The Reactionary Mind

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The Reactionary Mind
Author Corey Robin
Country United States
Language English
Subject Conservatism, Politics
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 304
ISBN 0199793743
305.32 21

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin is a 2011 book written by political theorist Corey Robin. It argues that conservatism from the 17th century to today is based on the principle, "that some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others".[1]:18[2] Robin argues that rather than being about liberty, limited government, resistance to change, or public virtue, conservatism is a "mode of counterrevolutionary practice" to preserve hierarchy and power.[1]:17


The book begins by redefining conservatism as an attempt to preserve hierarchy in the wake of a democratic movement. One example of this 19th century slogan is given:

To obey a real one of the most important of all virtues—a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of anything great and lasting.[1]:17

Robin goes through the history of conservatism starting with Edmund Burke and argues that traditional definitions of conservatism as an attempt to preserve some kind of tradition are inadequate. He cites passages from Burke and Joseph de Maistre which criticize the old order for being decadent and needing to be recreated. Thomas Hobbes's social contract is given as a conservative solution to a new order which is able to preserve itself under threat.[1]:62

Robin argues that in the modern era conservatives are often more concerned about preserving power in the private sphere, which finds struggles against things like labor movements and feminism.[1]:42

Reaction and controversy[edit]

Many reviews criticized the book. The New York Times called it "a diatribe that preaches to the converted" while blogs such as Crooked Timber (a blog Robin contributes to) have defended it.[2] The New Republic gave a lukewarm review saying, "Robin’s arguments deserve widespread attention. But they [sic] way he has presented them almost ensures that they will not get it."[3] Mark Lilla criticized Robin's argument, arguing that Robin's definition of conservatism "can be reduced to this: "those who react against movements of the left" react against movements of the left - which is a tautology, not an argument" and that one needs to "distinguish between conservatism, which is informed by a view of human nature; reaction, which is informed by a view of history; and the right, which is a shifting, engaged ideological family"[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Robin, Corey (2011). The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ a b Schuessler, Jennifer. "Corey Robin's 'Reactionary Mind' Stirs Internet Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2013. 
  3. ^ Wolfe, Alan. "One Right". The New Republic. Retrieved December 21, 2013. 
  4. ^ Lilla, Mark "'The Reactionary Mind'": An Exchange accessed 25/02/2017