Margarine (or, “oleo” as I prefer to call it, from its traditional use in the white trash cookery of the American South) is a succedaneum for butter. Coffee, for some, is a succedaneum for tea, and vice versa for others. You could call it a cheap substitute, but then people would understand, and you would miss the pleasure of being wilfully obscure; whereas only the closet etymologists among my gentle readers will immediately discern that the word is derived from the Latin succedaneus (succedo + aneus), which means, “acting as substitute”; and that it may have accidentally imported a rather coprophagic Latin pun.

From the marvellous website, The Imaginative Conservative, I can recommend an article that commands only one Google hit. Enter the word “succedaneanism” and there it will be, on its lonely own, so spotless and virgin. I regret this Idlepost threatens to halve its exclusivity. The idea that the author, Ralph Ancil, was pulling legs, occurred to me. But on closer examination I see that he does not have to: for he is president of the Roepke Institute, at Geneva College, in Beaver Falls. Attentive readers of this Idleblog will already know my opinion of the economist Wilhelm Roepke. (Positive.) One might describe him as the reason Germany had so much money to lend Greece.

(In passing to my Greek critics: the article by Thomas Piketty that is making the rounds, because he says Germany itself benefited from a huge bailout after the Second World War, is like most everything else that French economist writes: extremely misleading. By a succadaneum of apples for oranges, he lies. The Allies wrote off Germany’s debts from the First World War, after the Second one, in 1953. They could do that because the assets corresponding to the debt had meanwhile melted down, from war and hyperinflation. Germany’s then-current debts were retained, on more favourable terms, such as the bankers had already offered Greece. When the euro becomes worthless, yes the bankers can wipe out the Greek debt as a nuisance to bookkeeping. But for the moment, that euro is not worthless, or people wouldn’t be queueing for small samples of it at the cash machines.)

Now, back to Perfesser Ancil. He identifies, or if you will, names, “succadaneanism” for a dangerous ideology, aimed like all the Devil’s other works at the deconstruction of morals and society. His (Ancil’s, not the Devil’s) primary example is the substitution of “virtual things,” for things. It is an historic glide. One might say it began in the Industrial Revolution, when the old monkish (and universal) notion of laborare est orare (“to work is to pray”) was replaced with the new notion of the interchangeable factory worker, who makes a product separated from himself, who does work that is demeaning, on a production line, and only for money, which he looks forward to spending on the weekend when he is free of his crummy job.

“Things” cease to be particular and become commodities. The commodities “evolve” into virtualities. The “humans” evolve into commodities themselves — into statistics — and at the frontiers of our scientistic technology, we also become “virtual” things.

Or in a phrase, reality is being systematically replaced by abstractions in our “information age.” In the article I recommend, the implications of this are sketched out to the meaning of work, the nature of consumption, the understanding of land and community, the use of money, and the destruction of every simple and comprehensible definition in economic thought.

“The ideology of suc­ceda­neanism disintegrates man morally, psychically, physi­cally, and economically, all in a veritable orgy of impiety with impunity. This is not surprising since long ago, the most bald expres­sion of succeda­neanism was the substitution of vice for virtue. Only by keeping a vision of the principles of a humane economy rigor­ous­ly in mind can we be saved from this tragedy of succeda­neanism.”

Hear, hear!