Quotes from Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind

I just finished Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind. He says all conservatives are reactionaries b/c they don’t arise until something changes. People who just live the way they’ve always lived are traditionalists. What conservatives seek to preserve is hierarchy. As long as they have someone to dominate, they will submit. The drive to dominate reaches its apotheosis in the Great Man. He is unchained, knows no boundaries, no rules, no laws, no norms. He dominates, he wins, he conquers. The CEO may play this game of conquest but so can the working man in his own home. As long as he can dominate those below him he will support even his own oppression from above.When his position is challenged, he will fight like a tiger, but when he feels secure in his dominant position, he loses his verve and conservatism goes into decline. A powerful left activates the right. For some, the battle is all, there is no point, no end, no purpose, just the game.
That is very vague but Robin illustrates it with studies of Burke, showing the absurdity of Burke’s life of debt any Nebraska businessman would despise. Nietzsche elevated the will to power and the Austrian economists fed into the Social Darwinism so popular in the U.S. The conservative movement seeks to con the masses to support them, the elites, by making the masses feel like they are part of the elite. This is done by providing them with opportunities to become faux aristocrats: in the home, in the factory, etc. by upholding hierarchy. The owner, the man of the house, the boss, the overseer, whatever role can be provided wins the mass man over to support the elites.
The contradiction of conservatism is that it borrows the techniques of the emancipatory movements like abolition, reformism, social justice, the civil rights struggle, feminism, gay rights, and so on. IOW, it becomes like its opponent. David Horowitz encourages rightist students to use the terms of the left like “hostile learning environment (for conservatives)”, “lack of intellectual diversity” (meaning conservative professors), “underrepresented” (not enough conservatives), “inclusive and intellectually diverse” (more conservative thought). “Republicans have learned to disguise their intentions so well, in other words, that the disguise has seeped into and transformed the intention.” pp. 48-9
Put more bluntly (p. 52) “That is the task of right wing populism: to appeal to the mass without disrupting the power of elites or, more precisely, to harness the energy of the mass in order to reinforce or restore the power of elites.”

Here are further quotes from The Reactionary Mind:

p. 88 So long as the war on terror remains an idea – a hot topic on the blogs, a provocative oped, an episode of 24 = it is sublime. As soon as the war on terror becomes a reality, it can be as cheerless as a discussion of the tax code, as tedious as a trip to the DMV.

p. 94 Every counterrevolutionary faces the same question: how to defend an old regime that has been or is being destroyed? The first impulse – to reiterate the regime’s ancient truths – is usually the worst, for it is often those truths that got the regime into trouble in the first place. Either the world has so changed that these truths no longer command assent, or they have grown so pliable that that they mutate into arguments for revolution.

p. 111 The context for the other major work of his final years. A letter to a Noble Lord, was more personal. Throughout his career, Burke was plagued by debts, which were estimated in 1794 to have been about 30,000 pounds. Lacking the means to sustain the life of a gentleman – which included two estates, a house in London, an expensive education for his son, and a retinue of servants and other employees – Burke relied to a great extent upon loans form his patron, Lord Rockingham, all of which were forgiven after Rockingham’s death by a provision of his will. But Burke’s creditors were relentless. Toward the end of his life he grew fearful that he would die in detor’s prison. He fantasized about fleeing to “America, Portugal, or elsewhere.” He even remarked to one visitor that he might learn Italian in order to ‘end his days with tollerable Ease in Italy.”

p. 113 …. how could questions of value [the value of an individual that merited his receipt of public i.e. government support for no work or service] be resolved without interrogating the contributions of the persons who composed these ranks and received these rewards? What had any of these men done to merit his position?

p. 119 Instead, he [Adam Smith] thought their outsized influence was due to their wealth and power and the favor of the law. [referring to ‘men of money’]

p. 121 [Adam Smith again] He describes that minimum as either a subsistence wage to procure the worker’s survival or a family wage enabling a family not only to maintain and reproduce itself but also to advance itself.

p. 122 Finally [Smith again] there must always obtain a certain ‘proportion’ between the rate of profit and the wages of labor……. and Smith continuing: There are fewer employers than employees, so employers can combine more esily. Even when they do not coordinate their actions, informal codes and unspoken rules ensure that they will not break with each other

p. 124 Burke disclaims any interest in the needs or contributions of labor. The price of labor is a function of capital’s demand for labor; any consideration beyond that…… is ‘passed out of that department’ of commerce and justice and comes within the jurisdiction of mercy’ and Christian charity. Where Smith sees capital using its economic and legal power to extract the most damagin contracts from labor, Burke sees the free market at work….. Burke insists that ‘the moment that Government appears at market, all the principles of market will be subverted,’ while remaining silent about all the ways in which the government already appears at market on behalf of capital.

p. 125 Absent a universal standard of value [Burke believes none exist], we are left with only the subjective preferences of buyers and sellers in the market.

p. 145 According to Nietzsche via Robin: Value was not made with coarse and clumsy hands; it was enacted with an appraising gaze, a nod of he head signifying the matchless abundance of an exquisite sense of taste. It was, in short, aristocratic.

p. 146 He along [the artist, the general, the statesman] could claim that role. He along had the necessary reefinements, wrought by ‘that pathos of distnce which grows out of the ingrained difference between strata,’ to appreciate and bestow value: upon men, practices, and beliefs.

p. 149 But whereas Nietzsche’s response to the equation of socialism and morality was to question the value of morality, at least as it had been customarily understood, economists like Mises and Hayek pursued a different path, one Nietzsche would never have dared to take: they made the market the very expression of morality.

p. 151 Hayek again: Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower – in short what men should believe and strive for.

p, 160 The overwhelming majority of men and women, Hayek says, are simply not capable of breaking with settled patterns of thought and practice; given a choice, they would never opt for anything new, never do anything better than what they do now. [cf. Atlas Shrugged] …….. He [the worker] lacks responsibility, initiative, curiosity, and ambition.

p. 162 There is something seriously lacking in a society in which all the intellectual, moral, and artistic leaders belong to the employed classes…

p. 177 Rand loathed ‘the cult of moral grayness,’ insisting that morality is first and always ‘a code of black and white.’ What makes the path treacherous – not for the hero, who seems to have been born fully outfitted for it, but for the rest of us – are the obstacles along the way.

p. 181 In Atlas Shrugged the battle is between the producer and the ‘looters’ and ‘moochers.’

p. 183 [Mises praised Atlas Shrugged thus]: You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in our conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

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