Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind from Burke to Palin

This book is getting a fair amount of attention, including this scathing review in the New York Times. In 2010, I wrote about a ridiculous piece on Ayn Rand published by Robin, and it’s worth reposting now.

I just came across this essay in The Nation by one Corey Robin about Ayn Rand.

I think Robin is serious, but the piece works best as a satire of a certain type of right-wing hit piece on left-wing intellectuals.

Mocking the subject because she has many Hollywood devotees who don’t seem that bright? Check!

Suggesting that the subject’s personal idiosyncracies discredit her intellectual contributions? Check!

Finding a random Hitler quote that sounds like something the subject might say, to suggest that the subject, despite her strong antifascism, was really a fascist? Check!

Ridiculing the subject for not appreciating how the country she grew up in gave her the opportunity to thrive, which she then used to attack the country’s political system? Check! (Though this is the first time I’ve heard someone suggest that an intellectual should be grateful for growing up in the USSR. Among other things, Rand apparently should have been grateful to the Bolsheviks for “subsidizing theater for the masses.” Yet, I really don’t think this is meant to be a satire.)

An obscure academic dismissing one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers as a “mediocrity,” without any indication that the author really understands his subject’s appeal. Check!

I don’t think I’ll be picking up The Reactionary Mind any time soon.

UPDATE: I took a quick look at the book via “look inside this book” on Amazon, and saw that the Rand material made it into the book. Not a promising sign.

FURTHER UPDATE: I just came across this quote from the book, which may be just about the most bizarre comment on libertarians and libertarianism that I’ve ever seen from a not completely uninformed commentator: “When the libertarian looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.” I’ve been reading libertarian literature and hanging out with libertarians for over two decades now, not to mention being a libertarian myself, and all I can say is, “WTF?”

Meanwhile, here’s a response by Robin to my original post.