The American Bear


Borrowed Energy (2) | Alex Gourevitch

An excerpt from a review of Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind:

There are recurrent periods of ideological exhaustion (the 1920s, the 1950s) in American political culture. But the end of the Cold War, the collapse of communism, and the disintegration of various organizations that contained the institutional memory of the “old left” generated a shock-wave of ideological disorientation that disrupted conventional axes separating the Left and the Right. Ideas and principles that were once considered predominantly left-wing have now drifted over to the right, and vice versa. As Robin himself has noted in an essay for the Nation, the Left has largely given up on the principle of freedom, leaving it to various groups on the Right to raise its banner. Yet human emancipation was once the Left’s calling card. Or again, one finds solid defenses of humanistic ideals from so-called conservatives just as much as one finds a strain of anti-humanism in the left-wing discourse around environmentalism. It is hard to see this ideological jumble as merely another example of the counterrevolutionary appropriation of left-wing ideas by conservatives. Something else has happened that makes the characterization of conservatism more complex. One finds very conservative intellectual positions and related policies in the Democratic Party (think economic austerity) and even further “left” (environmental anti-humanism). Liberal humanitarianism did much more than neoconservatism to reconstitute the moral imagination of American empire and supremacy after the Cold War. The New Democrats championed the cause of the financial class and its fellow-traveling symbolic workers during the roaring “New Economy” 1990s. Yet Robin’s contemporary examples of conservatism come exclusively from the Republican Party. This draws the line at the wrong spot and undercuts the critical potential of Robin’s own analytic framework.