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Thread by @InnuendoStudios: "It's been a hot minute, but it's time. I've made some room to properly get into The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. […]" #IanLivetweetsHisResearch

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It's been a hot minute, but it's time.

I've made some room to properly get into The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin.

#IanLivetweetsHisResearch
The first chapter begins with a T.S. Eliot quote arguing that, in the end, you can't judge a party by what it says its aims are; a party will reveal what it's trying to accomplish by its actions.

Sometimes the party itself isn't sure what it's doing.
Robin then begins with his view of history as being full of unequal power relations and the tensions that arise between them.

Man-woman, worker-employer, government-governed.
Whenever the disempowered side of the relationship advocates for itself, the empowered side sees its power threatened.

Even when the demands of the disempowered are small, the act of making demands is, itself, a threat to the hierarchy.
This leads the empowered to try and clamp down their authority, even before they've given up anything.

The threat they see is less material than existential: if the disempowered exercise agency, they may try to keep doing so.
Robin says the conservatism is, at its essence, about this defense of power by the powerful, arguing conservatism began during the French Revolution as a defense of the ruling class.
(Can I just say, after slogging through How Propaganda Works, Corey Robin's ability to write clearly and get to the point is absolutely delightful?)
Robin cites the railroad strikes of 1877 and the Seattle general strike of 1919.

In both cases, the workers kept performing their jobs while striking, without bosses. (Something similar is happening with the Okayama bus strikes now.)
In both cases, the bosses saw this as a greater threat than anything the workers were demanding: the public might take it as evidence that the bosses weren't actually necessary.
Conservatism, in Robin's view, isn't about personal liberty but about preserving hierarchies.
Conservatism often frames the Left as trading freedom for equality.

Most progressive movements argue that equality can only be attained by the EXPANSION of freedom from the few to the many.
I think it's common for the Right to think of it as an either/or because they don't believe the new system won't be hierarchical.

And, if freedom is being given to folks on the Left, that must mean the Right will be at the bottom of the new hierarchy.
(Either that or they just CLAIM the Left will institute a new hierarchy to convince people they're better off with the existing power structure.)

(Maybe six of one, half a dozen of the other.)
One reason these topics are so contentious is that social issues are intensely personal.

It's hard to talk about changing the political situation for women without thinking this will cause a change in your relationships to women in your life.
Robin quotes Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

"Here is the secret of the opposition to woman's equality in the state: Men are not ready to recognize it in the home."
Empowering workers conjures images of the employee talking back to the boss. Empowering Black servants conjures images of the maid talking back to her mistress.

Shades of Jason Stanley's notion of "affective override."
Robin mentions how fucking bizarre America slavery was. The proximity of the master to his slaves, and embeddedness in each other's lives, really didn't exist in any other practice of slavery.
Slaveholders didn't just control the labor of Black workers, they controlled their family relationships, their religious practices, their marriages, their mealtimes.

"Slave master" wasn't just a job, it was an identity.

Abolish slavery and you abolish an entire way of life.
It's the most possessive investment in whiteness there is.
Robin argues conservatism is driven by fear that expansion of freedoms in public life will lead to the same in private life. A society overrun with insubordination.

Even when concessions are made in government, efforts are made to keep the hierarchies in private life.
e.g. women were given the vote long before they were given equal right to work, the right to divorce, the right to terminate a pregnancy, the right to equal pay, etc.
I wonder if this is the crux of the conservative cry to "keep the government out of private life."

"Give women the vote if you must, but don't dare tell my wife she's my equal."
"Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to a limited government and liberty - or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be the byproducts of conservatism... [b]ut they are not its animating purpose."
Conservatism is "the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere."

Helluva thesis statement.
All this is why it's necessary for conservatives to reject an increase in the minimum wage and defend the wealth of the 1%, even if they themselves are poor and struggling.

It is a citizen's duty to be happy with their place in the hierarchy.
If you think you deserve more than $7.25 an hour, you should move up the hierarchy. If you can't, it's because your place is at the bottom.

You don't try to change the bottom rung to pay as well as a higher station.
No matter where you are in the hierarchy, the hierarchy itself is good, and your place in it is important.

There NEEDS to be low-paid workers in order to have fast food! And who doesn't love fast food?
Jeff Bezos NEEDS to make $11.5 million an hour, because that keeps him running Amazon, and who doesn't love Amazon?
If we changed the hierarchy, we might not have Amazon and McDonald's. We might have chaos.

So, even if a conservative wants more than they have, it only means they want to better their station in the existing power structure.
Robin quotes James Fitzjames Stephen's 19th century statement about conservatism:

"To obey a real superior... is one of the most important of all virtues - a virtue absolutely essential to anything great and lasting."
We think the conservative poor defend the wealthy because they think they'll be wealthy someday.

I think it's because they believe the poor NEED the wealthy.
"The conservative defends particular orders - hierarchical, often private regimes of rule - on the assumption, in party, that hierarchy IS order." (emphasis added)
"The conservative not only opposes the left; he also believes that the left has been in the driver's seat since, depending on who's counting, the French Revolution or the Reformation."
So, okay: conservatism is defined in opposition to radicalism, but will often become radical itself in defense of the norms it holds dear. It also considers basically any reform of those norms to be inherently radical.
As in, you can't calm them down with incrementalism. If you take an "evolution over revolution" approach, they will assume evolution will lead to revolution.

They are wholly against any change, small or large, to the norms they feel hold society together.
They seem to generally believe they've made too many concessions already and need to roll back to the way things used to be, in some undefined time in their collective memory.
Ha, Robin has a footnote that goes on for nine pages, wherein he dissects what he thinks is wrong with most recent literature on the modern Right.

Overall, he thinks a lot of this writing is valuable, but he says tends to suffer from three weaknesses:
1) Lack of global context. A lot of writers assume that American conservatism is in some way unique, where Robin considers it of a piece with European conservatism.

Argues Hayek and Strauss had more influence over the Right than Arendt and the Frankfurt School had on the Left.
2) Lack of historical perspective. There's a tendency to imply that neoconservatism is a conservatism that has "lost its way."

Robin rejects this, and says the traits we consider modern - ideology, racism, populism - have existed since the very beginnings.
3) Failure to frame conservatism as inherently reactionary. He says this derives from 2: the belief that conservatism began with some coherent ideals and was at some point corrupted into being reactionary.

Robin rejects this as well. Conservatism has always been reactionary.
Per 3, that certainly is what Democrats like to argue. During Bush, they got nostalgic for Reagan. During Reagan, they were nostalgic for Goldwater. They're already starting to miss Bush under Trump.

"You used to be cool, man." No, they were always like this.
I often feel in a bind when talking about Trump, because you need to thread the needle of acknowledging that he is both perfectly in line with the direction conservatism has been taking us and also a radical departure.

He's just everything wrong with conservatism only MORE.
What makes different phases of conservatism distinct is that a reactionary group is defined by what they are, at this moment, reacting against.

Their rhetoric shifts as needed.
One of the biggest changes Robin notes in conservatism over the ages has been a growing utilization of the "lower" classes.
Conservatism used to be a defense of aristocracy, meant to keep "the masses" out of politics.

Modern conservatism is aware that it can't succeed without making use of "the masses."
One means is to have your elites be SYMBOLICALLY "of the people," so that the disenfranchised can project themselves into the elites.

Another means is to allow them opportunities for a measure of power relative to others of their station, a "faux aristocracy."
I think a good example is the one Franchesca Ramsey mentioned from history, where poor whites were given power over Black workers in order to keep them loyal to wealthy whites, despite not becoming wealthy themselves.
The narrative of "anyone can become an elite" being the American Dream may be dear to the Republican Party for precisely this reason.
What is the society the conservative wants to create? Generally, conservatism, like most belief systems, no longer supports hereditary nobility. So how does the hierarchy form itself?
Well, in short: power is gained when power is exercised. You gain your station by fighting for it, by earning it, by defeating the other people fighting for the same.
You can see this either as a rejection of meritocracy, or a meritocracy where the only merit is intelligent use of power.

Perhaps no surprise that a reactionary ideology defines itself in the struggle against adversity.
In this framing, redistribution of wealth, power, or resources is profane.

You can't get a raise because the government raised the minimum wage, you only deserve money if you fought for a pay hike or a better job.
Robin points out that even racists believe in hierarchies among white people. You have to *earn* your right to subjugate others.
(The Golden One thinks many whites are "subhumans," for instance.)
Battlefields and unregulated markets are "proving grounds." The parallels are pretty explicit sometimes, e.g. "captain of industry."
Robin closes the chapter by acknowledging that, for some conservatives, capitalism is still a shady way to earn one's way into the ruling class. The business of war will always seem more appropriate to them.
And that's the end of the chapter! Catch you next time. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Having finished a video, I am carving out some time for another exciting round of #IanLivetweetsHisResearch.

We here begin chapter 2 of Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind.
Robin begins by pointing out the many contradictions between what conservatism claims to believe and what it is in practice.
It claims to be about moderation, but it is quite popular with reactionaries.

It claims to dislike change, but is behind many enormous social upheavals.
(Robin doesn't say it, but conservatives also claim to like small government and fiscal responsibility, but they are incredibly invasive in the private lives of social minorities and wildly outspend Democrats when in office.)
So, if we are to think of conservatism as a reactionary ideology, Robin says it is wrong to think of it as merely standing for the reassertion of The Old Ways whenever social change challenges them.
Instead, conservative reaction is two-pronged:

1) When The Old Ways are challenged, they are refashioned and remixed to suit the modern era.

2) The methods and language of what conservatism is reacting against are appropriated.
In Robin's words, "reconfiguration of the old and absorption of the new."
We see this from the very beginning:

The formulation of conservatism, many scholars agree (not just Robin), was the writing of Joseph de Maistre and, especially, Edmund Burke in their critiques of the French Revolution.
Despite conservatism's counterrevolutionary position, it did not speak well of the old regime.

Maistre called the nobility clueless and treasonous, the monarchy soft, and the clergy corrupt.

Burke was more tactful, but similarly described the regime as decadent and weak.
This is the running theme when conservatives get activated.

After the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew wrote that slaveholders were allowing abolitionist rhetoric to weaken them.

Goldwater didn't rail against Democrats, but against the weakening of the Republican establishment.
Hell, we're seeing this now! The Alt-Right positively *vilifies* establishment Republicans, calling anyone less reactionary than them "cuckservatives" (racist connotations of "cuck" fully intentional).
So, when progressives say The Old Ways are bad, conservatives don't disagree! They simply say the problem with The Old Ways is that they got complacent, and they don't need to be replaced but revitalized.
(I suspect the proof that The Old Ways went soft is that they are at risk of being overthrown by progressives. If they were done right, progressives wouldn't have a shot in hell.)
Per the second point, Robin says Maistre, so critical of the establishment he was defending, was downright rapturous over the revolutionaries he was opposing.

He felt the Jacobins had exactly the faith and strength he saw lacking in the old regime.
So, argues Burke, the methods of the revolutionaries must be appropriated.

Robin argues that, despite their opposition to the Left, conservatives are often the Left's best students.
Reactionary theologians in the mid-18th century abandoned their philosophical writings to write "Catholic agitprop" that more closely resembled the writings of the revolutionaries.
When conservatives see that a technique is working to undermine them, they immediately try to put that technique into service for their own ends.

Fox News is everything the Right thought "the liberal media" was, but distilled and swung to the Right.
Much of white nationalist language today is appropriation of minority identity politics.
Robin describes the cycle of revolution and counterrevolution like so:
In times of political calm, society at large tends to think of the existing hierarchy as a natural state. This is The Way The World Works.
When progressive movements gain enough political power to challenge those hierarchies, the public rediscovers that hierarchy is not natural, it is human-made, and can be changed or abolished.
At this moment, the rhetoric of The Eternal Hierarchy can no longer uphold the existing power structure. So conservatives must admit: the hierarchy isn't natural.

But rather than, "and it must change," the conservative concludes, "and it must be enforced."
The belief in The Eternal Hierarchy is exactly the complacence that the reactionary is criticizing.

"You damned fools, you stopped ENFORCING your power!"
So, interestingly, Robin argues that, in spite of it's regular use of nostalgia and mythologizing of the past, conservative movements are always forward-looking.

However good they thought things were in the past, they aim to bring the spirit of that past into something new.
Reagan was fond of quoting Thomas Paine, "we have it in our power to begin the world over again."
"The revolutionaries have changed things. Our new regime will succeed where the old one failed."

Wow, The First Order really is the perfect villain for modern Star Wars.
On the subject of why people would defend a hierarchy that they are low in, Robin refers to the antebellum South as a "master class."
In the South, the thinking was that all white men were, in essence, aristocrats.

As long as there were slaves, everyone who wasn't a slave was nobility.
There's actually a harrowing framing of this by (once again) Thomas Dew, where he more or less argues that slavery has allowed the creation of a classless society.

As long as Black slaves do all the menial labor, all whites are the bourgeoisie.
This is, of course, propaganda, as there was still major wealth inequality between whites, but you can see the rationale at work. Every white person had reason to defend the hierarchy, because, no matter how low, there was a class guaranteed to be lower than them.
And now we must discuss conservative victimhood.
Conservatism is, and always has been, a movement for people who feel themselves to be victims.

(Yes, even though they constantly accuse the Left of this.)
Nevertheless, it is, to some extent, always true. Those historically in power always turn to conservatism when something has been lost, be it a portion of their wealth, the privileges that come with their skin color, or the freedom to subjugate their wives.
These are generally not things they had any right to in the first place, and Robin is quick to point out that what they've lost is rarely significant compared to what they've kept, but it is a loss.
Many of these losses less material than they are psychological. They've lost a sense of belonging at the top.

Robin says, "nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess."
This is why they are so often the party for the aggrieved. Andrew Sullivan said, "All conservatism begins with loss."
And it's always a recent loss. Conservatism is activated when it is countering something that has been challenged or taken *just now*.

It's always focused on regaining something it feels was only just taken.
Robin: "He merely seeks to regain what is his, and the fact that he once had it - indeed, probably had it for some time - suggests that he is capable of possessing it again."
This puts the conservative in a better position than the progressive.

Progressives often seek to right generational wrongs, meaning they must create a system that has failed to exist in living memory, possibly ever in history.
The conservative seeks only to create a modernized version of something that was only recently the norm for everyone. Familiarity is a powerful tool.

People prefer the devil they know.
But if conservatism is built around getting back what you feel is yours, what happens once it's reclaimed? Does conservatism still exist?
Robin points out that, for many conservatives, the lack of an enemy to agitate against is existentially depressing. Whether they lose or win, they are empty without a battlefield.

Probably why some keep looking for new fights while the others get complacent.
And that's the end of chapter 2. Catch you next time, children! #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Hey sweet cheeks, let's pick this up again. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
We're on chapter 3 of The Reactionary Mind. I actually started this chapter earlier in the week with a dead phone while waiting out a thundershower at a cafe.

Lucky for you, I took notes with pen and paper.
This chapter is about the conservative relationship to war and violence.

In practice, conservatives are far more militant than the Left, but they are, on paper, against violence.
How does that square? Well, it seems (to me, I'm extrapolating) it gets rationalized by thinking of war as a solemn duty.

War isn't desirable, it's merely necessary.
This is echoed in Burke's writing about beauty and the sublime.

Burke says humans CRAVE the sublime. All other pleasures are transitory, will inevitably lead to stasis, loss, and malaise. Only the sublime truly invigorates.
"The sublime" is kind of like the animalistic mix of awe and terror that we imagine a wolf might feel in a thunderstorm. The experience of something primal and partially beyond our comprehension that makes us feel alive.
Per Burke, two of the most effective ways to experience the sublime are the exercise of power - especially hierarchical power - and violence.

This experience is not pleasurable, exactly, but Burke feels it's vital.
Robin points out the contrast between how conservative theorists describe conservatism - calm, skeptical, preferring the familiar to the different, preferring stasis to change - and how conservative politicians rally their base.
Both Reagan and Goldwater - and, now, Trump - built their campaigns around criticizing the slow plod of conservatives, praising the bold future America would dream together, demanding a faster and more revolutionary conservatism.
If conservatives are pretty much ALWAYS securing power by insisting conservatism needs to move faster and more radically, has the slow, plodding conservatism ever actually existed?
Did conservatives just invent the staid, hesitant conservative as their avatar so they could have something to push against? And did we just agree to it despite centuries of evidence to the contrary?
I'm thinking this may tie in with the observation from last chapter, that conservatives tend to feel that something that kept them secure and happy has only JUST been taken from them.

"The time for revolution is now so we can return to the calm and comfort we used to have."
But the conservative exists in a state of perpetually being "just past" an era of calm and comfort.

"Once Y has been returned, we can go back to the way things were."

But "the way things were" was saying the same thing about getting X returned.
Robin is now describing Burke's fascination with the sublime, the way pain and danger, when experienced, take up the whole mind, shutting out all else and allowing oneself to be temporarily obliterated, and he just sounds like the most sexually frustrated switch.
"I will create an entire counterrevolutionary political movement because no one wants me for a power bottom."

Someone throw Edmund Burke's bones in a sex dungeon.
Robin draws parallels between the "oscillation" of Burke's philosophy - the sublime both destroys and defines the self, gives life meaning by threatening death - and the oscillation of war and hierarchical power.
A hierarchy demands that you both dominate (those below) and submit (to those above).

War demands that you kill or be killed.

I think that interesting, but also kind of a reach?
Rousseau's description of hierarchies is on point and chilling:

"Since [citizens] pay more attention to what is below them than to what is above, domination becomes dearer to them than independence, and they consent to wear chains so that they may in turn give them to others."
In case you were wondering why poor whites are so reluctant to ally with poor non-whites. curiouscat.me/InnuendoStudio…
Echoing the ways Robin described conservatism growing soft whenever it's in power, one facet of being in a hierarchy is that it is more satisfying to force people into submission than to rule over them.
Game hunters like to hunt stags, bears, even lions; things that pose a threat. They don't hunt dogs and horses.

Once something has submitted to you, it no longer challenges you. It can bring you pleasure, but not the sublime.
I suspect this stokes the need to not simply sit back and rule, but to go out and conquer more peoples. And why the conservative insists his power is being threatened, why the bigot prays for race war.

They want to conquer, not to have conquered.
This is an interesting framing, because it implies the Right's insistance that progressives are on the verge of illegalizing straight marriage, throwing people in jail for using the wrong pronouns, rioting in the streets, isn't just a gaslighting tactic.

They want it to be true.
They want their subordinates to revolt so they can repress them all over again.
Ugh, Joseph de Maistre described what would happen if the weak, Old Regime, were to retake power after the French Revolution, saying kindness, clemency, and justice would return, and the idea disgusts him.
The last chunk of pages has mostly been reiterating the above with examples throughout history, but now we're coming to 9/11, and hoo boy.
One framing of the divide between liberals and conservatives during the 90's is that the liberals were overly-obsessed with the rule of law.

Due process over cowboying up; litigation over legislation; diplomacy over war; restraining power through judicial oversight.
This is exactly the kind of softness and laurel-resting conservative politicians are always criticizing their own party for when they need to mobilize the base.

When 9/11 happened, they could blame it on the Democrats.

"By being soft, you let this happen."
Robin points out how absolutely critical it was to frame terrorism as WAR, not as CRIME.

A crime requires due process. A war requires us to bend or suspend the rules.
(Not for nothing, white domestic terror is always framed as a crime.)
While the actions taken by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 were ostensibly to prevent another 9/11 from happening, very little of that work was preventative.

Moreso it was about redefining America as a society that broke rules when it saw fit.
Enacting torture, throwing out the Geneva Convention, invasion of privacy, suspension of civil liberties; these are not effective ways to combat domestic terror, but they're supposedly justifiable when you're at war.
The thing about Burke's sublime is that it requires a certain abstraction.

It is thrilling to send people to war to get shot; actually getting shot is less thrilling.
(Orwell described getting shot as both terrible and strangely anticlimactic.)
The sublime depends on an amount of ignorance. War is thrilling and terrifying and glorious IN THEORY - in our movies and essays and radio serials and video games.

War itself is often just miserable for everyone involved.
Fahrenheit 9/11 - not actually a good movie but occasionally informative - shows US soldiers in Iraq playing nü metal through the speakers in their helmets to give a soundtrack to their raids, trying to recreate the unreality of movies and video games.
Only fantasy violence is truly sublime. You have to force real war to approximate that.
And when war isn't terrible, it's boring. Robin discusses how bureaucratic torture was at Guantanamo: having to call a lawyer to ask permission to strike a prisoner, waiting some amount of time before getting approved for one open-handed slap on the belly.
But the IDEA of torture is Zero Dark Thirty: beating a man tied to a chair and screaming WHERE IS BIN LADEN?!?!?!?!
The glory of violence depends on it being real but removed from your daily life. There's a reason the loudest proponents for war rarely enlist themselves.
Well, that's the end of the chapter. That was dark. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Let's do another chapter, shall we? #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
If we are to consider conservatism counterrevolutionary at heart, let's discuss counterrevolution.
The conservative task of countering a revolution by appropriating its methods and reconfiguring the old regime often means the old regime will not be able to distinguish the counterrevolutionary from the revolutionary.
We can see this now in the tenuous relationship between the Right and the Alt-Right - the Alt-Right both claims to stand for traditional conservatism while also wanting to tear the existing conservative establishment down.
This is a sort of ridiculous task that other political movements don't have to deal with.

How do you make monarchy popular with people in the process of revolting against monarchy?

Robin says the conservative is "forced to straddle historical contradictions."
Robin pinpoints the nascent form of conservatism to Thomas Hobbes and the English Civil War.

Many would argue you can't call Hobbes a counterrevolutionary because the English Civil War wasn't a revolution, but what matters is that Hobbes disagreed.
Hobbes saw the English Civil War as the public yearning for democracy, and he flatly opposed "democraticals."
Hobbes set out to argue that people could be just as free in a monarchy as in a democracy or republic. (You can see how this narrative of freedom would make the monarchists suspicious of him.)
So how do you defend a monarchy? Robin says the monarchy will most commonly defend itself in two ways.
One argument is the Divine Right of Kings. The king is God's agent on Earth, and is functionally a god himself compared to other humans. No one else has the right to rule.

In the 1640s, this was a relatively recent notion.
This wouldn't work for Hobbes, because people had grown cynical of the idea of a divine order, the idea that God's will was comprehensible to humans.

Also, people yearning for democracy aren't interested in a social framing where only God and the king matter.
Hobbes' counter to this was the theory of consent and the theory of representation:

Consent argued that the public "created" their sovereign, and that democracy couldn't work because there were so many dissenting opinions that no one would ever find agreement.
The public needs an absolute ruler precisely BECAUSE they needed someone to make decisions on their behalf, so that they could stop disagreeing and get on with their lives.
Representation meant that the people should see themselves IN their monarch, "in every swing of his sword." If they create the monarch, and the monarch represents them, they functionally ARE the monarch.
(How exactly submitting to a monarch "creates" him is a bit unclear. I guess... they create the king by... allowing the monarchy to continue? A lack of revolt = consent?)
This argument is, of course, nonsense. Robin says it is classic of counterrevolutionary argument that the public consider themselves to have a function in society despite having zero agency. "Actors without roles," he calls them.
The second argument traditionally used to defend monarchy was the constitutional royalist perspective:

England free because they had laws and a Parliament. You were better off in England than in a kingdom that had neither.
Of course, the king had the right to defy the rule of law - the Divine Right of Kings argument was explicit about this - and the king had the freedom to ignore the Parliament.

At the time of the Civil War, no king in fifty years had claimed to believe in this argument.
Also, this emphasis on law and Parliament kiiiiiinda lays the groundwork for democracy.

If you say laws and collective governance are good, people are inevitably going to ask why they should have a king.
OK, this is interesting. Apparently, in the 1600s, English folks thought of slavery as being specifically about being utterly beholden to a will other than your own.
It wasn't simply being forced to do things you didn't want to do: if a slave only desired to do things the master asked of them, or if the master never asked them to do anything at all, they were still a slave.
The knowledge that someone else's will could be imposed on you at any time meant you weren't free, that your life was defined by "a net" that could fall on you at any time.
Freedom meant being beholden to your own will. Slavery meant being beholden to another's. Or, even, being beholden to lawlessness or chaos; anything that prevented you from exercising your own will.
I would be FASCINATED to hear what these folks would think of modern capitalism, just sayin'.
Hobbes' response to THIS argument was to argue that there's BASICALLY no such thing as rational will.

You have only appetites and aversions. You have no control over either. What you call your rational will is just whichever one you choose in a given moment.
Any decision you make is equally willful, says Hobbes. If you run into a burning building to save a case of wine because you have an appetite for wine, or if you run in to escape a pack of dogs because you have an aversion to dogs, that's all will.
Folks would say, "no, those actions are irrational, and irrational acts are not free," but Hobbes said any voluntary action was willful, and therefore free.

Only involuntary acts, like being dragged on a chain, are against the will.
Hobbes would argue that being robbed at gunpoint didn't rob you of your freedom, it simply made you shift your priorities from keeping your money to protecting your life.
Since people always had the option to choose death over obeying the king, they had freedom under monarchy.

God, this is like Orson Scott Card's argument that illegalizing gay marriage isn't discriminatory because gay men are just as free to marry women as straight men.
By this argument, so long as there is a government that keeps us being LITERALLY BOUND OR IMPRISONED, it doesn't matter what the government is. Monarchy, republic, democracy, it's all the same so long as you have basic freedom of physical movement.
Hobbes also argued that, as long as there are laws, you are just as politically constrained if you wrote them democratically as if they are a king's decree.

After all, you still have to obey them.
We can already see how these two arguments contradict each other.

The second argument says that any decisions we make for ourselves are free. The second says we need a ruler to make our decisions for us.
Hobbes only reconciles this by shifting the definition of "free" back and forth. In one context, "free" means political agency; in another, it means unimpeded movement.

He is assuring revolutionaries both that they are free and that freedom is overrated.
The last sentence of the chapter is "subjugation is emancipation," which is some chilling "freedom is slaver" shit.

That's it for today. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
Let us resume our woeful errand. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
The last chapter was about Thomas Hobbes. This one appears to be about Edmund Burke.
Robin lists off a number of contradictions in Burke's writings, but the most salient is that Burke was simultaneously dedicated to the free market and to aristocracy.
The idea that markets should be wholly unregulated, battlefields of equals where anyone can succeed provided they have cunning, sits uneasily with the belief that a small handful of betters should rule over the unqualified masses.
Burke could see that the Old Regime was failing, and it would only be a matter of time before monarchy fell out of fashion. So he came up with a conception of "value" that would approximate aristocracy by way of the market.

Robin says Burke was the first conservative.
Robin argues Burke's notion of value is spelled out in three of his writings, published near the end of his life: A Letter to a Noble Lord, Letters on a Regicide Peace, and Thoughts on Scarcity.
Thoughts on Scarcity was a response to a late 1790's food crisis in England, which led to a number of riots when poor workers couldn't afford the rising price of grain.

England took this seriously, knowing food riots were how the French Revolution began.
There were many debates about whether the government should intervene and guarantee a living wage. Burke wrote Thoughts on Scarcity to oppose such interventions.
Letters on a Regicide Peace was four letters in response to the apparent winding-down of the French Revolution.

Burke worried that British counterrevolutionary sentiment was diminishing now that the war was ending, and he wanted people to rededicate to anti-Jacobinism.
Part of the context was that British feeling at the time was that England couldn't afford the war, and was going too deep in debt. Burke defended the debt, and began to hypothesize on the relationship between "men of money and the state."
Finally, A Letter to a Noble Lord. The context here was that Burke was massively in debt and unable to afford the life of a nobleman. He was terrified of having to live as a poor person and/or die in a debtors' prison.
Burke had been a vocal critic of government pensions as a form of patronage, but nevertheless secured a sizable pension and two annuities to maintain his standard of living.

A couple of Whigs who sympathized with the French Revolution called him the fuck out for this.
A Letter to a Noble Lord was his rationalization for this hypocrisy: he argued that a man of talents deserve pensions in a way that lazy aristocrats did not, which meant returning, again, to the concept of value.
Robin has been burying the lede for 8 pages now and I do hope he gets around to articulating what Burke's definition of value WAS.
As mentioned in the first chapter, what truly concerned Burke was not simply the fall of the French monarchy, but the idea that it would lead to similar revolutions the world over.

The French Revolution was a challenge to the idea of subordination to aristocracy.
Here we go: the concept of value Burke is flirting with in these three writings.

What confers value on one's labor or the things their labor produces?
Is it the labor itself? That would imply that workers are entitled to a living wage even when the price of grain rises, so long as they are doing the same work.
Is it the market? That would imply things have no intrinsic value, only the fluctuating value of what the market will bear at a given moment.
Or is it the person who does the labor? That would imply Burke is more deserving of a pension than a more common person, even for the same labor, because Burke is of a more highly-valued rank in society.
One outcome of the French Revolution was that people were questioning whether people of high ranking in society had ever earned their position.

This is likely unavoidable when a hierarchy is challenged.
And, whatever answer people came up with, they would remember the debate. They would remember the hierarchy was not natural, it was decided on by humans, which meant it could be changed again.
In Thoughts on Scarcity, Burke argues that value is wholly determined by the market. Nothing has any value until a buyer and seller agree on it.

Presumably this is was his argument against a living wage: labor has no intrinsic value, so a guaranteed wage was nonsense.
But as he argues further, he begins to shift from saying value is determined by agreement of seller and buyer, and more that it is determined by the monied party.

Whether buying or selling, the person with economic power sets the price.
Burke argues in Letters on a Regicide Peace that the monied person ought to set the value - notice a shift from "is" to "ought."

He argues elsewhere that labor's value rises and falls with demand, but that part of the demand is that the person with money deserves a profit.
The workers rioting for a guaranteed wage deserve no such promise, but Burke argues the monied class should reasonably expect to not only come to a deal but gain profit in it.

The worker may take a loss, never the aristocrat.
Value, then, is determined by how well something satisfies the needs of men of money.
This suggests, to my mind, that the men of money are the only agents in this system. Laborers aren't buyers or sellers, they are commodities.
What is important to note is the shifting back and forth, depending on the needs of the argument he's making, of value being defined entirely by markets, and value being defined by the desires of the people with money.
This is a very stark contrast with the writing of Adam Smith, who felt neither supply and demand nor the outsized influence of the wealthy determined a thing's value, though they were definitely factors.

Smith argued REAL value was determined by labor.
This is especially relevant because Smith's was the dominant philosophy of the time. Burke's conservatism was confrontational and controversial.

When we think of conservatism as staid and old-fashioned, remember the first conservative was a radical.
So now there's a lot on Smith's arguments about labor and capital, which are actually quite interesting, but for the sake of efficiency I'm not cataloguing all of them here.
But one interesting bit is Smith's observation on why there remains an imbalance of power between labor and capital:

For one, there are always fewer employers than employees, which means it's easier for them to unify as a solid block.

Also, obviously, capital has capital.
If the labor refuses to work, or refuses to accept the price capital offers, capital can afford to wait labor out.

Also capital tends to have the law on its side.
So, then, according to Smith, labor is the determinant of value, but the outsized power of capital will divorce a thing's true value from its price, and divorce a worker's value from their wages.
So Burke argued against this, believing price and value were the same, and that any consideration for the needs or well-being of the laborer passed out of the realm of economics and into that of "mercy" or "Christian charity."
HEAVY shades of Republican arguments: the government shouldn't provide for the poor, we should support the poor through charities.

The poor getting to eat framed as a gift, not a right.
Burke also insists that government involvement in the market with make the market less free, but ignores all the ways the government ALREADY involves itself on behalf of capital.
Be it in the form of regulations that cap wages, law enforcement functioning as union-busters, or tax incentives for wealthy businesses, the government is always working in service of capital.

But this is never considered "meddling."
So, then, Burke's idea of value:
Labor is fungible. Burke argues that any randomly selected group of 5 workers would be as productive as any other group of 5. You'd have one good worker, one bad worker, and three middling ones.

Labor is abstract and quantifiable.
Capital is the opposite. Each member of the monied class is unique, has their own whims and needs, and will value labor differently. Burke sees them as providing "reason" to the undifferentiated grunts that are the workers and the soldiers.
It is therefore right and appropriate that capital set the value of goods and services, that capital have greater influence in government, that capital give orders in the wars they bankroll.
And, thus, hierarchies that rank people with laborers at the bottom and wealthy aristocrats at the top are appropriate.

The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more you profit and the less you produce. This is just.
Subjectivism in the market, objectivism in the social order.
Burke decided that, though the hierarchy was a just institution, the French Revolution called into question whether the correct people were holding the correct stations.

And he decided that one's station should be earned through the free market.

The birth of conservatism.
There's this element here of, like... believing in the social hierarchy, and believing that one should earn their place in it, but also insisting that people are always in the wrong places.
The people you think should be high are not high enough, the people you think should be low are too high.

So you not only believe in a hierarchy, but you have an image in your head of what it would look like if things were fair.
And, if it doesn't look like that, things aren't fair, someone's cheating, and things need to be rectified.

They talk about "earning," but if anyone they don't respect "earns" a high status, they don't recognize it as legitimate.
This is why Burke defended his pension while denying it to so many others:

Burke deserved it. The others didn't.
The men who had called Burke a hypocrite for taking the pension were born aristocrats, where Burke had "labored" for his noble life.

(I won't deny writers deserve compensation, but this is the guy who says people tilling fields don't.)
And that's his conservative argument in practice: challenging the aristocracy of inheritance and offering, as alternative, one of intellectual labor.
In the end, Burke's various contradictions were never reconciled. He died shortly after the writings we've been referring to. Robin hints at the Austrians of the next chapter as picking up and continuing the formulation of conservatism.
And that is another chapter down. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
I finished a rough cut of the next video a couple days ago, and it's been almost three months, so let's finally resume #IanLivetweetsHisResearch!
We're continuing with The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. (I've got to be running out of library renewals on this book by now.)

I actually read part of this chapter a month or more ago, but didn't have any way to tweet about it, so I will recap what I read from memory:
The opening pages are about Nietzche, and his beliefs about society.

A core facet of his beliefs was that the only real purpose of society was to produce Great Men, i.e. artists and philosophers.
Nietzche considered labor of any kind to be awful, shameful drudgery, and the fact that society could not exist without it was tragic. He felt that the primary goal of people doing work of any sort was to spare the Great Thinkers from having to do any.
In short: Nietzche thought the purpose of society was to produce men like himself, and all the rest of us should spare these Great Men of History from as much labor as possible, to free them up to produce their Great Works.
After this Nietzchean preamble, Robin moves into discussing The Marginal Revolution, spurred by the writings of Carl Menger, Stanley Jevons, and Leon Walras.

Their books were Princoples of Economics, Theory of Political Economy, and Elements of Pure Economics, respectively.
These "marginalists" shifted the focus in economics from the laborer to the man of the market, from producer to consumer.
Jevons and Menger were published first, and both were highly influential. Jevons writing was, eventually, taught all over England, and Menger became foundational to the Austrian school, most importantly to Hayek.
Robin argues the early marginalists had most likely not read Marx when writing their foundational works. And many marginalists considered themselves part of the Left.

But marginalist thought lent itself to anti-Marxist purposes, and was employed thusly by the Austrian School.
Robin's beating around the bush, but I think the thing he's aiming at is this: The marginalists did to economics what the Renaissance did to all other schools of thought. They deconstructed it, questioned it, made it less concrete and absolute.
The default premise of economics at the time was of labor as the absolute unit of value.

Raw materials come from the earth and only labor turns them into objects of value, and value can be quantified by how much labor was expended on the object.
By shifting focus from the laborer to the consumer, the marginalists shifted the conversation about value.
In the old thinking, a person making more money for leasing land that they own than a laborer is profane. By the marginalist's argument, this is perfectly moral, if the land is more valuable to the consumer than the product of the laborer's toil.
Marginalist's founded their thinking on the idea that the market was the determiner of value, and that this was not only reality (which is, to an extent, true) but that this was moral and just.
"Value" was now something ephemeral, socially-constructed, and not easily quantifiable.

Nietzche liked this thinking, as he longed for an aristocracy that freed Great Men from labor, because it meant value could be bestowed on anyone.
Nietzsche's notion of a society that elevated Great Men above all others did not fit with contemporary notions of morality, which prized "selflessness, universality, equality."
And, within that moral framework, it would appear that socialism and social justice were the only moral paths one could follow.

Nietzsche's response was to question morality itself.
The Austrian School, instead, argued that the human ability to bestow value to things WAS the definition of morality.

The market was the proving grounds for ethics.
We have a number of desired goals, we valuate the various means to our various ends, and pursue economic activity to achieve those ends.

That's the market, and that's life.
(This is brushing into the territory that Horkheimer railed against in Eclipse of Reason: the redefining of "reasonable" to mean "that which is useful to one's purposes," with any moral component to "reason" erased.)
Hayek believed that valuation was a matter of ranking our various needs and desires. If we have infinite resources and infinite time, we'd have no need to rank them, but we create priorities when resources are limited.

Thus, the market *forces* us to bestow value on things.
This is a weird series of conflations.

Like, yes, you can't separate your economic needs from your "normal life" needs. And, yes, limited resources compel you to make priorities. And, yes, this subjective valuation is probably the same way we determine our ethical values.
But to insist that, therefore, economic value and moral value are THE SAME and that markets are how we determine - even CREATE - our morals, is, quite frankly, doolally.
This is the kind of motivated reasoning people come up with when they start with the presumption "capitalism is good" and reverse engineer a moral framework that would lead to that conclusion.
To Hayek, choice is everything. To be moral, you need to make choices. He loved the market because it didn't force you to make any particular choice, but compelled you to make choices.

It's a bit naive about how much free choice one has under capitalism, frankly.
Also, like... did morality not exist until capitalism in this view? There was no morality for peasants living under feudalism? Christian socialism was amoral?
I believe Robin is framing this as the next evolution of the thoughts from the previous chapters, which sought to refashion the old aristocracy into modern social structures.

If people were no longer noble by birthright, they must become noble via proving grounds of some sort.
Burke and others felt war and shows of power would be the proving grounds,

The marginalists and the Austrian School argued it should be the market.

Capitalism is how the new hierarchy would be ordered.
Schumpeter and Hayek ran with this thinking, in somewhat different directions.

Schumpeter lionized the entrepreneur, flatly describing them as "the nearest approach to medieval lordship possible to modern man."
Hayek, meanwhile, acknowledged that the market actually exerted a lot of influence over the consumer - that no valuation was purely rational and that the wealthy has a massive amount of control over buyers - but, once again, argued that this was moral and just.
Robin uses the example of a computer:

Most of us know how to use a computer, but few of us know how a computer works, beyond general knowledge about electricity and code. We certainly couldn't design one from scratch.
Which means our ability to use a computer is dependent on the ingenuity of engineers who design computers, a process we don't remotely understand.

Hayek would argue that the freedom of that engineer should matter more to us than our own freedom.
The actions of people who do things that we do not understand but that make us happy are the most important and impactful actions in society, Hayek argues. They are the most beneficial to society.

We should LET these people disproportionately influence the market.
Hayek: "The freedom that will be used by only one man in a million may be more important to society and more beneficial to the majority than any freedom that we all use."

Me: "This is bunk."
This is some Randian nonsense that pretends the modern computer wasn't the collective product of millions of people amassing knowledge and skill throughout history.
Anyway, Hayek says that we don't grant more freedom to that one man in a million because we cannot predict who the one man will be. So we grant freedom to everyone, and trust that the one man will rise in power as he reveals himself.
This is the capitalist interpretation of Nietzsche's belief that society's sole purpose should be producing great men.
Hayek also does the thing where he argues that the majority of people prefer not to be Great Men. Most people are content to fit a framework, to punch the clock and have a secure wage.

The dividing of society into The Few who should lead and The Many who are built for following.
Then there's a bunch of valorizing of the "idle rich," people who have the mental space to innovate because they inherited wealth and don't have to work, and whose ability to buy expensive goods encourages producers to innovate/make cheaper products, and, just, blehhhhh.
I don't think I need to point out the hypocrisy of saying Great Men will distinguish themselves in the market while exalting those who've gained their wealth through no effort of their own.
A few closing paragraphs that I won't summarize, and we've finished off another chapter, and also closed out Part 2. We're leaving the history of conservative thought behind in Part 3 and moving on to modern conservatism.

This has been #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
I'm sick as a dog and not leaving bed much, so now's as good a time as any to knock out another chapter of The Reactionary Mind. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
This chapter is about Ayn Rand, and here are the opening sentences:

"Saint Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabakov, Isaiah Berlin, and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both."
Rand's writing is an interesting case, in that it posits that, the greater a thinker one is, the more resistance from the public they encounter. The truly great among us are the most hated.

Rand clearly believed herself such a person, and yet she was adored by millions.
Which, of course, didn't stop her from constantly claiming she met nothing but resistance, often outright lying. (She falsely claimed The Fountainhead was rejected 12 times before finding a publisher.)
You can see why this narrative resonates with conservatives, who are quite adept at believing in their own persecution despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, and love any story that tells this imagined oppression is proof of greatness.
But, really, Rand believed that there was a genuine meeting of the minds between geniuses and the masses. The real impediment was all the middlemen in between - bureaucrats, tastemakers, philosophers, etc.

People who didn't deserve their station.
Her books ended with the genius finally being appreciated.
Going into Rand's history, Robin argues that her trademark selfishness is not, overall, that remarkable. Just run-of-the-mill self-absorption.
She insisted she was self-made, despite having benefited from social programs her entire life. She got free college thanks to the Russian Revolution. She researched her book thanks to publicly-funded libraries. She lived off theatre royalties for a play she wrote years earlier.
Thousands of selfish people have done similar.

Robin says what made her remarkable was her ability to convince others she was remarkable.

"Not by being great, but by persuading others, even shrewd biographers, that she was great."
"Jennifer Burns, and intellectual historian and author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, writes that Rand was 'among the first to identify the modern state's often terrifying power and to make it an issue of popular concern,'
which is true only if one sets aside Montesquieu, Godwin, Constant, Tocqueville, Proudhon, Bakunin, Spencer, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and Emma Goldman."

SAVAGE.
Rand *claimed* to have only Aristotle as a philosophical influence, though from the number of misapplied or apocryphal quotes she attributed to him, it's an open question how much she read, and how much of what she read she understood.
What she took from Aristotle was a bastardized notion of his ethics.

Kant said virtue was was the product of a complex code of ethics, where Aristotle believed virtue was the result of a human who lived the right life. Provided you lived well, virtue would occur naturally.
Rand took the kernel of this idea - virtue being human nature - and applied it in melodramatic terms: Human nature was whatever helped you survive.

Literally everything you do is life and death, and whatever is life is virtuous.
Robin is quick to point out that the concept of any course of action but virtue leading to death "bends towards fascism."

Fascists always frame their way of life as existentially necessary, with annihilation as the only alternative.
(Rand's framing of this life-and-death lens as invigorating is reminiscent of Burke's fixation with the sublime.)
Robin quotes a speech by Goebbels that describes the German state nearly identically to how Rand describes the individual. The similarity is chilling.
Rand uses this thinking to insist that capitalism is the only system that follows the dictates of nature, drawing parallels between one's success or failure under capitalism and an animal's survival or death in the wild.

She believed, in either scenario, you lived on your wits.
Capitalism, therefore, was the most logical, and, by extension, the most virtuous social form.
The main difference between her and the Nazis (aside from Rand being, y'know, raised Jewish) was that fascists idolize the state - that is, a collective - while Rand thought collectives were monstrous and that one should only ever function as an individual.
This is no way prevented fascists from adopting her language, because fascists LOVE to idolize the individual, to lionize a Great Man for the masses to project themselves onto.
What is continuous between Randian objectivism and fascism is the deeply rooted belief that people are NOT equal.

That the exalted Great Men are worth more than the masses, and that the masses benefit more by the existence of Great Men than the Great Men benefit from the masses.
This is, flatly, a defense of exploitation. It insists that, the farther down the hierarchy you are, the more you are benefiting from the few geniuses at the top, because you are clearly so inept you'd be dead without them. Do your labor because it's all you're good for.
Hoo, wow, OK. There is some shit here about Rand's early adherence to Nietzsche that is... unsettling.

Nietzsche and Rand were both lifelong atheists. And Nietzsche's opinions on religion - especially Christianity - were... negative.
In short, he believed that, before there was religion, there was still the division of the master class and the slave class. And the slave class looked at the masters with resentment and envy.
The slaves told themselves that they deserved the same as the masters. And they told themselves the masters' power and cruelty were sinful, and their own meekness and humility were virtues.

They invented religion to tell themselves they were the masters' equals.
And, remember, Nietzsche believed wholeheartedly in the Great Men of history, and felt the existence of a master class of Great Men was the entire PURPOSE of society.
Rand later claimed to have moved beyond Nietzsche, but this thread sustains throughout her work: She and Nietzsche both believed that Christianity, democracy, and socialism, were all spook stories invented so the lessers of the earth could claim a Greatness they did not deserve.
There's a bit more, but that's the bulk of the chapter.

There was a passing reference earlier to how this Nietzschean thread of thinking can only go in two directions: libertarianism or fascism. I hope Robin elaborates on that later.

This has been #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
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