Coffee, tea, or Ross Douthat

A few weeks ago, reader C sent me a link to an interesting article by a historian named Corey Robin about the nature of modern conservatism. Before I give you the link, I must tell you: it contains the phrases “mile-high club” and “Ross Douthat” in close proximity. Consider yourself warned.

The conservative believes in excellence, as Douthat says, but it is a vision of excellence defined as and dependent on “overcoming.” It’s a vision that abhors the easy path of acceptance, of tolerating human frailty and need, not because that path is wrong but because it is easy. Or, to put it differently, it’s wrong precisely because it is easy. And though that vision often claims Aristotle as its inspiration, its true sources are Nietzschean.

The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete who is constantly overcoming or trying to overcome his limits, pushing himself ever higher and higher. When it comes to sex, he’s not unlike the Foucauldian transgressor, that sexual athlete of novelty and experiment: but where Foucault believes that taboos against sex are all too easily reached (that’s why, if we are to attain the peaks of experience, we have to move beyond those limits), the conservative’s remain out of reach. The value of a rule lies in its difficulty and potential unattainability, the ardor of the struggle it imposes upon us. We might call this ethic the ardor of adversity.

I had never considered this before, that part of the reason many conservatives want to follow the rules of 13th century Europe is that it’s difficult to follow those rules (one could probably construe Douthat’s own style as a very extreme form of hipsterism, with Chunky Reese Witherspoon playing the role of a non-fixed gear bike). When I was a kid, there was a Harvey Mansfield student who lived down the street from me. Wore a fedora, devout church-goer, made his kids wear suits, at least to church, from age 6 onward, loved the Middle Ages (also loved Nietzche). Convinced both of his kids to join the army after high-school. Why would someone want to live like that? The answer that they want to do it partly because they see it as a challenge makes a lot of sense to me.

I’ve started reading Robin’s new book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, on Kindle, and I like it a lot so far. What do people think of doing this for a book club?

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99 replies
  1. 1

    Mein kampf ist alles.

  2. 2
    dslak says:

    I’m all for challenges, but why do our only challenges have to be those imposed upon us by a corrupt, pedophile-protecting instution that looks upon the Middle Ages with nostalgia?

  3. 3
    ornery says:

    Corey Robin skipped the part where modern Conservatism is the larval form of fascism. If something that honest is in the book, sure let’s give it a crack.

    I like the part where ‘tolerating human frailty’ is the easy way: in fact glorifying, demonizing and projecting are the easy path, not toleration of others’ frailty.

  4. 4
    Dougerhead says:

    @dslak:

    I don’t understand that part either.

  5. 5
    Zifnab says:

    When I was a kid, there was a Harvey Mansfield student who lived down the street from me. Wore a fedora, made his kids wear suits, at least to church, from age 6 onward, loved the Middle Ages. Convinced both of his kids to join the army after high-school. Why would someone want to live like that?

    Fixation on appearance. Glorification of the military. Longing for a romanticized version of ancient times. He just sounds cookie-cutter conservative to me.

    Why do all these things? Because they indicate “We” are better than “You”. The military is glorified, so join the military. Suits are supposed to make you look impressive, so make everyone – even 6-year-olds – wear a suit. The Middle Ages have that perfect mix of aristocratic heroics and mystical glorified Christianity, so I can see how a bunch of old white guys charging around in shining armor for the glory of God might appeal Mr. Type A Personality.

    It’s not about *being* impressive. It’s about *looking* impressive. It’s about spoofing up your resume and creating the illusion of glory.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Dougerhead says:

    @Zifnab:

    I don’t think that’s it with this guy. I lost all respect for him when he started hating on illegal aliens in a conversation once, but I think it’s more complicated than you make it out to be. There is nothing about this guy that looks impressive, he’s not trying for that. His look is “if Pete Campbell had an older brother who as a Poly Sci prof”.

  8. 8
    Zifnab says:

    @Dougerhead: I always though Pete Campbell was fairly impressed with himself. Besides, isn’t the resounding theme of Mad Men all about “crafting an image”?

  9. 9
    cbear says:

    The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, on Kindle, and I like it a lot so far. What do people think of doing this for a book club?

    Sounds interesting, but I’d prefer The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. The characters are much more interesting and complex and it’s got better pictures.

  10. 10
    wrb says:

    definition of a liberal:

    A conservative mugged by Wall Street

  11. 11
    schrodinger's cat says:

    How about a book on the Great Depression since we are living in similar times now.

  12. 12
    kindness says:

    My mind went into the gutter when you said

    The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete who is constantly overcoming or trying to overcome his limits,… When it comes to sex, he’s not unlike the Foucauldian transgressor, that sexual athlete of novelty and experiment

    I was going to add something witty but coupling Douthat/excellence/sex in the same mental imagery made me throw up a little in the back of my mouth. Yuck. I just don’t want to go there, even though the post didn’t, my mind did. Gutter. Yuck.

    I’ll need to Failblog for a while for the mental bleaching effect.

  13. 13
    Roy G says:

    The truth that puts the lie to this is it is all too easy to hate on the poor, the powerless and the Other, and nothing is easier than whinging about paying taxes and helping the less fortunate in our society. By this definition, Jesus was a conservative, but what does that make them?

    I think the other reason they like this definition, is because they love it when people they dislike fail, but those in their favor get a free ethics pass, a la Newt Gingrich.

    I guess they hate masturbation, too, except the mental kind, through which they are constantly jacking themselves off.

  14. 14
    srv says:

    These are people who could never satisfy their fathers and we will never be able to satisfy them. Just because your ilk qualify for DSM IV does not mean that should be the foundation for a political party.

    At least your neighbor made his kids join the army. Modern conservatism is much more lazy than that.

  15. 15
    jl says:

    But but but…

    The kind of ‘overcoming’ Nietzsche had in mind was different than the kind of overcoming that conventional Christians have n mind. The first, Nietzsche thought, led to freedom, and ability to enjoy the fullness of life while having the detachment needed to not be enslaved by the intensity of the experience. The latter was a struggle to deny one’s, um, naughty bits, rather than come to terms with them, very especially the sexytime naughty bits.

    And anyhoo, the last thing Nietzsche wrote that made sense in the normal use of that term, and had some info about how he regarded real world social policy, was probably Human All to Human, and there, he was a social democrat.

    He was not an optimistic social democrat, and saw about as much bad as good in the system, and thought it would destroy itself eventually

    Nietzsche had some very prescient things to say about how social democracy evolved, its almost spooky to read some of the Human All to Human passages in hindsight.

    I remember the one thing he got wrong. He thought that one of its beneficial aspects was that it would keep the forces of violent authoritarianism at bay for a hundred years. He was too optimistic there, unfortunately

    You know, this miserable lefty blog could use a little Nietzsche from time to time. Then the right thinking people would know exactly how depraved the BJ operation is.

  16. 16
    Yutsano says:

    @cbear: More warm fuzzies. Also.

  17. 17
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Zifnab:

    It’s not about being impressive. It’s about looking impressive. It’s about spoofing up your resume and creating the illusion of glory.

    You may have the right connection but are getting the causation backwards. In my experience people who work in sales/marketing tend to be capital-C conservative because they are used to working in a very subjective world of appearances where The Green Lantern Theory of Everything (Willpower! We just need moar Willpower!) appears to work, and may even be the key to achieving individual success (at least for a time, until a bigger reality comes along and eats you for breakfast). These folks are not used to grappling on a daily basis with hard empirical reality which gets in the way of your plans and theories, and they tend to gravitate to the political philosophy which gratifies that way of looking at the world.

  18. 18
    David in NY says:

    I think I’m going to read J.K. Galbraith’s, American Capitalism – The Concept of Countervailing Power (1952), to examine both its descriptive and prescriptive features. As description, I understand, it concluded that capitalism was working because of the balance among big business, big labor and big (regulatory) government. At this level, I want to ponder WTF happened (unions died, or got pushed over the cliff by R. Reagan who also helped kill the regulatory importance of big government).

    On the prescriptive level, I think it may be interesting (he starts out from Hayek) in considering why markets can’t just be left alone, but have to be managed to further the common good.

    Ed.: Also, Galbraith could write up a storm.

  19. 19
    Hoodie says:

    It would be a good choice because it provides yet another opportunity to make fun of Andrew Sullivan. I haven’t read the book, but I understand that part of Robin’s thesis is that the real Burke was a reactionary, which doesn’t fit the warm, fuzzy picture painted by Sullivan and other “real conservatives” in the never-ending search for true Scotsmen. I think Sullivan’s reaction to the book was something like “but we really mean Oakeshott!”

  20. 20
    jl says:

    On the other hand, put a big ol’ Nietzsche ‘stache on Douthat, and who do you see?

    Pretty spooky, though the N looks handsomer than the D even with the ‘stache.

    Maybe that is what Robin was trying to get at.

  21. 21
    xian says:

    n i e t z s c h e

    never miss the opportunity to put 5 consonants in a row.

  22. 22
    Joel says:

    Stoicism for all!

  23. 23
    PeakVT says:

    The value of a rule lies in its difficulty and potential unattainability, the ardor of the struggle it imposes upon us. We might call this ethic the ardor of adversity.

    Well, maybe, but I think most conservatives like to see others struggle (and fail) instead of getting off on the struggle themselves.

  24. 24
    EconWatcher says:

    This really describes one side of my family–diehard Indiana agrarian Catholics–to a “t.” They believe that moral worth comes from suffering, “how bad you’ve had it.” The worse you’ve had it, the better you are. It leads to an angry, bitter world view that can flare up in odd ways and unexpected times. And it shows up in the voting booth as a steely determination to make sure, by God, no one is trying to get off easy by living off the labor of others.

  25. 25
    David in NY says:

    @EconWatcher: I’ve always thought that kind of Catholicism went with certain ethnicities, maybe, indeed, ones that settled Indiana (and most of the US as well).

  26. 26
    Dougerhead says:

    @Hoodie:

    I have to confess that I found Sullivan’s comments on the book interesting. I don’t read him much anymore but his Burke/Oakshotte stuff isn’t bad the way Bobo’s is.

  27. 27
    handsmile says:

    I don’t know how these things work, but please put me down as a YES vote for selecting “The Reactionary Mind” as the next project of the Balloon Juice Book Club.

    Two weeks ago at the City University of New York Graduate Center, I attended a “conversation” between Corey Robin and MSNBC host Chris Hayes on the book and the subject “What is Conservatism?” (I had been alerted to this event by Digby who has been recommending Robin’s book for the past month.)

    A standing-room only crowd enjoyed a provocative discussion of Edmund Burke and the paradigms of freedom and domination that characterize conservative ideology.

    Some quotations/notebook entries from the evening: “Violence and warfare are intrinsic to the conservative vision”; “Home and workplace are the two sacred domains of conservative thought”; Conservatives believe there are better, beautiful people in the world who should dominate and control others in order to establish and maintain a society dictated by a privileged elite; “There’s nothing wrong with Kansas: people have multiple interests.”

    I purchased the book following the talk and would dearly love an opportunity to rescue it from one of my tottering book piles.

  28. 28
    Samara Morgan says:

    jaysus-h-keyrist-inna-handcart.
    conservatism is the defense of the status quo as risk management.
    there aint no fucking excellence involved.
    and libertarianism is defense of localized mob rule as “experimentation”.

    dont you even read those retards that Cole lets front page here?

  29. 29
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    Eh, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have some stuff in common with this sort of ideology. I don’t think that ease of living should be our primary goal as a society, I’m kind of suspicious of technology, I think there’s something bigger than myself out there, and I think that facing adversity, even it’s adversity you set up for yourself, can make you a stronger person. And I personally think liberals would do themselves a disservice to completely abandon this language, because A), liberal goals like ending discrimination, creating environmental stability, and helping the poor aren’t cakewalks, and having an arsenal of language about personal sacrifice and struggle for a higher cause might come in handy, and B), I think it serves as a good antidote for the libertarian bullshit in charge of the GOP these days, which says we should just sell our jobs, our governments, and our homes over to Big Daddy Businessman, and then be happy with the gewgaws he sells us back in return and then just, I don’t know, sit around and fart until we become obsolete due to technological advances. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I think this sort of conservatism could be useful to explain the problem to people who might not be receptive to more liberalism-grounded arguments.

    Of course, this sort of self-sacrificing, historically-grounded conservative who believes in an ethic of personal improvement is mostly a concept, anyway. The guys like Douthat and VD Hanson who claim they represent it are privileged, pampered wankers haven’t struggled for a damn thing in years, and when it shows up in conservative magazines it’s just to provide faux-historical justification for whatever neo-fascist bullshit they’re actually trying to push. I don’t think this is modern conservatism’s Secret Core because it doesn’t have a Core of any description. It’s just towing the party line, throwing shit at the wall, and trying to slash at the vaguely defined Liberal Menace with meaningless and often conflicting bromides. This is just my experience anyway, but I don’t think it has the integrity or even the coherence to say that it’s born from the “ardor of adversity.”

  30. 30
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @EconWatcher:

    And it shows up in the voting booth as a steely determination to make sure, by God, no one is trying to get off easy by living off the labor of others.

    Heh indeedy. This can flare up as social-justice liberation theology-ish stuff about powerful entrenched interests — or as resentment against “welfare cases” looking for a handout. And those powerful entrenched interests have done a remarkable job focusing that steely determination on anyone but themselves.

  31. 31
    Oliver's Neck says:

    Philosophy prof here and I wanted to say that, while Robin is absolutely right that modern conservatism isn’t at all Aristotelian – it’s only Nietzschean in a bad undergrad/Ayn Rand/Kevin Kline as Otto sort of way. Nietzsche was against one acknowledging the frailty in others as a way to increase your own power over them. As one of my profs said, “if you see a person who is walking in front of you fall down, Nietzsche certainly thinks you should help him up. What Nietzsche doesn’t think you should do is stand there and talk about how frail the man is for having fallen and how fortunate he is that you were there to help him and you ‘certainly don’t need any thanks for having been so tremendously helpful to the poor, poor clumsy man’. That sort of “charitable” reaction is one that Niezsche loathed. Instead, having helped the man up you should just keep on walking and let him do the same.”

  32. 32
  33. 33
    Dougerhead says:

    @handsmile:

    I love that Graduate Center debate area. The proximity of the Ginger Man and (now) Koren fried chicken helps too.

  34. 34
    cleek says:

    We might call this ethic the ardor of adversity.

    and

    part of the reason many conservatives want to follow the rules of 13th century Europe is that it’s difficult to follow those rules

    yes, there’s a bit of asceticism at the heart of real conservatism: the rugged individualist proudly scratching a living out of the hard soil; bravely facing down hardship without help; making it on your own; etc..

    i’m not sure there’s all that much of that in modern day Republicanism, though. Republicanism seems more about pretending everybody used to be one of those old-time rock-ribbed conservatives, but now nobody can be because the evil liberals have made it impossible; so liberals must be opposed. so, instead of actually going out and being a rock-ribbed conservative, today’s “conservative” is just a member of team GOP, which is (as you know), just permanent opposition to team Liberal. it’s not a positive personal ideology, it’s reactionary.

  35. 35
    EconWatcher says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Agree completely.

  36. 36
    piratedan says:

    The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete who is constantly overcoming or trying to overcome his limits,… When it comes to sex, he’s not unlike the Foucauldian transgressor, that sexual athlete of novelty and experiment

    ohhhh, so they’re goatfuckers?

  37. 37
    cmorenc says:

    @Dougerhead: (actually, quoting Ross Douthat):

    The conservative believes in excellence, as Douthat says, but it is a vision of excellence defined as and dependent on “overcoming.”

    WE SHALL OVER…CO…OME, we shall over…come some da-hey-eh-eh-ey.

    Perhaps this is how conservatives have conned themselves into claiming Martin Luther King as one of their own rather than one of those black hippie liberal revooolutioneries.

  38. 38
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @cleek: Yup. The Libs made everyone all soft and squishy with their political correctness and their time-outs and their Consumer Product Safety Commission. So opposing The Libs serves as a proxy for actual asceticism.

  39. 39
    Lev says:

    Today’s right: let’s accomplish big, great things, and then have someone else pay for them. Greatness without sacrifice–at least, without shared sacrifice.

  40. 40
    srv says:

    To follow on Spaghetti Lee:

    It is harder to end discrimination than to ignore it.

    It is harder to feed and clothe the poor than leave them hungry and naked.

    It is harder to provide health care for everyone than leave them sick.

    It is harder to create an equitable world than leave it unfair.

    Early Christians understood this, which is why they were so soshulist.

  41. 41
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    I don’t think it has the integrity or even the coherence to say that it’s born from the “ardor of adversity.

    its just bulshytt.
    like i said, conservatism is the defense of the status quo as risk management.

  42. 42
    handsmile says:

    @Dougerhead: (#37)

    Not familiar with Koren fried chicken (Korean?), but having hoisted a pint or two or..there, I daresay the Ginger Man would be the properly dissipated environment for meetings of the local chapter of the esteemed BJBC.

  43. 43
    catclub says:

    @xian: People are queueing up to do that.

  44. 44
    Chris says:

    @David in NY:

    At this level, I want to ponder WTF happened (unions died, or got pushed over the cliff by R. Reagan who also helped kill the regulatory importance of big government).

    One of the big thesis statements of Krugman’s “Conscience of a Liberal” is that the decline of unions, the welfare state, the middle class society and generally the whole economic America we were used to in the fifties isn’t the result of vast, impersonal market forces, but conscious policy choices on the part of political leaders.

    So what you said – in a nutshell, “what happened” is Reagan killed it. According to The Shrill One, at least. I’d be interested in seeing what “American Capitalism” has to say, though.

  45. 45
    aimai says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading Robin’s work but that excerpt is execrable. I mean, its just hideously bad writing. A taboo isn’t “reached.” The first sentence needs a bunch of commas and a thorough beating. And anyway lots of people have made this argument better and clearer.

    aimai

  46. 46
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Samara Morgan:

    conservatism is the defense of the status quo as risk management.

    Fair enough but broadly irrelevant. American big “C” “Conservatives” are radicals who demand radical change towards a status quo that has existed only in some counter-factual past. They own the word “conservative” at the moment, in America at least.

  47. 47
    Professor says:

    A conservative does not believe in excellence, a conservative believes in the Past. He (for it is always he) believes in the ‘good old days’. He is a person who has reached his ‘comfort zone’ and you have to drag him screaming to the new ‘present’level. I always go by what Steve D who posts at Booman Tribune said: ‘A conservative is a person who has two perfectly formed legs but NEVER learned to walk forward’. This is attributed to FDR.

  48. 48
    Chris says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Enjoyed reading this.

    The main difference between the kind of struggle and self-sacrifice you’re talking about, and the kind they’re talking about, of course, is that you’re talking about struggling and sacrificing not just for yourself, but for others, and not just for others, but for complete strangers, for no other reason than because they’re humans too.

    That’s something the conservative ethic, even from those who HAVE sacrificed and struggled, seems completely unable to relate to.

  49. 49
    catclub says:

    @Linda Featheringill: Got it in one. See also, jihad. If these people were literate they would read St Augustine’s Confessions.

  50. 50
    Chris says:

    @Professor:

    Tribune said: ‘A conservative is a person who has two perfectly formed legs but NEVER learned to walk forward’. This is attributed to FDR.

    Good line.

    In the same quote, FDR also said “a radical is a man with both feet firmly planted in the air,” and “a reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards.” Take your pick as to which of those three quotes best describes the current GOP.

  51. 51
    David in NY says:

    @Chris: Now that you mention it, Conscience of a Liberal, which I’ve not read either, would be a good companion piece. Sort of before and after the deluge.

  52. 52
    Lev says:

    @Professor: There’s a line in I, Claudius about how people who have nothing to be proud of in themselves do nothing but worship their ancestors. Somehow I think it applies.

  53. 53
    Anoniminous says:

    The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete …& blah-dee-blah-dee-blah.

    Oh please.

    A Conservative thinks the excellent person is someone who shares their 8th grade view of the Universe. Which is usually compounded from Low Church Protestant ranting and a bowdlerized misunderstanding of an 18th Century Thinker they’ve never read. In Nietzschean terms, they’ve never undergone the tedious process of being The Camel so they can never become The Child, they can only be childish.

    Also Sprach Anoniminous.

  54. 54
    Arclite says:

    Here’s the original Chunky Reese Witherspoon post

  55. 55
    YoohooCthulhu says:

    Yeah, but this explanation is missing something.

    Conservatives embrace rigid social mores because they are hard….and that matters to them because of the OUTWARD projection of superiority from that. There are some liberals of the far left that embrace a similar form of ascetic existence, but in general the liberal focus on moral adversity is related to self-improvement rather than outward projection

  56. 56
    John Casey says:

    1. The “hipsterism” line is really funny. But I think it negates (maybe this was the point) the idea that silverspooners are trying to do something hard. Rejecting Chunky Reese wasn’t a struggle to Douthat (as far as I remember there weren’t any blue ones talked about); he just found her repulsive. And he found a way to turn that repulsion into self-congratulation.

  57. 57
    Chris says:

    @YoohooCthulhu:

    Conservatives embrace rigid social mores because they are hard….and that matters to them because of the OUTWARD projection of superiority from that.

    That, and they don’t actually embrace the mores, in a lot of cases. See also Baptists who drink, televangelists who turn out to be gay, and the vast majority of Christians whose religions don’t believe in premarital sex but who have it anyway.

  58. 58
    Suzan says:

    I’m a “yes” on reading the book. The innertubes are all a buzz with Robin today. Digby has a great piece re: OWS which links to Robin’s web page which ate up most of my morning. Conservatives want to look good because they want to feel (know, believe?) they are better than someone else. See also: mudsill theory and interesting discussion at Robin’s blog.

  59. 59
    Anoniminous says:

    @YoohooCthulhu:

    US Conservatism is well explained in Prof. Altemeyer’s Social Psychological analysis “The Authoritarians.” You can get the pdf here.

    Blurb:

    The studies explain so much about these people. Yes, the research shows they are very aggressive, but why are they so hostile? Yes, experiments show they are almost totally uninfluenced by reasoning and evidence, but why are they so dogmatic? Yes, studies show the Religious Right has more than its fair share of hypocrites, from top to bottom; but why are they two-faced, and how come one face never notices the other? Yes, their leaders can give the flimsiest of excuses and even outright lies about things they’ve done wrong, but why do the rank and file believe them? What happens when authoritarian followers find the authoritarian leaders they crave and start marching together?

    Quick read and well worth the time.

  60. 60

    Here is the essence of American conservatism. A completely morally bankrupt ideology:

    Tea Party Nation Urges Businesses To Stop Hiring In Order To Hurt Obama
    __
    Tea Party Nation sent to their members today a message from activist Melissa Brookstone urging businesspeople to “not hire a single person” to protest the Obama administration’s supposed “war against business and my country.” Brookstone writes that business owners should stop hiring new employees in order to stand up to “this new dictator,” the “global Progressive socialist movement,” Hollywood, the media and Occupy Wall Street.

  61. 61

    Here is the essence of American conservatism. A completely morally bankrupt ideology:

    Tea Party Nation Urges Businesses To Stop Hiring In Order To Hurt Obama
    __
    Tea Party Nation sent to their members today a message from activist Melissa Brookstone urging businesspeople to “not hire a single person” to protest the Obama administration’s supposed “war against business and my country.” Brookstone writes that business owners should stop hiring new employees in order to stand up to “this new dictator,” the “global Progressive soc1al1st movement,” Hollywood, the media and Occupy Wall Street.

  62. 62
    aimai says:

    @Anoniminous:
    I second that recommendation. Altemeyer’s book is one of the best books on the subject ever written. See also John Dean’s Conservatives without Conscience.

    aimai

  63. 63
    Jason says:

    I think people are confused because there’s at least two major sets of traits in the conservative movement, which sometimes work at cross-purposes.

    One is the masochistic, domineering authoritarian worldview — the people with high social dominance orientation, who believe in the rules and traditional values — so long as they are the ones making the rules and it’s their values that recognised as traditional.

    The other strand is the high functioning narcissist or narcissistic sociopath, represented by Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, George Bush and Sarah Palin. These people are just interested in number one. They have reasonable psychology of mind when dealing the non-sociopathic and thus have learned to make the right noises when appropriate, but basically are undisciplined, greedy, self-centered, have a colossal sense of entitlement, and a hugely exaggerated sense of self worth. They lie, cheat, and break the rules whenever they can get away with it. The high SDO types are often the sheep, the narcissists the shepherds — and sometimes the wolves.

    It’s important to remember that the narcissists don’t actually believe in rigid mores — they believe in advancing number one, and the noises they make are just whatever gets them ahead with the sheep.

  64. 64
    Arclite says:

    @xian: Can you name the only town in America consisting entirely of vowels?

  65. 65
    Anoniminous says:

    @aimai:

    Ack.

    Another good time oldie is Drury’s “Leo Strauss and the American Right.”

  66. 66
    Arclite says:

    @Jason: Hard to argue against your points.

  67. 67
    Chris says:

    @Southern Beale:

    “Please, punish this sinful country for transgressing against you!” is a common lament on the right. In the same category, had this (“Horse Leech Economics”) sent to me by a friend the other day. The gold:

    I do have one complaint about the rich though. I do not begrudge them their wealth, their privileges, or their wives’ earrings the size of baseballs. Okay by me. I do not fault them for hiring lawyers to hide their stuff, and for figuring out ways to move their assets off shore. If someone figured out a way to install a bank on the moon, I would not blame them for placing significant electronic deposits there. I do not fault them for not showing up for the lunch anymore.

    I do fault them for not defending themselves. I do fault them for not funding more think tanks dedicated to economic sanity. I do blame them for the fact that there are many capable defenders of the wealthy who do not have the resources to do the job right — and who do it anyway. They are the true citizen economists.

    The amount of groveling those bastards do in front of the people who’ve spent the last thirty years destroying the economy for the other ninety percent of us has just gotten too sickening for words. Richard Wright wrote about a black guy he saw in the days of segregation volunteering to let white people kick him in the ass: I’d say that’s about how I feel when I read this shit.

    And I wouldn’t care so much if they were just volunteering themselves for the ass-kickings. But nooo, every one of US has to suffer for their fucked-up fetishes as well.

  68. 68
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Southern Beale:

    Oy. Fuckers.

  69. 69
    Dougerhead says:

    @handsmile:

    Check it out, there’s tons of it near the GC. Great stuff.

  70. 70
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @xian:

    S T R E N G T H S. Only one vowel in the nine-letter lot.

  71. 71

    “The value of a rule lies in its difficulty FOR OTHERS and potential unattainability FOR OTHERS, the ardor of the struggle it imposes FOR OTHERS. We might call this ethic the ardor of adversity.

  72. 72
    Anoniminous says:

    @aimai:

    I’ve got Dean’s book on my To-Read shelf and there it sits. Making me feel guilty. I know I should read the damn thing but haven’t been able to summon the uff dah to get her done.

  73. 73
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @aimai:

    This may be more ambitious than we want — or too soon– but I think it would be really interesting to read the John Dean “trilogy” (Worse Than Watergate, Conservatives Without Conscience, both of which I’ve read, and Broken Government, which I haven’t yet).

  74. 74
    kerFuFFler says:

    It’s a vision that abhors the easy path of acceptance, of tolerating human frailty and need, not because that path is wrong but because it is easy. Or, to put it differently, it’s wrong precisely because it is easy.

    I have to disagree. The version of Christianity the conservatives have been peddling of late demands very little of its adherents. No emphasis is put on challenging oneself to be kind, generous, patient or tolerant. Instead the focus has shifted to feeling like you’re a good Christian if you disapprove of others—–gay people, the unemployed, women who want to use birth control and so on. This shift has proven powerful precisely because it is so easy to hate and scorn—–besides being oh so pleasant to puff oneself up feeling superior to all those “bad people” out there.

    Conservative Christians of this ilk like to think of themselves as maintaining high standards through moral struggle, but really they are not challenging themselves at all. Where’s the struggle “resisting” homosexual urges if one does not even experience them?

    Of course Jesus would be disgusted with this debasement of his teachings. But what a frickin’ marketing marvel this cheap version of Christianity is that costs its followers nothing, while providing them with a divinely inexhaustible source of smugness!

  75. 75
    Bill Murray says:

    @Arclite: i know that facetiously is a word that has all the vowels in it in order and that Ai, Alabama has all vowels

  76. 76
    Batocchio says:

    I’m all for it. I picked up a copy of The Reactionary Mind, and was planning to dig into it in November.

  77. 77
    Chris says:

    @kerFuFFler:

    I think I agree with this.

    But you also forgot the crowning jewel of “Christianity” as these people understand it – the belief in “faith not acts.” Which holds that humanity as a whole is just absolutely fucked up beyond redemption, and will remain that way no matter what we “do” down here, so the only thing left for anyone to do is to embrace Jesus, because then he’ll ignore how fucked up we are and take us into heaven.

    It essentially reduces morality to whether or not you’re on the right team. Going from “bad” to “good” is the easiest thing you’ll ever do, all you gotta do is switch teams.

    I’ve always thought this explains an incredible amount of their ideology. For one thing, it gives a “moral” foundation for their tribal mindset, which easily bleeds over into nationalism and racism. For another, their contempt for humanity as a fallen and completely evil race lines up with their indifference for helping people: after all, none of us deserve anything in the first place. And it also explains why they’re so willing to sin (drinking, lying, having sex, even having gay sex): after all, human beings are fated to be sinful anyway, but because THEY’RE saved, they can sin and not have to worry about it!

  78. 78
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I can make my own challenges, I don’t need “help” in this case from anyone else.

    Along those lines, I’m going to call bullshit on Corey Robin’s premise. The only truth to that statement is that they want to impose this hardship on other people. The people who “believe” this are the people who will protest outside an abortion clinic until they have to sneak their daughter in to have an abortion.

  79. 79
    Samara Morgan says:

    @Jason: aka carny-barkers and marks.
    the marks have Right Wing Authority tendency.
    the barkers are narcissistic sociopaths.
    its red/blue genetics.

  80. 80
    kerFuFFler says:

    @Chris:

    Going from “bad” to “good” is the easiest thing you’ll ever do, all you gotta do is switch teams. I’ve always thought this explains an incredible amount of their ideology. For one thing, it gives a “moral” foundation for their tribal mindset, which easily bleeds over into nationalism and racism.

    Interesting point. No wonder family dysfunction (divorce, illegitimacy, battering, incest….) occur at significantly higher rates in the fundamentalist South than in the Godless, liberal North. “Faith, not acts” explains a lot.

  81. 81
    kerFuFFler says:

    Why in the dickens is my comment “awaiting moderation”? This happens to me a lot for no apparent reason….

  82. 82
    SFAW says:

    Can you name the only town in America consisting entirely of vowels?

    Aiea, Hawaii.

    What do I win?

  83. 83
    Chris says:

    @kerFuFFler:

    No wonder family dysfunction (divorce, illegitimacy, battering, incest….) occur at significantly higher rates in the fundamentalist South than in the Godless, liberal North.

    Didn’t know that they did, but it makes a lot of sense. Less access to birth control = more illegitimate births. (Probably more abortions, too). More pressure to marry = more unhappy, dyfunctional marriages = more divorce.

    I think they might take issue with your characterization of battering and incest as “dysfunctions” though :(

  84. 84
    Chris says:

    @kerFuFFler:

    My comment’s in moderation too now, and all I did was quote your second sentence. So whatever you did wrong, it came from there.

    In a nutshell: I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised by any of it.

  85. 85
    Dan S. says:

    You all have to read John Holbo’s old review/evisceration of Frum’s book Dead Right. It focuses on exactly this sort of bizarre (and insincere) ruggedness aesthetics: http://examinedlife.typepad.co.....right.html

  86. 86
    KS in MA says:

    You all might enjoy reading “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” along with Corey Robin. It covers pretty similar ground–plus, it’s fun.

  87. 87
    El Cid says:

    So, in essence, Douthat’s moral rule system — it’s worth pursuing precisely because it’s so difficult — makes him the same as a Navy SEAL or deep ocean diver.

  88. 88
    Delia says:

    The conservative believes the excellent person is a kind of mountain climber, a moral athlete who is constantly overcoming or trying to overcome his limits, pushing himself ever higher and higher. When it comes to sex, he’s not unlike the Foucauldian transgressor, that sexual athlete of novelty and experiment

    Oh dear, I think I need a brain rinse. The thought of battalions of Keyboard Kommandos pleasuring themselves to readings of Foucault, while Cheeto crumbs clog their computer hard drives and smear their screens, is more than I can bear.

  89. 89
    parsimon says:

    Haven’t read the thread or the linked post, but the reference to Nietzsche is utter hogwash. Rand (Ayn) would be the place to go. Not Nietzsche. The sense of overcoming in Rand is more appropriate to the modern conservative. Not Nietzschean overcoming.

  90. 90
    Rachel in Portland says:

    I think it’s more Miniver Cheevy than Nietzsche.

  91. 91
    chrismealy says:

    I really enjoyed “The Reactionary Mind.” Short version: conservatives are literally losers. Whenever society becomes more equal there are losers (feudal lords, slave-owners, racists, sexist husbands, etc). The losers are trying to get their old privileges back. They often adopt the tactics and style of the revolutionaries that defeated them. They’re not trying to conserve the present at all. They’re really attempting a counterrevolution that restores and reinvigorates an earlier status quo.

    I’m completely convinced by the argument. If you hate Andrew Sullivan getting all Tolkien about the simple pleasures of the Shire you’ll probably love this book. The bad news is that the first two chapters are the best part.

  92. 92
    EIGRP says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Mxyzptlk (does Y count as a vowel?)

  93. 93
    Arclite says:

    @Bill Murray: I was thinking of Aiea, Hawaii.

  94. 94
    Arclite says:

    @SFAW: Nice! You’ll be getting a visit from yourself in your bunk.

  95. 95
    Summer says:

    If Tom Return on the Art Douche Levenson had written this post it might have included a still shot of Leni Riefenstahl from one of her early mountain films, a still so purely lit that it could have been photographed by Caravaggio. I would have liked that.

  96. 96
    YoYoYoMyBoyWuzzup says:

    As others have pointed out, that’s a travesty of Nietzsche’s ideas. There’s nothing “Nietzschean” about the modern right. Nietzsche wasn’t Ayn Rand.

    I read the first few chapters of “The Reactionary Mind” on Amazon, and I have to say the portrait of Edmund Burke is similarly simplistic, as if the only knowledge this Robin person has of Burke comes from second- and third-hand accounts in David Brooks columns. No mention of his fighting to uphold the rights of his fellow Irishmen, or of Indians at the hands of British colonialism, or of the American colonists.

    The stuff about Thomas Hobbes is bad too.

  97. 97
    Katharsis says:

    @srv:

    **************
    It is harder to end discrimination than to ignore it.

    It is harder to feed and clothe the poor than leave them hungry and naked.

    It is harder to provide health care for everyone than leave them sick.

    It is harder to create an equitable world than leave it unfair.

    **************

    But you forget, like the war on terror, there’s a war on feelings. Well, feelings that are nurturing or seemingly feminine(weak); that’s not the way I see it, by the way. See, it’s sooo hard to resist those feelings to help those people, but you’ve got to be tough to deliver tough-love.

    Edit: Block quote fail?

  98. 98

    […] other blogs are worth checking out. In one, a blogger at Balloon Juice responds to my post about Ross Douthat, which takes up a theme in my book, and a weird and wonderful […]

  99. 99
    George Willis says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Ha ha ha. People who work in marketing are conservative with a capital”C?” ha ha ha. I’m not sure what country you’ve been working from in the marketing world, but I can assure you, the majority of those in marketing are not Conservatives. Designers, copywriters and creative directors are laughing all over this country after that statement.

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