The Reactionary Mind

Check out these new books on the philosophy,  psychology, and neuroscience of political ideologies:

1. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin

(Video from Conversations w/ Great Minds – Thom Hartmann interviews Corey Robin. Executive summary: conservatism is fundamentally authoritarian and anti-democratic.)

Youtube link: Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

2. The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality

This essay is adapted from Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book.

Video: Thom Hartmann interviews Chris Mooney about The Republican Brain:

YouTube link

3. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

 Jonathan Haidt, C-SPAN BookTV:

“Jonathan Haidt, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, presents his thoughts on the current political and social divisions that he contends separate the Left and the Right. The social psychologist examines the origins of these fissures and explains that people’s moral intuition, the initial perceptions we have of others, propagates the idea that people who view the world differently from how we do are wrong.” (full video)

Video excerpt (10 min):

How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World? (

“Bill Moyers and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.”


Check these out! They offer much-needed modern perspectives to help us scientifically unmask, re-frame, and re-brand the right-wing world-view for what it often is: counter-revolutionary (vis a vis the US Revolution and other democratic revolutions), anti-democratic, and anti-enlightenment.  Conservative approaches may have utility under certain socio-economic and cultural conditions, but in general they are increasingly pathological and self-defeating in modern, liberal, democratic  societies.

Please note, I’m not saying that so-called liberal and neoliberal approaches are necessarily better, especially those that actually encourage or provide cover for corruption, crony capitalism (corporatism), neo-feudalism, or other excessive concentrations of  state and/or private wealth and power at the top.

Perhaps the single most important principle adopted by the US Founders was the separation of powers with appropriate checks and balances.  All such schemes aim at some more-or-less ideal distribution of power (and sometimes wealth) across various segments and institutions of society. When that distribution departs too far from the ideal, then some kind of redistribution is wanted. The differences between most conservative and liberal ideologies may boil down to differences in the preferred ratios and mechanisms of that distribution. In my opinion the ideal ratios and mechanisms for the distribution of power (and insomuch as it is a proxy for power, wealth) should be determined by experimentation and empirical data rather than by ideology. Most conservatives and liberals alike are still more attached to ideologies than to science (i.e. empirical data).


4 Responses to “The Reactionary Mind”

  1. Jon Awbrey Says:

    I’ve never found the term “conservative” very useful because it has no meaning until you specify what it is exactly that the people in question want to conserve. In the case of the current American right wing, it has become clear that they wish to conserve those elements of state that reigned supreme in the Old World and its Colonies before the American Revolution.

  2. Poor Richard Says:

    Jon, I agree. Many forms of US conservatism are thinly-disguised counter-revolutionary programs. Cory Robin’s book, much like “The Conservative Mind” after which it is named, attempts to sketch a “family tree” of conservatism over time. One of the major themes, it seems, is that variations across the varieties of conservatism tend to be superficial and cosmetic, serving to camouflage the common core of authoritarianism by wrapping it in the prevailing liberal themes (lip service to liberty, patriotism, the “founders”, etc.) of the day. Some conservatives are cynical hucksters and some are true (if naive) believers.


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