The left’s myopic obsession with fairness

As a political centrist in a sharply polarized time, I’m sometimes asked by progressive friends to recommend contemporary conservatives they should read and wrestle with. Then there are the conservative friends who pose the equal and opposite question: Which writers on the left should I seek out to challenge my assumptions?

My answer is usually Corey Robin.

A blogger, essayist, and political science professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, Robin is the author of an erudite, bracing, and productively infuriating book about conservatives titled The Reactionary Mind. When the book first appeared, in 2011, its subtitle was Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. That combination of titles told readers two important things. First, the author treats “conservative” as a synonym for “reactionary.” Second, he seeks to subsume Burke, the late-18th-century founder of modern British conservatism, and Palin, the rabble-rousing, trash-talking 21st-century American populist, into a single historical narrative. Could Robin actually intend to draw continuities between such wildly disjunctive figures?

When skeptical readers opened the book, they found that he could and did exactly that. On Robin’s telling, every single conservative, reactionary, or counterrevolutionary thinker or actor over the past 350 years, from Thomas Hobbes to Frederick Hayek, from Joseph de Maistre to Ronald Reagan, from John Adams to Ayn Rand, is united in opposing efforts of the “lower orders of society” to emancipate themselves by taking power and privileges away from some entrenched class. Robin notes many of the obvious differences among these political thinkers and actors, including the changing targets of their reactionary ire, but he insists on placing this single anti-egalitarian tendency at the dead center of his study and the conservative tradition he seeks to illuminate.

In the significantly revised second edition of the book that’s just been published by Oxford University Press, Robin has strengthened his case, rearranging the chapters and adding three new ones, including one on Donald Trump (who’s now replaced Palin in the subtitle). Whether he’s writing about Burke or Barry Goldwater, Friedrich Nietzsche or Antonin Scalia, Robin discerns the same “animus against the agency of the subordinate classes,” hostility to “the politics of emancipation,” and “opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors.”

That few self-described conservatives will recognize themselves in this account doesn’t mean that Robin is wrong. Sometimes it takes the perspective of an outsider — and the sensibility …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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