We take this brief time out from our ongoing Obama scandal coverage for a detour in the intellectual fever swamps of the left, in particular a bizarre article out in the current issue of The Nation by Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind: From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Nothing subtle about that title. The Nation article, “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek” attempts to discredit Hayek’s free market philosophy by tying it to Nietzsche’s nihilism.
It’s a long slog indeed, and through the fog of Robin’s vivisection of the labor theory of value, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and the “marginal revolution” in economics that presaged the rise of Hayek and other “Austrian” economists, eventually you figure out that this is just one big apologia for labor unions and the stick-figure “working man” of the romantic left. Unraveling and refuting Robin’s tortured reading of Hayek would be a considerable labor (irony alert!), but fortunately Mark Lilla is on the job.
Lilla, no friend of conservatives these days, reviewed Robin’s book a while back in the New York Review of Books (also not a go-to spot for sympathetic treatment of conservatives), and as Robin’s Nation article is merely an extension of his book, I’ll let Lilla do the heavy lifting:
This is history as WPA mural, and will be familiar to anyone who lived through the Thirties, remembers the Sixties, or was made to read historians like Howard Zinn, Arno Mayer, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, and Christopher Hill at school. In their tableau, history’s damnés de la terre are brought together into a single heroic image of suffering and resistance. Their hats are white, immaculately so. Off in the distance are what appear to be black-hatted villains, though their features are difficult to make out. Sometimes they have little identification tags like those the personified vices wear in medieval frescoes—”capital,” “men,” “whites,” “the state,” “the old regime”—but we get no idea what they are after or what their stories are. Not that it matters. To understand the oppressed and side with them all you need to know is that there are oppressors. . .
If you accept these claims, then you will have no trouble accepting what Robin says in the book’s most extraordinary paragraph:
- I use the words conservative, reactionary, and counterrevolutionary interchangeably: not all counterrevolutionaries are conservative…but all conservatives are, in one way or another, counterrevolutionary. I seat philosophers, statesmen, slaveholders, scribblers, Catholics, fascists, evangelicals, businessmen, racists, and hacks at the same table: Hobbes next to Hayek, Burke across from Palin, Nietzsche between Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia, with Adams, Calhoun, Oakeshott, Ronald Reagan, Tocqueville, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, Winston Churchill, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Nixon, Irving Kristol, Francis Fukuyama, and George W. Bush interspersed throughout.
Glenn Beck’s blackboard was never half this full.