Work in Progress

It’s not to say that I haven’t been writing, you see, just not publishing much on the blog lately, but summer has been a kind of vacation. I want to try and write about something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It’s more like an anti-idea having to do with things that sometimes aren’t said but can be spoken of. Here’s an example: there are people for whom the New Deal legislation promoted by the Franklin Roosevelt administration in the 1930s is a great disaster, to be repealed at all costs. What they want is not-the New Deal. Here’s a different example: one child takes another’s toy; the child who’s toy was taken will likely desire not so much to have his toy replaced, but rather to see the other child not-have the toy, for the toy to be taken from the taker, so that they too will know how it feels to have something taken by force, thus restoring equality between the two. It’s a kind of justice-as-equilibrium thinking – I hit you, you hit me, and we’re even. I rob you of some amount, you rob me of a similar amount, we’re even. Equality restored. The New Deal and the War brought the US into a new and different era, and changed society. There are parts of society that would like to return to the way it was, for whatever reason.

Populism is sometimes a kind of not-the establishment, or can be perceived that way. What do Trump voters want? Not-Obama. They want Obama in reverse. I often think of conservatives as fundamentally against whatever historical development happens to offend them, although conservatism is richer and more complex than that. Libertarians, I find, seem to be driven by a desire for not-the Government, and especially not-the Federal government. Sometimes there’ll be some nonsense about  markets, but mostly it’s important to get government out of as much of the private economy as is possible, or maybe practicable.

The idea of the not-thing or not-idea is a bad photocopy of a confused summary of the book The Rhetoric of Reaction by Albert Hirschman. In that book it is postulated that there are three basic reactionary theses: perversity, jeopardy, and futility. Perversity argues that whatever it is against will produce the opposite of what it is supposed to. “Government welfare programs create poverty.” Jeopardy argues for or against a course of action by emphasizing the risks to some previously obtained advantage or asset. “If we don’t legalize gambling, how will we pay for public services?” Futility argues that some particular historical episode had no effect, because whatever happened would have happened anyways. For example, one might argue that racism in America would have disappeared without the help of the Civil Rights movement. Reactionary rhetoric is a kind of thinking, and Hirschman generalizes it in a way that makes it possible to notice in a huge number of places, or at least that’s how it was for me. Hirschman is a delightful writer – his The Passions and the Interests is great.

Welp, that’s all for now.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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