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Corey Robins The Reactionary Mind (2011)

Review by Bruce Miller


Corey Robin argues that modern European and American conservativism is essentially reactionary and counterrevolutionary. He rejects the traditional distinction between conservative and reactionary: 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 next to Hayek, Burke across from Palin, Nietzsche in between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia [etc.] Robin is aware that hes making a controversial claim: For many, the notion of a unity on the right will be the most contentious claim of this book. (Intro)

Thomas Jefferson Robins book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011) is a collection of his essays on various topics, most of them having to do with recent manifestations of American conservatism as embodied in various elements of the Republican Party. But in his introduction, he tries to tie them together with the notion that the Western tradition of conservatism is substantively the same as reactionary/counterrevolutionary thought. And thought is the correct word, because to largely makes the case via intellectual history, and with the frequent use of similar quotes from very different periods and contexts as proof-texts to illustrate his point. As an historical generalization, this is weak. Its certainly true that American conservatism has been deeply influenced, even intertwined with, truly reactionary ideas. But as challenging as it may be to distinguish the two strands of thought, it is both possible and important.

Robins analysis is ahistorical. American historians have sometimes shied away from talking about historical developments in class terms, in part under the influence of Cold War ideological concerns, i.e., the Other Side talked about class struggle as the driving force of history. But in general, blurring the role of class has been convenient for conservative ideology even apart from Cold War propaganda considerations. On the other hand, the emphasis on the history of popular culture in history for decades has brought studies that looked more closely than ever at class considerations. European historiography generally hasnt been so shy about discussing class as in the US. The European context in which the ideas of many of the 19th century theorists Robin discusses was heavily shaped by the French Revolution. And it was widely understood in class terms. The Third Estate was a well-defined group in France of the rising capitalist class of merchants, businesspeople and bankers. The French Revolution was a political victory for that capitalist class, the Third Estate, which was heavily influenced by republican political ideas, which were part of the larger classical liberal tradition of Charles de Montesqieu (1689-1755), Adam Smith (1723-1790), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), John Locke (1632-1704). Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were major figures of classical liberalism, as were James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Sheldon Wolin observed that a conventional formulation of liberalism and conservatism in American history runs something like this: "Liberalisms task would be to articulate the forces of change, while the conservative would seek to preserve fundamental forms and principles." From the beginning, however, this division of labor did not work so neatly. For one thing, those Americans of the revolutionary era who could be loosely described as liberal or conservative shared a common political outlook. Jefferson and Adams, Paine and Madison, for example, subscribed to the values of liberty, property, security, individualism, and limited government based on the consent of the governed. The classic formulation of these ideas was Lockes Two Treatises. In the eighteenth century these notions became most closely associated with the revolutionary ideology of liberalism. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were testimony to their widespread acceptance in America. As Louis Hartz argued several years ago, the American consensus evolved as a distillation of Lockean liberalism. As a result, American conservatism was drawn to the defense of [classical] liberal principles and practices. (Sheldon Wolin, The New Conservatives New York Review of Books 02/05/1976 issue) Given the current meaning of liberal in the US as left, pro-labor, pro-civil liberties, proaffirmative government, etc., discussions of classical liberalism can be confusing. But as a general matter, the liberals and conservatives (in todays terms) of later periods were initially the left and right trends within classical liberalism. With the emergence of organized labor and other reform groups that became the Jacksonian democratic

movement in the 1920s, a variety of left politics emerged that more explicitly challenged the power of organized money. In American history, divisions between left and right among those supporting the American Revolution were evident early. Contrary to what Charles Beard and other Progressive era historians following him argued, the Constitution was backed by leftliberals and conservative-liberals; the opposition were conservatives and reactionaries. The Federalist and Democratic-Republican Parties emerged during the Washington Administration, with early disputes over the issues like the payment of Revolutionary War debt (Hamilton and the Federalists backing the wealthy speculators, Jefferson and the Republicans defending the popular interest) and the Bank of the United States (Hamilton seeing as valuable especially as a tool for corrupting Congress, Jefferson opposing it for the same reason). The Federalist Administration of John Adams passed notoriously reactionary, antidemocracy measures in the Alien and Sedition Acts, the USA PATRIOT Act of the 18th century. But Adams was a conservative supporter of the Constitution, and his career as a whole has to be understood that way. Actual reactionaries, High Federalists who wanted a monarchy or something very like it, wanted to prevent Thomas Jefferson from taking office in 1801. Adams refused to support them (although the fact that Jeffersons Republicans had the state militias of New York and Virginia under their control via Republican governors was necessarily a part of the political calculation for the Federalists). Later conflicts are usefully understood by distinguishing actual reactionaries from conservatives. Federalist Aaron Burr wound up being a pro-British reactionary and probably an actual traitor. When the arch-conservative Hamilton died in a duel with Burr, it was by far the better man who lost. Jeffersons conflicts with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall are also better understood as a conflict between left-liberal and conservative-liberal supporters of the Constitution and the liberal American form of government. No less a left icon than I.F. Stone described one conflict between Jefferson and Marshall (over Burrs treason trial) as a conflict between Jefferson and Marshall, the radical Democrat and the conservative Federalist. (A Special Supplement: Impeachment New York Review of Books 06/28/1973 issue)

Andrew Jackson Looking at some of the details of that particular conflict, Stone memorably described it this way: But the battle between Jefferson and Marshall was like one of those bouts in which the antagonists make the most devastating faces at each other, emitting bloodcurdling screams, yet somehow never come to blows. The Federalist Party largely destroyed itself, helped along by the political strategies of Republican Presidents Jefferson and Madison, when New England Federalists convened the secessionist, pro-British Hartford Convention during the War of 1812 in which Britain was making war against the United States. That led even a leading Federalist conservative like John Quincy Adams to switch to the party of Jefferson. The Presidency from 1801 to 1841 was a one-party affair, though Jeffersons Democratic-Republican Party was severely divided by the 1920s. When Adams won the Presidency in 1924 in what his chief opponent Andrew Jackson called the Corrupt Bargain, the Jacksonians painted Adams as the defender of illegitimate elite privilege and power with Old Hickory as the defender of the common man. This was a classic left-right contest within the Constitutional system with two leading protagonists who both accepted the classical liberal concept of government and supported the existing Constitutional government. It was during Jacksons leadership that the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson, of which both Adams and Jackson were a part, became known as the Democratic Party.

Daniel Webster

When Jackson went to war against the Second Bank of the United States, one of its chief supports was the still-Federalist Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster. Webster was also a conservative, not a reactionary, not someone who wanted to fundamentally change the Constitutional form of government or opposed the basic principles of classical political liberalism. He was a conservative. And as a conservative, he defended the power and privilege of the wealthy. In his speech to the Senate of 07/08/1832 criticizing Jackson for having vetoed the renewal of the charter of the Bank of the United States, he declared, identifying the pecuniary interests of the Money Power directly with the public good: Congress passed the bill, not as a bounty or a favor to the present stockholders, nor to comply with any demand of right on their part, but to promote great public interests, for great public objects. Every bank must have some stockholders, unless it be such a bank as the president has recommended, and in regard to which he seems not likely to find much concurrence of other mens opinions; and if the stockholders, whoever they may be, conduct the affairs of the bank prudently, the expectation is always, of course, that they will make it profitable to themselves, as well as useful to the public. It has been found by experience that banks are safest under private management [as the Second Bank of the US was], and that Government banks are among the most dangerous of all inventions. In light of the more recent doctrine of Look Forward, Not Backward, this is also an interesting comment from the same speech: The President is as much bound by the law as any private citizen, and can no more contest its validity than any private citizen. He may refuse to obey the law, and so may a private citizen; but both do it at their own peril, and neither of them can settle the question of its validity. Jacksons greatest antagonist, though, was a genuine reactionary who rejected the classical liberal principles of democracy and rejected the American Constitutional form of government: John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was the mastermind behind the South Carolina articles of nullification which purported to annul federal tariffs in South Carolina and provoked the confrontation with President Jackson and Congress known as the Nullification Controversy. Calhoun spent the rest of his life promoting various seditious schemes in support of slavery and its expansion. As the events of the three decades between the Nullification Controversy and the Civil War were to show, the Calhounian approach to defending slavery was deeply reactionary, opposed to basic classical liberal principles of the rights of the individual. In practice, it lead to greater and greater restrictions on the personal freedoms and even states rights of the free population, and eventually issued in armed revolt against the Constitutional government aimed at its overthrown and replacement by a slave republic, at least in the states of the Southern Confederate.

Robin refers to Calhouns opposition to Congress receiving anti-slavery petitions. John Quincy Adams, elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts after leaving the Presidency, was a leader in the effort to have Congress receive the antislavery petitions. Although it sounds now like a dry procedural issue, Calhoun and the defenders of slavery understood it to be something that would validate the growing antislavery movement. Adams was acting as a conservative within the classical liberal framework as President when he defended the Second Bank of the United States and generally tried to protect the illegitimate influence of the wealthy on government. He was also acting very much within the classical liberal tradition when he lent his prestige as the former President and son of the second President to the antislavery cause. Abolition rested firmly on classical liberal principles, although the Abolitionists obviously wanted to change the Constitution to ban slavery. (Though some argued that it already did!) Another significant movement arose during Jacksons Presidency, the Anti-Masonic Party. They were crackpots who spun lurid, false tales about crimes committed by members of Masonic Lodges. They also would count as a distinctively reactionary movement who rejected the classical liberal consensus on government and society. Richard Hofstadter was correct in identifying the Anti-Masonic Party as representing the first movement in America recognizable as a similar type to the Radical Right organizations of the 20th century such as the John Birch Society. It was genuinely reactionary and anti-democratic, drawing on European conspiracy theories spawned by the counterrevolutionary reaction to the French Revolution that held democracy to be part of a dangerous, corrosive plot by secretive, sinister figures, in this case in the Masonic Lodges. (Like most conspiracy theories that win adherents beyond the merest handful of cranks, it had a small touch of reality to it. Masonic Lodges did actively promote democracy and were prominent in the movements for independence and republican government in Latin American nations like Mexico and Argentina.) Log Cabin Conservatives The 1940 campaign brought a notable adjustment in campaign style for the more conservative party vs. the Jacksonian Democrats. Incumbent President Martin Van Buren was the Democratic candidate. The Whig Party ran war hero William Henry Harrison, whose campaign devised one of the most famous campaign slogans in American history, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. Tippecanoe was Harrisons nickname; John Tyler was his Vice Presidential candidate. The Whig Party realized that to get a President elected dedicated to protect the power and privilege of businessmen and bankers, they needed to find someway to sell that program to an expanding electorate; extending the franchise by such methods as eliminating property ownership requirements had been a key achievement of the Jacksonian movement which heavily influenced Van Buren and his Administration, as well.

To do so, they adopted a less overtly elitist pose than the Federalists had. The classic A Concise History of the American People (1977 edition) by Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William Leuchtenburg describes the campaign this way: Tippecanoe and Tyler too was the slogan. The Whigs had so far abandoned patrician values that Van Buren was pictured with colognescented whiskers, drinking champagne out of a crystal goblet at a table loaded with costly viands and massive plate. An unlucky sneer in a Democratic newspaper, to the effect that Harrison would be content with a $2000 pension, a log cabin, and plenty of hard cider, gave opportunity for effective contrast. It became the log-cabin, hard-cider campaign. Morison in The Oxford History of the American People (1965) adds: The reason why the 1840 campaign became the jolliest and most idiotic presidential contest in our history is that the Whigs beat the Democrats by their own methods. They adopted no platform, nominated a military hero, ignored real issues, and appealed to the emotions rather than the brains of voters. Expectations of profit and patronage were employed to get out the vote, and the people were given a big show. Democratic politicians, even Jackson himself, now complained of Whig demagoguery. There were log-cabin badges and log-cabin songs, a Log Cabin newspaper and log-cabin clubs, big log cabins where the thirsty were regaled with hard cider that jealous Democrats alleged to be stiffened with whiskey; little log cabins borne on floats in procession, with latchstring out, cider barrel by the door, coonskin nailed up beside, and real smoke coming out of the chimney Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. adds more details in The Age of Jackson (1945): With tireless industry and bewildering resources Whigs everywhere rushed to doff their broadcloth and flaunt their homespun. Every speech, song and slogan held up the rustic and plebeian as closest to the Whig soul. The staid meetings of their past gave way to barbecues, clambakes, excursions and noisy processions. Raucous campaign songs echoed in the streets Wood engravers and lithographers were kept perpetually busy turning out pictures: Harrison the Hero of Tippecanoe, astride a monumental horse; Harrison as Cincinnatus at the plow; Harrison greeting his comrades at arms at the door of his log cabin, with a long latchstring hanging down; Harrison as an Indian chief, paddling furiously toward the White House from which Van Buren (the Flying Dutchman) was fleeing; Harrison as a boxer administering a thrashing to Van Buren, with Old Hickory, as Van Burens trainer, looking on in gloom. Brass and copper medals were

struck off, with a log cabin, a flag, a barrel and a cup on one side, Harrison on the other: He leaves the plough to save his country. (p. 291-2) Winning the masses for causes hostile to their interests The period 1815-1848 in continental Europe was the era of the post-Napoleon Restoration. The various kings and principalities there did not feel a great need at that time to build a base of mass support for conservative policies. Mass acquiescence was sufficient. Otto von Bismarcks later devices for building mass support for his military and monarchist politics in Germany may not have been quite so cornpone as the Tippecanoe and Tyler Too approach. The same was true of Napoleon IIIs regime in France. But they knew they had to build some basis of public support for there regimes among the general public, which expected to play a more active role in governance than the people of the 17th and 18th centuries had played up until the French Revolution. Robins The Reactionary Mind is a history of ideas and thinkers which requires him to deal with their stated ideals. But throughout the book he tends to treat the seeming disconnect between conservative ideals of stability, hierarchy and tradition and the often militant, public-spirited tone of their writing as a psychological phenomenon disconnected to their historical context. Robins eighth chapter, Easy to Be Hard, provides an example of the disjointed argumentation that recurs throughout the book. Quoting from Edmund Burkes A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Robin shows Burke lamenting the effects of peace and prosperity: When it has run its career, Burke says, pleasure sets us down very nearly where it found us. Any kind of pleasure quickly satisfies; and when it is over, we relapse into indifference. Quieter enjoyments, less intense than pleasure, are equally soporific. They generate complacency; we give ourselves over to indolence and inaction.8 Burke turns to imitation as another potential force of outward propulsion. Through imitation, we learn manners and mores, develop opinions, and are civilized. We bring ourselves to the world, and the world is brought to us. But imitation contains its own narcotic. Imitate others too much and we cease to better ourselves. We follow the person in front of us and so on in an eternal circle. In a world of imitators, there never could be any improvement. Such men must remain as brutes do, the same at the end that they are at this day, and that they were in the beginning of the world. Burkes Sublime and the Beautiful was a work of aesthetic theory, scarcely as influential on conservative and reactionary thinkers as his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), and not remotely as well known. But Robin treats it as a classic of the conservative canon as he writes:

For a certain type of conservative theorist, passages like these pose something of a challenge. Here is the inventor of the conservative tradition articulating a vision of the self dramatically at odds with the imagined self of conservative thought. The self, as we have repeatedly seen, claims to prefer the familiar to the unknown ... the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. [Michael Oakeshott] He is partial to things as they are not because he finds things just or good, but because he finds them familiar. He knows them and is attached to them. He wishes neither to lose them nor to have them taken away. Enjoying what he has, rather than acquiring something better, is his highest good. In the next paragraph, Robin jumps two centuries-plus into the future from The Sublime and the Beautiful to describe this as a fundamental oddity in conservative/reactionary thought: Perhaps it is this lethal ennui, lurking just beneath the surface of conservative discourse, that explains the failure of the conservative politician to follow the lead of the conservative theorist. Far from embracing the cause of quiet enjoyments and secure attachments, the conservative politician has consistently opted for an activism of the notyet and the will-be. Ronald Reagans first inaugural address was a paean to the power of dreams: not small dreams but big, heroic dreams, of progress and betterment, and not dreams for their own sake, but dreams as a necessary and vital prod to action. Three months later, in an address before Congress, Reagan drove the point home with a quote from Carl Sandburg: Nothing happens unless first a dream. And nothing happening, or too few things happening, or things not happening quickly enough, is what the conservative in politics dislikes. Reagan could scarcely contain his impatience with the dithering of politicians: The old and comfortable way is to shave a little here and add a little there. Well, thats not acceptable anymore. Old and comfortable was the indictment, no half-measures the verdict. [my italics] Ockhams razor suggests that Reagans rhetoric quoted there was an updated version of Tippecanoes log cabin and cider barrel. Reagans supply-side economics, his determination to have a major military buildup and a stepped-up nuclear arms race and his hostility to social services were all about comforting the comfortable in the United States. Reagans true political base was what George W. Bush would later characterize as his own base, too: the haves and the have-mores. Reagan was calling on the Captains of Industry and the Lords of Finance to enjoy lower taxes and fewer pesky regulations on their quest for higher profits. The stirring appeals to great tasks and urgent problems was about rallying political support among the people who were far more likely to be hurt than helped by his policies.

The American Whigs didnt invent this political concept in 1840, though they gave it their own modern form and started a tradition of down-home, were-folks-just-like-you conservative appeals that arguably continues today. The taunts of elitism the Whigs hurled at Martin Van Buren would surely sound familiar to John Kerry after his unsuccessful 2004 run for the Presidency as the Democratic candidate. But the larger phenomenon has a longer history. Die narzitische Befriedigung aud dem Kulturideal gehrt auch zu jenen Mchten, die der Kulturfeindschaft innerhalb des Kulturkreises erfolgreich entgegenwirken. Nicht nur die bevorzugten Klassen, welche die Wohltaten dieser Kultur genieen, sondern auch die Unterdrckten knnen an ihr Anteil haben, indem die Berechtigung, die Auenstehenden zu verachten, sie fr die Beeintrchtung in ihrem eigenen Kreis entschdigt. Man ist zwar ein elender, von Schulden und Kriegsdeinsten geplagter Plebejer, aber dafr ist man Rmer, hat seinen Anteil an der Aufgabe, andere Nationen zu beherrschen und ihnen Gesetze vorzuschreiben. Diese Identifzierung der Unterdrckten mit der sie beherrschenden und ausbeutenden Klasse ist aber nur ein Stck eines greren Zusammenhanges. Anderseits knnen affektiv an diese gebunden sein, trotz der Feindseligkeit ihre Ideale in ihren Herren erblicken. Wenn nicht solche im Grunde befriedigende Beziehungen bestnden, bliebe es unverstndlich, da so manche Kulturen sich trotz berechtigter Feindseligkeit groer Menschenmassen so lange Zeit erhalten haben. (Sigmund Freud, Die Zufunft einer Illusion; 1928; S. 18-19) The narcissistic satisfaction provided by the cultural ideal is also among the forces which are successful in combating the hostility to culture within the cultural unit. This satisfaction can be shared in not only by the favoured classes, which enjoy the benefits of the culture, but also by the suppressed ones, since the right to despise the people outside it compensates them for the wrongs they suffer within their own unit. No doubt one is a wretched plebeian, harassed by debts and military service; but, to make up for it, one is a Roman citizen, one has one's share in the task of ruling other nations and dictating their laws. This identification of the suppressed classes with the class who rules and exploits them is, however, only part of a larger whole. For, on the other hand, the suppressed classes can be emotionally attached to their masters; in spite of their hostility to them they may see in them their ideals; unless such relations of a fundamentally satisfying kind subsisted, it would be impossible to understand how a number of civilizations have survived so long in spite of the justifiable hostility of large human masses. (Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion; James Strachey translation; p. 13) Efforts to frame ones policies or political philosophy in a way that appeals to people who may receive only limited benefits, or even be harmed, by its results is not some

secret twist of the conservative mind that shows an essential hidden identity between conservatives and reactionaries. Its an ancient piece of politics and statecraft. Calhoun, a true reactionary In discussing political trends like these, were not talking about separate rivers, or about separate states whose physical boundary lines can be defined. All were part of the same political system and responded to each other. Jacksonians and conservatives interacted and influenced each other at the margins. Conservatives and reactionaries, even more so.

What a reactionary looks like: John C. Calhoun


But the distinctions are meaningful and necessary. The Calhounian/hardline proslavery/Fire Eater trend in American politics produced a very distinct and nonconservative outcome: the Confederate rebellion. The Democratic Party split in 1860 with John Breckinridge running as the splinter Southern Democratic nominee and Stephen Douglas for the official Democratic Party. John Bell ran as the nominee of the Constitutional Union Party, and of course Abraham Lincoln as the Republican nominee. The fact that the Calhounites became secessionists and set out to destroy the US Constitution, certainly as it applied to the states of the Confederacy. The Confederate Constitution established slavery as a permanent institution, a radical rejection of classical liberal political concepts in both its liberal and conservative variations. It obscures far more than it clarifies to put Calhoun and the Fire Eaters in the same category with conservative Democrats and with those Republicans who leaned more toward conservative policies than Lincoln did. Nor would it be particularly helpful to blur the distinction between radical democrats like John Brown and the Republican Party. The proslavery factions, including those in the Union states who became Southernsympathizing Copperheads during the Civil War, represented a definite reactionary trend that was very meaningfully different from pro-Union conservatives. Left/right ideological difference werent always cleanly represented in the actual political parties. Both the Whig Party and the Democratic Party had both proslavery and antislavery wings. In the 1850s the Democratic Party became clearly more and more

conservative and the Fire Eater faction strengthened their hand. But even then, there were Democratic free-soilers who were still loyal to the Jacksonian democratic-egalitarian outlook. That complicates efforts to distinguish ideological trends. But it doesnt make it impossible. The fact that conservatives and Fire Eaters were both in the Democratic Party up until the split of 1860 doesnt change the fact that there was a huge difference between those who were willing to support secession by armed violence and those who were American patriots and remained true to the country and the Constitution. Calhouns Political Descendants Fortunately, we havent had any more civil wars. But there continued to be distinct reactionary positions and advocates that could be distinguished from conservatives. The anti-democracy, anti-Reconstruction Redeemer movement in the South continued the Calhounian reactionary tradition. We can trace that tradition further, through the Jim Crow segregationists, the Ku Klux Klan resurgence in the 1920s including significant influence in non-Southern states, the massive-resistance movement against integration after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. There was another significant radical-reactionary trend that can be identified, embodied in the Liberty League in the 1930s, continuing in the Old Right isolationist movement from the late 30s through the John Birch Society (JBS) to Ron (Papa Doc) and Rand (Baby Doc) Paul. And in the 20th century, Protestant fundamentalism emerged as a politically reactionary movement. These three trends white supremacy, business democracy-haters and fundamentalist Christianism were more distinct from one another than they are today, though there was definitely overlap. The affluent grumps and occasional oil millionaire who were attracted to the John Birch Society, a coven of anti-Communists and intellectual louts (Stanley Crouch, Why the Koch brothers love Herman Cain: The right- wing billionaires care only about their bottom line New York Daily News 10/30/2011), looked kindly on fundamentalist Christianity and not so fondly on black people, for instance. There were also partisan differences. In 1960, segregationist ideology and white supremacist organizations like the Citizens Council were more directly influential on the Southern Democrats than on Republicans; the Old Right isolationist/hyper-nationalist Birchers were popular among segregationists but their appeal was more familiar to the paranoid anti-Communism of Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy and his admirers within the Republican Party; white fundamentalist Christians were a group that overlapped heavily with Southern segregationists but politicized Christian Right type groups such as Billy James Hargis Christian Crusade were marginalized. Organizations like the Birchers, the White Citizens Council and the Christian Crusade were generally understood to be Radical Right groups in 1960. And neither of the two main national parties wanted to be too closely associated with them. But what came to be known as movement conservatism that congealed in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign combined much of the style, uncompromising rancor,

conspiratorial thinking and much of the substance of their positions. And that Movement Conservative trend is now dominant within the Republican Party. It strikes me that this reality may be heavily coloring Robins treatment of the conservative tradition in American history and in 19th-century political theory more generally. It certainly is difficult to distinguish conservative from reactionary in todays Republican Party. Especially since reactionaries often self-identify as conservatives and all but the most radical organizations embracing that ideology call themselves conservatives. The three Radical Right organizations Ive just named can serve to illustrate the point. The JBS is still around and largely churning out the same cranky, crackpot notions as in 1960. You can hear them, or something very similar to them, in Glenn Becks rants or Ron Pauls speeches. Papa Doc Pauls goofy goldbug economic ideas are popular among todays Birchers. Their isolationist foreign policy does distinguish them from Republican imperial notions. But the hardcore nationalism and contempt for international law that lies behind the JBS famous hostility to the United Nations and to foreign aid are both found in the kind of Dick Cheney thinking that dominates todays Republican foreign policy. So is the contempt for democracy common among Birchers and white supremacists. Papa Doc may occasionally sound like a hippie pacifist when he talks about some military intervention he opposes. But his outlook is far removed from either liberal internationalism or pragmatic realism, the foreign policy concepts common in the Democratic Party. Much of the rhetoric and vote-suppression practices of todays Republican Party are straight out of the segregationist playbook. The successor organization to the Citizens Council is still around, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). And the heritage shows. They are more blatantly racist than even Rush Limbaugh tends to be. But their bitter sleaze-slinging would not seem that unfamiliar to FOX News viewers. Their website used to run articles by Sen. Trent Lott, who served as the Senate Republican leader until he got in trouble himself by his praise for Sen. Strom Thurmonds 1948 segregationist Presidential campaign got to be embarrassing (plus the Bush White House preferred a different Senate leader at the time). Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former chair of the Republican National Committee, in 2010 famously praised the Citizens Council of the 1960s as a moderating influencing during the massive resistance to integration in Mississippi, when in fact the Council spearheaded the effort. The Republican Partys decades-long strategy to appeal to white prejudice against AfricanAmericans and, increasingly against Latinos, has given the CCC and, more importantly, its way of thinking a role in the Republican Party not unlike the one its predecessor organization had with the Democrats. The influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party can only be a secret to respectable pundits for whom the strange conventions of their pundit tribe require them to pretend its not that important. (Im tempted to add that they surely know better. But given the odd ways so many of our Beltway Village pundits process things, Im really not sure that they know better.) But its certainly no secret to Republican candidates at all levels.

The kind of politicized Christian fundamentalism that made Billy James Hargis a marginalized crank in 1960 is now the outlook of the most important element in the Republican voting base. The biggest difference would be the emphasis that todays Christianists put on Christian Zionism while downplaying the anti-Semitic core of that viewpoint. Though the latter is there, more evident in some like John Hagee than others. Ronald Brownstein looked at the divisions in the Republican Party during the race for the 2012 Presidential nomination in The Two Republican Races National Journal 10/27/2011. Reporting on the results CNN/ORC surveys, he is appropriately cautious in describing the division between the Tea Party/evangelical portion of the Party and those who dont identify so closely with it: The CNN/ORC surveys divide Republican voters into those who express support for the tea party and those who are neutral or opposed to the movement. In the most recent survey, 49 percent of Republican voters expressed sympathy for the movement, 45 percent said they were neutral and 5 percent said they opposed it. That roughly 50-50 split is a reasonable proxy for the divide in the party between the most ardently ideological and populist elements (who express support for the tea party) and the somewhat more pragmatic (and to some extent moderate) voters who are more focused on reviving the economy than crusading against Washington. (Largely overlapping with that divide is a similar division between voters who identify as evangelical or bornagain Christians and those who don't; most polls have found evangelicals disproportionately represented among the tea party supporters.) [my italics] Later he makes a distinction between the more pragmatic and secular wing of the party, on the one hand, and the Tea Party/Christianist wing on the other. Even people who should probably know still sometimes refer to a moderate wing of the Republican Party. But at best the Party has a conservative wing and a reactionary one, though distinguishing the two is particularly challenging. Which is why Corey Robins longer historical argument rings true if youre projecting backward from todays US Republican Party. But it is nevertheless flawed and misleading. And flawed in a way that less likely to help liberals and progressives understand the real political currents in todays conservative movement and the Republican Party which is its main vehicle than it is to serve hardline rightwingers in passing themselves off as harmless, stodgy lets-make-haste-slowly conservatives. Or, to use Grover Norquists notorious metaphor, it doesnt help to distinguish those who are mainly concerned with not throwing out the baby with the bathwater from those who want to drown the baby in the bathwater. The baby in this case being democracy.

Returning to Robins eighth chapter in which he makes jarring juxtapositions among Burke and Reagan, Goldwater and Tocqueville and De Maistre: This chapter first appeared in a collection called Performances of Violence, ed. Austin Sarat, Carleen Basler, and Thomas L. Dumm (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). He uses the calls he finds from various conservatives for grand adventures and causes to argue that conservatives have a particular fondness for war. And that in turns feeds into his larger argument of an essential unity on the right of conservatives and reactionaries in which he seats at the same table his motley collection that includes philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks: Hobbes next to Hayek, Burke across from Palin, Nietzsche in between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia. In that chapter, he calls to witness, along with Sorel and Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt. That would be the Theodore Roosevelt who established the national park system, the Republican President who made the hallmark of his Presidency his fight against the trusts, the name used at the time for corporate monopolies. He doesnt make an argument as to why an icon of liberal Republicans yes, such creatures once walked the earth! should be considered a conservative. Much less why he should also be considered essentially the same as the most hidebound reactionary. And when it comes to war, that is scarcely a specialty of conservatives and reactionaries, though both may tend to consider it especially praiseworthy. Teddy Roosevelt certainly delivered some blistering jingoistic rhetoric against Germany during the First World War. But was he really more inclined to war that the liberal Democratic icon Woodrow Wilson? Robin doesnt even try to make that case. Robins The Reactionary Mind includes many valuable observations, including his profiles of Ayn Rand and American neoconservatives. But his central argument, which he mostly presses in the Introduction, that conservatives and reactionaries are essentially the same, is not convincing. Radicalism is the raison dtre of conservatism; if it goes, conservatism goes too, he argues. But many conservatives are the stereotypically dull conservatives who are afraid of change, afraid of the disruption of hierarchies and who want to make haste slowly. Militant rightists are kindred spirits in many ways. And they draw heavily on conservative ideas, typically referring to themselves as conservatives. But the political tribe of John Calhoun is nevertheless a different crowd than that of Daniel Webster. - END Bruce Miller January 2012