Political science professor Corey Robin became interested in the conservative movement during the years leading up to the war in Iraq. His new book, “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin,” challenges conventional wisdom regarding the very identity of conservatism.
In critiquing conservatism, most liberals concede the movement was once an intellectual force full of interesting and thoughtful people (from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley), but argue that this once-respectable philosophy metastasized into a movement full of populist demagogues.
Robin soundly rejects that premise (which in many circles has become conventional wisdom), calling it a “radical misreading.” Instead, Robin insists Burke was no traditionalist who believed in slow, evolutionary change, but instead, a “radical critic of the established order.”
Robin admits his is a “revisionist reading of Burke,” but insists he has discovered a heretofore unknown truth about the founding father of modern conservatism:
“Burke was a radical critic of — not just the French Revolution — but of the establishment, the established order that was defending itself against the French Revolution. And his position was…that the established order was ill-equipped to actually defend itself against the French Revolution. And it needed to be radically overhauled…often times modeling itself on the very Jacobins that it was opposing, in order to really meet the challenge …
The punchline here is, when Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck sound these incredibly populist, radical notes, they are, in fact, very much in keeping with the entire tradition of conservatism, going back to its founder Edmund Burke.