Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Conservative Mind...

There is a major dust up over Corey Robin's book on the consistency of "conservatives" in supporting public policies and sometimes violent actions--whether revolutionary or counterrevolutionary--that favor economic elites. This is a welcome intellectual debate because, too often, it has been the province of American conservatives to paint the liberals and left with a broad brush. How often do we hear conservative commentators say, "Liberals are this..." "Liberals believe that..." "Liberals have always..."?

Here is Mark Lilla's review of Robin's book in the NY Review of Books and a smack down of Lilla's review from Alex Gourevitch that is as brilliant as I've read in some time.

Crooked Timber has two more posts on the subject showing more reviews and the subsequent response from Lilla to Gourevitch, which Crooked Timber sees as weak (as do I).

My brief take on this is as follows:

I wish all who participated in this discussion across the Internet had been more familiar with Daniel Bell's wonderful subdividing of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" into separate and then overlapping realms of political, economic and cultural. Had they done so, the NY Times reviewer, Sheri Berman (professor of political science at Barnard College), would see why she is wrong to criticize Robin for supposedly not recognizing Palin's attack on elites, which she says contradicts Robin's thesis. If she had recognized Bell's point, she would see that Palin's attack on elites is in the cultural realm, not the economic realm. The policies Palin proposes, despite her rhetoric, increase the power of the economic elite. That is Robin's point about the ultimate consistent stance over centuries by "the conservative" against economic progress or development of what some could quaintly call "the masses."

Robin is therefore essentially correct regarding the consistency of an economic conservatism. He is correct to look for the consistency amidst the twists and turns of particular circumstances, and how the form of the attack on those who seek economic progress for the masses or workers, serfs, etc. changes over time. Example: One era (particularly in the early 19th Century) will have conservatives attack the liberals and left for being sentimental; hence the term "Romantics" was turned against Shelley and Keats when they dared criticize the early capitalist accumulation and loss of the commons. Another era will have the conservatives attack the liberals and left for being cynical and traitors to sentiment and traditional values. Our modern cacophonous era contains a simultaneous attack by different sets of commentators. Whatever way, the point is the same: De-legitimize or demonize those who support economic progress or development for those who are not in the elite.

These different circumstances do not undermine Robin's thesis, as Robin himself seems aware of the particulars in a way that shows deep scholarship and ability--whether or not that may be fully expressed in a single book. Robin is saying the circumstances are merely masking the consistency.

Oh well. I have to get ready for work. I leave the reader to read the links and analyses. The fun of this, again, is that Robin has written a book designed to make conservatives defensive and to recognize that their motives can be easily "discerned" in the way conservatives have "discerned" liberals' motives over the past century...And really, anyone who exposes Bill Buckley as a precursor to Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin is fine with me. See my "depreciation" of Buckley upon his departure from this mortal coil. See also my post about how Buckley regurgitated conventional nostrums with little analysis, and how it was masked by philosophical syllogisms and debaters' tricks.


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