There’s a sort of ideal figure that conservative intellectuals conjure when they want to argue about the essence of their ideology. This figure is a dreamy quietist of peaceable disposition, who savors apolitical friendship, nurses a skeptical outlook, and looks to an anti-theoretical politics of homey tradition and humane, but chastened, sentiment to guide him.
The political scientist Corey Robin argues in his 2012 book, “The Reactionary Mind,” that this ideal is more like a myth. Conservatism, Robin says, is always inherently a politics of reaction—usually also populist, often also violent. From Robin’s argument, we could predict that a conservative party would be unlikely to nominate the idealized conservative as its standard-bearer, but that it would absolutely yoke itself to a populist nut job like Donald Trump.
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