We’re all radicals now

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My recent podcast with Dr. Corey Robin, author of “The Reactionary Mind” sparked some interesting feedback. Most of the outrage stemmed from Robin’s assertion — admittedly one built upon historical revisionism — that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are good representations of Edmund Burke’s political philosophy. (If this sounds new, you’re not alone.)

Robin’s theory prompted this swift reply from John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary:

That tweet might well be warranted. Many conservative intellectuals have been dismissive of figures such as Palin and Beck — having written them off as banner carriers for the most reactive elements of modern conservatism. For Robin to describe them as the true intellectual heirs to Burke is a bold claim.

But my commenters didn’t seem terribly shocked by the suggestion. One in particular seemed to think Robin hadn’t gone far enough:

Earth calling Robin:

If you hadn’t noticed, the Founding Fathers were revolutionaries against the status quo.  They held the profoundly radical idea that power was not a divine right of kings, but that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among those life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

They held the equally radical idea that the power of government is “derived by the consent of the governed.”  This was a preposterous ideal, one that hadn’t been considered since the ancient days of Greece.

To prove they were serious, they proclaimed…  And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Can we return to our Constitutional roots?

Are we conservatives willing to be that radical again in November, 2012?

True, but perhaps this commenter is influenced more by Thomas Paine, Burke’s once friend, turned foil?

Burke, of course, was friendly toward the American Revolution, but this is at least partly because it was seen as a natural evolution — not a radical break from tradition. Ronald Reagan injected a dose of Paine into conservatism in 1980, famously quoting Paine when he said “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

Reagan’s sunny outlook helped conservatism become a more optimistic (and winning) philosophy, but also served to confuse what it means to be “conservative.” My guess is that Palin and Beck are closer to Paine than to Burke, but Robin obviously disagrees.

In any event, this is an interesting debate to have. (So let’s keep having it.)

(Listen to audio of our full conversation here. Or download the podcast on iTunes.)

Matt K. Lewis