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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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