A Most Delightful Fuck You

Pardon my French, but there really are no other words to describe this letter, written by Jourdan Anderson, an ex-slave, to his former master in 1865.

I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

Read the whole letter to get the full effect: the cool yet cutting irony, the quiet yet lethal charges it levels, and the righteous indignation and defiance that lie just beneath the surface. It gives a good sense of what emancipation was all about, as a lived experienced on the ground. At its best, emancipation really was this kind of fuck you—delightful for the slave, less delightful for the master.

In my work on the right and its reaction to the left, I always try to keep these personal confrontations—which are nevertheless fraught with political meaning and drenched in political context—in mind. It’s always been my sense that what is missing in our scholarship and discussions of the right is precisely this lived experience of subjugation and emancipation, what it means for the oppressor and the oppressed. As I write in The Reactionary Mind:

Every great political blast—the storming of the Bastille, the taking of the Winter Palace, the March on Washington—is set off by a very private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power.


  1. Samir Chopra January 31, 2012 at 11:27 am | #


    The least you could have done is provide a link to Cee Lo:

    I love the wage calculation bit – staggering amount for those days.

  2. William Neil January 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm | #

    Very nicely done. The same heading could be applied to the sentiments, coming from business to citizen this time, from the Apple electronics executive (un-named) who was quoted in the New York Times story of Jan. 21st, “How the US Lost Out on iphone Work”:

    ” ‘We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries,’ a current Apple executive said. ‘We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.'” In this case though, the “wage slaves” were very much out of sight, 4,000 miles away.

  3. Uday January 31, 2012 at 6:28 pm | #

    Excellent post prof. Robin, and I really enjoyed your thesis in “The Reactionary Mind” as well. A short aesthetic point though. Could you possibly darken your font colour or your background? This is a great blog with many fascinating insights on political theory and how its essential to understanding contemporary politics, but the light text on a light background make reading all of it slightly onerous. I look forward to your next posts, and your further study of the interaction between theoretical narrative and socio-political dynamics.

  4. Robert January 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm | #


    An aside – I hope that you might be contemplating a treatment of Charles Murray’s latest opus. After reading a few reviews, and managing to sit through the entirety of a talk he gave on the book at AEI which aired on C-SPAN a few months ago, I can think of no one else who might be better at dissecting it.

    Of course, I guess I’m asking you to read it, which it pains me to do.

    • Corey Robin January 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm | #

      Oy. I might have to pass this assignment up.

  5. Jimmy Reefercake (@JimmyReefercake) January 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm | #

    well said. fuck you says it all sometimes. my newt gingrich song is a delightful stream of expletives.


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