Corey Robin

Position: Professor
Campus Affiliation: Brooklyn College|Graduate Center
Degrees/Diplomas: BA Princeton, PhD Yale
Research Interests: modern political and economic thought; conservatism/counterrevolution

Professor Robin is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea(Oxford University Press, 2004) and The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. He has published on a wide range of modern political theorists—including Hobbes, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Schmitt, Arendt, and Hayek—and topics: from the workplace as a regime of governmentality to the idea of national security, from liberalism and libertarianism to the politics of despotism and practice of free speech. His articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, Social Research, Theory & Event, the London Review of Books,Harper’s, Jacobin, and The Nation. His writings have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Robin has received many grants and awards, including the Best First Book in Political Theory Award from the American Political Science Association, and fellowships from the Russell Sage Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. He is currently writing a book on the political theory of capitalism, a counter-history of the free market that looks at, among other figures, Burke and Smith, slaveholders in the Old South, theorists of fascism, and contemporary exponents of neoliberalism. Robin is an active blogger, both at his eponymous blog and at Crooked Timber.


41LmJf806tL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Late in life, William F. Buckley made a confession to Corey Robin. Capitalism is “boring,” said the founding father of the American right. “Devoting your life to it,” as conservatives do, “is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.” With this unlikely conversation began Robin’s decade-long foray into the conservative mind. What is conservatism, and what’s truly at stake for its proponents? If capitalism bores them, what excites them?

Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.

Despite their opposition to these movements, conservatives favor a dynamic conception of politics and society–one that involves self-transformation, violence, and war. They are also highly adaptive to new challenges and circumstances. This partiality to violence and capacity for reinvention has been critical to their success.

Written by a keen, highly regarded observer of the contemporary political scene, The Reactionary Mind ranges widely, from Edmund Burke to Antonin Scalia, from John C. Calhoun to Ayn Rand. It advances the notion that all rightwing ideologies, from the eighteenth century through today, are historical improvisations on a theme: the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.

Corey Robin , Fear: The History of a Political Idea (Oxford University Press, 2004).

For many commentators, September 11 inaugurated a new era of fear. But as Corey Robin shows in his unsettling tour of the Western imagination—the first intellectual history of its kind—fear has shaped our politics and culture since time immemorial. From the Garden of Eden to the Gulag Archipelago to today’s headlines, Robin traces our growing fascination with political danger and disaster. As our faith in positive political principles recedes, he argues, we turn to fear as the justifying language of public life. We may not know the good, but we do know the bad. So we cling to fear, abandoning the quest for justice, equality, and freedom. But as fear becomes our intimate, we understand it less. In a startling reexamination of fear’s greatest modern interpreters—Hobbes, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Arendt—Robin finds that writers since the eighteenth century have systematically obscured fear’s political dimensions, diverting attention from the public and private authorities who sponsor and benefit from it. For fear, Robin insists, is an exemplary instrument of repression—in the public and private sector. Nowhere is this politically repressive fear—and its evasion—more evident than in contemporary America. In his final chapters, Robin accuses our leading scholars and critics of ignoring “Fear, American Style,” which, as he shows, is the fruit of our most prized inheritances—the Constitution and the free market. With danger playing an increasing role in our daily lives and justifying a growing number of government policies, Robin’s Fear offers a bracing, and necessary, antidote to our contemporary culture of fear.

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