CRF Blog

The Reactionary Mind

by Damon Huss

In the latest New York Review of Books, Mark Lilla reviews The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin by Corey Robin (Oxford University Press, 2011). The book “is conceived as a major statement on conservatism and reaction, from the eighteenth century to the present.” Lilla, however, describes the book as “a useful book to have — not as an example to follow, but one to avoid.”

His problem with the book, generally, is that it paints conservatism with too wide a brush. Here is his blunt description of author Corey Robin:

To [Robin’s] mind, the fundamental truth about the right is that it has always wanted one and only one thing: to keep down those who are already down. This is what unites Edmund Burke and Sarah Palin….

Robin is a lumper, an über-lumper, which may please his beleaguered readers on the left, but makes his entire enterprise incoherent. He fails to see that it is based on a glaring fallacy of composition: he posits a class, isolates a characteristic of one of its members, and then ascribes that characteristic to every member of the class. [more]

For classroom use, we have a Bill of Rights in Action article titled Edmund Burke: The Father of Conservatism.