The Ideology of Political Reactionaries  book cover
1st Edition

The Ideology of Political Reactionaries

ISBN 9781032122700
Published December 31, 2021 by Routledge
284 Pages

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Book Description

The Ideology of Political Reactionaries offers a new perspective on the beliefs reactionaries share, presenting a theory of reactionary ideology in the process. Rather than taking self-contradictions in the reactionary imagination as a reason for diminishment, complexity is taken as a challenge.

The book argues that the features that unite reactionaries lie in rhetoric. Reactionaries make three persuasive appeals: to decadence, conspiracy, and indignation. They also display some recurrent styles. The book’s rhetorical approach entails a critique of the alternative approaches to reactionary politics (dubbed as ‘dispositional’, ‘sociological’, and ‘conceptual’). At the heart of the book is the textual analysis of the writings of a range of figures who are chosen in deliberate diversity and who have interacted with political audiences in different eras and settings: Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, Éric Zemmour, Joe McCarthy, Anders Breivik, and Nigel Farage. Analysis of their writings helps the book to reckon with some particular puzzles of ideologies and rhetoric. These puzzles include the proximity of reactionaries to conservatism, the ambiguity of their nostalgia, the myth of their essential charisma, and the apparent fetishisation of facts.

The Ideology of Political Reactionaries ought to interest anyone concerned about current ideological trends and, in particular, students and scholars of politics and history.

Table of Contents

Introduction: reactionaries from dispositions to rhetoric

Part 1: Indignation: The pathos of reaction

1. Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre

2. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump

Part 2: Decadence: The logos of reaction

3. Adolf Hitler and Nazism

4. Éric Zemmour and Les nouveaux réactionnaires

Part 3: Conspiracy: The ethos of reaction

5. Senator Joe McCarthy

6. Anders Breivik

7. Nigel Farage

Conclusion: reactionaries from appeals to styles

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Richard Shorten is Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. His research focuses on the history of modern political ideas, particularly in twentieth-century Europe. He is the author of Modernism and Totalitarianism (2012). He has written widely on topics relating to extremism and political violence.


"An ambitious book that carefully examines some selected major works of reactionary political thought, investigating them through the appeals of classical rhetoric - logos, ethos, pathos - and identifies in decadence, conspiracy, and indignation the peculiar rhetorical triangle of the reactionary discourse. Comparing modern and contemporary authors, Shorten succeeds in identifying theoretical continuities in the mare magnum of reactionary tradition."

Manuela Ceretta, Università degli Studi di Torino

"This is an ambitious, conceptually sophisticated, and highly original take on "the hard Right," a topic of almost obsessive interest at present. Juxtaposing disparate examples from different eras, Shorten argues that "reaction" is what we're dealing with and that rhetoric is the key to understanding it. And he makes a powerful case. So original a book on so fraught a topic is not likely to compel universal agreement, but even those who question this or that will profit from engaging the overall argument."

David D. Roberts, University of Georgia

"In this strikingly original analysis, Richard Shorten casts reaction in a new light. By offering a rhetorical approach to an often inchoate but deeply-held collection of arguments and opinions, he identifies reaction’s distinct patterns and makes a powerful case for interpreting it as an ideology in its own right. Shorten’s knowledgeable and assiduously-researched book challenges contemporary scholarship and will deservedly claim its place as an imaginative and insightful decoding of right-wing thought."

Michael Freeden, Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Oxford