Yet another pedagogue has taken a stab at understanding conservatism and missed the target by a mile, like most other intellectuals who have attempted similar exercises. “After decades of ‘compassionate conservatism,’ ‘a thousand points of light,’ and ‘Morning in America,’ dark talk of class warfare on the right can seem like a strange throwback,” Corey Robin writes in The Chronicle Review. “So accustomed are we to the sunny Reagan and the populist Tea Party that we’ve forgotten a basic truth about conservatism: It is a reaction to democratic movements from below, movements like Occupy Wall Street that threaten to reorder society from the bottom up, redistributing power and resources from those who have much to those who have not so much.”
“ With the roar against the ruling classes growing ever louder, the right seems to be reverting to type.” Robin is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and CUNY’s Graduate Center.
Actually, not for nothing does activist Grover Norquist call his meeting “The Leave Us Alone Coalition.” In his survey of conservative thought, apparently Robin has failed to make note of the Greta Garbo streak in conservatism.
He also launches into a riff on “some of the stuffiest partisans of order,” then immediately gives the late Russell Kirk as an example. I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Kirk and stuffy he wasn’t: Generous, brilliant and kindly he was.
In an otherwise rambling essay, Robin does make one good point, at the end: “And while the mavens of the right would probably prefer four more years to four good books, they might want to rethink that,” Robin writes. “They wouldn’t be in the position they’re in—when, even out of power, they still govern the country—had their predecessors made the same choice.”
Robin seems to confuse capturing the debate with governance. Many conservatives would argue that they don’t get to govern even when they are allegedly in power. Nevertheless, conservatives, like the rest of the country, could use four good books.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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