Corey’s thesis. Something along the lines of: the current political moment involves conservatives doubling down on their traditional weaknesses WAY MORE than usual, and progressives are much more level headed than usual such that we don’t need to worry much about progressives wrecking good things and conservatives seem to be losing their collective minds. That would probably make interesting reading involving why progressives have felt the need to tone it down, and why conservatives have not. But his actual approach seems much less fruitful because it piles on unsupported group bias on top of unsupported psychological speculation, on top of a big dose of not even trying to understand the people he’s describing.

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J-D 11.20.17 at 4:26 am

Mario

The situation isn’t like it was when people were fighting against the criminalization of homosexuality.

It’s not clear what the justification for that statement is. For one thing, in many places homosexuality is still criminalised, so there are probably people in those places for whom the situation is exactly that they are fighting against the criminalisation of homosexuality.

Is someone insisting on due process for men suspected of being guilty of rape automatically a conservative?

I don’t know whether they’re conservative, but what I do know is that they’re either muddled or lying. Exactly the same due process applies to (and is applied in) rape trials as in other criminal trials, and any suggestion to the contrary arises either out of misunderstanding or out of dishonesty.

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Sebastian H 11.20.17 at 4:44 am

Alternatively, it is possible that both progressives and conservatives are really about aggrandizing their own power potential and just do it through different lies. So when Mao’s lies and Stalin’s lies are exposed through the events that happen as they consolidate their power just as conservatives have their lies exposed through the events that happen as they consolidate their power.

But Corey’s thesis appears to suggest that conservatives have lies that are exposed, while progressives merely have unfortunate mistakes. That seems suspiciously like a tribal bias, not an actual explanation.

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Raven Onthill 11.20.17 at 7:06 am

Sebastian@113: “But Corey’s thesis appears to suggest that conservatives have lies that are exposed, while progressives merely have unfortunate mistakes.”

Are you sure he is wrong in this, Sebastian? The intellectual collapse of conservatism in the past 30 years is something to behold, as is the void I don’t have a name for at its core. These people clawed their to the way to the top of the most powerful empire in history and what do they do? Fight pointless wars! Wreck the economy! Tear it apart! for no better reason, apparently, than that they feel their masculinity threatened. The intellectual core of conservative has failed in producing policies. Even conservative economics, that vast mathematical edifice, has turned out to rest on false axioms. What is left?

On the left…oddly I agree with you. Since the failure of Communism, through dissolution into authoritarianism, and the failure of democratic socialism, through an inability to make its case to a broad public, the left is failing and more is wrong than unfortunate mistakes. But I do not see how to set it right. This is a different discussion, I know, but I wonder what the left has missed.

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Z 11.20.17 at 10:26 am

What he is writing about would be much better characterized as a cluster of psychological techniques for defending the current order WHATEVER IT IS

How so? No seriously, how so? Corey writes about people like Maurice Barrès who famously proclaimed that “[t]he first condition of social peace is that poor people should feel their powerlessness.” Whatever Mao or Chavez did while in power doesn’t look like that to me at all. Corey writes about people advocating violent disruption of the social order so that formerly dominated part of the society go back to their erstwhile position. What does this have to do with entrenching one’s power by crushing every élites in the Cultural Revolution? Everyone likes power, granted, and political violence is the most common thing in the world, granted, but there is a distinction between those who want to exercise brutal power to keep the riffraffs in place and those who rely on the brutal power of the riffraffs, isn’t there?

both sides of it are perfectly happy to try to enforce things through private structures and public so long as they are successful in doing so at a given time

But that is not what Corey is saying. Corey is saying that many people we call conservative thinkers or who were influential people in the conservative movement have in fact very little interest in conserving things and are vey explicit about that in their writings. What they cared about was to put back inferiors in their place and if that entails some destruction of the social order, so much the better.

Now maybe you disagree about this about a given thinker. Then you should say who. But it is patently absurd to say that this statement is so sweeping that it applies equally to Marx – a thinker who prophesied and welcomed the dictatorial power of dominated classes – or to Mao.

Above, you also said “he can find whatever he wants to find because it doesn’t really map onto a useful description of the landscape he claims to be describing” but again how so? Personally, I found the observation that influential thinkers on the “conservative” side to be very keen on destroying existing social institutions if that could put back the inferiors in their rightful place quite interesting. There is a complacent tendency on the Right to say “the Left wants to destroy everything to achieve equality and progress, we say wait a minute before destroying everything” and Corey argues that actual thinkers on the Right actually very explicitly say “the Left wants to destroy everything to achieve equality and progress, and they are right that everything should be destroyed, but to restore inequality and hierarchies.” I find this quite an interesting observation in intellectual history. Do you think this observation is incorrect? If so, how so? Do you think Corey gets the priorities of the thinkers he discusses wrong? Or maybe you think it is correct but uninteresting? Or do you dispute that this is what Corey argues at all?

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Collin Street 11.20.17 at 11:26 am

Sebastian.

About those progressives two hundred years ago and the mistakes they made that you must have identified as part of the process of identifying and justifying the claims you made in your post #47.

“What mistakes did progressives make 200 years ago” is not a hard question. It’s not tricksy or tendentious or confused. You should be able to answer it. If you can’t answer it to your own satisfaction, then your post #47 can’t be justified and needs to be withdrawn.

[the mistake isn’t the error, it’s the failure to recognise it. I’ve posted multiple times how the learning experience depends on the ability to recognise and admit error… ]

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casmilus 11.20.17 at 12:44 pm

@115

James Burnham, after he gave up on Marx and Trotsky, seems to have settled on his particular strand of American Conservatism as an alternative to the otherwise inevitable domination by the Managerial Revolutionaries who were advancing under various disguises in the USSR and elsewhere. His line seemed to be that the poor are going to get crushed anyway, so it’s better to choose the least-worse option for them, which will be something like what America already had.

His thought underwent considerable evolution, but he gave a review of various historical personages in “The Macchiavellians” and then reached his final position in “Congress And The American Tradition”. And also gave us “Suicide Of The West”, the template for post-1950 loony anti-liberalism.

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bruce wilder 11.20.17 at 1:24 pm

Sebastian H @ 113

Your comment somehow reminds me of Brad DeLong on politics: begin with some seemingly benign and anodyne but ultimately sophomoric principle of symmetry that divides opinion neatly into boxes no real person occupies and ends with an anachronistic demand that an imaginary Left defend the record of Fidel Castro, because it is obvious to Brad that Cuba would be so much richer today if no revolution had taken place and if only the capitalism of Meyer Lansky, under the patronage of Battista and his successors, had been allowed to continue unmolested. (Brad DeLong possesses a reactionary mind, though he plays a liberal on blogs.)

Moving from symmetry which does without examples to the sampling of extremes is a silly game, not a real argument, let alone an examination of evidence or ideas. The only reference to the iconic Stalin I find in Corey’s book is in a discussion of the fanciful musings of Fukuyama (the end of history guy). Because Corey is not mapping Stalin’s place in a geometry of political constellations, but rather the minds of men such as Fukuyama who celebrate . . . what they celebrate for their own curious reasons, which may be interesting and revealing to hear them try to explain.

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MisterMr 11.20.17 at 2:01 pm

One note: IMHO the difference between people who want to mantain micro power structures (“The place of the woman is in the kitchen”) and people who want to break them down is not a “psychological” difference, it’s a sociological one.

So if Robin uses this as a discriminant (I didn’t read the book) I don’t think he is “psychologizing” conservatives.

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Murali 11.20.17 at 2:24 pm

z@115

but there is a distinction between those who want to exercise brutal power to keep the riffraffs in place and those who rely on the brutal power of the riffraffs, isn’t there?

Only in a very trivial sense. Is there a moral distinction? I doubt it and I’m not sure its possible to reconcile the social role of morality with a moral view according to which there is an important distinction to be made.

Right actually very explicitly say “the Left wants to destroy everything to achieve equality and progress, and they are right that everything should be destroyed, but to restore inequality and hierarchies.” I find this quite an interesting observation in intellectual history. Do you think this observation is incorrect? If so, how so? Do you think Corey gets the priorities of the thinkers he discusses wrong? Or maybe you think it is correct but uninteresting? Or do you dispute that this is what Corey argues at all?

Very few conservatives are actually pro status quo. But this is an entirely uninteresting claim. If I were to say that conservatives want to rewind the clock back 30 years, that might be more accurate. Conservatives do wish that views and laws on LGBT issues among other things were what they were 30 years ago rather than what they were today. Just because you want to change the status quo doesn’t mean you want to destroy the social order (this applies to left and right). Even if conservatives do want to destroy the current social order, there is a difference between destroying it in order to return to a social order which in fact existed in the past and destroying it in order to try to create a never before seen social order. The first is doing something which is known to be possible while the latter may very well be trying to do the impossible. This is the core of the conservative critique, not the silliness about the status quo. But as Gaus notes, the status quo, as an actual social order is known to be possible for us as we are now. By contrast things in the very distant past or things radically different from the present are not necessarily known as such. To be clear, I’m not claiming that rewinding the clock 30 years is in fact possible for us as we are now. What I am claiming is that whatever reasons we have to think rewinding the clock 30 years is infeasible, there are even more reasons to think that trying something radically different is infeasible. As a defence of conservatism, this is weak tea. But I’m not trying to defend conservatism. What I’m trying to point out is instead that Corey’s argument trades on a kind of ambiguity between de re and de dicto interpretations of conservatism. Suppose conservatives wanted to rewind the clock 30 years. Suppose also that rewinding the clock back 30 years would involve concentrating power in the hands of a few private individuals in all or nearly all cases. It does not follow that conservatives just want to concentrate power in that hands of a few private individuals. Compare the following case.

Mary wants to marry John. Mary wants to marry the tallest man in the village. Unknown to her John is not the tallest man in the village, Gary is. It would not be accurate to say that Mary wants to marry Gary. Moreover, it seems strange to say that Mary doesnt want to marry the tallest man in the village. Clearly Mary knows her own mind and to her own mind being the tallest is part of what makes John attractive. It still does not follow that Mary really wants to marry Gary. This would be true even if Mary knew that Gary was taller than John but failed to take notice that this made Gary the tallest man in the village. We’re not saying that Mary is necessarily rational. We’re just saying that Mary does not want to marry Gary.

Similarly, conservatives may not be consistent or rational. Perhaps they don’t notice certain things. But it doesnt follow that everyone from Hayek to Burke is just interested in maintaining private hierarchies of power.

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MisterMr 11.20.17 at 3:57 pm

In my opinion, Robin is making things more complex than they really are.

In general since the enlightenment to now we have:

1) lefties: egalitarians (in various flavours and with various opinion on how to reach equality);
2) righties: anti egalitarians (in various flavours and with various opinion on how much inequality they want).

Here I’m speaking of the left and the right in general, not of the single person who might have different and personal takes on politics.

The reason that this correlates with private power structures is that, if we go back to the middle ages, people had a specific role depending on their birth, and this was the whole basis of society, and we are still slowly growing out of this.

Now it’s obvious that if someone, say Stalin, causes deaths in the millions in the name of equality, he is still a bad guy, but he is a different flavour of bad guy than Hitler, who caused deaths in the millions in the name of inequality (from his official statements in the Mein Kampf).

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Yan 11.20.17 at 5:10 pm

@121:
“In general since the enlightenment to now we have: 1) lefties: egalitarians (in various flavours and with various opinion on how to reach equality); 2) righties: anti egalitarians (in various flavours and with various opinion on how much inequality they want).”

This seems extraordinarily wrong. The majority of both lefties and righties fall into
1) meritocratic anti-egalitarians or
2) essentialist anti-egalitarians, who favor inequality distributed by intelligence, amount of education, moral superiority, color of one’s skin or one’s state, residence in urban or rural environment, national origin, religion, non-religion, taste in cultural goods, etc — all of which, of course, reflect one’s freely chosen and created personality and thus essence.

Of course the majority of (1) are just (2) in disguise.
Complicating matters even more, both consider themselves egalitarians because they believe in equality for their favored animals on the farm.

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Sebastian H 11.20.17 at 5:49 pm

Z “Corey writes about people like Maurice Barrès who famously proclaimed that “[t]he first condition of social peace is that poor people should feel their powerlessness.” Whatever Mao or Chavez did while in power doesn’t look like that to me at all. Corey writes about people advocating violent disruption of the social order so that formerly dominated part of the society go back to their erstwhile position. What does this have to do with entrenching one’s power by crushing every élites in the Cultural Revolution?”

Mao was pretty good at making sure that the people he didn’t like “felt their powerlessness” often unto death. You seem to to accept the propaganda of Mao and Stalin and Chavez as truth for the purposes of this discussion. Yes they *claim* to be speaking on behalf of the powerless. But in actual reality they tore down their elite, and the second that the structures they tried to replace stopped performing the poor got thrown under the wheels of the state again–only this time more brutally. If you want to assert that the main distinction between conservatives run amok and progressives run amok is which propaganda they mouth while crushing people’s lives into the dirt you might be on to something with the public/private distinction. But that isn’t a deep seated psychological trait which makes conservatives want to plot to crush people while progressives just do it by ‘accident’ again and again. That would be a comment on which lies they tell while they are doing the crushing (probably much more formed by societal opportunity when they seize power rather than a consistently mapping internal psychological state). Which may be interesting in some respect, but is a rather different project than the one that Corey is engaged in.

If there is a reason to believe that when conservatives say one thing and bad other things happen its a hidden plot to seize power, but when progressives say one thing and end up sitting on a mountain of skulls it is just an accident but they really really weren’t interested in power, Corey certainly hasn’t established anything beyond tribalism to trust that.

If I had to make a grand stylized attempt at narrative (which to be clear I’m not sure is wise) I’d say that progressives aren’t currently running amok because their attempts with communism were so utterly disasterous that fear of that keeps the bad side of their “chuck it” instincts more in check–especially in response to the collapse of Chavez’s regime into murderous chaos. Conservatives haven’t had disasters on that level so firmly attached to them in the recent past (though an outside observer could certainly wonder why the Iraq thing didn’t do more damage) so they don’t see a reason to control their worse instincts and biases. But that would be an argument about historically contingent losses or something, not a deep psychological argument meant to span decades or hundreds of years.

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b9n10nt 11.20.17 at 6:19 pm

Sebastian H:

I agree with others that your critique is still confused. Robin has written thesis about the intellectual history of conservatives. He is not saying that these thinkers are writing in order to expand and maintain only their own status in society. Modern tyrants (Stalin, Mao): not only are these figures not intellectuals, they also are acting directly to preserve and expand their own immediate political power. To carry on with your critique, you’d have to equate -for instance- Burke’s act of authorship as similar to Mao’s act of instituting The Cultural Revolution: they’re both trying to maintain and expand their own power. That’s a reductio that you are I might be interested in making, but it’s not a critique of Robin’s thesis.

Your critique is more of an evasion of the thesis, built on the premis that intellectuals and political leaders alike merely conceal their will to power behind a facade of concepts, and the concepts themselves have no historical import in themselves. You seem to want to say to Robin that there is no intellectual history as such: all intellectual history should be reduced to the motives of the author. That would be a very doctrinaire mode of textual analysis. I can’t imagine that you would adopt it generally. Hence, confused.

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b9n10nt 11.20.17 at 7:02 pm

Murali @ 120:

There is a difference between destroying it in order to return to a social order which in fact existed in the past and destroying it in order to try and create a never before seen social order

This defense of conservatism -that social upheaval in the name of reaction is indeed conservative- assumes that even the earliest conservatives that Robin cites held a pre-modern (& perhaps even pre-historical) notion of social stasis. That is, once we observe substantive social change as a historical fact, we know there is no going back. Just as Christ teaches Christendom that God has a historical design for mankind, all Western thought accepts that the past can be a model for the future, either as a guide or a warning, but it cannot return accept as a literal end to history. The past does not in fact exist. Time is a river, not a lake. And once we see it’s a river, then Conservatives and Liberals alike are moving along it. What is to be preserved is not the past, but qualities of the past that can help our future.

So, for example, by all means let us modernize agriculture, improve the beaurocracy, expand trade and empire, and support science and innovation. But we should preserve the rights of Lord over serf, or King over subjects, etc…

Anyway, that’s the argument that I think Robin would and should make in rebuttal.

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LFC 11.20.17 at 7:19 pm

@Murali

it doesn’t follow that everyone from Hayek to Burke is just interested in maintaining private hierarchies of power.

C Robin does not say “everyone from Hayek to Burke is just interested in maintaining private hierarchies of power.” That’s a key interest, but he talks about others as well.

Some people commenting here seem to be treating The Reactionary Mind as if it’s a systematic treatise a la [fill in the blank w yr favorite systematic treatise], complete w that kind of elaborate structure of argument. It’s not, as anyone who has read or even dipped into it shd realize. It has an argument but it’s more a question of noting some assertedly common themes and paradoxes than an elaborate series of definitions. The first ed. was a collection of essays published in different places, w an introduction. The second ed. is apparently tighter and more unified, but it’s still basically a collection of essays.

Btw, like B. Wilder I’d looked up “Stalin” in the index of the first ed. Three pretty much throwaway refs., one yoking Hitler and Stalin together in the same phrase. No index entries for Mao, Chavez, and Castro. Sebastian H goes on about double-standards re attitudes to left authoritarians/dictators and their claims, but the bk says virtually nothing about them.

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LFC 11.20.17 at 7:27 pm

Sebastian H

If there is a reason to believe that when conservatives say one thing and bad other things happen its a hidden plot to seize power, but when progressives say one thing and end up sitting on a mountain of skulls it is just an accident but they really really weren’t interested in power, Corey certainly hasn’t established anything beyond tribalism to trust that.

Since Corey never says this or implies it, there’s no issue here.

Mao wasn’t a progressive; he was a revolutionary. Part of Corey’s argument is that all conservatives are counter-revolutionaries, but nowhere to the best of my recollection does Corey argue the inverse: i.e., that all progressives are revolutionaries (or that all revolutionaries are progressives).

All sides have their mountains of skulls, but these refs of Sebastian to the mountains of skulls associated w Mao and Pol Pot etc are, afaict, pretty much irrelevant to the book.

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Sebastian H 11.20.17 at 7:34 pm

b9n10nt, it may very well be that my critique is confused, but it isn’t confused in the way that you think.

“Your critique is more of an evasion of the thesis, built on the premis that intellectuals and political leaders alike merely conceal their will to power behind a facade of concepts, and the concepts themselves have no historical import in themselves. “

No my critique isn’t that. I don’t know if intellectuals etc. ‘merely conceal their will to power behind a facade of concepts that have no historical import in themselves’. In fact I suspect that isn’t true. My critique is conditional. Corey seems to suggest that a strong distinction between conservatives and progressives is that conservatives (and NOT progressives) conceal their will to power behind a facade of concepts.

I’m saying that ISN’T A DISTINCTION between conservatives and progressives. Both are either fooled by their own rhetoric or are actively lying about it, or hide from the way things actually turn out. So there is no need to make up a weird psychological explanation to explain something that isn’t a distinction.

Now please notice I’m not saying that their aren’t possible distinctions worth exploring between progressives and conservatives. I strongly suspect there are. I’m saying that Corey isn’t exploring it that way, and in doing so he has stacked the deck so hard that what he is analyzing is either mostly nothing, or a distant symptom because in defining his terms he is mistaking something that happens with frightening regularity on both sides of the aisle as if it were a distinguishing characteristic of only conservatives.

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Yan 11.20.17 at 9:11 pm

Nietzsche’s politics are atrocious, and he is many things, but not a reactionary. He was, as branded by Brandes, an “aristocratic radical”–aristocratic because he saw inequality as a goal, but a radical because he saw it as a goal at odds with the general development of history and, ultimately, at odds with nature and natural selection. For Nietzsche, the ideal of aristocracy is not reached by conservation or reaction, because it is not an original state but an exception. One doesn’t preserve or return to social inequality as a status quo; one achieves it as a stroke of luck against all the forces of history and nature.

Of course, he does think inequality is a natural given, but *valuable* forms of inequality are not. Nietzsche doesn’t admire just any hierarchy, only those he thinks are grounded in artistic and spiritual superiority (the Renaissance is his usual go to), and those are rare, almost flukes.

The status quo in his worldview is mediocrity, the status quo is the small man, the failure of aristocracy, which can only be achieved through radicalism–through an engineering of society according to an unnatural order, not through a return to an original or natural order:

“Anti-Darwin. …. Assuming, however, that there is such a struggle for existence — and, indeed, it occurs — its result is unfortunately the opposite of what Darwin’s school desires, and of what one might perhaps desire with them — namely, in favor of the strong, the privileged, the fortunate exceptions. The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

“I too speak of a ‘return to nature,’ although it is really not a going back but a going up — an ascent to the high, free, even terrible nature and naturalness where great tasks are something one plays with, one may play with.”

This is not meant as a pedantic quibble about Nietzsche’s interpretation, but instead as a concern about how we define conservatism. To be conservative is to believe one’s moral idea is somehow written into the order of the world, to believe that the domination of many by some is paradoxically both ordained and endangered, justified and guaranteed by the very structure of human nature and the universe. To be radical is precisely to reject such natural justifications of morality, to recognize moral ideals as inventions, the overthrow of the divine order rather than an appeal to it. That radical position is radically open to the forms it invented ideals may take–as open to domination as to equality, to aristocracy as democracy, precisely because the appeal to moral absolutes and a moral order is the highest form of conservatism.

That is why almost all political philosophers–with perhaps the exception of Macchiavelli, Marx, and Nietzsche–are truly conservative: because they are moralists.

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MisterMr 11.20.17 at 11:11 pm

@Yan 122

I disagree: “meritocracy” in theory means that people should be judged only by their acquired skills, so in theory is a very egalitarian view.

In pratice is not so, however when you look at the efforts to level the playing ground for meritocracy (such as affirmative action or forms of school subsidies for the poor, for example) they usually come from the left.

It’s true that many modern leftish neoliberals are quite ok with high levels of inequality, but that is because they are center-leftish, often more center than leftish, we see them as leftish only because the political left is in rout since the ’80s.

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PatinIowa 11.20.17 at 11:34 pm

J-D @ 112:

Is this an empirical claim?

“Exactly the same due process applies to (and is applied in) rape trials as in other criminal trials, and any suggestion to the contrary arises either out of misunderstanding or out of dishonesty.”

If so, I don’t think it’s anywhere near true. But I expect I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying.

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J-D 11.21.17 at 4:10 am

PatinIowa
I think the answer to your question is ‘Yes, it’s an empirical claim’, but I’m not sure I’ve understood the question, because I can’t figure out what it would mean to answer ‘No, it’s not an empirical claim’.

In any case, why do you doubt its truth?

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Z 11.21.17 at 10:11 am

Corey seems to suggest that a strong distinction between conservatives and progressives is that conservatives (and NOT progressives) conceal their will to power behind a facade of concepts.

Seems to suggest? Does he now? It seems to me he is doing exactly the converse (about conservatives), namely point out that far from concealing their will to power, they exhibit it plainly. Part of the interest of Corey’s work to me is in his talent for finding interesting quotes, in which reactionaries lay out very clearly their plans and priorities.

Both are either fooled by their own rhetoric or are actively lying about it, or hide from the way things actually turn out.

Yeah, you already mentioned something to that effect above “If there is a reason to believe that when conservatives say one thing and bad other things happen its a hidden plot to seize power” but again, it seems to me you’re getting Corey exactly 180° wrong here. Corey isn’t saying reactionaries are lying, or advocate some things and then bad other things happen. Corey is saying influential thinkers in the reactionary movement laid out their plans very clearly and when “bad” (your choice of words, not mine) things happen, it was exactly the plan, not an unfortunate side effect.

So, for example, Hayek is not saying “the market is great because of its catallactic properties but unfortunately it can produce a greatly unequal society in which a few individuals hold disproportionate powers” he says (very, very explicitly) “the market is great because of its catallactic properties and because it can produce a greatly unequal society in which a few individuals hold disproportionate powers” or Barrès is not saying “I’m against redistributive policies because property rights are good so should be defended, even though poor people may then find themselves helpless” he is saying (very, very explicitly) “I would be against redistributive policies even if they were sound economically because poor people will then find themselves helpless.”

So your distinction between rhetoric and reality gets Corey’s work completely backwards, it seems to me. He says reactionary are very open about their project, you say he says the difference between reactionaries and progressives is that the former conceal something while the latter are merely mistaken.

So there is no need to make up a weird psychological explanation to explain something that isn’t a distinction.

Well, since the distinction you think he makes is the exact opposite of what I take him to mean, I agree with you that there is no need to cook up any explanation at all. The being said, you have used “psychological” many, many times in this thread, but on that point again, I think you got Corey wrong. As MisterMr aptly observes, “the difference between people who want to mantain micro power structures and people who want to break them down is not a “psychological” difference, it’s a sociological (or political) one.”

Finally, I agree with everything LFC wrote in this thread, in particular the irrelevance of you dragging Mao, Stalin and Chavez (they did not try to maintain traditional private hierarchies, they tried to shatter and replace them by public revolutionary ones*, they did not believe in a governing class, but in a ruling class…) or when (s)he points out that, obviously, reactionaries according to Corey are not just interested in maintaining private hierarchies of power.

*Above, you called the distinction between tradition private hierarchies and public (possibly recent or even revolutionaries) hierarchies a “hyper technical” one. Words fail me. I completely agree with Murali above that we shouldn’t moralize this distinction, but to say there is no analytical distinction is to me like saying that the difference between up and down is hyper technical in the context of a discussion about mountain climbing. To begin with, if you see almost no difference between traditional private hierarchies and revolutionary public hierarchies, how do you begin to explain Burke’s vehement hostility towards the French Revolution? Or Buckley’s hatred of the Soviet Union? According to you, the distinction between their respective tenets is hyper technical, isn’t it?

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casmilus 11.21.17 at 10:25 am

@129

“Nietzsche doesn’t admire just any hierarchy, only those he thinks are grounded in artistic and spiritual superiority (the Renaissance is his usual go to), and those are rare, almost flukes.”

His low regard for Bismarck’s Germany would be an example of him despising a hierarchical society, one that was also quite successful at projecting its power.

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Mario 11.21.17 at 10:43 am

Since I brought up the point of due process for men accused of rape – let me clarify a bit.

Firstly, a google search for ‘rape due process’ gives enough results that show that there is actually a discussion on this. It includes this article at The Atlantic, among other items. It includes news of Betsy DeVos reinstating due process in cases of alleged campus rape. (It’s an interesting rabbit hole, see here.)

Either way, what I was saying is that insisting on due process for those accused of rape nowadays is widely recognized as a conservative position. And that this does not obviously fit in any of the categorical boundaries put forward by this thread, to say the least. For that argument to work it doesn’t matter whether due process applies or not, it is about the argument thrust and the mental state of those arguing that, when in doubt, it’s better to punish the accused men anyway, and that if they are innocent, then so be it.

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J-D 11.21.17 at 11:43 am

Mario

Firstly, a google search for ‘rape due process’ gives enough results that show that there is actually a discussion on this. It includes this article at The Atlantic, among other items. It includes news of Betsy DeVos reinstating due process in cases of alleged campus rape. (It’s an interesting rabbit hole, see here.)

I wrote that:

Exactly the same due process applies to (and is applied in) rape trials as in other criminal trials, and any suggestion to the contrary arises either out of misunderstanding or out of dishonesty.

I did not assert that nobody is making such suggestions; it’s not surprising if people are making such suggestions. Misunderstanding and dishonesty are both common phenomena, so it’s entirely unsurprising that people should misunderstand the meaning of ‘due process’.

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MisterMr 11.21.17 at 12:36 pm

@casmilus 134
“His [Nietzsche’s] low regard for Bismarck’s Germany would be an example of him despising a hierarchical society, one that was also quite successful at projecting its power.”

according to Lukacs from the link posted above by Mcmanus:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/destruction-reason/ch03.htm

Nietsche first disliked Bismark’s Germany because he tought that it was too weak against socialists, then liked it when he tought that it was a defence from socialism, then again disliked it when he tought it couldn’t hold, so I don’t think your argument is correct (I trust Lukacs here as I have zero firsthand knowledge of Nietsche).

In Nietzsche’s opinion — one which fully harmonized with the views just quoted — the positive value of such ‘democratic evolution’ rested in its ability to rear a new ‘elite’. Thus in completing the turn to ‘democracy’ à la Bismarck, Nietzsche gave up none of his youthful aristocratic convictions. For now he still saw the salvation of culture solely in a more resolute bestowal of privileges on a minority, one whose leisure was based on the hard physical labour of the majority, the masses. He wrote: ‘A higher civilization can only come about when there are two distinct social castes: that of the working people and that of the leisured, those capable of true leisure; or, to put it more strongly, the caste of forced labour and the caste of free labour.’[28] So close to liberalism was he coming that temporarily he even appropriated its concept of the State. He wrote the oft-quoted sentence: ‘Modern democracy is the historical form of the decay of the State.’ But just how Nietzsche amplified this idea is seldom quoted: ‘The prospect opened up by this assured decay is not, however, a gloomy one in every respect: of all human attributes, shrewdness and self-seeking are the most highly developed; when the State is no longer a match for these forces’ demands, chaos will be the least likely result. It is more likely that the State will be defeated by an even more practical invention than itself.’[29]

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Anarcho 11.21.17 at 1:36 pm

I do wish people would stop calling the so-called “Libertarians” libertarian — for they stole that name from the left, from anarchists:

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/160-years-libertarian

The right-wing “Libertarians” are better called propertarians, or voluntary authoritarians. Once you realise they are NOT interested in liberty but rather defending property and the power that comes with it, you can make sense of their many apparent contradictions.

It is easy to determine if someone is a fake or a genuine libertarian — ask them whether property is theft. If they look confused, then they are fake. If they proclaim it is, then they are a genuine libertarian, a libertarian socialist.

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Layman 11.21.17 at 1:51 pm

Mario: “Either way, what I was saying is that insisting on due process for those accused of rape nowadays is widely recognized as a conservative position. And that this does not obviously fit in any of the categorical boundaries put forward by this thread, to say the least.”

This position suffers from narrow thinking. The actual widely recognized conservative position is the insistence that those accused of rape are denied due process; that they are somehow mistreated by contemporary society. Conservatives take this position because they find they’re losing the power to assault women with impunity, a personal power they have historically had and that they want to retain. If you think that’s not the case, point to the widespread condemnation by conservatives of the lack of due process afforded to accused black drug dealers. The silence is deafening.

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LFC 11.21.17 at 2:04 pm

@ Z

I agree with everything LFC wrote in this thread

Thanks, Z. It’s good to know I wasn’t just talking to myself.

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Sebastian H 11.21.17 at 2:18 pm

Z “Seems to suggest? Does he now? It seems to me he is doing exactly the converse (about conservatives), namely point out that far from concealing their will to power, they exhibit it plainly. Part of the interest of Corey’s work to me is in his talent for finding interesting quotes, in which reactionaries lay out very clearly their plans and priorities.”

No. You’re definitely wrong on this. Corey is indeed very good at finding quotes , but his method is to implicate all of the quotes to all of the people that he calls conservative. He does this whether or not they disagree about significant things, whether or not they use similar terminology, whether or not they talked in similar circles, and whether or not they talked about the particular issue at all. It isn’t just that he can find a quote by Hayek that he doesn’t like. It is that he can attach that to everyone in history who he labels conservative that makes the methodology unsound.

“So your distinction between rhetoric and reality gets Corey’s work completely backwards, it seems to me. He says reactionary are very open about their project, you say he says the difference between reactionaries and progressives is that the former conceal something while the latter are merely mistaken.”

No. He saying that if they are open enough to get labelled conservative, they get to have every other ‘bad’ thing that any other person said stuck to them like it was a giant conspiracy. Which is exactly why I bring up Mao and Stalin and Chavez. Because if conservatives can have every thing attributed to all, so can progressives.

“Above, you called the distinction between tradition private hierarchies and public (possibly recent or even revolutionaries) hierarchies a “hyper technical” one. Words fail me. I completely agree with Murali above that we shouldn’t moralize this distinction, but to say there is no analytical distinction is to me like saying that the difference between up and down is hyper technical in the context of a discussion about mountain climbing. “

You either aren’t understanding what I’m saying, or you aren’t understanding how statistics work. I’m not saying that there is no distinction there. I’m saying that in the context of Corey’s argument it only serves to screen out those he doesn’t walk to talk about. He’s positing a deep psychological difference that lets us attribute all sorts of ‘bad’ things that some conservatives say to all conservatives. Something so deep that it spans a huge variety of cultures, languages, and at least hundreds of years. But when you start looking for deep psychological differences between conservatives and progressives who sometimes say bad things and sometimes support nasty regimes, it becomes difficult to cleanly sort them into progressives and conservatives. The reason it is difficult is because both progressives and conservatives have publicly supported relatively nasty things at certain points, and have actually done lots of nasty things.

Which brings us to statistics. If you have hundreds of dimensions to choose from, you can almost always find one to screen out the things you don’t want to talk about and include the one you do. That is just how large numbers work. This is especially true when you are dealing with ill defined psychological components. This is also why things like astrology have a feel like they work. Given enough degrees of freedom you could probably show that the conservatives he thinks are *most important* have some astrological similarity that progressives don’t have. You just keep looking for a linkage until you find it. P value 1/20 means that if you search 100 things you can find at least 5 completely spurious but statistically significant ‘connections’. And Corey doesn’t even do the statistical work, he is just ‘suggestive’. What I’m saying is that the private/public distinction he is hanging things on *doesn’t sound like a deep psychological linkage*. Saying “I don’t like people who aren’t personally known to me to be in charge of me” might plausibly be a deep psychological trait. “I don’t like people who aren’t personally known to me to be in charge of me if I call them the government but don’t care if we call them any other thing (church, market, etc.)” doesn’t sound like a deep psychological trait. That sounds like a highly contingent political fact.

“they did not try to maintain traditional private hierarchies, they tried to shatter and replace them by public revolutionary ones*, they did not believe in a governing class, but in a ruling class…”

This again is just buying the rhetoric instead of the reality. Every Communist Party structure could very much be described as a private hierarchy. It was just a different private hierarchy than the people they murdered. Calling it “public revolutionary” is just begging the question.

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Yan 11.21.17 at 2:59 pm

Mistermr @137: “Nietsche first disliked Bismark’s Germany because he tought that it was too weak against socialists, then liked it when he tought that it was a defence from socialism, then again disliked it when he tought it couldn’t hold, so I don’t think your argument is correct (I trust Lukacs here as I have zero firsthand knowledge of Nietsche).”
casmilus 134 is correct. Lukacs is not a reliable source on Nietzsche–in part because of political blindspots, just as Corey Robin’s politics, which I share, lead him to misunderstand Nietzsche. If you’re curious, a good starting place is “Schopenhauer as Educator” in Untimely Meditations. He abhors the state and he abhors his contemporary Germany’s devotion to a hierarchy of economic values rather than cultural values. You can also read almost any respected contemporary scholarship on Nietzsche, and they’ll confirm it.

The following part of your quoted passage is very, very bad scholarship–it takes a quote from 1888 and then says Nietzsche “amplified it” with a quotation from 1878 (the “middle period” that is, if anything, the one period in his work with views he most thoroughly abandoned!): “‘Modern democracy is the historical form of the decay of the State.’ But just how Nietzsche amplified this idea is seldom quoted: ‘…when the State is no longer a match for these forces’ demands, chaos will be the least likely result. It is more likely that the State will be defeated by an even more practical invention than itself.’”

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Yan 11.21.17 at 3:05 pm

Sorry, a correction–I’m completely wrong about the quote, they’re both from the same passage and year.

I’d confused Lukacs’ quote from Human All Too Human in 1878, with one from Twilight of the Idols in 1888, where he explicitly refers back to the 1878 passage:

“Critique of modernity. — Our institutions are no good any more: on that there is universal agreement. However, it is not their fault but ours. Once we have lost all the instincts out of which institutions grow, we lose institutions altogether because we are no longer good for them. Democracy has ever been the form of decline in organizing power. I already characterized modern democracy, together with its hybrids such as the “German Reich,” as the form of decline of the state. In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward ad infinitum.”

It’s curious that Lukacs uses it to suggest a similarity to liberalism, since Nietzsche uses it in a passage that is mostly a critique of liberalism. In the immediately preceding passage from 1888:

“Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions. Their effects are known well enough: they undermine the will to power; they level mountain and valley, and call that morality; they make men small, cowardly, and hedonistic — every time it is the herd animal that triumphs with them. Liberalism: in other words, herd-animalization.”

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Z 11.21.17 at 3:45 pm

It is that he can attach that to everyone in history who he labels conservative that makes the methodology unsound.[…] He [is] saying that if they are open enough to get labelled conservative, they get to have every other ‘bad’ thing that any other person said stuck to them like it was a giant conspiracy.

Well, let me just say that (once again) I don’t recognize Corey’s work in your description. At all. Maybe you could point towards a quote from him or a specific part of his work, so I could judge from myself where you are coming from?

He’s positing a deep psychological difference that lets us attribute all sorts of ‘bad’ things that some conservatives say to all conservatives.

Really, I don’t think he is doing either things (neither the psychological aspect, no the the attribute something from X to everybody else). Funnily, at this point in the discussion, I feel that we are not even agreeing on what we disagree about. For all I know, if you could convince me that this is what is doing (ideally with references) then I would agree.

To try to live up to my own standards, I will quote myself from Corey “Most treatments of the Austrians fail to capture their agonistic romance of the market, a romance that makes capitalism exciting rather than merely efficient. Far from departing from the canons of conservatism, then, Austrian economics is a classic form of counterrevolution, a la Burke. It seeks to defeat a challenge from below […] by transforming and reinvigorating the old regime.” I take that to be his classic thesis, applied here to Austrian economists: they may be seen as arguing for efficiency and economic realism, but they are really not, they are seeking a new, exciting way to give energy to the dominant classes against the challenge of (at the time) socialism. No guilt by association, no deep psychological impulses, no lies to conceal their agenda, nothing attached to them that comes from anybody else. Do you understand why I don’t see what you apparently do?

Every Communist Party structure could very much be described as a private hierarchy

And likewise, every Communist Party structure could very much be described as an American High school pep squad, because anything can very much be described as anything else. However, if you want to understand the world, sometimes you need to make distinctions. I ask again, how do you propose to make sense of who joined a Communist movement and who fought bitterly against it during the 20th century if you see no difference between a political movement that advocates for the destruction of family ties, the abolition of private property, the replacement of religion by “scientific marxism” and asks that everyone calls everyone else Comrade and a political movement that advocates the rule of wealthy aristocrats ruling according to their divine rights? For what did Yudenich fight and for what did Chkheidze? Can you even make sense of that question?

Now you might say this is all propaganda but my reply to that is 1) that when discussing political and intellectual history, we are trying to understand propaganda, so saying “it is just propaganda” begs for the reply “yeah but what kind of propaganda?” and 2) this propaganda is very much rooted in reality: socialist and communist movements did absolutely destroy traditional hierarchies, reactionary movements did absolutely destroy socialist and communist movements. And in both cases, it was not that “bad other things happened”, in both cases that’s what they set out to do, very explicitly, and in both cases that’s what the intellectual texts they relied upon had argued should be done.

Don’t you see the difference?

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MisterMr 11.21.17 at 4:34 pm

@Yan 143

“It’s curious that Lukacs uses it to suggest a similarity to liberalism, since Nietzsche uses it in a passage that is mostly a critique of liberalism. “

I don’t see the problem: we can see late 19th and early 20th european politics as three blocks:

1) Reactionaires (pro aristocracy)
2) “Liberals” (in the european sense, pro big business burgoises)
3) Socialists (commies, anarchists etc.)

with liberals in the middle, switching alliances from reactionaries to socialists and back as they saw more fit.

Nietzche was in 1, and sees liberalism and socialism as the same beast, Lukacs was in 3 and sees reactionaries and liberals as the same.

Incidentially as I wrote above Hitler too had this view, and in the “Rerum novarum” there is IIRC a passage that says that good Catholics reject democratics, communists and everyone who rejects God’s order (monarchy), so it was a common point of view for the reactionaries of the times.

“He [Nietzsche] abhors the state and he abhors his contemporary Germany’s devotion to a hierarchy of economic values rather than cultural values.”
Well yeah, but the cultural values he believes in were aristocratic values, with the assumption that in a “state of nature” they would prevail if not for the degenerate civilisation.
It’s the same as Hitler (again) and as social darwinists, social darwinism being a very common ideology at the time.

It’s also telling that he assumes that if the world is divided between masters and slaves, he is going to be among the masters (in all paragraphs of N. that I read when he says “we” he means the masters).
It is again similar to Hitler: Hitler assumes that there is a master race (aryans) that would naturally be on top, but in the world that he see they are not. Hitler then assumes that there is a decadent civilisation ruled by jews that his unnaturally holding aryans back – which is contradictory because it means that the aryans aren’t really winning, so they are not the master race.

The trick is that Hitler (and social darwinists in general) had a contradictory logic about “darwinism”: darwinism in itself is not a statement of value, but they assumed that “better” (in darwinist terms) meant “better” in terms of moral values (and thus meant “them”, as they believed to be better); they then had to hypothize an unnatural, decadent civilisation that prevented them to rule (or in the case of social darwinists they used the theory to stave off socialist demands).

Similarly N. uses a contradictory logic: on the one hand he plays the cynic, “all morality is false” guy, on the other hand he has a clear (though apparently unconscious) idea of what he believes is “good” or “beautiful” (which assumes a set of clearly defined ethic values), and assumes that such is the result of the natural “will to power”, only kept in chains by the usual degenerate civilisation.
But I think this was very common among conservatives of the period (and sometimes I see a similar logic, although not as exaggerated, in conservatives today).

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LFC 11.21.17 at 5:28 pm

It’s interesting that Sebastian could not be bothered to reply to my point about a governing class when I made the point. Sebastian only bestirred himself to reply to the point when Z said he agreed with me about it.

On the substance: Sebastian’s reply on this issue is strange. He apparently doesn’t see any difference between a Communist Party ruling clique and a hereditary governing class. Now it’s true that the lines may get a bit blurry when the sons (or daughters) of CP leaders enter the clique themselves and one gets a dynasty effect, as in North Korea. But then family dynasties of a sort exist in democratic polities too. See the Kennedys or the Bushes. Someone who is incapable of distinguishing between the Bush ‘dynasty’, the quasi-hereditary clique in N. Korea, and the Tory idea of a governing class is not v. good at political observation/analysis.

Indeed Sebastian’s way of disagreeing with Corey is hardly better than the flaws Sebastian taxes Corey himself with: e.g., taking a quote from one conservative and attaching it to all conservatives. In Sebastian’s case, he doesn’t even bother with the quotes. He simply makes assertions untethered to any references to the text. Maybe one wants to take issue with something specific Corey says: for example, maybe you don’t like the way he uses Mannheim to make a distinction between ‘traditionalism’ and conservatism (see pp. 22-23, first ed. of TRM). There may well be problems with the argument and with the presentation. But the critique would be more effective if it were tied more closely to the text ostensibly being criticized.

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Yan 11.21.17 at 8:02 pm

MisterMr @145

“Well yeah, but the cultural values he believes in were aristocratic values, with the assumption that in a “state of nature” they would prevail if not for the degenerate civilisation.”

This is literally the *opposite* of Nietzsche’s view, as I tried to explain in an earlier post where Nietzsche explains why he is *anti-Darwin* (and anti-social Darwinism). Here’s the quote again: “The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

Again, Nietzsche rejects the idea of conservation or return–so if he is a “conservative”, it’s in a profoundly different way. He thinks his ideals are inventions, not values written into the order of things, and they are achieved against the grain of nature and history through social and cultural engineering, not through natural superiority or natural hierarchy.

As for your claims about similarities to Hitler, about master and servant morality, and his moral anti-realism, they’re complete misunderstandings of his work. That’s Nietzsche’s fault, mostly, since he invites, sometimes actively promotes, misunderstanding. But I strongly recommend that you read the current scholarship, which has exploded in the last 20 years, and has unanimously rejected these readings, which were once the norm and are understandable false impressions of the casual reader.

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Stephen 11.21.17 at 8:08 pm

I’m coming into this rather late, full of admiration for the complex and skilled arguments presented by some of the posters, forgive me if I’m making a point that has already been dealt with, but I think I can see a complicating factor.

Some people have been progressive or indeed revolutionary about some matters, conservative or indeed reactionary about others.

Examples: Samuel Johnson, a strong Tory never entirely reconciled to the Whig revolution of 1688, opposed to the American revolution, but capable of proposing a toast at a banquet “Here’s to the next insurrection of the Negroes in the West Indies”.

John Mitchel, passionately pro-revolution in Ireland, charged with treason felony, deported to Australia, escaped to New York and argued passionately in favour of slavery and eventually for the Confederate cause.

Burke, eloquently in favour of the American revolution and against the French.

Orwell, pro-revolution in Catalonia, against the actually existing revolution in Russia. You could argue that it is possible to be anti-revolution in a specific case without being reactionary, but that would I think undermine many of the points made.

So in summary: if there is a fundamental difference between progressive/revolutionary and conservative/reactionary minds, how come several intelligent people have been both the one and the other?

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Z 11.21.17 at 8:38 pm

It’s interesting that Sebastian could not be bothered to reply to my point about a governing class when I made the point. Sebastian only bestirred himself to reply to the point when Z said he agreed with me about it.

LFC, I wouldn’t read too much into it though: life is short and comment threads are long. I certainly find it hard to juggle the many conversations running in parallel (for instance, I still haven’t replied to MisterMr, so now I will: Durkheim was a committed socialist and a fervent Dreyfusard, so no, in the context he was living in, he certainly wasn’t leaning to the right, but it is absolutely true that he was very wary of direct popular rule, which he equated in good late 19th century style with mob rule and thought social institutions, chief among them the State, should hold power and prevent people from wielding it).

Maybe one wants to take issue with something specific Corey says

Yeah, that would be the way to go. If I were to formulate a criticism (hopefully, a constructive one) I would say that I believe the larger social context matters in ways that is not immediately apparent (to me) in Corey’s analysis, that is to say, for instance, that an individual penning an intellectual defense of private forms of power above others does not have exactly the same meaning in a society at the outset of universal literacy (Burke), in one experiencing the waning of religious influence on a fully alphabetized society (Nietzsche and the Austrians), in one in which secondary education is universal and in which higher education is expanding rapidly (Ayn Rand and Phyllis Schlafly) and in a post-religious one in which educational achievements have again become unequal enough to really distinguish different rather rigid groups (Scalia and Trump).

150

phenomenal cat 11.21.17 at 10:01 pm

““He [Nietzsche] abhors the state and he abhors his contemporary Germany’s devotion to a hierarchy of economic values rather than cultural values.”
Well yeah, but the cultural values he believes in were aristocratic values, with the assumption that in a “state of nature” they would prevail if not for the degenerate civilisation. It’s the same as Hitler (again) and as social darwinists, social darwinism being a very common ideology at the time.
It’s also telling that he assumes that if the world is divided between masters and slaves, he is going to be among the masters (in all paragraphs of N. that I read when he says “we” he means the masters).
It is again similar to Hitler: Hitler assumes that there is a master race (aryans) that would naturally be on top, but in the world that he see they are not. Hitler then assumes that there is a decadent civilisation ruled by jews that his unnaturally holding aryans back – which is contradictory because it means that the aryans aren’t really winning, so they are not the master race.”
–145

No, sorry, MisterMr, what you’re writing here is wildly off the mark. It reads like a mirror image of something a RedState junior intern might write about Marx, after briefly scanning Marx’s Wikipedia page, to beef up his/her report on the political philosophy underpinning “Cultural Marxism.”

-Flatly equating Nietszche’s writings/philosophy with Hitler or Social Darwinists is indicative of having read his work poorly, little, or not at all.
-Master/slave are first and primarily analytical categories (or types) of prime historical, psychological, political, and sociological value in N.’s philosophy–only secondarily do these terms denote an evaluative sense, if at all. Even then, the evaluative sense given to these terms is coursing with all manner of ironic over and undertones. There is no assumption anywhere that the “world is divided into masters and slaves.” Do yourself a favor and actually read Genealogy of Morals.
-By all means, repudiate N.’s philosophy. But it’s an empty gesture that borders on the disingenuous to repudiate a caricature of a caricature.

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MisterMr 11.21.17 at 11:27 pm

@Yan 147
This is literally the *opposite* of Nietzsche’s view, as I tried to explain in an earlier post where Nietzsche explains why he is *anti-Darwin* (and anti-social Darwinism). Here’s the quote again: “The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

As I said, I don’t know N., nor did I read anything specific on N. . Hell, my high school history teacher skipped N. mostly because he didn’t like him on ideological grounds (he saw this openly, he was a self described marxist-leninist) so the only thing I remember is something about rational criticism that destroys its own bases or something like it. I might one day or the other read something about N. (I read weird things).

That said, I think you don’t get my point: you say that N. was an anti-darwinist because: “The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority— and they are also more intelligent.”
But my point is exactly that Nazis and social-darwinists also weren’t real darwinists.
This is totally obvious in Hitler’s views about races: he thought that he had to defend the aryan race from the evil inferiors the jews (who were supposed to be very sneaky and abstute like in N.’s citation); this is a total nonsense in darwinist terms.
The same goes for social darwinists: they told that the rich are rich because they are “superior” by birth (remember: genetics in the strict sense didn’t yet exist) to the poor but, first of all in a darwinist view the ones who reproduce more are the winners, not the ones with more money; for second, if the poor rally together and kill all the rich they are the survivors so again they would be “superior” to the rich, so what’s the point of forbidding unions and violent socialists, and finally darwinism isn’t about moral superiority so it’s a nonsense to use darwinism as a moral justification for inequality or whatever.

The point is that both Hitler and social darwinists twisted the logical meaning of darwinism to suit their own (totally not darwinist) ethical theories, and through this they went to the idea of the “decadent civilisation” (that also doesn’t make sense in darwinist terms).

So again from the quote you give I don’t see where N. was different from Hitler or from social darwinists, it seems to me that he followed more or less the same path (that doesn’t mean that he was a nazi or a pro-rich-burgeoise like the social darwinist, only that he was part of the same “family” of theories).

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alfredlordbleep 11.21.17 at 11:51 pm

Yan @147

This is literally the *opposite* of Nietzsche’s view, as I tried to explain in an earlier post where Nietzsche explains why he is *anti-Darwin* (and anti-social Darwinism). Here’s the quote again: “The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

This reminds me of the Oscarism (from A Woman of No Importance):

Lord Illingworth.
The history of women is the history of the worst form of tyranny the world has ever known. The tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.

(That’s all. I’ve no covert agenda in making the association)

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alfredlordbleep 11.21.17 at 11:56 pm

P. S. I forgot to say that literary critics have noticed the similar pronouncements (although maybe not what I quoted) from Wilde and Nietzsche, adding that the former is presumed to have been ignorant of the latter.

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Sebastian H 11.22.17 at 12:49 am

Z, Argh, I’m on the road so I can’t provide quotes. But I’m clearly not explaining myself well.

“He [is] saying that if they are open enough to get labelled conservative, they get to have every other ‘bad’ thing that any other person said stuck to them like it was a giant conspiracy.
Well, let me just say that (once again) I don’t recognize Corey’s work in your description. At all. Maybe you could point towards a quote from him or a specific part of his work, so I could judge from myself where you are coming from? “

I guess we will have to wait until I have access to the book again, but really it is a huge part of his technique whenever he writes on the subject, maybe even the defining characteristic of his writing on conservatives. It something that all the highbrow negative reviews mention and the Holbo alludes to here so I’m sort of surprised that you don’t see at all, even if you don’t ultimately agree with the assessment.

“Every Communist Party structure could very much be described as a private hierarchy

And likewise, every Communist Party structure could very much be described as an American High school pep squad, because anything can very much be described as anything else. “

Ummm, well that doesn’t seem like a very fair reading of what I’m saying.

Communist Parties in any country where they ruled very much had all sorts of characteristics of private hierarchies in ways that that they weren’t similar to High School Pep Squads. I guess I don’t even know where to start with the idea that for example the Communist Party of the USSR wasn’t a private hierarchy. I mean it was essentially a super powerful Church of Russia with Stalin playing the part of the Pope. It wasn’t a public hierarchy because lots of people couldn’t join, and the public rules regarding it had very little to do with the private ways that it actually functioned.

And again, I’m not saying that the distinctions make no difference. I’m saying they don’t make the kinds of differences that Corey says they make. He hasn’t identified the true code to understanding conservatives. He doesn’t even exhibit enough understanding of conservatives to distinguish between their different types of arguments. He just plays the same game as Jonah Goldberg of the left. Which is fine if all you ever want to do is preach to the choir.

The problem is that there is no one true code to understanding conservatism. He understands that about leftists because they are his in group and he is willing to make distinguishing lines. But he doesn’t see that by so clearly focusing his effort on making conservatives his ‘outgroup’ he is willing to accept stereotyping that he would never agree to for his ingroup.

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Faustusnotes 11.22.17 at 3:14 am

Sebastian H, waaaay up above you make the claim that Robin lumps people together in order to dismiss them, then you accuse him (and some commenters too I assume) of “demonizing” consecutives (I think “dismiss” and “demonize” are your exact words). I’m interested why you think this is what he is doing.

First, “dismiss”: Robin had written a whole book about these people so I don’t understand how you can say he has “dismissed” them. He has actually spent a lot of time thinking about and analysing them, which is surely the opposite of dismissal. Did you mean to say “criticize”? If so, I’m confused as to why you think this is a bad thing. Presumably you accept that left wing people disagree with and thus will criticize right wing people. Assuming that, isn’t it inevitable (indeed, a minimum requirement) of this criticism that some people be lumped together? Is your real complaint that he should have analysed only one of these people, and that criticizing people as a group is impossible? Or by “dismiss” do you mean that calling people conservative is “dismissal” a priori? Why would you, a conservative, think that?

Which brings us to “demonize”. You also accuse Robin of calling them all a little Hitler, which I hope you agree is as deliberate mischaracterization of his work. He does not put Hitler at the table with them, doesn’t include Pinochet either (despite your later assertion that he does) and holbo asks us to exclude Pinochet . So what exactly is the demonization you are complaining of? Again, do you consider any criticism of conservatives to be “demonization”? Do you need a safe space? Or do you consider it demonization simply to call a conservative a conservative? Why would you, a conservative, consider (eg) Thatcher to have been demonized by being put at the same table as Hayek, a man she admires, and Reagan, a man she had close and cordial relations with?

The only impression I can get from this is that either a) you are arguing with an imagined critique of conservatism that they’re all fascists (see the little Hitler allegation) or b) you consider any criticism of conservatism to be demonization or C) you consider the word itself to be an insult. Which of these is it, and if C) why?

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LFC 11.22.17 at 3:49 am

As I look again at chap. 1 of TRM (1st ed.), it occurs to me that a judicious criticism of the book might be that it takes one strain of conservatism and gives it a key if not exclusive position: i.e., the activist, sometimes populist, counterrevolutionary strain.

P. 42:

Whether in Europe or the United States, in this century or previous ones, conservatism has been a forward movement of restless and relentless change, partial to risk taking and ideological adventurism, militant in its posture and populist in its bearings, friendly to upstarts and insurgents, outsiders and newcomers alike. While the conservative theorist [Oakeshott seems to be the immediate reference here] claims for his tradition the mantle of prudence and moderation, there is a not-so-subterranean strain of imprudence and immoderation running through that tradition….

At least in this particular passage, it’s worth noting, C.R. treats conservatism as a tradition with more than one “strain”; however, he goes on to put particular weight on the “militant” aspect, the features of “wildness” and “extravagance” (p. 43), the “dynamic” quality (p. 43).

So, although Sebastian is not making his case very carefully or precisely, and although he’s thrown in a lot of irrelevancies about Mao and Chavez, and although he’s drawn absurd implicit comparisons between the CPSU and an aristocratic London club — despite all this, there arguably is a complaint of substance lurking beneath Sebastian’s prolixity, and that complaint is that CR has taken one strain of conservatism and treated it as being close to the whole. That, I take it, is what Sebastian is getting at with his “there is no one true code to understanding conservatism.” Of course, CR never uses the phrase “one true code,” but the complaint, as I would rephrase it, is that there is some overgeneralization here, an elevation of one strain in the tradition over others.

Now, this emphasis of CR’s could be seen as redressing a balance, since the features of moderation and prudence have been arguably overemphasized in the past, but still, one can see where it might be open to criticism. But one would have to be much more steeped in the writings of conservatives than I am (or even, perhaps, than Sebastian is, although I’ll stipulate that his familiarity w the conservative canon exceeds my own), to really develop this criticism in effective detail. The one or two critical reviews of the book that I recall didn’t do that, at least not as convincingly as they might have.

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Peter T 11.22.17 at 4:51 am

I’m in broad agreement with Corey’s thesis, that almost all “conservative” thought is driven by the desire to keep the lower classes as powerless as possible (noting that how possible it actually is is very much historically contingent). I do, however, have trouble mapping this onto the distinction between the private and public domains. The proponents of absolutist government – Hobbes among them – had as their cause the suppression of the aristocratic violence that so enlivens late Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, Valois etc history. Their enemies’ catch-cry was liberty, and the aristocrats found plenty of lower class support among those who knew that what voice they had – through manor courts, guilds, fraternities, canonries – would vanish along with noble autonomy. As indeed it did. So who was the “progressive” and who the “reactionary” here?

Public power can be used to crack open oppressive private domains. It can also be used to reinforce them. Private domains can be a refuge from oppressive public power. Neither are the exclusive concern of one side or the other.

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Faustusnotes 11.22.17 at 5:34 am

But LFC, Sebastian H accuses Robin of demonizing these people, which suggests he thinks the analysis doesn’t apply to any of them or is unnecessarily harsh. I want to see the argument that the invasion of Iraq wasn’t reckless, that the brexit referendum wasn’t imprudent, that the Tory party that held a referendum on Scottish independence actually tries to preserve institutions, but I don’t get that: I get a claim that lumping the dude who advised Pinochet along with his good mate Maggie is somehow a slight to both of them. And then I get from Thomas beale that scruton is an example of this prudent counterweight, even though scruton slings about wild and reckless and wrong conspiracy theories with gay abandon. I can’t see a counter argument in any of that, but I do see an implication that even calling someone a conservative is a terrible insult.

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casmilus 11.22.17 at 10:00 am

@147, @152

“Again, Nietzsche rejects the idea of conservation or return–so if he is a “conservative”, it’s in a profoundly different way. He thinks his ideals are inventions, not values written into the order of things, and they are achieved against the grain of nature and history through social and cultural engineering, not through natural superiority or natural hierarchy.”

See also “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household, where we have something like:

“Quive-Smith started talking about a will to power. I didn’t tell him natural leaders don’t need one. He wouldn’t have understood.”

(In the bit where the aristocratic narrator is hiding in his bunker, and the Nazi agent QS is waiting and taunting him outside.)

Has anyone mentioned yet C.R.W.Nevinson? He did an essay on conservatism as a philosophy, which included a passage disparaging FN as a low vulgarian who didn’t get the point at all. Also the preface to the 1927 edition of “Tarr” by Wyndham Lewis had a little dig at Freddy’s fanboys.

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Z 11.22.17 at 10:10 am

It wasn’t a public hierarchy because lots of people couldn’t join, and the public rules regarding it had very little to do with the private ways that it actually functioned.

But Sebastian, private as in opposed to public and not open to everyone is not at all the meaning intended by Corey when he uses that word (I write queasily because…). Inter-personal is what he meant. Very clearly (and very successfully), the Communist party in Russia under Stalin destroyed former inter-personal hierarchies, as it had set out to do, very explicitly. Ergo it is very different from political movements which aim – often equally explicitly and equally successfully – at re-energizing former inter-personal hierarchies. (As an aside, this is clearly discussed in the section on marriage, child rearing and communism in the The Communist Manifesto.) Not less ruthless, not less driven by a will to power, not morally superior, but very different all the same. Even your comparison to the Church misses the mark wildly in that respect, because precisely the Church is a social organization that wants to relegate the world to the background in favor of the other-worldly (until society experiences dramatic social change at which point it morphs in a worldly political agent, usually but not always of the reactionary kind, but at the price of a complete transformation of form and substance).

He hasn’t identified the true code to understanding conservatives. He doesn’t even exhibit enough understanding of conservatives to distinguish between their different types of arguments.

So you say but I’m not so sure. Corey is writing as an intellectual historian, I would approach the same questions from a much more sociological and anthropological perspective, but I would tend to agree with his characterization: in the two centuries between (roughly) the French Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of mass politics has changed (sometimes radically) the way human beings interacted with each other at a very basic and direct level and expressed their social values. I find neither implausible nor uninformative the thesis that reactionary politics has first and foremost been a violent and romantic political expression of the desire of this change to be overturned, just like I would find neither implausible nor uninformative the thesis that communist movements have first and foremost been a violent and romantic political expression of this very change.

(Note incidentally that this belief of mine commits me to a completely un-psychological reading of Corey’s thesis: the core psychological impulse, if one must really uses this adjective, is in my mind exactly the same and stems from exactly the same source.)

But coming again to your assertion, what core differences between various lines of arguments do you think he misses? No need to be exhaustive, just a particularly striking example would do. (To give you a quick example of what I would consider a reasonable standard, I could easily provide at least 3 or 4 major misunderstandings in Scott Alexander’s take on Marx – which you might have read since I think you occasionally read his blog. Can you do the same for Corey on the author of your choice?)

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Yan 11.22.17 at 12:06 pm

MisterMr @151
“As I said, I don’t know N., nor did I read anything specific on N. . Hell, my high school history teacher skipped N. mostly because he didn’t like him on ideological grounds.”

I’m impressed reading N–or any philosopher–was an option in high school history. I really do think much of the blame for the common misreading you’ve heard falls on Nietzsche himself. But there’s a long history of motivated misinterpretations, too, starting from his own sister, an anti-Semitic nationalist who would later admire Hitler, editing criticisms of anti-semitism, Germany, and nationalism out of her edition of his phony magnum opus, “The Will to Power”–really hobbled together out of mostly discarded notes.

It’s a shame that many leftists, like your teacher and Lukacs, and like Corey Robin, have been so swayed by the old bad readings, which are not just largely false, but often the opposite of Nietzsche’s view. This is why I stress Nietzsche’s bad fit with the language of “conservation” and “reaction”–because even when his goals resemble the right’s, his metaethics and means have much more in common with the left, so there’s much the left can learn from him.

Nietzsche is the only philosopher to almost define moral badness in terms of “reactive” tendencies–reaction is his defining critical trait of so-called “slavish” forms of morality. Surely “reactionary” is not the best lens to understand him, even if we want to classify him as on the right!

Of course social Darwinism radically misunderstands real Darwinism, but the point is that Nietzsche is opposed to both. He thinks that neither fitness for survival nor moral superiority are the product of natural development. In rejecting that, he’s rejecting any moral view that would be conservative in the sense of preserving or returning to a natural and original form of group superiority.

casmilus @159,

There’s a great version of the cartoonish misreading of Nietzsche in the film Baby Face, where Barbara Stanwyck gets converted to an Ayn Randish version of Nietzscheanism.

It seems that, like some of your examples, this picture of Nietzsche has strong roots in English sources. My impression is that since Nazi scholars tried to twist Nietzsche into their home-team philosopher during WWII, afterwards it was very hard to unroot that version in the UK and the US–where it had, by way of–wait for it–reaction (reactionary !), s0mething of an idee fixe.

Non-readers and casual readers of Nietzsche like MisterMr have every excuse not to see through that cheap version, since it’s been the dominant cultural image for so long. But I’m always very disappointed when well-read scholars like Corey Robin (whose work I greatly admire) or, for that matter, Lukacs, buy into it–more than half a century after people like Walter Kaufmann and Hollingdale started it dismantling it.

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MisterMr 11.22.17 at 12:46 pm

@Peter T 157

” The proponents of absolutist government – Hobbes among them – had as their cause the suppression of the aristocratic violence that so enlivens late Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, Valois etc history. Their enemies’ catch-cry was liberty, and the aristocrats found plenty of lower class support among those who knew that what voice they had – through manor courts, guilds, fraternities, canonries – would vanish along with noble autonomy. As indeed it did. So who was the “progressive” and who the “reactionary” here?”

I don’t think that modern categories as “progressive” or “conservative” make much sense the more we go back in times (who was the most leftish, the Guephs or the Ghibellines?).

That said:
1) It seems to me that you are assuming that aristocratic power was private power, why? (I think one of the reasons it’s difficult to map left/right in the past is exactly because there wasn’t a clearly defined difference between public and private);
2) “and the aristocrats found plenty of lower class” really? More than the central government? are you sure?
3) “through manor courts, guilds, fraternities, canonries – would vanish along with noble autonomy. As indeed it did.” aren’t we speaking of a faction of the ruling class against another faction of the ruling class? Not everione was part of a guild, for example, and “apprentices” in certain historical periods were more or less serfs or lumpen proletarians.

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steven t johnson 11.22.17 at 2:34 pm

Peter T@157 nicely formulates the problem with Robin’s odd distinctions between public and private domains. That said, I must disagree, both trivially and significantly.

The trivial object is on Hobbes. The phrase about “man or assembly of men” heading Leviathan means either a king or a Parliament. His issue was about submission in preference to revolution. When push comes to shove, I’m pretty sure that everyone at CT agree with Hobbes that revolution here is the greatest calamity. A thinker who does make Peter T’s point is I think Algernon Sidney. Sidney’s open commitment to the maintenance of the nobility is by Robin’s public/private domains thesis reactionary. But Sidney was a revolutionary executed with cause, if not justice.

The significant objection is that it is misleading to think that reactionaries are committed to the suppression of the lower classes. After all, so many of them are lower classes. Or the inferior sex. Even, or especially perhaps, Robin’s intellectual history should address precisely how and why so many people are openly their own enemies?

As to Sebastian H, try as I may to understand, all I’m getting is irritation that Robin dismisses the self-flattering image of conservatism as epistemic humility in morals, prudence in policy, genial skepticism about the science of man and a lively good taste in manners, dress and home, with an unseemly rage, even while ignoring the unseemly rage of leftists.

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GR 11.22.17 at 4:47 pm

I haven’t read until the end of this commentary. Gave up just when nearly there. I believe that some of the commentary is oppositional for the sake of opposition and that no amount of explanation can dissuade a person who is oppositional by nature. He or she cannot recognize his or her nature and nothing will ever turn him or her from the belief in his or her assertions. Perhaps the reason is his or her own basic conservatism, to which he or she has not been able to come to terms with or does not wish to. I know that makes it seem that conservatism is a disease that needs to be cured. I have come to believe it is. That does not mean that I believe that its so-called opposite liberalism is free from taint or question. Far from it.

Missing from this entire thread (unless it appeared at its very end) is any commentary on the actual actions of our politicians and what they show of belief in their stated political philosophies. It seems to be it is commonsensical to deduce a person’s actual beliefs from his or her actions and statements. We can do this while still looking for the hidden sources of support for their actions. Robin has done this in writing “The Reactionary Mind” by analyzing the writings of the original thinkers and the writings and statements of their political descendants.

Growing more sophisticated about our politics over time I have come to believe in Walter Karp’s admonition to watch what they do, not just what they say. Robin has done both. Politicians, as we all know, can say anything no matter their political philosophy, to the extent they have one. Just as true, their actions can conform to their statements and their characters can be discerned in their actions. I have read Robin’s first version. I have just begun reading his revision but am not very far into it. His thesis struck me as eminently provable on my reading of the earlier edition. I could see the tendencies Robin described in my own work experiences with colleagues and other co-workers, friends, and in my own family, to a greater or lesser extent, among both males and females and discern their basic conservatism or liberalism or other political philosophy (and most people, including myself, if not all are a composite of often conflicting belief systems) in the extent to which they professed authoritarian beliefs, their tendency to devalue certain groups over overs, their belief in American myths, their interest or not in the origins of political thought, and their adherence or not to American exceptionalism, militarism, and self-righteousness, their ignorance or knowledge of the actual history of the United States in general but also with respect to non-whites and the responsibility for whites in their actual conditions side by side in many cases with their professed sympathy for all these groups. With all of that, all these are people with whom I have come in contact in my life who are not. with exceptions of course, knowingly racist or sexist or wishful that harm come to any other group. Their political decisions, however, belie the latter because their emotions get caught up in their politics and they are not in touch with that reality. Reaction by nature is emotional. While this can be true of people of differing political philosophies as reaction may be found on the left as well (it is human nature after all to be inconsistent and self-interested and often conflicted and unknowing of the origins of our conflict), I deduce the same in the statements and actions of conservative politicians and the often obvious differences in the statements and actions of the so-called opposition party (which the current Democrats rarely are and have not been for many decades now) when the conservatives were in power, and finding, in the main, that Robin’s thesis turns out to be correct.

That is not to say that the votes and other actions of any politician and his supporters and enablers among the professional punditry or members of associated think tanks and elsewhere, no matter the philosophical beliefs underlying them, are always coherent. They are arrived at by adherence to self-interest and many other factors including their party’s coercion in their vote, more or less known or surmised. But the reasons for the core of their opposition or support could be deduced if one is able to look behind the flimflam and the sometimes Orwellian language, especially on the right while at the same time examining our history.

The success of our political decisions as embodied in programs of alleviation and mitigation as well as policing and military and other decisions depend on implementation and not taking our eye off the ball and our willingness to honestly evaluate where they succeed or fail. Conservatives have always seemed much better at not taking their eye off the ball than liberals at least in ramming through their legislation or actions by any method possible to achieve their goals. They are more consistently ideological in their commitment to their cause. It is probably true that neither conservatives or liberals have been able to step back and evaluate where they went wrong. Certainly we see this in the 2016 election debacle.

Hazlitt in England had much to say in criticism of the Tories in parliament. And these criticisms can be aimed at American conservatives of the modern era, which I do not paraphrase but characterize as follows: that they never give up, that they are protean in the manifestations their dissent takes, for example, when circumstances lead them to contradict themselves to win the argument of the moment, that they are willing to do anything to win and to vanquish the opposition. In short, they seem to have limitless energy and the resources to keep their goals in play and to finally make those goals reality. Resources of anger and commitment as well as the support of the business class, which is by nature conservative in the sense that Robin describes. This is not always true of liberals. It is my hope that it is true of and will increasingly become better known against tremendous odds, for example, the suppression of free speech that the search and social websites are practicing in conjunction with media and political elites, of citizen reformers on the left. A perusal of the actions of our politicians will find that conservatives with few exceptions vote against the very things that Robin’s thesis provides.

Nonetheless, I found several weaknesses in the first book and one is a weakness found in many books published based on articles or speeches given in the past and strung together to form a coherent whole and that is often the book turns out to be less than coherent in all cases. Articles and speeches are written for a certain audience and do not always speak to every issue. From the comments from readers of the revised text, Robin has addressed this criticism. Also, and as some of you have implied in your own case, I found the earlier book’s argument weakened by the failure to juxtapose it with contrasting or similar examples of the thinking or perhaps a better word is actions of liberal thinkers or practitioners regarding liberalism. This latter criticism may be a quibble. Hopefully in the new version those failures are mitigated somewhat. But perhaps not. Perhaps Robin rightly sees that as unnecessary given the nature and purpose of the book.

In paying attention to politics over the course of my adult life and reading as widely in politics as a nonpolitical degree allowed, I have come to the very conclusions to which Robin has come based on eye witness, up close experience as well as analysis. I started out as a young adult as a conservative, not having any idea of its subterranean meanings and impetus, drawn to the use of language in Bill Buckley’s “The National Review,” for instance and not realizing then the implications of the sentiments expressed in that language and I later worked directly with some well-known conservatives. At that time I was attending a Catholic high school taught by nuns and I will never forget the words of a nun whom I respected upon reading an article I showed her who said “There is no love in it.” I came later to understand exactly what she meant. I then gravitated toward liberalism when the actions and beliefs of conservatives became clearer to me and unacceptable in their reality as well as their implications. I have now rejected what passes for liberalism in the United States and see it, as Robin does, as originally a centrist philosophy and worthy of praise and support that permitted piecemeal reform from below in the interests of the stabilization of society, whilst keeping the ruling class very much in control and the prerogatives of the ruling class somewhat modified but not weakened in any real sense and always with sufficient power by both conservatives and liberals to negate by legislation or stealth, suppression, or subterfuge the withholding of rights previously supported and the undermining of the welfare of non-elite groups and the country as a whole. Because of the latter, I have moved away from traditional liberalism toward a much looser, people centered politics aimed at providing as much agency and meaning to all people within society as well as non-human species and the life of the planet.

We can see from our history that both conservatives and liberals have made common cause with respect to foreign policy and war and the national security state as well as many but not all tax and business, media, educational, religious and judicial policies over the course of our history while allowing others to be in strong contention. And I think we can see that their decisions are harming and not helping us at this perilous stage in our history and that of the planet. But it is always the personal that sheds light on the political in politics as well as human relations generally. The challenges to power and the backlash against the challengers are hotly pursued by the right. Whilst it is true that the politicians in both parties are increasingly corrupt and have no answers (to the extent they want answers and are not slavishly devoted to the status quo and their own financial interests) to the current political economy of neoliberalism of both parties, which was a conservative project adopted by liberals as well, the visceral response of conservatives to challenges to their authority remain very much in place as they always have. It is this truth that is the core of the book and I for one have found it true from both experience and study.

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Mario 11.22.17 at 7:42 pm

Corey’s thesis, that almost all “conservative” thought is driven by the desire to keep the lower classes as powerless as possible

Is that true? I find that claim so absurd and obviously wrong that I really hope that that isn’t his thesis. How, for example, do modern conservative ideals of family life fit into that? And that’s hardly an insignificant part of conservative thought. How does a Jordan Peterson fit into that?

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Stephen 11.22.17 at 8:00 pm

Mister Mr: “Hitler … thought that he had to defend the aryan race from the evil inferiors the jews (who were supposed to be very sneaky and abstute like in N.’s citation); this is a total nonsense in darwinist terms.”
Umm, not, I think, if Hitler thought that the success of Jews against Aryans depended on the Aryans being constrained by deplorable modern liberalism, that prevented them from dealing with the Jews as (from his demented viewpoint) they deserved.

“The same goes for social darwinists: they told that the rich are rich because they are “superior” by birth … to the poor but, first of all in a darwinist view the ones who reproduce more are the winners, not the ones with more money.”
Given a modern liberal state that subsidises the breeding poor, that’s true. Given a pre-modern state, some would argue the rich reproduced more.

“If the poor rally together and kill all the rich they are the survivors so again they would be “superior” to the rich, so what’s the point of forbidding unions and violent socialists.”
Maybe the point might be to prevent unions and violent socialists killing the rich? Not that unions had exactly that intention.

“Finally darwinism isn’t about moral superiority so it’s a nonsense to use darwinism as a moral justification for inequality or whatever.”
I’m afraid you’ve lost me here.

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bob mcmanus 11.23.17 at 12:13 am

Going thru the Index:

No Mosca, no Robert Miller, no Ortega y Gasset, no Pareto, no Maurras, no Norbert Elias, no Louis Dumont, I didn’t see C Wright Mills. Leaving aside the Marxists.

I don’t even.

Maybe maybe, Rand and Buckley and Hayek are more important to contemporary conservatism and a popular “intellectual history”, but then why De Maistre and Nietzsche? I do try to understand.

Whatever. I am not his reader.

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Faustusnotes 11.23.17 at 12:38 am

Mario, modern conservative ideals of family life are simply that poor people should be forced to have large ones, while rich men can fuck whoever they want with impunity and use their families.ily as a shield for their vices. How does this not fit robin’s thesis? (Also of course conservatives are paedophile friendly)

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Peter T 11.23.17 at 1:43 am

I admit to overstating the case, but the point about public and private stands. The state may be defined as the ultimate point of social decision, but ultimate does not mean all-encompassing. There are many levels of authority below the state, many spheres which it is content to – or forced to – leave to themselves. One way of framing Corey’s contest is between those who would open up higher levels of authority to wider participation and those who resist this. Obviously elites have been the most prominent resisters, but they gather support from those who see either their own small sphere being over-ridden, or fear losing their existing rights at lower levels in exchange for weaker or non-existent rights at higher levels. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a great deal of this, as older institutions were “reformed”, ironing out the anomalies that had permitted some women, minorities and poor to participate.

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Collin Street 11.23.17 at 11:16 am

… I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but… if there are genuine and systemic differences in cognition between “conservatives” vis-a-vis the bulk of the population…

… the chances that the difference has been missed by all the world’s neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and what-have-you are basically zero. If there is such a thing as a “conservative mind”, then there’s going to already be medical-science name for the phenomenon, and given the numbers of “conservatives” almost certainly a pretty well-known one.

[I mean, sure, I’ve got a candidate in mind. But the above isn’t how I came to my conclusions, it’s a separate logic path entirely and doesn’t rely on any of my observations]

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bob mcmanus 11.23.17 at 11:24 am

1) Reactionaires (pro aristocracy)
2) “Liberals” (in the european sense, pro big business burgoises)
3) Socialists (commies, anarchists etc.)

with liberals in the middle, switching alliances from reactionaries to socialists and back as they saw more fit.

Nietzche was in 1, and sees liberalism and socialism as the same beast, Lukacs was in 3 and sees reactionaries and liberals as the same.

Not speaking for Lukacs, but not the same. More like Thesis and Antithesis

Okay, 200 pages onto The Destruction of Reason and I am finding it very useful. This will be a terrible fail, but an attempt.

Start with Kant/Fichte. Then there are two branches, one from Schelling/Hegel to the anti-dialecticals: late, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Spengler etc. Obviously an irrationalism, to be named later.

But there is another branch, from the early Schelling tutored by Hegel onwards through the Neo-Hegelians and Pierce for instance: Objective Idealism. Google it.

Wiki: “Objective idealism accepts common sense realism (the view that material objects exist) but rejects naturalism (according to which the mind and spiritual values have emerged from material things)”

Thing is, cf Schelling, Being or Spirit is inaccessible through reason and must be apprehended through “intellectual intuition,” but can be approximated in understanding through abstract logic, intricate categories and procedures.

Or models. And this is where the Objective Idealism of Schelling shows up in the present day or 20th C.

1) The masses of Mosca Miller and Pareto, the non-rational mob that must be managed by the extra-democratic forms of liberalism and constitutionalism

and 2) the markets of Jevons, Austrian, Hayek, Neo-classicals, and New Keynesians, Krugman’s modelings, DSGE

Point being that modern economics and liberal politics are irrationalisms, different from, perhaps opposite to, but intimately connected to the irrationalism of Nietzsche and fascism.

cf:Robert H Nelson, Economics as Religion:From Samuelson to Chicago School and Beyond

I will forgo the Marxian response.

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engels 11.23.17 at 12:26 pm

there are genuine and systemic differences in cognition between “conservatives” vis-a-vis the bulk of the population

I thought Conservatives _are_ the bulk of the population (in the US)

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MisterMr 11.23.17 at 3:11 pm

@bob mcmanus 171
Thanks.
It’s interesting that you cite Pierce, I had to study a book of him for my semiotics exam (many years ago when I got my degree) and recently I tought that there are many parallelisms between Pierce and german idealism in general.

I think that both the “irrationalism” current and this “objective idealism” come from the same source:

Kant divided knowledge in three realms: pure reason, practical (moral) reason and esthetics. But while for Kant, in some sense, moral and esthetics are pure reason plus some other stuff, Kant’s idea of pure reason is (again in some sense) that we create a model of reality in our mind.
Now this idea of knowledge as model building begs the question: how do we evaluate models one against the other?
This question leads to a “pragmaticist” answer: we keep models that in some sense “work”, so that practical (moral) reason becomes the base of “pure” reason, and not the other way around.

In my opinion, german idealism went in this direction with moral and at times almost theological elucubrations becoming the prerequisite for a theory of knowledge, whereas Peirce (and maybe others) went for a “pragmaticist” explanation.
In addition, to a large degree both morals and knowledge are a social production, so while the german idealists went for a weird undistinguished “I” that is a mix of man, society, and sometimes a sort of god-like entity, Peirce went to an undistinguished “we” that is society with his theory of unlimited semiosis (where he doesn’t really distinguish between tought processes in the mind of an individual and knowledge prodution at the level of society).

Marx too is influenced by this as knowledge sprouts from action, although he goes deeper and has a theory were knowledge sprouts from social formations too.

Analytical philosophy, on the other hand, as far as I can tell skips the problem completely.

@Stephen 166
“Umm, not, I think, if Hitler thought that the success of Jews against Aryans depended on the Aryans being constrained by deplorable modern liberalism, that prevented them from dealing with the Jews as (from his demented viewpoint) they deserved.”

Some times ago I did read part of the Mein Kampf, in a modern italian ediction that is a reprint of one of the fascist period. The book is divided in two parts, the first is Hitler’s autobiography (abridged in the italian ediction) and the second is Hitler’s political program, where he explains his theories. I only read the first chapter because it becomes very boring soon.

In short, Hitler’s idea of the “master race” is not an evolutionist idea, it’s more similar to that of a dog breeder: if you want a dobermann dog, you can’t let dogs breed naturally, you have to carefully choose “purebreed” dogs that have the carachteristics you wont, so the cubs will also have these charachteristics and will be true dobermanns; the same, according to Hitler, is true for humans.

This is in fact more similar to eugenics than to natural selection, and in facts eugenics is totally the opposite of natural selection.

Hitler also believed that the “master race” was the one that created civilisations, and then when it mixed with lesser ones civilisations became decadent: for example the Romans were originally an aryan “master race” (by which I think Hitler meant more or less what we called indoeuropeans) but then mixed with oriental lesser races and the roman empire became decadent and orientalising, and finally fell (Hitler believed that the different kinds of civilisations directly depended on racial charachteristics of the people).

So on the whole I think that Hitler’s “theory” can be summarized this way:

1) There are some people who are good according to some judgement of value, and this goodness depends on their racial predisposition;
2) But this racial predisposition doesn’t really dominate in nature, so we have to force it eugenically;
3) And this is totally scientific, so we call this “scientific racism”.

“Given a modern liberal state that subsidises the breeding poor, that’s true. Given a pre-modern state, some would argue the rich reproduced more.”
Totally not what Malthus believed, and he lived well before the “liberal” state.

“Maybe the point might be to prevent unions and violent socialists killing the rich?”
Totally yes, but this isn’t a darwinist principle at all. There was, I believe, also a need for self justification.

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me here.”
My point is that all these ideologies, while they had many practical differences (Nietzsche for example didn’t believe that all Germans were the master race, as far as I can understand) had one thing in common: they started with an implicit judgement value where some people were “better” than others, in a moral sense; then they went on with weird and sometimes pseudoscientific arguments to pretend that this judgement value arised from some material, real circumstance.
Darwinism simply doesn’t work this way, because the “survival of the fittest” is not a judgement of value: if tomorrow because of global warming humanity becomes extint, but cockroaches survive, then cockroaches are “fitter” than humans for the new environment, but this doesn’t mean that cockroaches are “better” than humans in a moral sense.

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Layman 11.23.17 at 7:47 pm

“Maybe the point might be to prevent unions and violent socialists killing the rich? Not that unions had exactly that intention.”

More’s the pity.

175

J-D 11.24.17 at 12:04 am

engels

I thought Conservatives _are_ the bulk of the population (in the US)

By self-identification, according to opinion surveys, a plurality but not a majority.

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Z 11.24.17 at 1:41 pm

By the way, I heard this morning Corey Robin on the Leonard Lopate Show, and I found the whole talk quite excellent. Incidentally, in it, Corey negates the criticism I made @149: he clearly articulates his general thesis with the changing social conditions, from the beginning era of mass politics to our current age of entrenched inequalities.

I especially recommend the talk to evaluate the claim (made in this thread by Sebastian H but also in a very form by Collin Street) that reactionary politics as conceived by Corey is primarily a psychological disposition.

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bruce wilder 11.24.17 at 6:16 pm

Peter T @ 157, 167

I was thinking about how your theses might apply to 17th century Britain and I have met some difficulties. MisterMr seems to me to have a point with regard to the anachronism of projecting a public-private distinction back in time to a point where it had not yet emerged in modern form. (and, maybe the fact that that distinction was an emergent solution to problems of political conflict is relevant to how we should use it today to sort out conservative and other views?)

Hobbes of the Behemoth wasn’t worried about rampaging nobles. First of all, the landed gentry in the Commons in the time of Charles I could buy and sell the aristocrats of the Lords twice over, so it wasn’t always clear who was on top. But, beyond that, Hobbes saw the great cause of trouble to be the contentiousness of the (in his view) half-educated sectarians. The spread of grammar schools and expansion of Oxford, Cambridge and the Inns of Court under the Tudors had produced Shakespeare, the University wits and a remarkably educated society. The proportion of people with some exposure to college (including legal training at the Inns of Court) would not reach the same level again until the red brick universities took real hold in late 19th century Britain. Religious ideas among the Protestant Priesthood of All Believers were spreading, multiplying and taking on a democratic cast.

Charles I exercised his arbitrary authority to try to impose ritual conformity and episcopacy on Scotland long after the lowlands had become thoroughly Presbyterian. Jenny Geddes threw her stool, and the fight was on.

(Hobbes never seems to consider the sheer stupidity of Charles I to be problematic for the case of absolutism. How does an impoverished monarch manage to make himself responsible for funding both armies in a war against each other? The incompetence and bad luck of the Stuarts was the most telling argument against their governing absolutely.)

After Cromwell sorted out the character of those recruited for the New Model Army, it was not long before Lilburne’s Agitators had the private soldiers debating and writing constitutions. The Levelers were famously egalitarian and their ideology is pretty much a straight shot to the American Revolution and the Chartists and the Parliament Act of 1911.

I do not find much affection among the lower orders for manor courts and the like. If Cromwell had a selling point, it was that his judiciary was scrupulously fair, even in Ireland after his conquest (making allowance for the claims of conquest which are always manifestly unfair).

The appeal out-of-doors for political support for and against the Stuart monarchy and its Catholic ambitions oddly enough began in earnest pretty late in the chaotic political evolutions of the 17th century. And, well after the calamities of 1666-7 brought the legitimacy of the dynasty to a very low ebb. Then (on what became the Tory side) it was accompanied and accomplished in part by Charles II revoking ancient municipal charters wholesale. That was the process that finally reduced the chaotic efflorescence of opinion mid-century to make every Englishman a Tory or a Whig, and made governing from Parliament possible — ironically, without much in the way of subsequent popular participation.

I guess what I am struggling to articulate is that the public-private distinction that we often take for granted was a political solution to excessive political conflict over issues that people came to see did not need to be decided by the central state. It is not that anyone wanted it, at least not until exhausted. Religious toleration, for example, was not a popular cause, though figures like Harry Vane advocated for it, and figures as disparate as Cromwell and Charles II tried to make limited forms of religious toleration a political solution, before the settlement on the accession of William and Mary embodied a grudging degree of toleration, made somewhat less punitive with the Whig Ascendancy under the Hanovers. But, if you were to puzzle over the meaning of public good and public purpose, you have to wonder why, say, Harry Vane lost his head after the Restoration; he was no regicide — what infuriated the Cavaliers against him?

This comment has meandered enough that I won’t repeat a review of the French case, but I don’t think the Great Fear showed much latent affection among the peasants for their aristocratic betters.

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Mitchell Freedman 11.25.17 at 12:09 am

I loved Corey Robin’s book because it took the conceit of Conservative thinkers and demolished it. The conceit is the argument from what they call “principle.” What one sees over the 200 odd years is different ways of defending patriarchy and privilege. It’s sort of like how Republicans in our time are only concerned with the deficit when there is a Democratic Party president, or else someone calls for using government money to help people instead of blowing up people.

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ph 11.25.17 at 2:57 am

@177 Agreed. As I noted earlier, I do not see how the political can be separated from the religious when considering the genesis of formal conservative thought, whether we are talking about Luther and the German conservative reformers, or those they preceded and followed. The two are inextricably linked. The cycle of political and religious discourse from 1520 to 1700, and on to the abolition movement, advanced a great many important ideas, which you identify, but lamentably do not expand upon. The response of the puritan press in Cromwell’s England took a very dim view of the Ranters, Levellers, and Children of Light, and the few woodcuts we still possess demonizing these dissenting groups provide vital, if fragmentary, evidence of a what was very likely a very wide-ranging political and religious debate. John Milton, of course, published a number of essential political pamphlets which should still be read today.

I remain unconvinced that we can obtain a clear understanding of our interactions by deploying labels to behaviors which are in many cases responses to change, as much as they are doctrinaire, or driven by some set of ‘principles,’ except in the most rudimentary sense. You rightly point out that both Cromwell and Charles II advanced the rights of religious minorities. Yet, the Acts of Uniformity of the late 17th century provoked much the same response as they did in the middle of the 16th. The very conservative views of 18th century evangelicals did more to end slavery than any philosophical tract by Voltaire, or Rousseau. Liberty-loving revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic had very little interest in extending even voting rights to women, much less people of color. As famous as Susan B. Anthony is, she has much more in common with Henry Ford and Emmeline Pankhurst than she did with any left-wing activist.

The history of the Chartists is one long history of the oppression of politically active women by ‘liberals’ advocating greater equality and rights for men, while openly embracing the notion that women were physically and mentally unprepared for any challenge outside the bedroom and the kitchen.

How much has changes is open to question. Terms of reference matter. We accept that we hold a great many beliefs. I’d go further and say that these beliefs manifest themselves as theologies, and that part of the current discourse is closer to catechism than conversation.

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engels 11.25.17 at 3:09 am

Thanks J-D. Seconding Z, I thought the Leonard Lopate interview was great (also kinda answered my question above…)

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William Berry 11.25.17 at 3:42 am

It’s Peirce (pronounced “purse”), not Pierce.

He was, indeed, strongly influenced by German Idealism, as were most (provincial) philosophers of the late C19. The influence was not sufficiently profound to prevent him going on to be a founder of American Pragmatism and analytic philosophy (wrt the latter: in principle, at least).

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William Berry 11.25.17 at 3:48 am

And “Behemoth” works fine for “Leviathan”, though perhaps a bit less euphonious.

Forgive me. I have a post-Thanksgiving Chardonnay buzz (late dinner of chicken with pasta and veg). So, to bed, then.

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William Berry 11.25.17 at 5:22 am

OK, my bad. I wasn’t familiar with the English Civil War book. Guy had a thing for big things. Over- compensation of some kind or other, perhaps.

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Peter T 11.25.17 at 1:19 pm

I’ll put the argument in more general terms.

I would argue that medieval and early modern thinkers were well aware of the public/private distinction. It was the ability to translate this into effective political processes that was lacking. Once one moves beyond the village, political participation and governance both have to rely on hierarchies. The formal political process has become increasingly flat (we vote for representatives who vote for leaders – only two steps), but what might be called the the politico-social process is much more mediated; governance is more mediated again.

Pre-modern states had no choice but to delegate all but core functions out to various subsidiaries (their technologies and patterns of allegiance did not allow anything else). A key problem for the state was to maintain a balance of forces such that delegation did not become defiance, independence or revolt. Partial or complete failure was quite common and it was always a work in progress.

Modernisation involves a radical re-design, power moving upwards and to new institutions. Local accommodations are disrupted, local elites dispossessed, delegations of public power withdrawn, circumscribed or transferred. Since a major motive for modernisation is to increase the power of the central state, this usually involves an increase in direct lower-level participation in politics and the elimination or amelioration of local tyrannies. So far, so progressive. But the losers and the threatened include more than local tyrants. They include all those who have reached some comfortable local accommodation or who are at variance with the new central uniformity (which may be neither liberal nor liberating).

Corey’s conservatives want, rather inchoately, to reverse these trends or, if that is not possible, to capture and direct the new central powers to the benefit of themselves and their clients. It is not so much private power they wish to preserve as the ability to direct public power for private ends.

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steven t johnson 11.25.17 at 2:11 pm

Peter T@184 Again, a good analysis, I think.

I would conclude that Robin’s version of reactionaries* do draw a public/private distinction which they did not in reality, a distinct error in the analysis. I would further add that a lot of this analysis highlights the sense in which Robin’s argument could be more correctly rephrased as, reactionaries oppose change when their ox is gored. Except that in the real world there are many, many reactionaries supporting the barbecuing of their “ox.”

*I’ve lost track of the extent to which a focus on a reactionary mind allows a surreptitious assumption that clean and decent conservatives, as opposed to those nasty reactionaries, exist, and need not be criticized. Sort of a political theory version of the cozy mystery’s “ordinary decent criminal?”

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MisterMr 11.25.17 at 5:35 pm

@William Berry 181

Thanks for the correction, for some reason I always spell Peirce’s name wrong.

I would argue that his “pragmaticism” was quite in line with german idealism.

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LFC 11.25.17 at 6:59 pm

@s.t. johnson
I’ve lost track of the extent to which a focus on a reactionary mind allows a surreptitious assumption that clean and decent conservatives, as opposed to those nasty reactionaries, exist, and need not be criticized

The extent to which this exists in CR’s work is pretty much zero. Whatever you think of his argument, and I’ve offered some criticism of it above in this thread, you shd at least state the basic outline of it accurately: he doesn’t (iirc) use words like nasty, clean, or decent; rather assumes that there are some features unifying the outlook of conservatives and that those features can be identified (partly or mostly via a reading of certain authors). ‘Conservative’ and ‘reactionary’ are words used basically interchangeably by him, hence a split of the kind you suggest doesn’t show up in the bk.

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Stephen 11.26.17 at 6:37 pm

MisterMr@173
Thanks. I confess I have never read any significant part of Mein Kampf myself; somehow I could always find more interesting things to do (did I mention I thought the author was demented?). But I would suggest that eugenics is not the opposite of natural selection, it’s trying to achieve the results that would be obtained by truly natural selection in a society where the unfit weren’t kept going by unnatural means.

I am trying to remember the source arguing that, in mediaeval times, the surviving descendants of the relatively rich outnumbered those of the poor. I should have distinguished between reproducing, and having offspring that survived to the next generation. Re Malthus: I’m not sure you realise he lived in a state that was, by historic standards, liberal towards the poor: consider the Poor Laws which in England largely kept the poor alive.

The rich preventing the poor from rallying together and killing all the rich: surely the rich being able to stop that happening is an example of their Darwinian superiority?

Absolutely agreed, Darwinism says nothing about moral superiority. But are there not defences of (some sorts of) nequality that say nothing about moral superiority, as against long-term advantage?

Layman@174: If you believe it is a good idea to kill the rich, please consider two things.

Should not the rich believe it is a good idea to get somebody to kill you? Are you or they more likely to succeed?

Globally, aren’t you one of the rich? Should not the global poor kill you?

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MisterMr 11.26.17 at 9:36 pm

@Stephen 188

“But I would suggest that eugenics is not the opposite of natural selection, it’s trying to achieve the results that would be obtained by truly natural selection in a society where the unfit weren’t kept going by unnatural means.”
The whole difference between “nature” and “society” doesn’t make sense from a darwinian standpoint, though.

“I am trying to remember the source arguing that, in mediaeval times, the surviving descendants of the relatively rich outnumbered those of the poor.”

I did read some articles that argued the opposite, but I doubt anyone can seriously check this for a long historical period. The argument for “the poor reproduce more” is that at some point household choose to limit births in order not to divide the patrimony, but this happened only to proprietors (most farmers were sharecroppers or serfs).

“Re Malthus: I’m not sure you realise he lived in a state that was, by historic standards, liberal towards the poor: consider the Poor Laws which in England largely kept the poor alive.”
Many cities and countries in the second part of the middle ages had some sort of poor law, the catholic church had hospitals for the poor, much of the money that came from the indulgence went to the poor etc. (this is in my opinion the reason Luther was against the idea of “good deeads”, because it justified what he saw as “simony”). In earlier times there weresn’t such things but there wasn’t a lumpenproletariat in the same sense either. I have no reason to think that the poor laws were particularly generous by historical standards.

“The rich preventing the poor from rallying together and killing all the rich: surely the rich being able to stop that happening is an example of their Darwinian superiority?”
Only if their offspring outnumbers my offspring. Thanks for reminding me, now I’ll go reproduce as a rabbit.
[…]
More seriously, I don’t think that darwinian superiority has any sense, as I hope is clear from my previous comments.

“Should not the rich believe it is a good idea to get somebody to kill you?”
Eh, if the masters kill all the slaves, they are not masters anymore though – it’s catch 22.

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engels 11.27.17 at 1:04 am

Should not the rich believe it is a good idea to get somebody to kill you? Are you or they more likely to succeed?

They need us; we don’t need them. Also there are a lot more of us…

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faustusnotes 11.27.17 at 5:00 am

I think I should hardly have to point out that a) killing people is wrong and b) most people on this website are rich in their own country, let alone globally. Anyone here advocating killing rich people is talking up their own demise.

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steven t johnson 11.27.17 at 2:00 pm

a) If people really believed killing is wrong, why do people think so highly of those who kill professionally, like Obama and his kill lists?

b) Nobody at this website is rich. I can say this as an objective visitor with probably the lowest income here. The rule of thumb for rich is a million a year in after tax income, isn’t it? This sort of nonsense is why populism needs to be replaced by class analysis.

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bruce wilder 11.27.17 at 3:33 pm

Peter T: I would argue that medieval and early modern thinkers were well aware of the public/private distinction.

You think a world in which the lord of the manor was both the owner and the state had public and private as platonic ideas fully formed but unattached? No. They had ideas of the divine attached to a universal religion and an institutional church with its own language.

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Layman 11.27.17 at 6:06 pm

Stephen @ 188: “Layman@174: If you believe it is a good idea to kill the rich, please consider two things.”

What I believe is that it would be a good thing for the rich to be more frightened than they are that the poor will kill and eat them. If this fear can be accomplished without the actual killing and eating, of course I’m for that. Also, too, would you like your leg back?

“Globally, aren’t you one of the rich? Should not the global poor kill you?”

Yes to both. I’m properly frightened of that, and that fear informs my vote. I’d like more of my ilk to join me. Are you in?

engels: “They need us; we don’t need them. Also there are a lot more of us…”

Yes, exactly.

faustusnotes: “I think I should hardly have to point out that a) killing people is wrong…”

Though it’s possible, I doubt that even you believe that killing people is always wrong.

stephen t johnson: “If people really believed killing is wrong, why do people think so highly of those who kill…”

Because people are complicated, and believe apparently contradictory things?

“The rule of thumb for rich is a million a year in after tax income, isn’t it?”

Is it? Whose rule? Whose thumb? I think I’m rich, but I don’t have close to that in after tax income.

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LFC 11.27.17 at 6:23 pm

@B. Wilder

In late-medieval France (late 13th c., early 14th), the ‘kingdom of France’ (regnum Francie) emerges as something distinct — in language and to some extent on the ground — from the king’s personally held lands.

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steven t johnson 11.27.17 at 7:29 pm

bruce wilder@193 “You think a world in which the lord of the manor was both the owner and the state had public and private as platonic ideas fully formed but unattached?”

I can’t speak for Peter T. but I can say I do in fact think the least of peasants had a clear distinction between their own homes (huts?) and the local church, and the difference between both and the local castle. And between the tithe and their harvest and the between both and what was due to the local lord. And between the village commons and the lord’s demesnes and both from the royal forest. I don’t think fees for funerals and baptisms and marriages and a host of other churchy things were commonly regarded as private.

What I don’t think is that the public/private distinction mattered so much as power, and that everyone had a clear handle on the difference between the local lord and his liege, between the secular domain of said lord and the domain of the local clergy. Or, in other words, every improving landlord who enclosed the land understood the public/private distinction quite well, and wasn’t a bit confused about relying on public power to back him up. Everyone knew the lords had their own lords, up to the king, and no one thought the king was private either.

What I do think is that it’s Robin who needs the public/private distinction to do support his scheme, but it can’t bear the weight, not just in medieval/early modern but any time.

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engels 11.27.17 at 8:29 pm

What about throwing them in jail?

198

ph 11.27.17 at 9:55 pm

@ 193 There may be other and better text sources, but Eamon Duffy’s The Voices of Morebath provides illuminating and often surprising detail. Commitment to a universal religion is one thing, commitment to an organization ostensibly dedicated to conversion and propagation another. Duffy confirms that the private/public distinction was alive and well then, and likely before. Text records pre-Norman invasion are scarce. Different nations have different histories, of course. You’re right to add context, but it’s perhaps even more difficult to separate the political from the economic from the religious when the power of the church was deeply involved in all three. Consider, too, religious institutions in the Antilles leasing church land to slave owners, and private multi-national corporations in Africa controlling ‘democratic’ institutions during the late 19th century. Ireland provides endless, often sad, examples. The problem, I suggest, is more complex because many of us have convinced ourselves that we no longer subscribe to theologies. I’d argue we do, but we’re just not clear what these are. Take the mall, for example, Frank Kermode’s cathedral seem to be emptying out as dramatically as the churches, more quickly in some cases. Many portraits of women particularly depicted them with prayer books in the hands. Now we have smart phones. Is there a difference?

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Faustusnotes 11.27.17 at 10:48 pm

Steven if you’re a professor you’re rich,in your own country and globally. A professor in the UK is probably in the top 2-5% of the income distribution,am associate prof in the 5-8. Thats putting aside the common trait of academics to come from wealthy families with inherited money. Globally you’re in an even more privileged position. It’s fantartically misleading to think you can talk about killing the rich on a website run by profs and associate profs and not be talking about your hosts. It’s also a fantastically historically ignorant position to think that a revolution that leads to the deaths of rich people will leave you or yours out of the killing – especially a global revolution, but even a local one. If Aussie proles rise up do you think they’ll mistake John quiggin for one of theirs? It’s immoral and stupid to talk about this shit, and a sign that the commenters haven’t grown out of their 20s radicalism if they still think they’re on the same class divide as the poor. Even more so for those reading here who are baby boomers or thereabouts, beneficiaries of a great economic awakening followed by a massive inter generational theft.

This is an academic blog not a blog for zero hours contractors. Some readers would do well to remember that when they make jokes about killing their hosts.

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Peter T 11.27.17 at 11:39 pm

re Bruce @ 177 and 193

The first misreads a clentelist society as classist. The gentry were kin and clients to aristocrats, and the pool from which aristocrats were made. For instance, four of the five Commons leaders whose arrest Charles I sought were either immediate relatives of aristocrats or had aristocratic patronage.

This is of more than historical interest – in many parts of the US the GOP seems to me to be more clientelist than classist. Walker makes more sense as a placeman for a patron leading a collection of patronage groups than as the spokesperson for a class.

re 193 – the distinction between what was the count’s or bishop’s or kings as personal property and what belonged to them in their institutional capacity was both alive and a constant point of debate and dispute in the period. Strong rulers at all levels tried to recover public property that had drifted into the private hands of those below them (see, eg, Edward III’s commissions of inquiry), the church fought the alienation of church lands and so on. These fights are not understandable without a parallel understanding of the public/private distinction, a distinction firmly embedded in Roman and church law, but also central to distinctions of rights at all levels. That it was frequently unclear in practice and so often disputed is due to the centrality of personal relations and the conflation of private and public roles in the same persons that characterise all pre-modern periods, not because they lacked the distinction in itself.

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J-D 11.28.17 at 3:32 am

faustusnotes avers that killing people is wrong. steven t johnson responds by pointing to evidence that people don’t really believe that killing people is wrong. This is to confound two separate issues. Even if there were incontrovertible proof that people don’t believe that killing people is wrong, that would be insufficient to establish that killing people is wrong. The statements ‘killing people is wrong’ and ‘people believe that killing people is wrong’ are not synonymous; for example, if I ask steven t johnson ‘Do you, steven t johnson, believe that killing people is wrong?’, I don’t mean ‘Do you, steven t johnson, believe that people believe that killing people is wrong?’ It’s very easy to believe that something is wrong and at the same time to believe that most people don’t believe it’s wrong.

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steven t johnson 11.28.17 at 3:44 am

Layman@194 “I think I’m rich, but I don’t have close to that in after tax income.” Perhaps you are flattering yourself? As to whose thumb, why, anyone’s will serve as a literally handy crude measure, which is what the phrase “rule of thumb” means (even in the old story about the wife beating stick.)

Faustusnotes@199 takes me to task to not thinking we should kill the professors whom I do not consider to be rich, on the grounds apparently that if I don’t kill professors even though they are rich then I am being immoral. Or possibly that not advocating killing the professors is rude. Obviously, since I am entirely unable to follow the logic of the complaint, I am not a professor. Any professor could, no doubt. Certainly Faustusnotes is not the first to find a post of mine rude, crude and socially unacceptable. I must confess I am unreasonably proud to make a joke that jabbed the tender parts so cruelly.

But speaking seriously, the notion that income is a sufficient measure of wealth is preposterous.

The notion that global money incomes can be compared like simple numbers is preposterous.

The notion of intergenerational theft is worse than preposterous, it is a malicious cloak for the insistence that debts must always compound and never be cancelled and bankruptcy is immoral. It’s not a thing. (Technically speaking, failure to invest in infrastructure can be construed as a kind of “intergenerational theft,”albeit in a uselessly sensational, moralizing way… but that is never what the people who use this non-concept mean.)

Poor people are always the majority of victims. This is true especially of so-called normal times, when this is deemed a sign of business as usual rather than a tragedy. But the sad truth is, it is true of revolutions too. More Aussie proles will die than John Quiggin in a revolution and it is fantastically historically ignorant to think otherwise. Or it reflects the unconscious notion that it’s only John Quiggin who counts.

Lastly, there are no hosts, inasmuch as this is not a private place they have welcomed guests too. The guiding principle of websites like this is, any PR is good PR. If two or three people argue about Robin’s second edition (or first, if they’re too cheap to buy the new one,) then this thread has served its purpose of publicizing Robin’s second edition as something to pay attention too.

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Layman 11.28.17 at 11:45 am

steven t johnson: “But speaking seriously, the notion that income is a sufficient measure of wealth is preposterous.”

This from the person who, only yesterday, wrote “The rule of thumb for rich is a million a year in after tax income, isn’t it?”

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faustusnotes 11.28.17 at 12:58 pm

Wow Steven, way to misunderstand things. I’m not taking you to task for not advocating killing professors, I’m saying you’re a fool to think they aren’t going to be the targets if a revolution decides to kill the rich. I mentioned inherited wealth (did you read?). I’m also not talking about intergenerational theft, but the way the older generations have voted in politicians who will ensure that they get the benefit of tax dollars, and their own children get fleeced to pay for their retirement.

It’s just really really dumb to speak in favour of killing the rich on a blog frequented by the rich, who are rich in a local and a global sense. Any global movement for equality founded on such a notion will be the death of all of us writing here. So stupid to talk about it as if it’s desirable, for so many reasons. But I think you’re the fourth person to speak in defense of the motion, while carefully ignoring the point about being one of the global elite.

Think a little harder.

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LFC 11.28.17 at 2:24 pm

@steven t johnson

If two or three people argue about Robin’s second edition (or first, if they’re too cheap to buy the new one,)

I’m planning to buy the new one, prob. today (sometimes prefer brick-and-mortar bk stores to online). Just hadn’t bought it yet — that’s why I made ref. to the first ed. in this thread. You seem to have read neither edition, which didn’t stop you from making (inaccurate) comments about C. Robin’s positions.

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LFC 11.28.17 at 2:42 pm

Re the debate about who is “rich” here: In *global* terms, everyone here is presumptively well-off, by virtue of predominantly first-world location and having internet access and sufficient time/inclination to write comments. (Whether most people here are *locally* ‘rich’ would be, in my guess, *much* more doubtful, but a lot wd depend on definitions, etc. My guess, fwiw, wd lean to the negative.) Anyway I don’t think summarily executing members of what B. Sanders calls ‘the billionaire class’ as part of a putative revolution is something anyone here is seriously advocating, w perhaps one or two exceptions. (What our now-vanished and not-much-lamented ‘friend’ Ze Kraggash, alias so many other names, wd have said is perhaps best left unexplored.)

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engels 11.28.17 at 8:04 pm

While I would be concerned to distance myself from Ze’s politics it does strike me that many of his positions have become a lot more mainstream since his glory days of dominating every other CT thread. Also wonder where he went (hope he’s alright)

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engels 11.28.17 at 8:50 pm

I think I should hardly have to point out that a) killing people is wrong

Yes, and killing hundreds of thousands is even more morally wrong
http://metro.co.uk/2017/11/16/austerity-linked-to-120000-deaths-in-landmark-study-7084916/

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J-D 11.29.17 at 12:18 am

engels

… Also wonder where he went …

The Twisted World, presumably, if the example of the canonical original is a guide.

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faustusnotes 11.29.17 at 12:53 am

Engels, if you’re going to hold people personally responsible for the policies enacted by the class of which they’re a member, then you’re obviously going to be first against the wall. Whatever mortality arises from austerity pales to insignificance compared to the damage you are directly responsible for every time you buy a product produced in the developing world, fish products caught by slaves, oil products obtained by theft and murder, and of course the current and future deaths due to warming almost entirely caused by you and yours. I should hardly have to explain this to someone with your nick, but it seems people in the left in developed countries think they can draw a circle around themselves, or a line just above their income bracket, and pretend that those other people are responsible, and should get it in the neck for the actions of that other class of people. No, you’re on the hook, you personally, for your own actions and those of your class, if you want to start apportioning blame directly.

LFC, I can’t believe we’re quibbling over this. You can’t draw a line just above your own income and say that those are the rich people responsible for everything if you’re an academic at anything above adjunct level. Academics are part of an economic class that overwhelmingly votes for republican/tory policies, and that by its individual actions – tax evasion, living in segregated communities, sending its children to private schools, etc. – is responsible for many of the problems in our society. This idea that only the 1% benefit from the systems of oppression we currently have in place, it’s very convenient for middle class radicals, but it doesn’t wash. You can’t draw a line above your own income and say those people are gonna get it, without the very real possibility that people just below your income are doing the same thing to you.

At the very least American professors would have to be casting a leery eye at their adjuncts, if that was the way our social problems were going to be resolved.

And yes I do think some people on here were vaguely serious about killing the rich.

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Collin Street 11.29.17 at 8:11 am

Yes, and killing hundreds of thousands is even more morally wrong

One of the distinctive features of libertarian, quote, thought, unquote is that a strict distinction is made between action and inaction: in particular, a person carries no moral responsibility for their “failure to act” only for their “positive actions”.

Efforts to put this distinction on a stable analytical framework have… not been successful, as you’d probably know.

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Layman 11.29.17 at 12:02 pm

faustusnotes: “I do think some people on here were vaguely serious about killing the rich.”

Yes, you do, but I don’t know why what you think about that matters. More to the point, do you think that the wealthy should be worried that the poor will decide they’ve had enough? Do you think they worry about that now? Can you give an example of a time and place when an entrenched wealthy and powerful elite gave up some of their wealth and power absent the threat of force and, ultimately, violence?

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bob mcmanus 11.29.17 at 12:24 pm

And yes I do think some people on here were vaguely serious about killing the rich.

I just want to take (some of? all of?) their stuff, certainly with enough allies to make it plausible. Am I responsible if they resist, counter-revolt, or subvert? I think I am, and so I choose to take responsibility for the consequences of my desire, which includes its misapplication by my allies. My alliance will never be 100%, and rarely more than a significant plurality, but to be effective and/or more determined it must be larger than theirs. So taxers are 30%, plutocrats 10%, with 60% apathetic or contented enough to just want peace and order. Therefore action on the part of both active factions will be partly undemocratic and extra-legal, hopefully gaining majority support over time.

I will not preemptively unilaterally disarm, and I will defend myself and my allies, with both preventative, preemptive, and proactive measures. History and power analysis tells me it will be necessary, and observing ongoing and possible damage to ourselves and noncombatants, aesthetically justifiable until empathy and disgust overwhelm. Morality is for those who want to outsource and evade responsibility.

Praxis will come into play somewhere between impossible and inevitable.

Omelettes, tumbrels, guillotines.

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alfredlordbleep 11.29.17 at 12:51 pm

faustusnotes 11.29.17 at 12:53 am:

Academics are part of an economic class that overwhelmingly votes for republican/tory policies, and that by its individual actions – tax evasion, living in segregated communities, sending its children to private schools, etc. – is responsible for many of the problems in our society.
[emphasis added]

This is a very interesting claim. I had persuaded myself that the engineering profession swings libertarian (and thus Republican) but, say, physics—not so, on general considerations. (Anecdotally: I recall arguing with a young Caltech E. E. prof. versus his line against Dukakis back in the day. . . and several others)

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LFC 11.29.17 at 1:28 pm

@faustusnotes
I’ll agree to stop ‘quibbling’. (btw, I don’t have an academic job, of any kind. There is no way to be sure of the sources and levels of income and wealth of the commenters here, but I’d venture to guess that, despite this blog’s ‘academic’ identity, the assumption that all or even most of the commenters are academics is prob. unwarranted. And of those who are, some are no doubt retired/emeritus.)

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engels 11.29.17 at 2:06 pm

FN, while I’m not entirely convinced by your view that eating a tuna salad makes me as evil as the Kochs would it allay your concerns if we settled on jail as the punishment? Say 1 year for every 100 million dollars stolen from the people. That way we’re probably throwing away the key for Bezos et al but I’d assume most of us lower-level parasites will be out by Christmas (also seems more ethical as you rightly say…)

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bruce wilder 11.29.17 at 7:27 pm

steven t johnson @ 196

I realize that I am not confident I understand how Corey Robin uses a public / private power distinction to support his concept of the perennial character of reactionary conservative thought. I will be reading the second edition with new curiosity about this.

I will say that I am surprised to find Peter T of all people taking an ahistorical view of the public / private distinction in politics.

Peter T @ 200

Class relations and patron-client relations are not mutually exclusive. Generically, both are likely to be fruitful modes of analysis for any hierarchical society with significant concentration of critical resources in few hands. It is the particular details that matter.

If you think 17th century England was not a polity structured around and dominated by a social class resting for its economic basis on inherited land ownership, I am sure I cannot help you. The particulars of how the institutions of land ownership worked had evolved from the day when William the Conqueror abolished all alloidal title except his own. And, ideas of public and private emerged with that evolution, driven by political conflicts of interest. It was no accident that the Convention Parliament took time out from arranging the Restoration to reform feudal obligations to “socage” (property tax) and move all forms of real property toward fee simple.

No part of the concepts of “public” or “private” was untouched or undisputed in the course of that dynamic evolution. The common appreciation of the public interest in the national foreign policy evolved considerably from the dynastic ambitions of the monarch’s family thru religious affiliation to a mercantilism that protected and promoted commercial interests in a calculated way. The formation of policy moved from the intrigues at court to the deliberations of Parliament. The inviolability of personal conscience competed with a continuing culture of honor and rank.

Clientalism played a significant part in the politics of the 17th century in Britain. There were a lot of people cast into a precarious dependency by the importance of landed property and its concentration. And before 1670, the British economy was far from prospering. Hobbes was a client. But, if you or your family had the income of a manor or two or three, you had the means for education and political activity. You could stand aside, retire, or resist. One interesting thing about the English civil war is how large a proportion of the landed gentry remained neutral or drifted from one side to the other in response to the changing focus of wars in the three kingdoms. Figures like Holles or Cromwell had considerable resources. Denzil Holles had been a childhood friend of Charles I. Only a third son, though a favored one, he could manage prolonged imprisonment and occasional exiles and keep coming back to play prominent roles. If Charles I had had the resources or wit of a Walpole or a Duke of Devonshire, 17th century British politics might have been more like 18th, but he did not. And, he was up against many who had a portion of both.

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Collin Street 11.29.17 at 8:18 pm

Faustusnotes, if you’re not trying to communicate something that you believe in reasonable good faith isn’t known to the people you’re communicating with you’re just wastingbeverybody’s time and brainpower. What are you trying to say?

(Also: making presumptions about people’s circumstances, insisting on their accuracy, and then presuming to instruct them based on those presumptions is actually pretty fucking rude. As it happens I’m on around half the median wage in oz or 112% percent of minimum: your insistence that this amounts to “riches” is… foolish at best. I don’T presume to know other’s circumstances, so an apology directed solely at me will not be acvepted)

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Stephen 11.29.17 at 9:31 pm

Comforting to notice that some, maybe most CT contributors understand that a policy of killing the rich would be suicidal. Not certain, though, that those who seem more or less, even if only hypothetically, in favour of killing or at least threatening to kill those richer than themselves, have entirely understood the likely consequences of their threats.

Orwell puts this with his usual concision in his article on prophecies of fascism (http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/fascism/english/e_fasco). About Jack London’s “The Iron Heel”, he wrote:
“Where London did show special insight, however, was in realizing the transition to Socialism was not going to be automatic or even easy. The capitalist class was not going to ‘perish of its own contradictions’ like a flower dying at the end of the season. The capitalist class was quite clever enough to see what was happening, to sink its own differences and counter-attack against the workers … A ruling class has got to have a strict morality, a quasi-religious belief in itself, a mystique. London was aware of this, and though he describes the caste of plutocrats who rule the world for seven centuries as inhuman monsters, he does not describe them as idlers or sensualists. They can only maintain their position while they honestly believe that civilization depends on themselves alone, and therefore in a different way they are just as brave, able and devoted as the revolutionaries who oppose them.
In an intellectual way London accepted the conclusions of Marxism… but temperamentally he was very different from the majority of Marxists … This probably helped him to understand just how the possessing class would behave when once they were seriously menaced. It is just there that Marxian Socialists have usually fallen short. Their interpretation of history has been so mechanistic that they have failed to foresee dangers that were obvious to people who had never heard the name of Marx.”

In short: if you are really, seriously talking about killing the rich (as Communists were during and after the Revolution), then in states where Communists seemed in measurable distance of coming to power, the rich will try to find a way of killing you.

This is not meant as a threat against Steven T Johnson, or against Engels. They can write whatever they please, safe in the knowledge that in their countries the rich, however one defines them, will never take them seriously.

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bob mcmanus 11.30.17 at 2:05 am

Stephen: In short: if you are really, seriously talking about killing the rich (as Communists were during and after the Revolution), then in states where Communists seemed in measurable distance of coming to power, the rich will try to find a way of killing you.

Honestly , dude, we Marxists know this. But in this ~100th anniversary of so many things, we also know of, in fact rely on certain self-destructive tendencies of capital and the bourgeoisie. Marxist revolution is predicated on the inevitable immiseration of the working class and overreaction of capitalists, and possible “the mutual destruction of the warring classes” is in the Manifesto. We may consider praxis futile, but still feel the effort to avoid cataclysm emotionally necessary for self-respect.

Looking more and more like a repeat of 1910-1945 is on the horizon, this time probably even more horrific and possibly final. Neither that time nor this one is the fault of communists. The Orwells and other liberals may dream of peaceful change, but they contradict themselves. Capitals will continue to concentrate until they break it all, and there is never a 700 year Reich. Just periodic holocausts, until the Last.

It is the fecklessness of liberals, the desire to negotiate with the Death-drive that drives the Left to despair.

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steven t johnson 11.30.17 at 4:19 am

J-D@201 didn’t understand the objection was that not just people in general don’t disapprove of all killing, but that neither does Faustusnotes. This is not a hypocrisy unique to Faustusnotes. The acceptability of pacifist platitudes is due to their inevitable selectivity, which permits the speaker to strike a critical pose that means nothing, and can’t.

Layman@203 is confused at best, forgetting that a million a year income after taxes is income from property, not salary. The tacit assumption this can only refer to income before retirement is simple misreading.

faustusnotes@204 doubles down on intergenerational theft while apparently denying it was ever mentioned, which is quite impressive in a left-handed way. As for any Lupita-ism that imagines anyone posting comments on an academic group blog is part of the global elite? It must convenient for someone to not even have a term for billionaires in the global economy.

LFC@205 seems to be under the impression Robin has resolved the No True Scotsman defense of conservatism/reaction/counter-revolution by correctly defining True Scotsman, and that anyone who wasn’t convinced didn’t understand. This is wit far beyond me.

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faustusnotes 11.30.17 at 5:12 am

Layman at 212, yes I do think the rich should be worried that the poor will get sick of their grifting, which is exactly the reason I took issue with the kill-the-rich shtick (which, I think, you gave approval to at 174). Most of the people here would qualify as rich globally and our hosts definitely qualify as rich locally (unless you think Professor John Quiggin is not paid a professor’s salary?) So basically you’re threatening your hosts with your “more’s the pity” comment, which is reckless rhetoric, surely.

Bob Mcmanus, exactly what proportion of our host’s stuff do you think should be taken from them, and under how much duress?

Alfredlordbleep, you have bolded my point – an economic class – and then proceeded to argue about educational details. From the perspective of people within the narrow world of academia it might appear that a professor or associate professor is distinctly different from e.g. the managing director of a medium-sized firm. But their wealth (their economic position) is the same, and the economic class they are part of behave overwhelmingly as enemies of the poor. So when people on a blog like this talk about killing the rich then yes, they are talking about the hosts of this blog. Unless you want to define a professor or an associate professor as not rich, and blithely assume that the very poor members of American or British society would agree with you. Hence my point: when we talk about who will suffer in the revolution we always draw a line just above our own income level, forgetting that the more numerous people below our income level are doing the same thing to us – and as Engels says, there’s a lot more of them. So it’s much wiser to avoid this rhetoric than to defend it.

It’s especially bad to defend it by pretending academics don’t count as wealthy. LFC is correct that I can’t make presumptions about every commenter but I can make assumptions about our hosts because I know their job titles, and I can make assumptions about a bunch of other people that the commenters here variously respect or recommend. Slavoj Zizek, for example – do you think he doesn’t count as rich? Which side of the line do you think he would fall if the unions actually did as Layman wants them to, and decided to start culling the rich?

But it’s also bad to ignore your global position. Collin Street makes the fair point that he is not wealthy in Australia (I’m sorry Collin but I wasn’t assuming anything about you), earning half the median income. That’s about 11000 Ghana Cedis per month, or nearly 15 times the monthly salary of a guy I know in Ghana who has a bachelor’s degree in science. Even if you’re poor in the west, you’re rich globally and the beneficiary of a system intended to keep you that way, and if you think the poor should be stealing from the rich you should be donating all of your income to Africa before they come and take it.

So don’t talk about killing rich people, and don’t forget how wealthy we all really are.

steven t johnson, my understanding of the term “intergenerational theft” is that it means people now building up national debt that subsequent generations have to pay, and that this is bad, a bullshit idea spouted by people like Paul Ryan. It appears we have different ideas of the definition of the term. I think I’ve adequately made my point about how elite we all are globally, so I don’t need to answer that further.

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Peter T 11.30.17 at 6:08 am

Bruce is misreading me, but I’ll let it go with the observation that patronage was the way one gained or kept landed property or the additional income essential to keeping the family afloat in economic downturns.

Can I recommend two books on the period that shed useful light on socio-political responses to environmental or economic adversity: Jack Goldstone’s Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World (1991) and the even more pertinent Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis (2017). The latter looks in depth at how climatic stress interacted with politics to produce – mostly – truly horrid outcomes.

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Collin Street 11.30.17 at 8:05 am

So I guess Faustusnotes isn’t actually mentally capable of admitting to error or misjudgement.

It’s actually interesting seeing where the lines get drawn: “[statement that someone else made] is correct” can be shaped, but adding “even though that contradicts my previous statements” doesn’t seem possible. You can get “You are correct in your individual case” — although it’s like pulling teeth — but “this makes my previous sweeping statement false” likewise, doesn’t get said.

So… if we take him as a good-faith actor, he’s in the situation that new information can be accepted and processed, but anything previously decided remains unshakable. New conclusions can be formed, but old ones can’t be retracted; old statements are defended, even though they no longer correspond to what he actually thinks.

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Z 11.30.17 at 9:35 am

Peter T @169

One way of framing Corey’s contest is between those who would open up higher levels of authority to wider participation and those who resist this.

I think that is one way to frame the general political conflict in the 1750/1950 period (in the Western world) but I don’t think that this describes accurately Corey’s specific interests. I think Corey is studying one particular reaction (in the usual sense) to the changes – real or perceived – in interpersonal and immediate (in the etymological sense) relations this global and general conflict triggered. Moreover, he argues that this particular reaction was more often than not (probably systematically, in fact) violently destructive in form and passionate in temperament.

So for instance, it is not in itself enough to oppose the extension of suffrage in the Reform Act of 1867 to qualify as a reactionary in the sense of Corey; the opposition should be grounded on a sense that it would make working-class males feel entitled, promote their defiance of elites and general unruliness etc… and should take the form of a disruptive call to some “restoration” of some sort.

There are many levels of authority below the state, many spheres which it is content to – or forced to – leave to themselves.

Interestingly, I take a good deal of Corey’s thesis to be the observation that reactionary thinkers reject precisely that point (that’s also what John hammers on in the OP). They deny that change in the general political or social world or at the state level will or even may leave some spheres undisturbed, even (or in fact especially) the most private ones. So a reactionary according to Corey is someone who reacts to larger systemic changes, but whose virulence stems directly from his direct experience of changes in his personal sphere.

(One might incidentally ask: were they right? That is to say, is it true that the systemic political changes were revolutionizing private spheres? To a certain extent certainly – think abolition of slavery for an extreme example – but I believe they usually weren’t. I think they got the general causal direction wrong, and that it was changes in private modes of apprehension of the world which triggered the systemic social changes, not the other way round.)

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J-D 11.30.17 at 9:37 am

bob mcmanus

I think I am, and so I choose to take responsibility for the consequences of my desire, which includes its misapplication by my allies.

I know that expressions like that are commonplace, far from unique to bob mcmanus, but they nearly always puzzle me. What does it mean ‘to take responsibility’ for anything (or ‘to choose to take responsibility’)? In some limited contexts I know what it means: if somebody says ‘I take responsibility for the mess on the table’ it can mean ‘I made the mess on the table’. In general, though, how does one tell the difference between people who take responsibility and people who don’t take responsibility? If you can’t tell the difference, isn’t the expression meaningless? When bob mcmanus writes ‘I choose to take responsibility for the consequences of my desire’, how (if at all) is the meaning different from ‘you won’t find me lying about what I’ve done’?

Morality is for those who want to outsource and evade responsibility.

There I’m lost completely. Not only am I unclear on what ‘responsibility’ means in that sentence, I’m also unclear on what ‘morality’ means in that sentence, so not even a possible glimmer of understanding is coming through to me.

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engels 11.30.17 at 9:43 am

FaustusNotes’ comments are like a kind of parody of how liberals use guilt about global poverty to try to shore up the status quo

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Mario 11.30.17 at 10:41 am

The poor are voting for Trump, LePen, AfD, PiS, etc. It’s interesting and unsettling to read the last few dozen posts of this thread in light of that fact.

BTW, if that sorry section of the left that calls itself in a way that would make old Karl spin in his grave ever actually becomes powerful enough to actually get to slaughter the rich, they will quite likely kill the ones that they can get: professors, pharmacists, restaurant owners. Bezos and co will get to watch the spectacle from their spaceships (whether literally or figuratively is an open question).

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Layman 11.30.17 at 11:46 am

steven t johnson: “…forgetting that a million a year income after taxes is income from property, not salary. The tacit assumption this can only refer to income before retirement is simple misreading.”

Well, if you can’t be clear in your contradictions, that’s hardly my fault.

faustusnotes: “yes I do think the rich should be worried that the poor will get sick of their grifting…”

Odd that you ignored the rest of my questions. What’s with that? Do you think they are worried? Can you propose anything other than fear of force, or actual force, that might change their behavior? Can you point to a time and place when something other than force managed to constrain the wealthy and powerful?

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novakant 11.30.17 at 12:04 pm

Hooray: Pogroms! Kristallnacht! Pol Pot!

What could possibly go wrong… ?

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Layman 11.30.17 at 12:24 pm

Mario: “The poor are voting for Trump, LePen, AfD, PiS, etc.”

How many times does this have to be debunked before people will stop saying it? Poor people voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.

http://www.businessinsider.com/exit-polls-who-voted-for-trump-clinton-2016-11/#the-racial-divide-between-democratic-and-republican-voters-was-clear-3

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steven t johnson 11.30.17 at 2:13 pm

Layman@229 The assumption that I think a rule of thumb is a good measure is yours. Rules of thumb are only good when all you have at hand is a thumb. But if you do insist on using income to measure wealth, then this commonplace refutes Faustusnotes on the chosen ground. Why you choose to defend this if you don’t agree with it would be the only real contradiction here.

Peter T.@223 recommends two books on “socio-political responses to environmental or economic adversity…” They are of course unavailable in a public library. Kindle and used prices on Amazon are double digits at minimum. It can be useful to price certain kinds of information out of the reach of certain kinds of people. On the other hand, there does seem to be a small cottage industry in devising scholarly substitutes for Marxism that seem more up to date and scientific in the Popperian/Mont Pelerin way.

Given that so many people seem to read the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy without also reading the Theses on Feuerbach (either version,) The Class Struggles in France, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State as well as Anti-Duhring perhaps this is inevitable. Nonetheless, it does seem to me that “environmental or economic adversity” seems to awfully close to synonymous to “a failure of the productive forces,” with the disadvantage of forgetting that people, and their science/technology, are also “productive forces.” But such thought are deeply non-professorial, hence inappropriate here. My apologies.

Mario@228 writes “The poor are voting for Trump, LePen, AfD, PiS, etc. It’s interesting and unsettling to read the last few dozen posts of this thread in light of that fact.” First, I disagree as to the literal truth of this in regards to Trump, who gets much more support from higher income people, especially obscenely wealthy people who could have pulled the plug on his free publicity back during the primary campaigns.

But I have no idea why the last few dozen posts are relevant. It is true that the bulk of adherents to conservatism are not people who are ferociously defending their power. Most of them are not wealthy, and perhaps most are not male. This is an issue that Robin’s book doesn’t not even acknowledge clearly as I remember. But this is why revolutionary violence always ends up taking more poor and powerless victims who were nevertheless part of the counterrevolution than it ever does of the great and supposedly good. If only the used up people didn’t insist on “rule, or ruin!”

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MisterMr 11.30.17 at 2:30 pm

@Mario 228
“The poor are voting for Trump, LePen, AfD, PiS, etc. It’s interesting and unsettling to read the last few dozen posts of this thread in light of that fact.”

For Trump this isn’t true (although the story is quite mixed):
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class

I’m not going to check the other cases but I suspect they are similar.
A lot of the “working-classness” of the populist right is mostly self-image, I think.

On the idea of “the poor killing the rich”, that originated from a comment of mine, the problem is that a large part of the income of the “rich” comes from the exploitation of the poor (like: the income of the landlord comes from the share he takes from the sharecropper), but this exploitation is often indirect. For example, while I’m not directly exploiting workers in bangladeshi sweatshops, my real income is higer because I can buy stuff at a lower price because of their lower incomes; on the other hand even if I choose to “buy italian” this might in the end make the bagladeshi workers worse of.
So I think the correct approach is not to “take from the rich” directly, but rather to increase the income of the poor, which automatically cuts the income of the rich (like, if the sharecropper gets to take home a larger share of the crop, the landlord’s income necessariously falls); so for example increasing the income of bangladeshi worker will indirectly lower my income.
The “violent” part comes from the fact that, as Stephen @217 points out through Orwell, the rich (or at least a part of them) is not going to like this, hence “reaction”, and perhaps the necessity of a violent revolution.
As Bob Mcmanus points out shortly after though this is exactly the standard marxist belief, so I don’t understand why Stephen thinks this is news or goes against marxism.

@Faustusnotes: I assume you believe economic inequality is a problem. This is not going away by magic as it’s obvious that the natural dynamic of the world we are living in is that of the accentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands; this can be changed only by “taking from the rich” in a way or the other. Perhaps you prefer a social democratic government, democratically elected, that increases taxes to a revolution – I’m with you with this! – but this is still a form of violence, as any libertarian can tell you. Furthermore, if you read Picketty’s Capital in the 21st century, while P. himself is a social democrat he shows that this kind of policies never could reduce inequality, at best they stopped inequality to grow in the postwar years (falls in inequality only happened in the tumultuous interwar period or with the violent abolition of slavery in the USA). So even if you want a social democratic solution, it would be an extremely aggressive form of social democracy, that is almost certain to cause some sort of “reaction” (basically you have to tax rich people enough that their capital has to fall in time – you have to tax them more than their income minus their personal consumption).

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Z 11.30.17 at 2:40 pm

Layman, are you on fire in this comment thread or what?

Can you point to a time and place when something other than force managed to constrain the wealthy and powerful?

Surely the wealthy and powerful have historically primarily been restrained by the sheer complexity of advanced societies, which makes power multifaceted and which somewhat blurs the distinction between the wealthy and powerful and the rest. To be concrete, the currently wealthy and powerful require at the very least an educative system to train their progeny as well as the people that will ensure they remain wealthy and powerful, so they have to tolerate at the very least the existence of a somewhat independent hierarchy of educative achievements.

So even though I am all for the radicalism you express in this thread generally speaking, purely from a factual point of view, I don’t think force or the threat thereof has been the unique (or even maybe the main) determinant of social change in favor of the many.

However, if I am to apply consistently the analysis above, I must conclude that a politically united and inter-generationally rigid group formed of the roughly 15% to 30% of the population formed by people high either in the hierarchy of political power or in the hierarchy of economic power or in the hierarchy of educative power – circumstances which never obtained in history but which might be obtaining now – might be very hard to restrain except by the threat of violence and chaos. To a certain extent, I think this motivated unprivileged Trump and Brexit voters.

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MisterMr 11.30.17 at 2:46 pm

If I can amend to my previous comment, the story about Trump voters isn’t really all that mixed:

To look at it another way, among white people without college degrees who voted for Trump, nearly 60 percent were in the top half of the income distribution. In fact, one in five white Trump voters without a college degree had a household income over $100,000.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class

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TM 11.30.17 at 3:42 pm

If Eisenhower, Trump and Merkel all can be accurately described as “conservative”, then conservatism as a category of political science can’t have much meaning. If anybody wishes to argue that Eisenhower and Merkel are not conservative, I’d be curious why. Also, Hitler has been mentioned 36 times on this thread. Was he or wasn’t he “conservative”?

[Ok that was my brief visit, bye bye until next year]

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John Holbo 11.30.17 at 3:54 pm

Alright, I think we’ve had our fun in this thread. Last call, I’m going to bed. I’m turning it off in the morning.

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bruce wilder 11.30.17 at 4:03 pm

Z @ 225: So for instance, it is not in itself enough to oppose the extension of suffrage in the Reform Act of 1867 to qualify as a reactionary in the sense of Corey; the opposition should be grounded on a sense that it would make working-class males feel entitled, promote their defiance of elites and general unruliness etc… and should take the form of a disruptive call to some “restoration” of some sort.

And, if (like Disraeli) you affected to believe that extending the franchise to that portion of the working class that had something to lose would secure lower-class support for conservative values and aristocratic leadership?

Conservatives like hierarchy and may well believe in a utopia where the lower orders know their place, love their place and shout hosanna when their betters pass in the street. A business owner may be jealous of his own untrammeled authority over his business, and then dress a narcissistic rage against employees forming a union up in ideological clothes. And, he may well think his employees should be grateful to him as job creator and respect the justice of his arbitration of their worth.

I credit Corey Robin with identifying “reactionary conservative” with that investment in domination, which is more and darker than just a wish to stand athwart history yelling stop, like you were yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off your lawn.

Charles X may have never wanted to be near the common man and still wanted to believe that his touch could cure scrofula — at least wanted the common man to have such a belief. I do not see such figures as particularly interesting. The conservatives who climb aboard the train speeding toward modernity and want to run that railroad, not shut it down — they are interesting.

Why was the Reform Bill of 1867 Disraeli’s Conservative cause? How could Bismarck turn from Kulturkampf to social security without taking a breath?

I don’t have an answer. I think these are interesting questions. Not that many reactionaries are content to stand athwart history shouting stop until they are run over. More’s the pity that they aren’t, I suppose, but there you are. Most of the billionaire class in America today and most of the corporate executive class hungering for $50 million paydays — the people who inspire the progressive wish to finance government for a time by combining confiscatory inheritance taxes with summary execution — are hardly the standing athwart types. A lot of grifters inhabit the world they have made, of course, and maybe they are all grifters. Again, I don’t know. I am curious about what they think, whether they think and why the rest of us mostly don’t know what to do about them.

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LFC 11.30.17 at 4:11 pm

@s.t. johnson

LFC@205 seems to be under the impression Robin has resolved the No True Scotsman defense of conservatism/reaction/counter-revolution by correctly defining True Scotsman, and that anyone who wasn’t convinced didn’t understand. This is wit far beyond me.

One of C. Robin’s positions is that all conservatives are counter-revolutionaries. Is it possible to disagree with that view and argue that Robin has overgeneralized, or whatever? Yes, it is. But to say that Robin himself distinguishes between “nice” conservatives and “evil” reactionaries, as one of s.t. johnson’s earlier comments seemed to suggest, is to misread Robin’s position (where “misread” is a mild word for it).

Btw, s.t. johnson, I’ve now bought the second edition of the bk (and in a brick-and-mortar store so it’s actually in my possession, I’m not waiting for it to be shipped); so much for your suggestion that I was too “cheap” to buy it.

I intend this to be my last comment in this thread.

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LFC 11.30.17 at 5:00 pm

p.s. wrote comment (spec., last sentence) before seeing JH’s post above. Shd have refreshed the page before I hit ‘submit’.

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Layman 11.30.17 at 6:33 pm

steven t. johnson: “But if you do insist on using income to measure wealth…”

No, that was you, right there at 192. Thank you John Holbo and good night.

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Stephen 11.30.17 at 8:08 pm

Hoping to slip in before the gate’s shut.
Mister M@ 233: Re the rich not liking the idea of their being killed, “the rich (or at least a part of them) is not going to like this, hence “reaction”, and perhaps the necessity of a violent revolution.
As Bob Mcmanus points out shortly after though this is exactly the standard marxist belief, so I don’t understand why Stephen thinks this is news or goes against marxism.”

I think it is not in the least news to anybody aware of European history in the last period when a Marxist revolution seemed a possibility in the West: see the careers of Mussolini, Hitler Franco, Salazar etc. But it is important to note that, at the time when it could have made a difference, that was not in the least the standard Marxist belief: the real enemies were declared by Marxists to be the social fascists, otherwise known as social democrats, and a fascist victory was the most certain way of bringing on the revolution. I am never sure whether Marxism is believed by its adherents to be an unchanging, always-right scientific doctrine, or a set of beliefs that can mutate black-to-white-and-back again as convenient. Either way, I don’t see how you can be happy calling yourself a Marxist.

AS for violent revolution being a necessity if the rich object to being killed by revolutionaries: yes, that makes sense if you think it’s necessary to kill the rich. Suicide for most CT contributors, right?

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Mario 11.30.17 at 10:09 pm

MrMister,

To look at it another way, among white people without college degrees who voted for Trump, nearly 60 percent were in the top half of the income distribution. In fact, one in five white Trump voters without a college degree had a household income over $100,000.

these are high energy weasel words, and I’m surprised you don’t notice (actually, scratch that, I’m not surprised in the least). N.B: if you are the provider for a family of four and earn 60000$, you are hardly affluent. Of course you could be poorer, but still. I’m still shaking my head at “In fact, one in five…”.

In Gemany, the AfD was the strongest party among the working class – by a margin. It won big among unionized voters. The actual official left got most of its votes from the affluent. I don’t find any numbers but PiS and Le Pen could never have obtained the number of votes they got without at least a very solid footing in the lower classes.

No, the left does not give much of a damn about the poor, or rather, about the real existing human beings that make up the poor. You can see that in their priorities: trans rights first, women in company boards first, all sorts of things first, and then maybe we give a sh*t about the poor. But only once they have been reeducated because patriarchy. Oh yeah, for fucks sake, first take away their cars because climate change.

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