Nostalgia as a Root of Reactionary Politics

Nostalgia as a Root of Reactionary Politics August 15, 2014

Now that life has calmed down a bit, I’ll try posting  some more of my profound thoughts on here. Or maybe some satire.

Tea Party Libertarians look like total nutcases to us liberals, but there is a rational explanation for their irrationality, one that might offer a way to push them toward at least a little more sanity. The problem is the illusion that there was once a Golden Age, which plays out on both the individual and the social level.

The individual form of the illusion is our impression that when we were born, the world was perfect. (I grant you this is true only for rather privileged children in First World countries, but please don’t quibble.) The world remains perfect for about our first five years, but when we are forced to go to school, it’s all downhill from then on. Almost all changes away from that (imagined) initial perfection are perceived as changes for the worse. An individual who reaches the limits of his or her tolerance for change may refuse to change any more. Not being able to change the external world, that person may refuse any of his or her own beliefs or behaviors, often ones left over from childhood, and thus becomes unteachable. This is why you see apparent grownups advocating factual nonsense, such as Sunday School beliefs in Biblical inerrancy, or a belief that unregulated free-market capitalism could work, or, worse yet, a belief in the sinfulness of sexuality and various genders.

Such a person will often think, “If only things would stop changing! If only the world would go back to the way it was when I was a kid!” And, of course, the nostalgia for that imagined perfection results from the fact that a small child is blissfully unaware of what the world was like for the adults, who were longing for their own childhoods. The idea that it would be wonderful to move back to the small town where one went to high school derives from the same illusion. That town is not there, and never was.

This situation is ideal for unethical politicians. They need not promise anything positive. They can promise merely to fight any more changes, to reverse whatever changes the honest politicians have managed to achieve. Such is the obvious agenda of the Republicans in Congress, the ones who are state governors, the ones in state legislatures, the ones who took an unholy vow, which they did not even bother to keep secret, to sabotage everything President Obama tries to do. It is a miracle he managed to get the ACA enacted. The blatant corruption of these reactionary politicians is unprecedented, almost inconceivable. The malevolence of the Koch brothers revives the politics of the Romans. Only a handful of seats in Congress need to be won by Democrats in order to tear their evil empire down. I love Bernie Sanders, but if he ran, he would split the vote and doom us—but he knows that. If you think there is no difference between the two major parties, you are a contemptible ignoramus, willing to harm your own children.

As I mentioned, this illusion of a former Golden Age also plays out in many beliefs and assumptions about history. The succession of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron ages was a fundamental myth of the Greeks, derived from earlier Mesopotamian myths. The early archaeologists adopted it, replacing Golden and Silver with Palaeololithic and Neolithic, in which era our own seductive myth of a Matriarchal age is set. One can guess from the comments of early historians, such as Diodorus Siculus and Clement of Alexandria, that there might actually have been villages somewhere with such a culture, but their descriptions were based on anecdotes told by travelers. We could instead still take that myth as an ideal rather than as history. After all, women could hardly do a worse job than men have in running societies. So, when in doubt, vote for a woman. Imagine what executive orders Hillary Clinton might issue.



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  • Lloyd Hargrove

    I once wandered into a town hall meeting wherein one of our more conservative U.S. Senators was speaking. I am past the age of 61 but it seems I was the youngster in this group of several hundred people which made me feel like a “kid” again. My impression is that most of this ocean of gray hair, walkers and Depends would consider themselves quite conservative and very much aligned with the so-called “tea party” which gets confusing as there are several very different organizations which now use that label here in Louisiana.

    I would not deem them outright wackos but you are quite correct in that most all seem to hold to a golden era of U.S. sentimentality which has increasingly slipped away as “those people” now in charge continue to ignore and erode the rights originally reserved to “the People” and “the States” which we are supposed to uphold and preserve under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, at least according to tea party doctrine.

    Perhaps as that old fogy generation dies off it all becomes moot since the current political style seems to focus all too often on single issues and perhaps selfish issues which are presented to the younger crowd as being more in vogue. Richard Nixon was right in one thing, 1969 was the best ever.

  • M.A.

    Good point. When I was 5, there were only about 3 billion people on the planet, and there was still space for everything else. Now much of everything else has been mostly crowded out by the 7 billion of us, and I do believe it was better back then. But no way am I saying we need to get rid of 4 billion folks and go “back”. Wouldn’t work anyway, the damage is done. But at least we could go back to when the anti-trust and -monopoly laws were being enforced! Oh, and that elegant system of checks and balances the federal government used to have… No, political and economic systems never have been ideal, and probably never will be, but there are a few good ideas we might want to revisit. (Limitless capitalism ain’t one of them.)

  • KateGladstone

    So … how do you explain those Tea Party Libertarians who had vastly HORRIBLE childhoods, including horrendous early childhoods?