1st Edition

The Ideology of Political Reactionaries

By Richard Shorten Copyright 2022
    284 Pages
    by Routledge

    284 Pages
    by Routledge

    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.

    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


    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

    "The Ideology of Political Reactionaries makes a strong case for taking reactionary rhetoric seriously and for spending time on their long form work, rather than their speeches. Shorten’s analysis of each text is painstaking and piercing. He does an excellent job of comparing them, highlighting their structural similarities."

    Ian Hall, The European Legacy

    "The Ideology of Political Reactionaries is a worthy exploration and assessment of reactionary rhetoric. Shorten  examines well-known texts and speakers through a novel approach. … With respect to prose, Shorten’s is clear, concise, and, at times, lively. To spice things up, he makes occasional allusions to popular fiction. Where he introduces jargon, he is sure to define his terms. The result is a 284-page book that is immensely readable and not at all plodding."

    Matthew Slaboch, Perspectives on Politics

    "The Ideology of Political Reactionaries is a considerable achievement, moving the debate about reactionary politics beyond well-worn discussions of authoritarian personalities and thin centres. It is a very useful reminder of the ideology embedded in different kinds of narrative, as well as the persuasive power of techniques scholars often dismiss or deride, like the self-pitying anecdote or the deliberate transgression of everyday standards of political propriety."

    Ian Hall, Griffith University

    “The Ideology of Political Reactionaries makes a sustained and well-supported case that political reaction is best understood through a rhetorical lens…. it attends to the rhetorical interstices of its case studies—the fleeting moments that are likely to get shorter shrift in a more conceptually oriented approach.’

    Rob Goodman, The Review of Politics

    “Shorten’s approach to studying reactionaries is undoubtedly groundbreaking and offers a model that allows a richer study of reactionaries that has not been possible using other approaches.”

    Jiarui Wu, Politics, Religion and Ideology

    “The Ideology of Political Reactionaries opens a new door to political theory research in a variegated and complex political field.”

    Xin Lu, Discourse & Communication