What a shame the Christmas literary recommends season is over: otherwise I would have loved to draw this to your attention as quite the funniest book of the year. In The Reactionary Mind political author Corey Robin pretends to analyse the psychopathology which
drives conservatives to think and act the way they do. I say "pretends" because obviously the whole thing is a sustained exercise in hilarious, spot-on pastiche of just how shrill, absurd
and ludicrous the liberal-left can be when it tries too hard to be clever.
Robin’s comedy spoof thesis goes like this: conservatives are power-crazed bullies who just love to oppress; they are a self-perpetuating elite who’ll stop at nothing to put subordinate groups down
be they women, ethnic minorities, or the workers; and this is why they so love war and violence — because they exist in a perpetual state of counter-revolution, desperately trying to regain
ground which enlightened progressives have stolen from them, constantly striving to crush their opponents.
As an example of this instinctive aggression which courses through all conservatives, Robin cites something Churchill once wrote in 1930 recalling the excitement he felt while reporting on the
Cuban war of independence in 1895.
‘The minds of this generation, exhausted, brutalized, mutilated and bored by War, may not understand the delicious yet tremulous sensations with which a young British Officer bred in the
long peace approached for the first time an actual theatre of operations.’
See? Well DO YOU? Churchill was a conservative. Churchill wrote those very words clearly showing that he loved war. QED.
Of course, had any serious author thought about this line of argument just a little longer he would have been struck by at least a couple of tiny flaws. First, though he became a conservative,
Churchill also served in a reforming liberal government. Second, is it not possible that war is just as exciting for young men of a left-wing persuasion as it is for evil, red-meat right-wingers:
Ernest Hemingway, say?
But let us not forget, Robin is only pretending to be this silly and lightweight as a kind of jeu d’esprit. So when he airily declares elsewhere "If the ruling class is to be vigorous
and robust, the conservative has concluded, its members must be tested, exercised and challenged," he doesn’t really believe that these are peculiarly conservative traits because how could
anyone be that stupid? (Didn’t, eg, the Nazis major on physical exercise? Does that mean they were conservatives too?) No: he’s just having another laugh at the left’s expense, that’s all.
Robin succeeds with equal brilliance at capturing the left’s dreary earnestness with prose so stolid it might almost have been typed in porridge:
‘Marching out of the family, the factory, and the field, where unfreedom and inequality are the flip sides of the same coin, they have made freedom and equality the irreducible yet mutually
reinforcing parts of a single whole. The link between freedom and equality has not made the argument for redistribution any more palatable to the right.’
I’m not actually sure what the first of those sentences actually means. (Deliberate, surely). But the second is absolute genius in its caricature of two of the liberal left’s preferred rhetorical
techniques: the unsupported assertion and the reverse projection.
This "link" between freedom and equality has been plucked from thin air: is, for example, a company compelled by equality laws to employ people on grounds of sex or race rather than
suitability for the job more or less free? As for the notion that conservatives are in any way against freedom: this is, of course, the exact opposite of true. It’s mainly the left which wants more
government control, more regulation, not the right. How else, after all, are you going to achieve the "redistribution" the author feigns to believe is desirable except through
Mind you, it’s just as well the book is satire, because if it weren’t it might be rather scary. Take its suggestion, near the end, that ‘With the exception of the gay rights movement there are
today no threatening social movements of the left.’ Whoa! Just imagine if this were what hard-core leftists really believe. Here we are, living in the age of Occupy, where Gramsci’s ‘long
march through the institutions’ is almost complete — where our schools, our universities, our media, our science establishment, our governments, our supranational bodies such as the UN
and the EU — are all in thrall to the values of the liberal-left. They don’t seriously think, do they, that conservatism has won?
Naah. This book is a joke. An elaborate joke. And I particularly like that lovely touch in the cover design where the author has deliberately chosen a picture of himself wearing an expression of
the most infuriating kind of left-liberal smug, almost as if, just off camera, Noam Chomsky and George Soros have let rip the most fragrantly right-on farts and the author is inhaling the bouquet.
Nice work, Corey. Such a pity so few of your readers will be clever enough to appreciate your ribald humour.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.