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

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Mark Lilla has written a review of Robin’s book in The New York Review of Books, but his criticism of Robin as an über-lumper (for Robin lumps monarchists like Burke with democratic liberals like Ludwig von Mises) does not go far enough.  Robin’s scholarship is weak.  He tends to rely on secondary sources, and he does not appear to grasp some of his primary sources.  Like most academics, he has no grasp of the ideas of the Austrian School of Economics led by von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek.  As well, he is unaware of von Mises’s biography: The Nazis drove him from Austria.  Despite his status as a leading economist, he was refused a tenured job in America because he did not conform to the social democratic ideology that dominated universities in the 1950s.  More offensively, Robin calls both von Mises and Werner Sombart conservatives.  Sombart was the Nazi sympathizer who wrote the letter evicting Mises from the German Sociological Society because von Mises was a Jew.

Upon reading Robin’s thesis that conservatism amounts to a defense of those in power, I immediately thought of Sombart, and sure enough, on page 35 he makes the implicit claim that Sombart was a conservative.  In fact, Sombart was the first Marxist academic.  In his book Value-Free Science?  Robert N. Procter outlines Sombart’s career.  By the 1890s, when he was in his thirties, Sombart had introduced Marxism as a form of value-free analysis.  Friedrich Engels said that Sombart appreciated Marx better than any other academic.  By the 1920s Sombart’s book on socialism had gone into its tenth edition.  But by the early 1900s Sombart’s socialism had become increasingly nationalistic. In 1911 he attributed capitalism to Jewish usury.  Robin lumps Sombart with von Mises, a pro-capitalist Jew.

Equally puzzling is his association of National Socialism with Rand’s, von Mises’s, and von Hayek’s liberalism.  Hitler said this in a speech on February 24, 1941:  “For we (sic), the poor, have abolished unemployment because we no longer pay homage to this madness, because we regard our entire economic existence as a production problem and no longer as a capitalistic problem.” Could Hitler have conceivably been an ally of von Mises or Rand?  Robin claims so.  Robin’s argument that Rand was sympathetic to the Nazis because she valued heroism is ridiculous.  Robin’s work is not scholarship.  It is not even a caricature of scholarship.

The Colloquium

I attended the second session of the Wolfe Institute’s Robin colloquium.  Besides Viscusi, Chopra, and their two graduate assistants, for half the discussion I was the only professor present.  I raised these points.  Viscusi was, in fact, sympathetic. I wonder how much of political correctness depends on simple misinformation.  Midway through the discussion, Professor Andrew Arlig joined us.  Arlig is one of the few other libertarians at Brooklyn College.  The discussion was collegial; nevertheless, Robin’s book is an embarrassment to the Wolfe Institute and to the college.  The colloquium amounted to a whimper rather than a bang.

Mitchell Langbert is Associate Professor of Business at the Brooklyn College School of Business.

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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.