Corey Robin’s “Reactionary Mind” and the Historicity of Mass Murder

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On February 7 I noticed an e-mail from Professor Robert T. Viscusi, a poet and professor of English, who heads Brooklyn College’s Wolfe Institute.  The e-mail announced a discussion concerning Brooklyn College professor Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.  As one of a handful of conservative faculty at Brooklyn College, I was concerned about these points in Viscusi’s e-mail:

(Robin’s book) weaves together how conservatism is a reaction against democratic challenges.  From the ideologies of Edmund Burke to Antonin Scalia, from John C. Calhoun to Ayn Rand, Robin illustrates how conservatives through history to present-day have defended power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.

The claim that John C. Calhoun is linked philosophically to Ayn Rand is ill informed, and as a conservative I have never considered myself a defender of power.  Moreover, as one of a handful of conservative professors at Brooklyn College, I have witnessed ongoing ideological attacks by powerful leftwing ideologues against the few, powerless conservatives who have not been fired.

I exchanged e-mails with Professor Viscusi and Professor Samir Chopra, who is the discussion’s facilitator.  As well, on the blog of the National Association of Scholars, I expressed my concern that disagreement with Robin’s thesis that conservatives are ruthless defenders of power might result in ruthless charges of lack of collegiality against me.  Nevertheless, I decided to attend the colloquium and read Robin’s book.

The Conservative Mind

Frontpagemag readers may recall Professor Corey Robin from his most famous student: terrorist Syed Hashmi.  Robin and Brooklyn College Professor Jeanne Theoharis have led a movement to support Hashmi, who admits to having assisted al Qaeda. Hashmi is serving 15 years in prison.   According to Phil Orenstein in Frontpagemag, Hashmi became radicalized while he was Robin’s student.

There is an important link between Robin’s sympathy for Hashmi, whose activities could have led to murder, and his book.  Conservatism in the tradition of Edmund Burke is a reaction to mass murder; Robin’s book is a screed in favor of indifference to murder just as Robin has been indifferent to Hashmi’s contribution to what could have been al Qaeda’s victims’ deaths.

Relying on stereotyped categorizations of victims and oppressors, Robin claims that conservatives resist movements that claim rights for the oppressed.  Robin does not count terrorists’ victims as powerless or oppressed because they do not fit his comic book-like, two-dimensional world view.  The French Revolution, which Edmund Burke viewed with horror, involved not only regicide, but also the murder of between 18,000 and 40,000 people.  This, of course, pales in comparison to twentieth century examples of socialist mass murder.   Robin condemns Milton Friedman for assisting Pinochet, who was responsible for 3,000 deaths.  As well, he condemns Ayn Rand for failing to appreciate Bolshevism’s supposed benefits such as access to education and movies.  The Bolshevik death toll that Robin seems to think should have been a matter of indifference to Rand was in the tens of millions.   Robin’s claim that conservatism is a reaction against movements of the powerless is self-contradictory, for the 100 million victims of communism were powerless, and if the anti-communist movement is not conservative, then it is difficult to know what is.  It is Robin’s indifference to the left’s bloody history that amounts to defense of the cruelest uses of power.

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  • kblink45

    The other day, I had a frightening epiphany. The left doesn't excuse evil because they don't know it, they excuse it because they are it. Of course, that would mean that half of America is evil. They pretend to be humanists so that they can gain power over those who disagree with them. And then they kill them (or reeducate them).

    • truebearing

      The Left is essentially a cult that has one objective: power. Any person or group that spends its entire life trying to gain total power over others is evil. These political sociopaths see any impediment to power as something to be destroyed, whether it is ideology or living beings. Morality is not only irrelevant to them but antagonistic to the collective delusion of progress. "Progress" is really nothing more than a euphemism for total power. The often promised, but ever-so-elusive, utopia that it will supposedly follow has a perfect historical record of failure, yet millions of fools still fall for it. Marxism, in all of its derivations, is the perfect action plan for political sociopaths who lust after the power to enslave people to their every whim.

  • tagalog

    Bob Viscusi was just a low-flying instructor of English when I studied English Lit. under him at NYU (University Heights) in 1968. I'm glad to see he's achieved some measure of prominence. He deserves it. I always liked him. He had a good heart and was -and I'm sure still is- a really nice guy with a world-class brain. Please don't think badly of him because he has continued to cleave to left-wing ideology. He's a New Yorker, what could be expected?

    • Mitchell Langbert

      I agree. Bob is a very nice guy.

  • SoCalMike

    Corey Robin engages in what shrinks call "projection."
    This mindless government worshiping academic bimbo seeks to restore the absolute power of kings to government all the while crying and accusing his opponents of exactly what it is he is doing.
    Memo to Corey, the government is a false god so please stop advocating cramming it down our collective throats.

    • mlcblog

      Typical of the left.

  • Ronald Johnston

    We need to bring the guillotine back to help all these yellow-bellied liberal terrorists find their deserved end!!!!

    • aspacia

      You are giving the liberals cannon fodder, try not to be so very reactionary

      • Mitchell Langbert

        Recall that the French Revolution is still idealized by the left. Robin speaks highly of it. He is the one who is comfortable with the guillotine. Edmund Burke protested. Robin's sleight of hand is to identify national socialists with liberals. There is no basis for that claim. There were many crossovers from Marx to Hitler. Werner Sombart is one. One of the founders of deconstructionism, Paul De Man, was another. De Man had been a paid propgagandist for the Nazis. He came to America after the war, went to Harvard, founded deconstructionism, and was revered all his life by the left. After he died a researcher discovered hundreds of anti-Semitic articles that De Man had written in France during the war. Nazism and Marxism are the same thing with slightly different trappings. In the end, the Marxists tend to be anti-Semitic too even though many are Jews.

  • John

    Projection is pretty common if you start looking for it. I prefer to call it denial. They deny their own tendencies by projecting them onto others. You see it all the time in our current administration I am not sure if it arises from emotional tendencies or calculation.

    • mlcblog

      LIberalism is a mental disorder.

    • Mitchell Langbert

      Yup. In fact, Robin accuses Ayn Rand of not having read Aristotle, but I suspect that Robin has not read many of the authors he is discussing. He mis-cites a chapter from von Mises, for example. Most of his footnotes refer to secondary sources. His scholarship is weak, and he accuses Ayn Rand of the very kind of thing he seems to do. Talk about projection.

  • FBastiat

    What's really reactionary:…

    • truebearing

      Thanks for the link.

  • mmuldoor

    Hey…aren't conservatives guilty of the same lumping you accuse Robin of? We're all "liberals." Well, actually, no were not.

    • Mitchell Langbert

      I challenge you to identify one conservative who has received tenure publishing the poorly researched drivel that Robin has produced. It's not just that he's a fool–all ideologies, movements, and camps have at least a few. It's that he pretends to be an academic who talks about conservatives, and I doubt that he has even read von Mises, who he talks about repeatedly. At one point he cites a chapter from one of von Mises's books in reference to the family being the true unit of capitalism (or something along those lines) and when I checked it the chapter was about von Mises's belief in democracy and various liberation movements. The lowest level of scholarship is above what Corey does in this book. What conservative has gotten tenure on this kind of low-grade garbage? Name one.