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Moving the Barnes: A done dealBY: Gresham Riley 10.26.2009
Amid the debate over moving the Barnes Foundation, Dan Rottenberg argues that very often the supposedly “done deals” of history wind up becoming undone. And he’s right. But many historical developments are irreversible. The Barnes move is a likely example.
Yes, Dan, there are lost causes (and
In my latest BSR posting, “Yes, Victoria, Someone is Accountable for the Barnes,” I avowed that the debate about the future location of the Barnes Collection is over and that continued opposition is a lost cause.
When BSR’s editor, Dan Rottenberg, informed me that my piece had been posted, he did so with qualified approval. It was, he wrote, OK so far as it goes— but I hadn’t addressed the points he had raised more than two years ago in an article, “It’s a Done Deal (and other delusions of wishful thinking).”
Dan is correct. My posting was not intended as a response to his earlier piece but rather to that of Victoria Skelly, “Stifling Debate About the Barnes.” Since I do believe that the relocation of the Barnes is “a done deal,” I must take into account Dan’s earlier, interesting and informative essay.
Dan’s central argument consisted of an impressive list of potential or actual counter-examples to presumed “done deals,” among which were: casino gambling in Philadelphia; abortion advocates after Roe v. Wade; slavery advocates after the Dred Scott decision; segregation advocates after Plessy v. Ferguson; and the alleged permanence of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Dan’s point was that “ ‘done deal’ logic tends to stiffen resistance to the deal at hand” and eventually leads to the opposition’s success in reversing what was thought to be inevitable.
Clearly, numerous historical examples support this point of view. The irony, however, is that in the aftermath of many supposed “done deals” that went awry, new “done deals” emerged that most rational observers would conclude are in place for the long term. Even though there are still pockets of naysayers, it stretches the imagination to believe that the United States will reinstitute slavery or return to officially sanctioned racial segregation, that either the Copernican Revolution or the Darwinian Revolution will be reversed in favor of a Ptolemaic Cosmology or Bishop James Ussher’s views about creation, or that the Reformation will be rescinded in favor of a universal Catholic Church.
I don’t subscribe to any form of historical determinism (Hegelian, Marxian, or otherwise), but I do believe that there are such things as “lost causes.” This fact seems to be confirmed by the cult of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Only some form of transcendent intervention can reverse certain historical events, once they are in place.
Let me count the ways
With these thoughts as background, why does the relocation of the Barnes Collection strike me as a done deal? To repeat, not because of some form of historical inevitability; but rather because of the way events have played out over the five years since Judge Stanley R. Ott’s ruling in 2004.
• Although vocal opposition to Judge Ott’s decision has persisted, the ranks of those opposed to the move don’t appear to have increased.
A last word from Seneca
Now, these several points don’t lead collectively to the inevitable conclusion of a done deal. They do, however, provide strong evidence for believing that the debate is over.
Seneca, the First Century C.E. Roman Stoic, famously argued that wisdom consists in knowing the difference between those things that can be changed through human intervention and those that can’t and thus should be accepted with tranquility of spirit. Wisdom with respect to the relocation of the Barnes Collection would seem to dictate cessation of whistling past the cemetery and accepting with tranquility the opening of the Barnes on the Parkway in 2012.♦
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