Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Andrew Sullivan on the Reactionary Temptation

Andrew Sullivan makes me think, but I usually end up disagreeing with him. The Reactionary Temptation did not disappoint.  Here's his description of reactionaries: 
Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age . If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution  
Reaction is a mood before it is anything else, and I know its psychological temptations intimately. Growing up steeped in traditional religion, in a household where patriotism seemed as natural as breathing, I became infatuated with a past that no longer existed. 
Democrats should take seriously three issues raised by this article.

1. Stop blindly criticizing the reactionary temptation and conservativism as if the past had no value. Rather Democrats should capture the working class “return to the past vote” by a return to their recent past when they were the party of the working class. That means emphasizing economic issues which concern people in the working and middle classes. 

2.  Democrats have to keep as far as they can from any form of elitism including elitisms of progress that divide people (educational, social, economic, and political). Progress has to include the working class and the middle class. A lot of the reactionaries' intellectual criticism is criticism of elitism. Andrew Sullivan still seems to think we need elites to run the world.    

3. Not only the reactionary temptation, but also conservatism in general is more about emotion than about reason. Much of what attracts people to the Republican party is pseudo-religious in nature. By that I mean if functions like much of Protestant religion, shared emotions with similarly minded people.  In response Democrats should emphasize economic issues rather than cultural issues. Sullivan is too absorbed with ideas and culture. We should not become engaged with these reactionary thinker; however Sullivan has performed a useful service in reviewing them for us.


  1. "Democrats should emphasize economic issues rather than cultural issues."

    But cultural issues often are economic issues, like women's reproductive health, access to which has a lot to do with women's economic success or failure.

  2. "...conservatism in general is more about emotion than reason." Basically the same could be said of liberalism. And both parties have devolved into a kind of tribalism. I would like to see the Democrats take the constant bickering about sexual issues off the table for awhile and focus on things such as economic policy and especially foreign policy. There are several situations going right now that could drag us into a world war. We need to quit thinking with our reptile brains and actually use our reasoning abilities to avoid annhilating ourselves.