Simple sentences? Not for public policy


Having finished the analysis, I wrote the memo to recommend changes.

The past gerund indicates a completed analysis, a hope that stands in sharp contrast to policy incompletion in the real world. As for the infinitive, “to recommend” introduces a promise that the memo will be dealt with, albeit outside our control but within a context of which we analysts are part.

Indeed, the point of the past gerund/past tense/infinitive formulation is to make clear that, objectively speaking, analysts are not to blame for anything like the incompletion all around us.


Nazi and communist totalitarianism came to mean total control of politics, economics, society and citizenry.

In reality, that sentence was full of effacements from having been overwritten again and again, vide:

“……totalitarianism        has come to mean…….total control               of politics                  ,economics and citizenry………”

It was that accented “total control” that drove the initial selection of the phrases around it.

Today, after further layering and erasures, it’s more fashionable to write something along the lines of: “Nazi and communist totalitarianism sought total control of politics, economics, and citizenry.” The “sought” recognizes that, with respect to these forms of totalitarianism, seeking total control did not always mean total control achieved. “Sought” unaccents “total control.”

–Fair enough, but note that “sought” itself reflects its own effacements. Consider two quotes from the many that have been passed over when it comes to use of a reduced-form “sought”:

I always thought there must be some more interesting way of interpreting the Soviet Union than simply reversing the value signs in its propaganda. And the thing that first struck me – that should have struck anybody working in the archives of the Soviet bureaucracy – was that the Soviet leaders didn’t know what was happening half the time, were good at throwing hammers at problems but not at solving them, and spent an enormous amount of time fighting about things that often had little to do with ideology and much to do with institutional interests.

Some scholars see camps like Auschwitz as sites of total SS domination. This was certainly what the perpetrators wanted them to be. But their monumental designs often bore little resemblance to built reality. Priorities changed, again and again, and SS planners were thwarted by supply shortages, bad weather and (most critically) by mass deaths among their slave labour force. In the end, grand visions regularly gave way to quick fixes, resulting in what the historian Paul Jaskot, writing about the architecture of the Holocaust, called the “lack of a rationally planned and controlled space”. Clearly, the popular image of Auschwitz as a straight-line, single-track totalitarian machine is inaccurate.

Please, I am not arguing that the quoted reservations are correct or generalizable or even wholly understandable (the quotes come to us as already scored over). I am saying that they fit uncomfortably with notions of “taking back control” where no such totalizing control has been evident from the get-go.


"The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral. . ."   
Polonius in Hamlet

It’s common enough that today’s accounts of policy and management be presented from not just one discipline’s perspective (say, economics), but many–including political science, psychology, organization theory, and more. Any less would be too simple.

Yet what gets missed in the implied hyphens–“from a socio-politico-economic-cultural-historical-psychological. . .perspective”–is that the hyphen itself is more than a matter of sentence grammar. Case in point: The hyphens in the epigraph function as the performative demonstration of Polonius’s long-windedness.

Interdisciplinary accounts insist nevertheless you take their wordage as anything but long-winded.

Principal source

Moretti, F. (2013). The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature. Verso: London and New York

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