I just finished reading “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin” by Corey Robin. I bought it on Kindle, if you want a hardcopy you might check out this independent book store site. Let’s shoot to read the first chapter and start discussing it next week, for those who are interested.
If could summarize the book in a few lines, I would go with cleek’s classic:
today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily.
Robin’s thesis is that claims like Oakeshott’s about conservatism (and also, those of Hayek about classical liberalism) are nothing more than a mask for attempts to resist, and where possible, roll back the claims of the working class against their rulers.
I think this is broadly correct. Although there are people with the conservative disposition described above (and also, people who are attracted by radicalism as such), there is no inherent correlation between conservatism as a disposition and support for the political views commonly associated with conservatism.
There is an accidental association reflecting the fact that, taking the last two or three centuries as a whole, the ruling class has mostly been losing ground. First, the aristocracy was forced to share power with the bourgeoisie, and, then for most of the 20th century, the working class gained ground against the power of capital. Under such circumstances, people of conservative disposition will generally be found in opposition to the progressive demands being put forward by workers and their supporters.
And here is something I read by Peter Beinart on Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the subject of a controversy that we discussed last week:
Although ultra-Orthodox Jews claim to reject religious innovation, ultra-Orthodoxy is constantly innovating because it is based, above all, on the rejection of secular values. And since secular values change, ultra-Orthodoxy does too.
The alacrity and ease with which Republicans went from supporting (and in Romney’s case implementing) health care systems along the lines of ACA to treating ACA as the most horrible soshulist thing evah makes perfect sense in this context: ACA is bad because liberals passed it. Full stop. If Democrats had passed Medicare Part D, it would be the worst thing evah too.
Update. Quasi-reformed Mark Lilla has an interesting (mostly negative) review of Robin’s book here (via). I don’t agree with it, because it devolves too far into predictable Sullivan-style “we conservatives didn’t used to be like this” stuff, but it’s interesting, but it’s probably the best predictable Sullivan-style “we conservatives didn’t used to be like this” defense that I’ve read.