22 December 2011

"Republicans for Revolution" by Mark Lilla in NYRB

Mark Lilla of Columbia has a great essay in the current New York Review of Books, eviscerating Corey Robin's history of conservatism in The Reactionary Mind and laying out a more clear-eyed view of the history and current state of the dichotomy of "liberal" and "conservative."

Liberal” and “conservative” first became labels for political tendencies in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Like all polemical terms their meaning and usage shifted around in partisan debate, but the philosophical distinction between them was settled by the mid-nineteenth century, thanks in large part to Edmund Burke. After the Revolution, Burke argued that what really separated its partisans and opponents were not atheism and faith, or democracy and aristocracy, or even equality and hierarchy, but instead two very different understandings of human nature. Burke believed that, since human beings are born into a functioning world populated by others, society is—to use a large word he wouldn’t—metaphysically prior to the individuals in it. The unit of political life is society, not individuals, who need to be seen as instances of the societies they inhabit.
Check out the whole thing.

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