The Reactionary Mind – The Truth About Conservatism: An Interview with Corey Robin Part II

Corey Robin teaches political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His latest book, The Reactionary Mind, is available from

Interview conducted by Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer based in Dublin, Ireland.

PP: Okay, let’s move on. One of the chapters in the book deals with Ayn Rand. I’m going to quote from it directly as I don’t think there is a better way to sum it up.

“Saint Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladamir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin, and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both.”

I really don’t think I’ve seen a better quote summing up the phenomenon that is Ayn Rand. This is not political jousting either – in the book you’re generally quite respectful of conservative theorists. But Ayn Rand is unusual in that… well… she really was a hack. There is no way she was on par with the other theorists discussed in the book. Her work was just cartoonish, amateurish; almost a self-parody. She had no real philosophical influences and this shone through in the innumerable cracks in what she referred to as her ‘philosophy’. So, how on earth do you account for her popularity today? Is her mediocrity part of what makes her so appealing?

CR: This is one of the questions I really struggled with in writing about Rand, and I don’t think I ever fully resolved it. Because you’re right about her mediocrity, and I’m certain that’s part of her appeal, but what makes that strange is that she is a writer who claims to speak for excellence. And that’s what’s so odd to me: I don’t know that I can think of a single less talented writer who has ever pressed the claims of superiority – that there are superior beings out there, that she is one of them, that her readers are among them too – with such unwarranted self-confidence. It’s that marriage of total arrogance and total confidence that I find so mystifying.

Some people think that that is in a way her appeal: she gives not very talented people a sense that they are part of an Olympian guard. I’m not really persuaded of that. I think her appeal lies elsewhere: she has a vision of transcendence, of self-overcoming, which is central to conservatism, but it’s a vision that is ultimately flat and cartoonish.

It’s the purest form of kitsch: it preys upon an idea of high culture, of cultural greatness, but it doesn’t make the demands of that culture, except in a cheesy and romantic way. It allows people to imagine themselves living these exalted lives, without having to actually live those lives. It’s pure movie magic.

PP: Yes, I agree that the explanation that she lends greatness to mediocrity is not sufficient – all celebrity culture does that to an extent. It’s something beyond that; something that taps deep into a massive vein of narcissism at the heart of our age, a narcissism that resides particularly in a certain type of reader. Although Rand is a particularly vulgar proponent of this, I think I see something similar in many of the conservative ideas discussed in the book. They all revolve, in some way or another, around the figure of the ‘great man’. Do you think this is the case? And does this not contradict the vision of a humble, reasonable return to simpler values as put forward by, say, a figure like Pat Buchanen?

In fact, in answering those questions perhaps you could say something about the paleoconservative movement. I noted that it was absent from the book.

CR: You’ve hit on what I think is a really central tenet of conservatism: the great man. And yes it sits somewhat uneasily with the populism and the simple/humble man that sometimes gets presented in conservatism (though it’s interesting; I never really associated that with Buchanan.) But as for the great man, there is a notion in conservatism that there are men – and it’s almost always men – who are simply more excellent than the general run of humanity. They’re more talented, more visionary, more skilled, more something. And while that in itself is not that remarkable a notion, what makes it significant in conservatism is how central that notion is to their vision of the good society. The good society is one that is unequal – in their idea, inequality and progress go hand in hand (the slaveholders are particularly interesting on this question, as is Nietzsche, though he of course eschewed any notion of progress; he saw inequality and excellence going hand in hand) – and where the best men rule.

Now how this gets reconciled with the populism/humility of the right is tricky, but I think it goes something like this: The excellent man is extraordinary. He doesn’t require credentials or training; his excellence is like a gift from God. Often, the most extraordinary person will arise from fairly obscure or humble background. So in de Maistre (and a fair number of other French conservatives) there is a real obsession with Joan of Arc — yes, not a man, obviously, but her peasant origins make her rise seem that much more miraculous.

I know this will sound like a stretch, but I often have thought that the ejaculations on the right over Sarah Palin were quite similar to this. Here’s someone with very limited education, very limited experience, no international knowledge to speak of, not much awareness of the burning political issues of our time, and yet there she is, a serious contender – at least she was up until recently – for the nomination of the Republican Party (not to mention the fact that she was a vice-presidential candidate in 2008).

On the face of it, it’s absolutely crazy. But I suspect that for the conservative, her very inexperience and total lack of credentials, made her seem that much more desirable and destined for greatness.

Anne Norton is a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. A few years ago she wrote a brilliant book on the Straussians, and one chapter in particular really stood out for me. It was about Allan Bloom, who was a Straussian and wrote a very influential book in the 1980s called The Closing of the American Mind. Anyway, as Norton points out, Bloom was obsessed with romance novels, the Cinderella story. And in those stories, there’s often this idea of an obscure princess lurking somewhere in the weeds. All she needs is a patron to find her and pluck her out of obscurity.

That idea –that there is extraordinary greatness lurking out there, perhaps in your home, no matter how impoverished you are, and that all that’s required for you to assume your destined position is a miracle of election – I think fits in with the romantic notion of greatness and excellence that you see in someone like Rand and conservatism more generally.

As for the paleocons, I did talk about them in a bit in my chapter on Edward Luttwack, but you’re right, I never gave them that much attention, in part because they’ve been fairly insignificant politically for the last several decades. They’re interesting intellectually – very interesting in fact – but their ideas just haven’t had that much traction.

PP: Well, I always thought the Sarah Palin phenomenon was a sexual thing. She tapped into that whole MILF thing that was launched, in particular, by the Desperate Housewives television show. Husbands wanted her, housewives wanted to be her – and pornographers made films about her. It was this (rather unusual) domestic sexuality that then gave her supposed power. It was this that turned her into the ‘great woman’ – the seemingly unknowing housewife who, despite her humble appearances, actually knows ‘something’ that she’s not letting on. *Queue Sarah Palin wink*.

That might be the single crudest political analysis ever undertaken, but I think there’s more than a grain of truth there. Seriously, look at the winking video linked above; that stuff was focus grouped and orchestrated!

Anyway, leaving poor Palin aside, let’s move onto that other thing that gets the conservative juices flowing to no end: war. Broadly speaking, what is it that fascinates conservatives about war so much?

CR: I think there are two ways to think about the relationship between conservatism and war. The first is to look at conservatism’s moral psychology – that is, not the psyche of the conservative, but how the conservative views human nature. And here I take my cues from Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry Concerning the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. There, Burke lays out of a vision of human nature in which the self is always on the verge of collapse and implosion. Burke’s basic idea is that we have a set of impulses and responses – ultimately to objects and experiences of pleasure and beauty – that, while immediately gratifying, have the tendency to soften us, leaving us either indifferent or ultimately in a less vital or strong state than we were before. There’s a kind of corrosiveness to the human character: too much ease and comfort, too much pleasure and enjoyment, and we decline. Decadence, in other words, haunts the human condition.

The antidote to that tendency is the experience of sublimity, which Burke associates with death and terror. The sublime is a terrible experience – frightening, shocking, even terrifying – but unlike pleasure and beauty, it’s a strong and vitalizing experience. It leaves us in a stronger state than we were before: more alert, more alive, more wakeful and watchful of all that surrounds us. It’s a shock to the system that wakes us up from our torpor and readies us for a very powerful mode of engagement with the world.

Now Burke doesn’t talk about war in this treatise, but I think you can see a lot of his ideas in many conservative writings about warfare, whether the war is international or civil. In my book, I look at the writing on war by Joseph de Maistre, Tocqueville, Teddy Roosevelt, Carl Schmitt, and many of the neoconservatives. (You could probably add Christopher Hitchens to that list, though I don’t really talk about him in the book much.) There you really see the development of this idea about warfare, how it revitalizes the self.

The other way to think about this problem involves an idea I discussed earlier: the conservative’s consistent concern about the decadence of the ruling classes, the need to find ruling classes that are not weak, too comfortable in their privileges, and the like. And again, you find conservatives welcoming warfare as a kind of testing ground for a new ruling class, a way of establishing who is the superior man, not on the basis of inheritance or tradition, but on the basis of character, wit, physical strength, and more.

These are the two steady streams I find in the conservative tradition regarding warfare. I don’t say this in the book, but there’s definitely a left tradition regarding warfare, but it bears little resemblance to this discussion. So the point is not that conservatives have a monopoly on discussions of war and violence – they don’t – but that they have a distinctive way of talking about it.

PP: That’s very interesting. But surely the nature of warfare has changed. Whereas a conservative in Burke’s day might have had to saddle-up and lead the charge, today this hardly seems the case. War has become cold, calculated and precise – I guess the figure of Robert McNamara, the great technician of war, comes to mind. Do you think that modern day conservatives have come to terms with this or have they simply ignored it?

CR: Actually, believe it or not, what you’re talking about is prefigured in Burke’s own theory. Because Burke says that for terror and the sublime to be rejuvenating and reawakening in the way I’ve described, the object of terror has to be at some remove from the self. If it gets too close, it loses those rejuvenating capacities, and becomes simply violent and awful.

What I take from this insight of his is there is an element of anti-climax in almost all conservative visions of warfare. I talk about this explicitly in my chapter ‘Easy to Be Hard’, but basically the argument goes like this: while conservatives can wax rhapsodic over warfare in the abstract – e.g., when it remains a possibility rather than a reality, when they don’t have to fight it, etc. – as soon as it confronts them in its immediacy, it loses all that romance. In the last half-century, as warfare becomes more and more bureaucratized, that romance really disappears, as you point out. One of the most interesting instances of this, in fact, is the war on terror, particularly the use of torture. When conservatives talk about torture, they ascribe to it all these hallowed attributes: transgressive, boundary-pushing, proving one’s mettle, going to ‘the dark side’, in Cheney’s famous words. But as Jane Mayer shows in her book of that title – The Dark Side – torture is not the realm of romantic warriors or transgressive types; it’s actually something that’s run by the lawyers. They’re the ones who devise, in excruciating detail, all the do’s and don’t’s of the torture session: a slap on the face, a threat to the head, etc. In fact, Mayer cites George Tenet, former head of the CIA: describing the capture, interrogation, and torture of Al Qaeda logistics chief Abu Zubayda, Tenet says, “Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, in situations like this, you don’t call in the tough guys; you call in the lawyers.” Mayer compares torture sessions to a game of “Mother, May I?” the torturer asks the lawyer/bureaucrat, Can do I x, Can I do x+1, and so on. Nothing romantic or transgressive about it; it’s as rule-bound and bureaucratic as things can get.

So the upshot is: the romance can’t live up to the reality. Certainly not in this age of bureaucratic warfare – the Pentagon is not exactly a non-bureaucratic institution – and probably not ever. And, what’s more, that anti-climax is built into the theory, at least as it was adumbrated by Burke.

PP: Although it seems a rather silly question I think it still worth asking: where do you see conservativism going? What strains are the most potent in the movement? Is the libertarian tradition on the rise – as we see from Ron Paul’s recent popularity – or is neoconservatism still the order of the day – as we see from the discourse surrounding Iran’s nuclear program?

CR: I don’t think the question is whether any one tradition is on the rise or fall; the mere fact that we are increasingly talking about these different factions as if they were separate entities suggests the overall fraying of the movement itself. When a movement is at its apex, it’s able to finesse these internal divisions. The contrast with the enemy – the left, in the case of the right – is so great that internal divisions will seem small. The fact that these internal factions are now starting to look at each other as the great enemy suggests what I’ve long suspected (at least since Bush declared the war on terror): that the administration of George W. Bush was the high point of the development of modern conservatism, and that everything since then will be downhill. That doesn’t mean there won’t be victories along the way – in the same the election of a fairly left-wing Congress in 1974 was a victory for the Democrats and progressivism. Yet, as we all know, the trajectory of the left from 1968 to 1980 was essentially a downward one, from the apex of the liberal regime under Lyndon Johnson to the utter repudiation of that regime with Ronald Reagan. Likewise, George W. Bush was the summit; what comes next – and it could take a long long time – is essentially one long trip downhill.

There’s a reason for this dynamic both general and specific. The general reason is that any political movement or coalition, when it achieves the utmost of power, will start exercising that power in a way that frays that coalition. In the case of LBJ, he used his massive reelection in 1964 to extend the promise of the New Deal to blacks, and in the process, destroyed the New Deal coalition, which had been uneasily dependent on the votes of racist white Southerners and racist white Northerners. In the case of George W. Bush, he used the warrants of 9/11 to pursue major wars of empire, satisfying his neocon supporters, and cutting taxes, satisfying the Grover Norquists of his party. That combination is not sustainable, as we’re now seeing with the debt crisis. And it will ultimately prove the undoing of the GOP. But again it could take a long time for that to happen.

The more specific reason is peculiar to the right: the right, as I’ve argued, is a praxis of opposition to the emancipatory claims of the left. To a very large degree, the right has defeated the left. On economic questions, on civil rights, and on feminism as well. And where it hasn’t defeated the left, it’s forced a stop to its forward motion. But that success poses a problem for the right: what is there for it to do? One of the reasons why I think you see such loony rhetoric from today’s right – where they call a neoliberal manager of the American imperium like Barack Obama a Kenyan Muslim socialist and so forth – is that it is trying to re-fight the battles that brought it to victory in 1980. And while it can get some traction from that re-run, it can’t get much. So again, I think the long-term indicators are negative.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself…

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  1. kxmoore

    What claptrap. Individuals are being crushed under the corporate statism that in one way or another is being supported by both the conservative and progressive elites.

    1. Frank Speaking

      “What claptrap…” is this the new refrain for denial from the left or the new refrain for misdirection from the right?

      Robin’s analysis is tepid when held up to the reality playing out right in front of us everyday now as made evident by Mark Lila’s review of Robin’s book in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

      “All this is new—and it has little to do with the principles of conservatism, or with the aristocratic prejudice that ‘some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others,’ which Corey Robin sees at the root of everything on the right. No, there is something darker and dystopic at work here. People who know what kind of new world they want to create through revolution are trouble enough; those who only know what they want to destroy are a curse.”

      Republicans for Revolution
      JANUARY 12, 2012
      Mark Lilla
      The New York Review of Books

      1. Foppe

        Lilla’s review is crap. Only talks about the first chapter a little bit, and only in extremely banal generalities, and then basically tells the reader how the reviewer would’ve written Robin’s book. See this for more.

          1. Frank Speaking

            hit piece? really?

            a critique that was an amplification and buttressing of the work is a “hit piece” how?

            a critique echoed by the Gaurdian’s review as well…

            my, my somebody has a burr under their saddle

    2. jsmith

      Ah yes, I posted something similar yesterday but was told by Mr. Pilkington himself that (I’m paraphrasing):

      Why, if you state this obvious truism then you are obviously a nihilist who doesn’t care about the system, life or anything else as to abandon the arguments of the consensus – i.e., the “serious” people – is to become a non-entity left gazing at one’s shoes waiting for the apocalypse by which you – meaning me – hope to gain power some how.

      See how adept the gatekeepers are at keeping the conversation confined to the narrow limits they seek to establish?

      I mean, knowing that the current neoliberal economic and political systems are complete and utter disasters for everyone except the rich, I guess Mr. Pilkington suggests that we as people who all want to be considered “serious” should loyally tune into to Meet The Press or CNBC everyday to hear what our betters have deemed worthy to talk about and then obediently repeat/mimic the debates we’ve just witnessed, huh?

      Kind of like how one should discuss Sunday’s sermon at home during the week, right?

      Don’t expose or talk about the utter inanity and insanity of continuing the pointless discussions/debates that the elite frame for us and for which they – surprise! – provide the most salient taking points, huh?

      Again, the way they have the system rigged is that for every witting dupe there are at least 10 unwitting ones who carry the water for their superiors without really understanding that all the discussion and sophistry only further cement the views of the Establishment into place – no matter how intelligent or seemingly savvy they may think they are or really be.

      Pointing this out is not nihilistic but actually the first step towards mental health and the creation of a movement to counter said state of affairs.

      1. Peripheral Visionary

        One critical point I would highlight: given the intense criticism that the elites have come under (justifiably, in my view), there is a strong incentive for them to disclaim themselves of that status.

        Hence, the absurdity of people who are deeply entrenched in the political, legal, academic, media, and business establishments – and I would certainly include a sitting professor at an accredited university in that category – talking about “ruling classes”, the recipients of “privilege”, and “the elites” as if they were someone else. (And that goes all the more for a certain very well-known columnist who referred to “the elite” in the third person – umm, you are a world-famous columnist for a world-famous newspaper who is also a tenured faculty member at a world-famous institution and winner of one of the world’s most coveted academic prizes – you are the elite.)

      1. Phoenix Woman

        He/she/it probably doesn’t.

        But don’t you love how the Randians and the Straussians and the other Cons immediately set out to inadvertently prove your point and that of Robin — the smarter ones by trying to reframe the questions they knew they couldn’t answer, the stupider ones by calling names?

    1. KnotRP

      I have to agree with pegnu.
      It reminds me of certain relatives who
      are quick to identify spelling or punctuation
      errors, while completely missing whatever
      point the words were delivering.
      It is some sort of small victory
      for those with nothing better to do,
      but I wish I had the time back.

      1. KnotRP

        More generally:

        > Interview conducted by Philip Pilkington, a journalist and > writer based in Dublin, Ireland.

        I’ve noticed a trend here with Philip’s posts….I’ve
        found I’d rather read poorly written posts and comments
        by a mix of people from all walks of life, than
        drink from the fire hose of a professional wordsmith
        who seems to have no driver beyond an output quota.
        In contrast, Yves posts contain more than words…they contain experience. Words are only the taxi delivering the value of experience to a destination….if the taxi is empty, it might as well stay parked and conserve energy
        until it has a rider.

        1. Philip Pilkington

          You realise this was an interview, right? With an academic who teaches politics… and so has some, shall we say, experience in the field…

          1. Anonymous Jones

            First, let me state clearly that I enjoyed both parts I and II of your interview, especially the Rand part. It made me consider many issues and ideas, and I really appreciate it.

            At the same time, I can see how some might view it as a little bit like a high-fallutin’ mutual masturbation session.

            “My, how big your words are.”
            “No, you’re the one who is so full and bright to understand my brilliance.”
            “Thank you. Continue.”
            “Oh, that feels good.”

          2. craazyman

            everybody is still jumpy from Code Name Cain. We have lost our trust in the veracity of these “interviews” and need to have it earned back. Mr. Robin seems legit, but so do some priests. oooops. :(

            searyusLE, these are thoughtful discussions Phil. Not sure if they mean something or if theyr just a form of “belle Lettres” that need no justification other than themselves. Either way, they made me think of Joan of Arc and how crazy that scene must have been. People think consciousness is uniform like Newtownian space, but we know better. haha.

        2. KnotRP

          > PP, they’re grasping at straws. They don’t have
          > any legitimate thing on which to attack you or
          > Robin, so they’re making things up.

          That reminds me of this:

          Coordinator: Crucifixion?
          Prisoner: Yes.
          Coordinator: Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.
          [Next prisoner]
          Coordinator: Crucifixion?
          Mr. Cheeky: Er, no, freedom actually.
          Coordinator: What?
          Mr. Cheeky: Yeah, they said I hadn’t done anything and I could go and live on an island somewhere.
          Coordinator: Oh I say, that’s very nice. Well, off you go then.
          Mr. Cheeky: No, I’m just pulling your leg, it’s crucifixion really.
          Coordinator: [laughing] Oh yes, very good. Well…
          Mr. Cheeky: Yes I know, out of the door, one cross each, line on the left.

  2. jake chase

    What conservatives fear most is leveling, the elimination of (largely hereditary) privilege, which they see as disorder, sanscoulottism, Cultural Revolution. They employ any available intellectual means to justify privilege, not just because they enjoy being privileged (and they do), but also because they “just know” that leveling means a great many heads on pikes. Most of the justification is errant nonsense, but the fear is very real. Progressives demand justice and reject this fear. But only history will determine whether they were right to reject it. The only history we have (France, Russia, Cuba) is not particularly encouraging for those with anything to lose.

    1. F. Beard

      Progressives demand justice and reject this fear. But only history will determine whether they were right to reject it. The only history we have (France, Russia, Cuba) is not particularly encouraging for those with anything to lose. jake chase

      I’ve read that England learned a lesson from the violence of Revolutionary France and implimented some reforms. It’s sad that England did not learn from its own violence toward its own population.

      And what if “justice” wrecks the economy even more? Isn’t that the fear?

      And what if the system itself is unjust? What good does punishing the individual actors in it do in that case?

    2. Peripheral Visionary

      Of course conservatives fear “leveling”, every experience in “leveling” has resulted in mass misery and incredible suffering. There is nothing particularly distinctive about conservatives for fearing a process with such a terrible track record.

      It does, however, say something about progressive activists that they fervently believe that next time the leveling process will somehow be fair and equitable and the results will be to society’s universal benefit, all previous experience to the contrary.

      1. F. Beard

        Banking reform and just restituition could be accomplieshed without significant price inflation risk as I have endlessly pointed out. And it would result in a good deal of leveling becaue the current wealth inequality is unjust.

        There is no excuse for the current ststus quo.

        1. jake chase

          Actually, FB, banking reform could be accomplished without much leveling. Imagine giving every American household $100k. This could pay off the debt and start the carousel off and running again. If you added reinstatement of Glass Steagall and broke up the largest banks to create a thousand or so conventional ones, you could even reinvigorate the economy. Let the investment banks blow themselves up. That would produce some leveling, n’cest pas? I know quite a few conservatives who would support this plan.

          1. F. Beard

            banking reform could be accomplished without much leveling. Imagine giving every American household $100k. jake chase

            That’s the plan but techinically it would level things in relative terms.

        2. Peripheral Visionary

          If fairness is the goal, it may be possible to accomplish that through proper policies, and it may happen that some leveling may occur as a result, which could be seen as a happy side effect. But I do not see that leveling as a primary goal has ever been achieved without massive suffering, which is why I think it is not worthy of consideration. The reality is, any sensible change is going to leave some imbalance in place, because the cost of leveling everything is too high. Think of it as being like public safety policy: improving public safety and trust is certainly a worthwhile goal, but attempting to totally eliminate crime is an exercise in futility that will result in a police state.

          I do agree that the status quo is unacceptable, however.

          1. LeonovaBalletRusse

            jake chase’s idea is more structured: $100K to the People of the Real Economy to eat, fix the car, get to work, and provide goods and services to other working stiffs of the Real Economy.

            The .01% M-I Gravy Train will have to be paid from the funds of the .01-1%. The MonopolyFinance Bubbles will be de-leveraged at their own expense.

            That’s right: a two-tier economy: The productive Real Economy for We the People, and the self-cannabilizing Fantasy Economy of the .01-1%.

            The Open Society Foundations provide the model for the just distribution of Real Money to Real Producers at multiple “local” levels for the Real Economy in Practice on the ground. Susan Webber and Catherine Austin Fitts might be brought into the discussion of this transition. Following the OSF model, we can initiate the New Real Economy for the People without apologies and without delay. The process is in place like a *turn-key* enterprise that only need be set in motion on a national scale.

            The $100,000 figure for the People’s start-ups and transition management may prove to be ideal. And it’s a much better bargain than bailing out lying, cheating bankers. Some might pool their resources to start grounded People’s commercial banks and old-fashioned Insurance companies, or new manufacturing firms where blue collars are stockholders with a seat on the Board. It’s a matter of mature self-governance in a truly open democracy.

            No tyrants need apply.

            We the People can prove that too-big-to-fail banks cannot blow up our world. We can do it again in our time: government of, by, and for the People, “the way it spose to be.”

            If not now, when?

          2. YankeeFrank

            Oh please. The greatest leveling in history occurred in the USA and western Europe in the 20th century, when for four or five decades workers actually had some power and the government existed for the masses instead of to serve the 1%. The union movement, women’s suffrage movement, and civil rights movement all were great leveling movements that created the most creative and productive period in human history, and at the same time the vast majority of people in the US were not, for the first time in history, utterly desperate and poverty-stricken. These two phenomena correlated extremely well — if you look at Scandinavia now, and the more equal European nations, we find this same great leveling has produced a healthy, intelligent and proud populace that is innovative, inventive, healthily competitive and generally quite happy.

            In fact, the modern western world, which we’ve all lived within for the past 60 years, and which is all we really know, has been an incredibly successful experiment in leveling… only within the last few decades has it been slipping away and that is because all of the great leveling tools have been destroyed or usurped for the opposite purpose — creating neo-feudal misery for the vast majority of Americans and an ever-shrinking middle class. The middle class IS the great leveling and whatever is left of value in our world is due to that leveling, so please stop trying to pretend that all of this prosperity most of us grew up with (and that is now disappearing) just “happened” by accident, or that it was always thus. It wasn’t an accident and it most certainly was not always thus. Go to India or China if you want to see the misery that used to be widespread in the west. The dishonesty, or is it just a complete ignorance of history you display with these “anti-leveling” comments “Peripheral Visionary”, disqualifies you from consideration. Perhaps you should look straight in front instead of to the periphery for your Visions — you might get closer to the truth and to reality.

      2. jonboinAR

        I don’t recall hearing that the experience of leveling following WWII in the US was particularly traumatic.

        1. Peripheral Visionary

          I think it is evident that the very strong growth enjoyed in the U.S. through the 1950’s and the 1960’s – only to be ended with the destructive inflationary policies of LBJ and Nixon – was a direct result of the fact that the U.S. was the only large industrialized nation whose manufacturing capacity survived World War II in good form. How the gains from that extremely fortunate set of circumstances came to be shared across social classes would make for an interesting study, but a more or less academic one, as the conditions that precipitated it cannot, or rather should not, be replicated.

          1. jake chase

            Two important causes were the strength of US organized labor and the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates and capital controls. Another was the technological impossibility of off-shoring. We are unlikely to revisit any of these.

    3. jonboinAR

      You’re wrong about their rationale, I think. They just want having their boots licked to be permanent. Those who support them (they are many) are willing to fill that position, I think, for the sense of security it brings them. I think the latter may have more the security motives you ascribe.

    4. double poles

      To be or not to be, that is the question. Perhaps we should rephrase the question to fit this discussion.

      What does fear or not fear have to do with liberty? The answer is, if the question is not framed this way then it is irrelevant. Because if I ask you just why I have take away your right too choose, at least this is or isn’t a common falacy. All universal law starts with choice. Not framing the ability for two parties to have choice is not possible. Not without negative or opposite result. Physics bears this out

    5. Birch

      “The only history we have (France, Russia, Cuba)” -jake

      We actually have thousands of years of history of revolutions and ‘leveling’. China alone has a massive record of it, and India, not to mention the lesser known not-so-great civilizations and non-civilizations. There’s way more variety out there than your Fr Ru Cu would suggest.

      There are probably many reasons we’re in the habit of narrowing history to only what has happened since Adam Smith. One big reason would be to ignore the global ‘leveling’ of wealth that happened, to a significant extent non-violently, after the fall of the big classical empires.

      1. Frank Speaking

        and you don’t have to go back thousand of years…

        the greatest “leveling” in the written history of mankind is into its third year with no end in site as the 99 percent get another hair cut despite the fact we have all been bald for twenty years.

  3. Cilly

    “It’s that marriage of total arrogance and total confidence that I find so mystifying.”

    The relationship between incompetence and arrogance has been studied. Dunning-Kruger: basically, incompetent people don’t realize just how in competent they are because their incompetence renders them unable to evaluate it effectively.

    1. KnotRP

      [extending Cilly’s good point]

      …and of course, the oldest tactic in the
      book is to claim that the debate opponent
      is incompetent (since unprovable assertions
      are the best kind!), if they do not agree with
      the proposition. Empty spin is not to be confused
      with insightful posting…

    2. Frank Speaking

      if the ultimate goal is destruction competence is not required in the same way it is required to build.

      in this case competence applies to the ability of achieving a goal and in that context it would be a mistake to think that the reactionary right wing is incompetent in achieving their goal.

      as to the assumption that the right wing is arrogant that perception is myopic and counted on by the reactionary right wing to forestall any resistance until it is too late.

      1. Frank Speaking

        Rick Perry’s inability to complete the thought of naming all three federal agencies he would destroy once President was used to characterize him as a buffoon—but the idea of destroying outright three federal agencies went unremarked.

  4. Diogenes

    “The contrast with the enemy – the left, in the case of the right – is so great that internal divisions will seem small. The fact that these internal factions are now starting to look at each other as the great enemy suggests what I’ve long suspected (at least since Bush declared the war on terror): that the administration of George W. Bush was the high point of the development of modern conservatism, and that everything since then will be downhill.”

    I suspect some readers of this blog would agree with my assessment that the leadership of the current Democratic party has a very attenuated relationship with the progressive principles promoted by the likes of FDR and LBJ. For many of us, Obama (his grand rhetoric aside) is less liberal or progressive as a president than George H. W. Bush was. So while I suppose it is all fine and good to talk about the growing intellectual divisions that are fraying the solidarity of the self-styled conservative movement, it seems to me very misleading to equate this with a decline in the fundamental mythology of conservatism itself when the politically empowered leaders on the putative left have become, for the most part, indistinguishable from their one time enemies on the right.

    Four legs good, two legs better.

    1. Mattski

      Agreed. I argue with friends all the time that the strain of naked avarice and militarism in conservatism will never be debunked: too many people see it as a kind of naked truth-telling that liberals, while enjoying all of the fruits (“freedom isn’t free”) simply refuse to recognize. And they are right; liberals do it backward and in high heels. Add this to the Protestant ideology, cultivated for centuries, concurrent with capitalism’s rise, that ours is the superior culture and voila: jihadis with crosses.

    2. Aquifer

      Agree – but i think you are being too polite re Dems.

      In image that comes to mind is Obama signing the recent NDAA, authorizing the gutting of habeus corpus saying “But see, I’m signing it with my left hand!”

      Hmm, now how does that go – Left hand, Right brain?

  5. Mattski

    You may have hit on the operating principle without fully identifying it regarding Rand:

    her followers feel that they are “excellent” people but that they and others like them are stifled by the system. This is a kind of class resentment trained to identify quite fully–in something like fascist degree–with the upper class, who obviously embody greatness, especially in the degree to which they model an ostentatious and conformist mediocrity for the masses. The media is happy to feed this.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Mattski, your insight is keen. This is exactly what was in the mind of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” when they couldn’t conquer the success of the Jews in Germany, many of whom intermarried with the “Aryan Nobility.”

    2. thixotropic

      “You may have hit on the operating principle without fully identifying it regarding Rand:

      her followers feel that they are “excellent” people but that they and others like them are stifled by the system. This is a kind of class resentment trained to identify quite fully–in something like fascist degree–with the upper class, who obviously embody greatness, especially in the degree to which they model an ostentatious and conformist mediocrity for the masses. The media is happy to feed this.”

      Yes, they are self-perceived victims. This is also a huge part of the Palin appeal — her mating call to her fellow victims was loud and clear. Fascism is the right word — that victim mentality is crucial to the development of right-wing totalism.

  6. Maju

    Just for the record, I must say that I find these interviews on the Reactionary/Conservative mind, rather interesting an generally correct in their output (and I know what I am speaking about because, even if I may be a radical leftist, I have, sadly enough, grown up in a deeply conservative, reactionary and even quite often openly fascist family, and they are exactly that way).

    I’d say that there are three types of reactionaries: (1) the intelligent ones who somehow choose to remain reactionary either for pragmatical or ideological choices, or both (they puzzle me a bit always, so not really sure about their motivations: it may be that deeply inside they are rather within the other categories, i.e. not as smart or altruist as they pretend to be), (2) the mediocre ones, who are seldom openly fascist (smart enough to avoid that unless institutionally obligate) but would no doubt support fascism in most cases if given the choice and (3) the plainly dumb ones, mesmerized by slogans and incredibly feeble ideological constructs, they typically make up the backbone of the fascist or otherwise ultra-reactionary militancy. These last, being moved by blind faith mostly and being unable to put two ideas together consistently, they are fascinated by the mediocre or semi-smart ones who can build or at least recite that “logic” for them – they are nothing but cannon fodder in any case.

    “To a very large degree, the right has defeated the left”.

    Actually that’s part of a pendular movement, at least I see it that way, following Deleuze & Guattari’s masterpiece, Anti-Oedipus. The decodifying (schizoid) trend of Capitalism (Midas-like monster that destroys all traditions after using and abusing them till the last drop) is confronted with an ultimately powerless reactionary (paranoid) counter-trend, which is what you are discussing here with the context of the West and specifically the USA (in the Muslim World it’d be Islamism, etc.), which idealizes a past that cannot be retained much less reconstructed. An ideal past that once was one of supposedly “noble” aristocracy and now is one of supposedly (and quite miraculously) “good” usurer (“finance entrepreneur”, ops!)

    The latter trend is doomed to not be able to achieve anything in the long run, because it’s just so corrupted by the decodifying power of Capitalism, on which wake rides the Left (a Left, manned largely by the Working Class, the sans-culottes of old, that has been able oddly enough, to create new ideological paradigms and sometimes even realities, out of nothing: like Human Rights, democracy or socialism).

    1. Maju

      PS- You may be interesting in knowing how “Libertarian” businessmen of the kind of Peter Thiel (PayPal) and Patri Friedman (grandson of the economist) are speculating and experimenting in Honduras with all the blessing of the dictatorship, which seems bent to support “libertarian” free market feudalism experiments. From The Economist and see also my elaboration based largely on Spanish language sources.

      It’s not a well known matter, so I thought you may be interested in it.

      1. Clampit

        They must have heard how well trimming down government in Somalia is going.

        (Inserted in the correct place this time.)

      2. Frank Speaking

        fascism comes at nations from left as well as the right…

        Hungary is our business too
        4 January 2012 LE MONDE PARIS

        “The EU should not remain indifferent to PM Viktor Orbán’s drift towards authoritarian nationalism. As a community based on democratic as well as economic values, it ought to exert pressure on Budapest to keep the Hungarian government on the right path, argues Le Monde.”

  7. Cathy O'Neil

    Really interesting interview, thank you. It brings up a question for me. If the right’s narcissistic manifestation is the “great man,” then what is the analogous manifestation for the narcissism of the left?

      1. Dan G

        Yep, Facebook is everyman, but with a major controlling interest by the “gladman”/”greatman” Sachs; the emperor and his herd.

      1. Frank Speaking

        facebook accessed with the iPhone—the iPhone being the pure physical embodiment of narcissism

        1. craazyman

          facebook accessed with iPhone while simultaneously texting angry screeds about republicans and driving down an interstate highway during rush hour. whoa!

          1. Frank Speaking

            …and video conferencing the entire escapade with iPhone’s face to face function…8 car pile up on the Ventura Freeway in real time

    1. Lidia

      Sometimes there really *are* differences between between habits of thought. Frequently there is no “other hand”, and “both sides” DON’T “do it”… Asking where the narcissists on the left are is like asking where the homophobes or the racists are… I suppose there might be some, but it hardly defines the movement the way self-interest defines the Right.

      Perhaps what we should be addressing is better regarded as “narcissistic authoritarianism” rather than mere conservatism, since I would be hard pressed to name anyone I have come across on the right who seems actually interested in liberty or “freedom” without a strong authoritarian component backing them up in some way, shape or form (militaristic nationalism, racialism, patriarchy or theocracy). Case in point is Ron Paul, who only wants to free us from the federal government only in order that we might more “freely” submit to more intimate violence on the part of authoritarians closer to home: states, husbands, fathers and religious leaders. Claims to rights which do not derive from states, husbands, fathers, and religious leaders, apparently, should not even be acknowledged, much less adjudicated.

      Conservative liberties appear to predicated on control and violence: the liberty to kick blacks out of restaurants; the liberty to make a woman bear her rapist’s child and the liberty to rape their own wives; most recently they’ve taken up the liberty to bully and harass gay schoolchildren as a cause. Their idea of empowerment is giving people the “right to work” in competition with Chinese and American (private prison) slave labor.

      Rand’s sort of “great man” stories, ironically in her case, have worked just as well for totalitarian socialists: aggrandizing the accomplishments of Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-Il to cartoonish and unattendible extremes is not qualtatively much different from the Right’s genuflecting to the cartoon of a Saint Ronnie whose actual relative pragmatism toward taxation—like that of conservatives’ more semitic Saviour—is ignored to fit the desired political narrative of the day. “Where would we be without Jesus/Dear Leader/The Job Creators!!?” (gnashing of teeth and rending of garments ensues).

      Even before reading Bob Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarians”, I was convinced that a significant number of right-wingers really do have a screw loose and cannot help the way they are. It’s clear to me that Rand had a personality disorder: NPD or similar. I’ve done more research than I should have on Sarah Palin, and am convinced she’s severely mentally ill, as well, having demonstrably faked her pregnancy ( Newt Gingrich is a complete stranger to empathy, shame or remorse. Boehner, like Rick Perry recently, cries sympathetic tears every time he contemplates himself.

      People like this truly qualify as Nietzche’s abyss.

      They are real monsters.

      They will squall and flail and deflect attention from serious matters until all the air is sucked out of the room. From dealing with people like this in real life, I can tell you that they may not be not greatly influenced by rewards or punishments; they may be even be indifferent to them: it’s all about imposing THEIR WILL, and getting off on the struggle itself more than obtaining the end result. See in particular Palin’s violent and sexually-charged rhetoric, which clearly thrills her when she is in the throes of it; in video clips you can see her shiver and shake with unrepressed delight when she goes on the attack, not least against her unrequited love interest, Obama (she went through a long period of doing nothing but trying to get him to respond to her).

      I’m glad that Palin was brought up in the interview, because she’s probably the best example of Corey Robin’s finding “sublimity” in death and terror. There’s much more beneath the surface with Palin than the superficial sex qualities referenced, above. Sarah Palin is truly -sublimely- crazy in the clinical sense, really a ne-plus-ultra of craziness, and I think that triggers something more than just a sex desire; it triggers a *vitalizing* (to use Robin’s word) but ultimately self-destructive response on the part of some men (and women, like Tammy Bruce, Palin’s sister gun fetishist) along the lines of wanting to have sex with a person you know to be crazy, largely BECAUSE he/she is crazy. From the Thanksgiving commentary which she intentionally set up in front of a turkey slaughter line, to her strange blood lust for both wolves and caribou (as long as someone who’d actually held a gun before was doing the shooting), to her gleeful salmon “slaying” and her targeting Democrats with sharpshooters’ crosshairs… there is something just not right about Palin, and there is something just not right about the house full of bones she grew up in, looking like something out of those forensic detective shows. There’s something extremely creepy about Palin’s father saying “kids are always losing their underwear” and claiming to have flown from Alaska to NYC in order to work as some sort of expert volunteer rat exterminator around the WTC after 9/11. Run-of-the-mill self-centeredness is not what we are talking about here, but psychopaths and mythomanes who get jazzed about death and violence.

      Trying to have sensible dialogues with people who have mental illnesses is a draining and usually pointless endeavor. I think Robin’s book is very insightful, but I would be careful about giving conservative ideology, such as it is, too much credit from either a political or philosophical standpoint. When the conservative movement seems as though it all boils down to is a giant tantrum or freak-out, that’s indeed what it is—despite erudite-sounding apologetics coming from some of its less-batshit-insane Ivory Tower theologians scribes and chroniclers, who are working hard to -literally- hide the crazy aunt up in the attic.

      1. craazyman

        holy cow. I read your entire comment. (having a slow night here wasting time and being lazy, like usual). You are so insightfully sane you’re probably crazy yourself by general population standards.

        It is hard to pyschoanalyze an animal. You can sort of reason with a dog, for example, but then suddenly something ticks them off and they start furiously barking with bright bulging eyes. What the hell for? Who knows? Cats are even harder to pyschoanalyze. They seem to defy any sort of analysis whether Freudian or behavioral. They just do things without reason or cause.

        You can lay a myth on them that sort of explains things and it will almost mean something — like Lassie. But then cause and effect breaks down, inevitably, and the myth needs duct tape.

        1. Lidia

          Heh, craazyman: from you, I take being called crazy as a compliment.

          However, I would not say that animals are, in the main, at all crazy or unpredictable. It’s just that we don’t know how to understand their needs or read their signs. Nor do we give them the latitude to be themselves.

          What’s much scarier than a beast whose impulses are ruled by hormones, territorialism, fear and so forth… are those beasts ruled by artificial and nonsensical ecstatic ideologies backed up by an academy: their actions are much harder to parse.

        1. Lidia

          Thanks, and looking back over it (though hardly anyone else will) I feel it necessary to emphasize the extent to which I view the conservative movement as almost entirely a religious movement (rather than vice-versa), favoring—in all cases that I can discern—the surreal over the real.

  8. Paul Tioxon

    This is another welcome stretch of NC as more than top notch reports for the money grubbing day trading set, the millionaires in waiting, gathered around the mighty oaks of capitalism like leaves around a tree. The times demand more than what the smart money set can glean from what the market is whispering in the blips of the charts. When politicians decide the fate of debt held by banks, and the survival of capitalism itself in the process, understanding the conservative mindset is important to understand the outcomes of elections, ours in November and others around the world. It has never been clearer that the invisible hand has been severed and political deliberations are what hold the powerful and the privileged in their positions. And elections are what can dislodge them.

    If Naked Capitalism has one over arching political issue, it is one of social justice. And not just for the 99% but that the 1% be brought to justice, before criminal prosecutors and courts of law. The litmus test for Obama on this site is his unwillingness to prosecute the criminal activity of the Wall St traders, the hedge fund managers, the too big to fail banks, the mortgage industry, and AIG for all of their roles in breaking the law, eroding the law, bending the political process to their will and profiting without punishment for broken law after broken law. Not even to mention the social destruction left in their wake.

    For this and this alone, no other actions of this administration are judged worthy, as the fruits of what ever progress made is poisoned fruit from the tree poisoned by collaboration with Wall Street criminality.

    And this is not an unfair judgement, not an unreasonable analysis in and of itself. More than spit in the face of the racist right wing republican scumbags for two years of personal and political humiliation, Obama is now free of the facade of reasonable rule from the moderate middle lest fear of a Black Planet have him thrown from office. But putting the National Labor Relation Board and CFPB on the side of regulation, and not benign neglect without appointed leadership is still not enough. Withdrawing from Iraq is not enough. Nationalizing the student loan programs is not enough. And the signaling that the end of the totalitarian reign of neo-liberalism is over, by regulation of the profit margin of the entire private health insurance industry, is also not enough. The major, the only crisis that should demand all of the administration’s attention and all of the awesome power of the office of the president is the economic depression precipitated by the financial crisis.

    The conservatives, as portrayed in the media, seem to see the corruption of big banking as clearly moderates or liberals or even left wing radicals. Almost everybody can see that it is wrong. Almost anyone will tell you that law breakers, like Bernie Madoff should be punished. The fact that other criminal actions are left to civil law suits by large investors who want to be made whole after being defrauded is not enough. Obama needs to be given the greatest proportion of criticism in relation to his biggest task, which he is avoiding, after telling us that in the real world, you need to do several things at once, just like families do when they pay the bills, do the laundry, put the kids through college and not defer necessary medical attention. Obama while he is doing many things to regulate abusive corporate dominance and empower whole segments of the populace left outside in the cold, still refuses to take the bull by the horns when it comes to Wall St.

    And conservatives see this, giving them the worst of both worlds, liberal capitulation to special interest groups like goon squad labor bosses and job killing bank regulators and a Harvard law school elitist who won’t go after his Wall St patrons who also went to Harvard Business School. Conservatives want to take back America. I have heard this again and again from republicans running for president. I have heard this from those who just dropped out of running for the White House. That they will not stop fighting for families, not stop fighting for freedom, not stop fighting to take America back. Did someone get mugged by a Black man and had their America stolen from them? Calling all cars, be on the look out for a stolen America: last seen with white picket fences, single family homes and two cars in every garage. Perpetrator seems to be swarthy in complexion and foreign born, probably a secret muslim. Beware, he is considered moderate and non confrontational but still by his very presence has taken all that is near and dear from us all. If you see him, do not vote, repeat do not vote. He is a one term president. That is all.

    1. Frank Speaking

      “For this and this alone, no other actions of this administration are judged worthy, as the fruits of what ever progress made is poisoned fruit from the tree poisoned by collaboration with Wall Street criminality.”

      Please elaborate—at least one specific— on what you see as “collaboration”.

      And while you are at it provide us a hint of how anyone else would have or could have acted to move the mountain of shit created by thirty years of Laffer Curve economic policy and “the only good government is a de-regulated government” paradigm layered on top for good measure.

      1. Dan G

        A good start would have been to heed the warnings of Brooksley Born, but Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, Goetner and Paulson wouldn’t listen. They knew better, because they considered themselves the “greatman”. What a crock of shit those paid off politicians ended up becoming.

        1. Frank Speaking

          yes and she had nothing to do with the current administration…

          her tenure at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission ended in 1999…that would be the Clinton administration…so your point is?

          1. Dan G

            The current adm. could recognise the historical significance, not only the lack of action, but the promotion of a derivatives market that will continue to implode. Of course, they will be bailed out because they are again the largest contributors to this administartion also. My point is they should do something about it. It is accepted capitalistic corruption like this that represents a kleptocratic oligarchy bordering on fascism.

      2. Paul Tioxon




        A similar polemical balance of terror ruled the debate about the financial crisis and the federal bank bailout. As the debt pyramid collapsed, both candidates vied to denounce the vandals on Wall Street, but then voted meekly for the catastrophic class politics of the Paulson plan which (as even Jeffrey Sachs acknowledges) has ensured ‘a massive transfer of taxpayer wealth to the management and owners of well-connected financial institutions.’ [51] Polls at the beginning of October showed an overwhelming majority of Americans were fiercely opposed to Congress’s unprecedented abdication of power to friends of Wall Street, and an improbable coalition of conservative rural Republicans and progressive urban Democrats (including many members of the Black Caucus) made a brief attempt to build a legislative barricade across Pennsylvania Avenue. They received no encouragement from either campaign.

        SECTIION TITLE “The Silicon Presidency and its limits” LAST 3 PARAGRAPHS.

        The New Economy, like the Old, also recognizes that survival in the current
        economic hurricane depends upon presence at court: in the short
        term at least, Obama and the Democratic leadership will have extraordinary
        influence over the selection of winners and losers. The contrasting
        fates of Lehman Brothers and aig (one left to bleed to death, the other
        given a government iv) sent tremors down the spine of every ceo and
        large shareholder in the United States. Even more than in Ferguson’s
        case-study of the 1930s, the future of every corporation or sector depends
        upon wise investments to ‘control the state’; which is why K Street, the
        Wall Street of lobbyists formerly owned by the Republican Party, has
        turned so blue in the last year. But of all the new Democratic investors,
        only the tech industries, with their captive universities and vast internet
        fandoms, still retain enough public legitimacy (domestic and international)
        and internal self-confidence hypothetically to act as a constructive
        hegemonic bloc rather than as a mob of desperate lobbyists.

        But, then again, the tech industries may simply be swallowed up,
        with everyone else, in the Götterdämmerung of Wall Street, while Larry
        Summers and Ben Bernanke fight on in the bunkers until the last taxpayer’s
        bullet is spent. (The euphoric national unity of Roosevelt and
        Swope’s nra, it should be recalled, quickly dissolved into strikes, tear gas and bayonets.)

        Obama’s nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package
        provides urgently needed relief as well as a modest down payment on the
        green infrastructure, but few economists seem to believe that it can actually
        stop the domestic downturn, much less generate enough ‘leakage’
        through imports to stimulate Asia and Europe. The American financial
        system, in recent years the generator of 40 per cent of corporate profits,
        is dead—a colossal corpse hidden from full public view by the screen
        debates of the fall presidential campaigns. The market-oriented centrists
        and reformed deregulators whom Obama has restored or maintained in
        power have about as much chance of bringing the banks back to life as
        his generals do of winning the war against the Pashtun in Afghanistan.
        And no contemporary Walter Rathenau or Guy Rexford Tugwell has yet
        emerged with a scheme for rebuilding the wreckage into some plausible
        form of state capitalism.
        Meanwhile, the financial press warns that trillions will ultimately be
        required to make a ‘bad bank’ or bank nationalization work. But if
        Obama’s domestic spending fails to produce significant collateral benefits
        for America’s trading partners, they may think twice about buying
        Washington’s debt or decide to impose some conditionalities of their
        own. (Beware the dogma that the Chinese are slaves of their trade surplus
        and undervalued currency and have no alternative but to subsidize
        the us Treasury.) At Davos, Putin and Wen reminded the new President
        that he is no longer the master of his own house in the same way that
        Roosevelt or Reagan were. The dollar threatens to become the dog collar
        on the new New Deal.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Thanks, Paul, for your trenchant eloquence. Yes, “We the People” speak freely and audaciously at – thanks to our patriotic impresario, Yves Smith. This is what what our founders wanted us to do.

      NC has become the People’s Senate.

  9. Jack Straw

    This is a very difficult discussion to have, perhaps impossible, but worth a try. You can do a lot worse than references to Burke, because he is a very interesting hybrid thinker who also was a politician himself, and whose way of thinking, in my opinion, is not conventionally conservative, but aspirationally liberal, yet most definitely, anti-radical.

    There is a lot to say about the contrast between Burke and Rand, but I would start with Burke being a very comprehensive, fair-minded and humane analyst whose concrete observations and “sense” of right and wrong is pretty compelling. Rand is a narrow-minded abstractionist whose stilted prose and “thinking” gives people who may even broadly agree with a lot of it the willies. There is something fundamentally “off” and inhuman at its core. The parts that seem “ok enough” have all been said much better by someone else, usually long before her, with much better writing and context and with “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Rand largely despises mankind and is incapable of decent respect.

    She aspires to a Nietzschean defense of greatness, but Neitzsche was concerned about the greatness itself, and had a humanistic appreciation for its “unintended consequences.” Rand is about essentially denying any aspect of greatness to anyone but the creator himself. Her “economic” perspective is obsessed with proprietizing positive externalities and thus recapturing them. Her vision of greatness would deny any unpaid-for, unearned benefit to humanity. In short, her vision of greatness concerns itself almost entirely with nickel and diming – the unreformed Scrooge is her hero.

    Randians get serious erections over principle and inflexible adherence to same (no real sense of tragedy). Burke, on the other hand, in my opinion, was all about flexibility, yet cognizant of the fact that the breaking point is usually unknown, and learning it a undesirable lesson. But, he’s adamantly not a “stand pat” kind of guy, either.

    Burke was not tempermentally a Tory, but a Whig who believed in reasonable accommodation, social improvement, political progressivism. Flexibility is not a choice, but a necessity, and thus a “virtue.”

    Bend, but don’t break.

    Ironically, despite her idolization of the businessman, Rand seems like the last person in the world any real businessman would want to do business with. She is exactly the kind of draining personality that makes a profitable relationship impossible.

    1. Frank Speaking

      I’m not sure that you are correct in your take on who Burke was.

      “To [Robin’s] mind, the fundamental truth about the right is that it has always wanted one and only one thing: to keep down those who are already down. This is what unites Edmund Burke and Sarah Palin:

      ‘Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency
      of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound
      argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise
      their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern
      themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, agency, the
      prerogative of the elite.'”

      Republicans for Revolution
      JANUARY 12, 2012
      Mark Lilla
      The New York Review of Books

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Who will do the HARD investigative research on Rand. Somebody bankrolled her to wreak havoc on economic justice in the U.S.A. She was a shrill shill.

  10. Phil

    I find Adam Smith’s take on war as an interesting reinforcement of the point that one does not want to get too close to the war lest one soil one’s boots (and one’s soul):

    “In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.” (Book V, Chapter 3 of The Wealth of Nations)

    I believe this smartly reinforces your point “Because Burke says that for terror and the sublime to be rejuvenating and reawakening in the way I’ve described, the object of terror has to be at some remove from the self. If it gets too close, it loses those rejuvenating capacities, and becomes simply violent and awful.”

    Smith’s amused citizens are, no doubt, the very conservatives that Burke is referring to when he talks about not wanting to get too close to the actual terror.

    1. Lidia

      Indeed! And conservatives can hardly have brought us a better war for their purposes than the war on “terror”, which can be prosecuted both by literal remote control and ad infinitum—even without actual malefactors (just say “Ground-Zero Mosque” or whatever, to get the stimulative effect).

      1. Lidia

        This is a theme brought up in Robin’s book. Burke wrote about the NECESSITY for distance from the fray to keep virile war-mongering spirits alive. Close contact with the actualities of war leads to disillusion and (in the best of cases) anticlimax (TR and the disappointingly small handful of Cuban guerillas he personally saw dispatched).

  11. William Neil

    These have been two excellent interviews. Although I have been writing about “The Right” and the political economy for more than four years now, I’ve only come across Corey Robin’s work this week. His views deserve a much wider audience and his public interviews (as with Christopher Hayes of The Nation) lead me to discount the hostile review in the New York Review of Books. And, just yesterday, I found this wonderful and wide ranging open disucssion (hidden in plain sight) on the Presidency of Obama, with contributions from a number of other writers and scholars whom I respect – but that the public will never see or hear on “CNN.”

    Here’s the link; readers will enjoy this:

    1. Frank Speaking

      the review in the New York Review of Books was anything but hostile suggesting you have not read it, or having read it did not comprehend it, or have a very thin skin and react hostilely to any hint of critque—even when the critique is sympathetic to the work.

      the review amplified and expanded the work of Robin in the way a good editor would have had one been available to Robin.

      1. William Neil

        Dear Frank Speaking:

        Well, it wasn’t too difficult to go back to my print edition of the January 12th, 2012 edition of the New York Review of Books and find the last sentence of the third paragraph of the very first column of Mark Lilla’s review of The Reactionary Mind, it reads: “That’s why Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind is a useful book to have – not as an example to follow, but one to avoid.”

        Now in one sense, this is a remarkable review, because unlike so many others in the NYR of Books it is not a composite review of three or four or five books around a theme – just one, yet it runs to nearly three full pages. Since I do write about the right, but hadn’t heard of Corey Robin prior to this – without taking anything away from him – I’m impressed – or me for not having discovered him earlier – that’s an awful lot of space to devote to him and his new book. Was it threatening in some way, I am led to ask?

        But let’s set aside my own sense of the review, and go to Corey Robin’s own take here at his website, which in turn directs us to a critique of what Lilla wrote, here at

        1. Frank Speaking

          “A very readable romp through the evils of Conservatism.”

          —John Kampfner, The Guardian/Observer

          the blurb on Robin’s cites…

          the full thought Kampfner elucidated…

          “This is a very readable romp through the evils of Conservatism. But the book would have been more powerful if the author had not allowed his visceral loathing to get the better of him. It is also too narrowly cast in Anglo-Saxon ideological definitions. It would have been good to see more comparisons with the socially conservative but economically more corporatist European Christian Democratic model. Perhaps the biggest weakness is Robin’s inability to engage with Conservatism’s enduring popularity. With the basic tenets of capitalism under sustained scrutiny, and with the greed of the bankers plain for all to see, why do voters continue to flock to the right in defiance of seeming logic? Until they provide a convincing answer to that question, polemicists of the left will be whistling in the wind.”

          “Until they provide a convincing answer to that question, polemicists of the left will be whistling in the wind.” the point Lilla’s review also made that Robin’s work—valid and insightful though it is—is just so much whistling in the wind and a wind that is getting more intense and ominous by the day; the point Robin’s work does not make.

          Events are escalating at a pace that too many are either resigned or oblivious to. Capitalism makes everyone complicit.

          1. Frank Speaking

            Robin should re-read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

            “…Freire reminds us that a critical understanding of oppression will not succeed in and of itself in achieving liberation from oppression. Nevertheless, the comprehension of oppression is “indispensable” (p. 31) to a new vision of the world based on justice and freedom. Hope helps us to “understand human existence, and the struggle needed to improve it. (p. 8). … Freire’s message of hope, amongst others, applies to a variety of readers … Freire writes for the intellectuals of the 1970s who have succumbed to the neo-liberal temptation of complacency and also for the men and women around the world “who have fallen in the just fight” (p. 195).”

            Review by Sarah Hendriks (OISE/UT)

            Robin is long on understanding of oppression and complacently short on how to struggle against it—troublingly—so are the majority of polemicists on the left.

    2. Aquifer

      Thank you for this link! It was excellent, I spent a good part of the day reading it and some of its offshoots and intend on using it as reference in a project i am embarking on ….

  12. Jack Straw

    As for Burke’s defense of privilege, it really pays to follow his observations, “reflections” and arguments carefully. Very broadly speaking, Burke is not that concerned in practice with “good and bad,” but rather a “better and worse.” Yes, he is a defender of hereditary aristocracy. But, he doesn’t defend it out of context, but rather in light of something he clearly sees, that is, the dawn of pure plutocracy.

    Even when I was politically conservative, I always liked reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s books. “For my money” (LOL), I think she is one of the greatest American Burkean observers and writers. What are her books but a chronicle of the corrosive social effects of the narrow-minded notion that “earning is everything?” Or, that earning more is always preferable to earning less.

    Burke and Ehrenreich, in my opinion, make pretty good arguments about why “unearned” benefits may not always be something we have to, or should even want to get rid of. As I said above, unearned benefits is Rand’s enemy number one.

    I would sum up Tea Party “thinking” by saying it has this fallacy at its core: I work my ass off, I hustle, I pay my bills. Nobody ever helps me. You bleed me and then stick your finger in my eye. You never even say “thanks.” Therefore, I earned everything I have. Fuck you.

    Now, obviously this isn’t always true – there are deadbeat TP-ers. There are TP-ers who don’t pay taxes. There are TP-ers who the government to keep its hand off their SS and MediCare. There are TP-ers who ask me whether they can hide assets and then declare bankruptcy. There are many more who have an extremely exaggerated sense of the slights they have received. So, yes, they engage in fallacious thinking. But, like Chris Rock says, “I understand.”

    1. Frank Speaking

      for what it is worth your take on Tea Bag Party members is spot on.

      and in both instances of your analysis I am left to ponder yet again how readily people act against their self interest.

      the ultimate goal of the Tea Bag Party—destruction of government local, state and federal—is counter to the interests of both categories of Tea Bag Party members you describe.

      1. jonboinAR

        Frank Speaking said:
        >>…and in both instances of your analysis I am left to ponder yet again how readily people act against their self interest.

        the ultimate goal of the Tea Bag Party—destruction of government local, state and federal—is counter to the interests of both categories of Tea Bag Party members you describe.<>”That’s because you I work my ass off, I hustle, I pay my bills. NOBODY EVER HELPS ME.”<<

        Their masters (I say "master's" because I don't believe that the authors of the TP POW are naive, but cynical) have convinced them that they (TP'ers) got everything they had by virtue of their own effort, so the presence of the government in their lives is, at best, an unnecessary annoyance, besides several other bad things. IOW, one of the major appeals of the propaganda is to the individual's ego.

        1. jonboinAR

          Here’s how I meant for that to read:

          Frank Speaking said:
          “…and in both instances of your analysis I am left to ponder yet again how readily people act against their self interest.

          the ultimate goal of the Tea Bag Party—destruction of government local, state and federal—is counter to the interests of both categories of Tea Bag Party members you describe.”

          I think the answer to the Tea Party ilk’s hostility to government to the cost of their own self-interest lies in this part of “Jack Straw”‘s characterization:

          “”That’s because you I work my ass off, I hustle, I pay my bills. NOBODY EVER HELPS ME.””

          Their masters (I say “master’s” because I don’t believe that the authors of the TP POW are naive, but cynical) have convinced them that they (TP’ers) got everything they had by virtue of their own effort, so the presence of the government in their lives is, at best, an unnecessary annoyance, besides several other bad things. IOW, one of the major appeals of the propaganda is to the individual’s ego.

  13. Frank Speaking

    “And where it hasn’t defeated the left, it’s forced a stop to its forward motion. But that success poses a problem for the right: what is there for it to do?”

    If you take the state of California over the past ten years—accepting that it has been the reactionary right wing’s laboratory to determine “…what is there for it to do?”—the answer they have come up with and transfered to the national political stage is to up the ante in making government ever more dysfunctional and unresponsive with the end game being governments destruction as a means to overturn the progressive gains from the time of FDR forward.

    The essential element of the reactionary right wing’s strategy is Grover Norquist’s no tax increase pledge—starve any organization of resources and it will fail.

    And there is no limit to the means which the reactionary right wing will utilize to bring about government failure on the road to its destruction.

    Drowning a living thing in a bathtub is an inherently violent act. It was no accident that someone as adept in the use of language as Norquist choose those words to describe his ultimate goal.

    Koch Industry’s Frankenstein—the Tea Bag Party—was created to be the agent to commence the drowning of government in the bathtub.

  14. William Neil

    I did have one question for Corey Robin. He made the observation that conservatives can be found for the “free market” and against it. While I am certainly aware of conservatives in England who were horrified at the rise of the satanic mills and the “labor market” of the 1830’s and 1840’s in England – Karl Polanyi informs us in his great “The Great Transformation” that Burke sided with classical economists in setting up this horror of the 1840’s, but didn’t live to see it; Whittaker Chambers wrote that ” ‘I am a man of the Right because I mean to uphold capitalism in its American version. But I claim that capitalism is not, and by its essential nature cannot conceivably be, conservative.'” By that Chambers meant that capitalism is constant change and turmoil…so it couldn’t be conservative…a very interesting observation that leads directly to my question: who on the Right today is against “free-market” capitalism?

    It seems to me that the earlier reservations about the market by the early conservatives have been erased, eclipsed, forgotten. And the left has been very slow to “capitalize” on the opening provided, that capitalism and the free market as practised today – make family life very difficult, as Karen Ho showed in her underappreciated book “Liquidated: An ethnography of Wall Street,” where the average reader could learn in some detail what life was like for the Wall Street interns, capitalism’s version of Parris Island boot camp.

  15. Because

    Meh, I could argue they are just liberals. Just liberals spouting off Judeo-Christian mumbo jumbo.

    They want to take back America……and what, force a totalitarian agenda? America has moved on from judeo-christianity. Even the ones that so called “believe” I question their hearts. It is a cosmo world now, heavily supported by capital and sexual energy. Biblical Capitalism is a lie and they know it.

    You could argue socialism intially, was a conservative, reactionary movement of Christian backgrounded men to stifle liberalism. It evolved into different movements such as egalitarianism and reaction like Nazism which wanted to rebuild the pagan empires of the past. While others wanted to equalize capital among peers. The Democratic party was almost turned over to Strom Thurmond, the guy who FDR was going to appoint as his successer. Boy, history has forgot about that. Thurmond bailed on FDR’s national socialism as a result when the Democratic machine turned against him in FDR’s wake. We have suffered ever since.

    The Republicans and Democrats will change tactics when the white working class changes tactics. We are due for a political reallignment.

  16. Not Bob

    Fascinating interview! I appreciate the deep insights it provides in to the minds of progressives. Thanks!

    1. JTFaraday

      Yes, well, the “progressive” (as in establishment liberal) hierarchy is technocratic/bureaucratic, and its authoritarians are credentialed meritocrats**, so that makes everything A-okay!

      **But preferably not MBAs. Too straight forward. We can’t have that. No, the progressive must go into public administration, non-profit management, or NGOs.

  17. Antifa

    The attraction of Ayn Rand (to those attracted) is that she proffers a perfectly logical and wonderful world, all points neatly tied together. And it’s all in your head. All set for you to go out and try to make the real world fit the system spinning in your head, even if you have to break arms, legs and laws to get it done. You have the final truth in constant view, so you are preternaturally right, and you have the privilege and duty to do whatever you need to do to bring it about.

    Isn’t that right, Alan Greenspan?

    Which makes every Ayn Rand follower a legend in their own minds, a walking, talking Great Man, and a follower of other Great Men who similarly do whatever needs doing. Members of an imaginary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Ayn Rand wrote comic books for people who wanted to role play instead of see, try, and learn in this world. They’re not Romantics, they’re dissociative. They aren’t fully here.

    Sarah Palin is similar, but gets her Greatness from being one of God’s Chosen People, for she is one of the annointed Apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation (although she will not admit this in public). The common thread, again, is that these are people who are psychologically wired from birth to think this way. They did not read Ayn Rand or the Bible and adopt this kind of thinking. They found confirmation of who they were to their core within those books.

    Sublimity? You, and Burke, present precisely one half of the concept of sublimity. It was a much revered and discussed idea in the 19th century, but war and adventure and struggle and death was only half of it. Those are the externalized experiences of overwhelming emotion, overwhelming effort, that a worldly person experiences as sublime. What about the inward, introspective person, the Buddha or Thoreau or Emerson or thousands of others who find and express sublimity without killing and maiming? Conservatives call such people dreamers and mystics because they sit under a tree and make their mark on the world by sitting in the full presence of sublimity, even divinity, and letting it change their souls.

    They did not need a charge of the Light Brigade to feel alive, or be seen to be powerful by others.

    They do not, like Sarah Palin, need to conquer the whole world for Jesus to be personally fulfilled. The Christian mission of Lebernsraum for Jesus is a power trip, not a religious or spiritual quest.

    The point here is that the conservative/authoritarian mind is by nature externalized. They do not search within themselves for definition or meaning, they look outward, to hierarchy and authority. Most conservatives see this world as created by a Sky God one fine morning, created to see if mankind would choose good or evil. And they believe this Sky God will come back one fine morning and destroy his global experiment, and burn everybody who made the wrong choice. Reality is a 6,000 year old private experiment by a rather vicious deity, not a 13-billion year old universe full of endless questions.

    Warfare? War is a racket, done for profits, not for glory. The ideas of it being romantic, stirring, necessary, a duty, and all that jazz are just excuses to make war, which is to make more power and money for the liars who start them. To paraphrase Goebbels, it is not the farmer standing in his field who starts wars, or benefits from them.

    About a third of human beings are born conservative/authoritarian, so they will always be with us. And their urge will forever be to bring the whole world to heel. They cannot bear for people to live outside of their rules.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Antifa, you are correct. I think “grandiosity” is the fatal flaw, born of deep insecurity. It attracts insecure Americans and Germans especially, those who live in longing to be “the chosen,” whose transcendent ambition exceeds their grasp, who see themselves unable to compete in a viciously competitive world in which exceptional greatness does exist.

      Four books shed light on this phenomenon:

      “METAPOLITICS: The Roots of the Nazi Mind” by Peter Viereck; “The Rites of Spring” by Modris Ecksteins; “From Caligari to Hitler” by Siegfried Kracauer; and “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book.”

      Grandiosity goes along with the delusion of one’s great “exceptionality”, in the eyes of Man or in the “eyes of God.” It is “magical thinking” at its best.

    2. Lidia

      “The common thread, again, is that these are people who are psychologically wired from birth to think this way.”

      Yes, exactly, Antifa. See my comment to Cathy O’Neil, above, if you like. You said many of the things I meant to say and often better, to boot.

      The bit about externalization is quite correct. My born-again RWNJ sister can now say that her son’s genetically-originating mental illness is the work of “the Devil” rather a result of her own poor choice of mate and reproductive habits.

    3. Lidia

      …and along Leonova’s lines, her struggle with “the Devil” now does indeed make her feel *exceptional*—rather than merely hapless.

  18. Frank Speaking

    “…while conservatives can wax rhapsodic over warfare in the abstract – e.g., when it remains a possibility rather than a reality, when they don’t have to fight it, etc. – as soon as it confronts them in its immediacy, it loses all that romance.”

    bring back the draft!

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Frank, why do you think the draft was eliminated? After “Vietnam” there could never be another draft again. The War Profiteers require the mercenary armed forces, and the more mercenary “consultants” and “private” Praetorian Guards under the command of Caesar, such as Blackwater/Xe, the CIA of David Petraeus, and the “Black Ops” guys paid “off the books” with laundered money and drug deals. See “Church Committee” on YouTube.

      With poverty imposed on the bulk of citizens, drafting is not necessary. The only “work” available to the destitute American hordes is “the military.” No choice.

      But, NO draft; no, no, no. “Shared suffering” must never be allowed again.

      1. Frank Speaking

        excuse me but the selective service system is alive and well…


        “The Selective Service System will be an active partner in the national preparedness community that anticipates and responds to the changing needs of the Nation.


        “The statutory missions of Selective Service are to be prepared to provide trained and untrained personnel to the DoD in the event of a national emergency and to be prepared to implement an Alternative Service Program for registrants classified as conscientious objectors.”

        military personnel is less than one percent of the nation’s population

        I would argue this make discretionary, unilateral and imperialistic wars easier to conduct. I would also argue that 90 percent of the activism in opposition to the Viet Nam war was driven by the existence of the draft.

        Anti-Viet Nam war protesters of the sixties (of which I was one) were neither anti-war nor anti-Viet Nam war they were anti-me going to fight the Viet Nam or any other war.

        1. Aquifer

          I agree – if you want to end war, re-institute the draft with no exceptions – all able bodied men and women over the age of 18 to serve, and tax for all war related expenses. War would pretty soon disappear …

  19. TommyC

    “Here’s someone with very limited education, very limited experience, no international knowledge to speak of, not much awareness of the burning political issues of our time”

    Where do you guys get this stuff? This sentence is chock-full of prejudice.

    Obviously, in your universe, if you don’t have an Ivy league education, you are close to being a high-school dropout. Also implied is that no one learns anything beyond college. In your world, on-going self-education (such as what happens when one reads this blog on a daily basis) is presumed not to exist or be worthwhile.

    As to the “awareness of the burning issues of our time,” just what are you saying? That a politician! of all people is not familiar with the issues just because they aren’t “the right people” is the height of arrogance. Just because you think that the leftist claptrap that passes for thinking is a discussion of the “burning issues” doesn’t mean the rest of us do.

    1. Lidia

      Why does the right hate affirmative action in every case but that of morons??

      Morons represent!!

  20. TommyC

    I find the continuing reference to “tea baggers” as offensive as using the N word. We all know it’s used by lazy thinkers to evoke emotion rather than rational thought. I hope Yves will see fit to ban the term.

    1. Frank Speaking

      It is alway amusing to see teabaggers take umbrage at others who use the term they choose for a moniker.

      Challenging the use of teabaggers self-choosen identifier as tactic was institutionalized by none other than Grover Norquist in May of last year and disseminated to teabagger minions as a new page in their playbook.

      If you have an issue with others using teabagger as a noun to identify you and yours take it up with your benefactors the Brothers Koch who wrote the checks to the consulting firm in Sacramento that created your “movement” and those early adopters who showed up at teabagger “rallies” with three cornered hats draped with teabags, waving signs saying “teabag Democrats before they teabag you.

      “Teabaggers such as yourself take the concept of hypocrisy to an entirely new level after having spent the past three years spewing vile hatred, assassinating character and claiming the earth is flat. So thin skinned you all are…a trait of hypocrites and bullies the world over.

    2. Con O'Rourke

      Well Tommy, you can go fuck yourself. Oops, did that hurt, you poor delicate little flowergirl.

  21. endogeneity

    Here’s someone with very limited education, very limited experience, no international knowledge to speak of, not much awareness of the burning political issues of our time, and yet there she is, a serious contender

    What good are “credentials” though when you look at Obama? He had all that stuff, pretty much, on paper a Serious Person, and what good has it been? Palin may be a clueless outsider, but it’s the knowing insiders who are taking this country down.

    1. Lidia

      The country is being “taken down” by the fact that we cannot, and never could, “grow the pie higher”. Interest-based money compels infinite exponential growth which is impossible in a system with shrinking resources (and even-more-rapidly-shrinking per capita resources). The ongoing infinite growth in nominal debt money is completely unhinged from planetary reality, where we are on the far side of Peak Oil (oil and energy in general being a good real-world analog to money). No more oil no more economic growth no more interest-based money as we know it.

      Now Rs and Ds can fight (or not, they’ve mostly been NOT fighting) about whose negative growth curve is going to be the sharpest. Surprise, surprise, it’s not going to be that of the 1%, both parties seem pretty agreed.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        Lidia, your first paragraph above is the *sizzlin* gist of the matter.

        Make a rap song out of it and post it to YouTube with a beat. Search for the great New Orleans drummer, John Vidacovich, for the right amount of sass to the bar.

      2. KnotRP

        When the pie stops growing, it’s Sweeny Todd time….don’t inspect your meat pie too closely, lest you get ill.

  22. Karl

    As a one-time Rand follower, I appreciate the depth of this discussion and resonate with it very much. However, I do believe that there is a general misunderstanding of what makes Ayn Rand’s novels powerful. The novels are not literature but myth. Mythical writing seldom makes for good literature (e.g. the gospels don’t work on the literary level either, and indeed, the plot is fairly linear and the characters cartoonish as well). Many have said her followers are somewhat like a cult. Exactly. Ironically, for someone who was anti-religion because it was anti-reason, her books appeal on the level of faith. You either “get it” or you don’t. Ultimately, for me, reason triumphed and I had to put Ayn Rand aside, because I found there was much more to life than was writ in her philosophy. But I believe there is much about Rand that I’ll always find appealing. She was anti-war; anti-racism; anti-nationalism; anti-tribalism. Her whole ethic was rooted in healthy self-esteem and rational self-interest, and yes, an appreciation of the transcendent. There is much value here. But so thoroughly have I enjoyed this conversation that I decided to download Cory’s book on my Kindle–it’s pretty reasonably priced! Many thanks.

  23. Aquifer

    When you mentioned Hitchens, another Christopher sprang to my mind – Hedges, who wrote “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning”. I heartily recommend it ..

    1. Frank Speaking

      another take on war giving us “meaning”

      “What everyone knows, but no one will say, is that on one very basic level, war is super fun. Back in the day, when the Roman Empire had no existential threats, they had to come up with something to keep the idiots entertained. So they got a bunch of young guys together and had them fight in the arenas. They’d have all kinds of fun variations-a guy with a net and a trident fighting another guy with a shield and a sword, two guys tied leg-to-leg fighting two guys tied arm-to-arm, team vs. team, barbarian slaves, midgets, and animals, whatever.”

      The Gladiators
      by babatim on December 27th, 2011

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        Frank, yes “super adrenaline rush” for the Macho Men. “I’m a Main!”

        Maybe these half-men, who need to be jacked up to feel *they Malnhood*, really should just kill one another off.

        Intelligent women love intelligent, active men–who have no problem with *they Mainhood*. “Take the cash and let the credit go/Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum” (The Rubayat of Omar Kayam).

    2. 80on40

      I felt the same awakened nudge Aquifer, having been impressed by
      Chris Hedges 3 hour interview on C-span. In fact the Robin interview
      smacks of Hedges insights me thinks.
      Pilkington’s style I find weak and dryly academic. Like two guests on
      Crossfire without the moderator.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        80n40, yes, one of these speakers is a crashing, predictable bore, and doesn’t have a clue that this is so.

  24. comment

    I always find the reverence towards Ayn Rand by many conservatives peculiar as Ayn was unequivocally on-the-record as anti-Christian and anti-Jesus Christ.

    Ayn Rand’s statements on the divinity of JC would make the right/Fox News-erati howling mad if it was said today by a politician, celebrity or op-ed columnist.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Christian Rand fanatics know this, but ignore it, since it doesn’t fit their dream. The reality of Ayn Rand “does not compute.” More cognitive dissonance.

    2. Lidia

      They just have a built-in “reverence” gene. Doesn’t matter what authority it is, or even what the authority says, as long as you have an authority.

      Another thing my RWNJ sister loves to do is say “the government has the right” to do X. I try time after time to point out that—in the theory behind our enlightened American republic—governments are NOT entities which have rights. PEOPLE have the right to assign or withdraw powers to/from the government. She still can’t quite digest this (again, see Ron Paul: in his version of things, “states’ rights” trumps those of the individual).

  25. Hugh

    I find this all a bit odd. Robin doesn’t come to grips with kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war. Nor does he speak to the corporatism of the two parties and the effective congruence between conservatism and liberalism, where the differences are largely atmospheric and the substance is indistinguishable.

    Instead we get an intellectual history of conservatism. Don’t get me wrong. I find the intellectual history of both conservatism and liberalism quite interesting. But conservatism and liberalism today have only tangential connections to those histories. Now they are mere fronts for looting. Ascribing intellectual pasts to them, even to critique them, gives them a legitimacy they do not deserve.

    I also find it curious that Robin criticizes the conservative notion of the great man on the basis that this person is not properly credentialed, and then immediately cites the work of a properly credentialed scholar from UPenn, an Ivy. I am not a fan of credentialism. It is simply a device of elite self-validation: We are elite because we have given ourselves the credentials that say we are elite. So if the great man/woman is properly sanctioned by our elites, does that make it OK? And how much intellectual distance is there really between the notion of a great man and that of a great class, that is the elite? A great man/woman is bad or suspect but a great class is good? Why? How?

    Addressing the issue of leveling raised above, there are many forms of leveling which are not violent: extending the franchise, progressive taxation, supporting good public education, promoting strong unions, etc. It is interesting that all these have been the target of, I do not want to say conservatives, but rather our corporate elites and kleptocratic rich.

    1. Jill


      I’m so glad you wrote this.

      I kept thinking of Obama saying he’d killed Osama bin Laden. He was so proud. His followers,left and right were so proud. We got to hear the fake story of the brave seal team’s actions about 100 times an hour. (Then facts started coming out and it didn’t look so heroic after all.) Still, to followers left and right, this was one of Obama’s finest hours. That reaction fit exactly the description of war mongering attributed solely to conservatives.

      Obama “earned” so much respect from ordering an illegal killing. That tells me something has gone very wrong in the entire society, not just among conservatives.

      The type of thinking in this interview is simply not an accurate description of what is really happening at this time.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        Jill, right: Obama as heroic Blues Brother: “I’m a Main. I spell M – A – N. Main.” then the wail. Oh, this was carefully calculated strategic positioning of the Puppet President as the imperial War President “struttin with a bah-be-que.”

    2. endogeneity

      I was trying to get at something similar in my comment above, but this says it much better than I could.

      We may be a country of dangerous buffoons – at least I wouldn’t want to defend the contrary – but the most dangerous among us are the well-credentialed buffoons.

    3. KnotRP

      Well put, Hugh. The post was much ado about nothing
      relevant to our time, and you captured that well.

      As for Obama and Osama….in the old days, the
      Roman Emperor would’ve turned his thumb down to
      the cheers of the crowd. You know not what you
      cheer for, fellow citizens of Rome.

  26. Ransome

    Rand was an immigrant that learned about America from the movies. No one has found it odd that she came here to be a Hollywood screen writer. Once here, she did not rub elbows with the super capitalists, she wandered among movie sets creating screen plays from other people’s works. She was obsessed with romantic business fiction, many produced as serials or short stories for the Saturday Evening Post; inspiration for the first generation future middle class seeking half-culture. The first generation shunned the ways of the past (being a peasant or a serf had little to recommend). They wanted to know something about everything. Reader’s Digest made millions satiating this half-culture obsession as you multi-tasked in the bathroom. Rand’s books are in this tradition as was Hayek who was exposed to America in Reader’s Digest, coming to America as a hero because of it. Rand’s screen writer’s view of capitalism was scraped from inspirational business romance fiction that presented the qualities of the exceptional that America’s opportunities unleashed. She mistook intensity (of a scientist) for rational self-interest (greed is good).

    It is very fitting that her books captured the fascination of the young and naive waiting to earn their first paycheck. What she totally missed was the role of a thriving, sharing, and prosperous middle class which really makes (made) America exceptional and attainable. Those who were the target of the Saturday Evening Post with it’s Norman Rockwell covers, American’s doing America’s business. No celebration of self-interest and greed strutting down Wall Street.

    Today’s heroes are dropouts that go from nerds to billionaires in a few years. People make millions writing books on how to do it the easy way, flipping real estate. Most are realizing it isn’t that easy, you need to show up and work two jobs. Even then, few are chosen and frequently they are not exceptional, they are just the opposite. Today, one job can be a scarcity and the debt is real.

    1. JTFaraday

      It was supposed to be a Bette Davis movie, who would have turned it into fine filmic art, and we’d all be mooing over it today.

      She would have stayed on the left coast and Alan Greenspan would have kept right on playing the clarinet (or whatever).

      tsk. Such a shame.

  27. Darren Kenworthy

    Do we ever treat people as prey? Do we sometimes regard them as dangerous predators? Our answers form the true basis of our belief system. The way we enact such beliefs is the true measure of our ethics. The ideological label a person with power wears is far less predictive of how their acts give answer to the question of human predation than the fact of their position.

  28. groo

    I’m late to this discussion, but anyway.

    This interview is timely and the points taken are very accurate.

    Two additions:

    a) re … von Mises’s book on Socialism (where he praises the first man who seized property for himself; such a man was a genius of violent transgression; yes, it was theft, but so imaginative was that theft that it validates its own actions);

    This is from a piece by some Michael Prescott:
    —Romancing the Stone-Cold Killer: Ayn Rand and William Hickman—
    …In her journal circa 1928 Rand quoted the statement, “What is good for me is right,” a credo attributed to a prominent figure of the day, William Edward Hickman. Her response was enthusiastic. “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard,” …

    b) there is a figure of thought in reactionaries, which is highly problematic:
    The preconditions of the ‘great man’ is the result of the evolutionary game of chance.
    This is a scientific fact, if there is one.

    The ‘left’ recognizes this as a variant of all sorts of injustices of life, and tries to heal it, or at least soften the gaps.
    May these be animals or people of lesser ability.

    The reactionary mind somehow ascribes this either to his own ability, or a struggle of the superior mind with itself, as in Nietzsche’s case. (Metaphysics of the will).
    Interestingly enough Nietzsche turned Schopenhauers conclusions 180degrees round. Which made him mad.
    Guess why?

    If You think this through, there seems to be a gap in the reactionary ‘logic’, concerning the ultimate causes.
    It covers them up by all sorts of bogus.
    Horror vacui.

    Enough said.

    Anyway. Very enlightening.

  29. rotter

    Rand was to Philosophy what 14th and 15th century diabolists were to Theology…amateurish and wholely derivative. Late Medieval devil worship was a pitiful reaction to the calcified, stultifying power and influence of the Late medieval Church…”Satanism” is only a photo negative of Catholicism…It couldnt exist without Catholicism because it exists only as an anti-Catholicism… Rands “philosophy” is her made up on the spot anti-Marxism. Its broken and stunted and sophmoric and based on her many misinterpretations and errors regarding Marxist Orthodoxy, just as the Devil Worshippers were amatueurs stringing together the bits and pieces they had.

  30. b.

    “The excellent man is extraordinary. He doesn’t require credentials or training; his excellence is like a gift from [the Vorsehung]. Often, the most extraordinary person will arise from fairly obscure or humble background [such as a failed painter can rise from the trenches of WW1].

    Sometimes, extraordinary men are just extraordinary, and some traits of quite common excellence lend themselves to wholesale slaughter, while others kinds are – totally – lacking, from everybody. The People are made of The Fuhrer, and all the Angefuehrten. Over the cliff we go!

    Godwin FTW. Is there a Messiah angle in there somewhere?

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