Something was nagging at the back of my mind about the recent push to destroy all Civil War monuments in the South. The argument usually advanced is that these statues celebrate the Confederacy and slavery so they should be removed. That case is facially plausible.
However, the destruction of monuments seems to be accelerating, with a move from organized removal, lawfully conducted, to mobs toppling the statues spontaneously.
Watching this video is a good example of the trend.
Then I saw today that activists are demanding that statues of Theodore Roosevelt be taken down, because he was apparently also “racist”.
And today the Lincoln Memorial was vandalized.
In the past, there have been outbreaks of this sort of behavior, and they have tended to get out of control. There was the original iconoclast movement in Byzantium. There was a massive destruction of religious images during the Reformation. There was a similar outbreak of mob attacks on religious statues and images during the French revolution. During the early days of the Spanish Civil War, mobs spontaneously attacked and destroyed churches. There is a famous photo of men in civilian clothes taking pot shots at a large crucifix, somewhere in Spain in 1936.
The Wikipedia article lists many such outbreaks.
The Chinese Cultural Revolution seems the most apt comparison to where this is going. The Red Guards tried to stamp out the entirety of Chinese history up to their own time. Everything that had occurred before their revolution was corrupt and any attempt to preserve it was a political offense requiring the harshest possible personal attack, including violent attack, and including death. Further, the activities escalate because people must engage in increasingly extreme behavior to show their commitment and fervor. Slacking off becomes suspect.
The fact that this is a recurring phenomenon, with similar patterns repeating in various cultures over thousands of years, suggests that there is a generalized psychological impulse which can express itself anywhere if conditions are right, especially an ideological motivation.
The inner logic of Political Correctness, in the USA, in 2017, has no stopping point.
The existence of Trump is a helpful rhetorical crutch, since people can say that they are just striking out in rage at having a fascist in the White House. But that is a justification not a cause.
Genuine, deep hatred of the past, of everything the USA has been and stood for, is the motivator.
This is the result of several generations of indoctrination, in the government schools. The indoctrination has been spectacularly successful.
Absolutely everything that occurred in the American past is necessarily, in this view, tainted and corrupt, valueless and worthy only of elimination. For example, most of the Founders were slave-owners. All depictions and references to them must be destroyed. George Washington, a slave owner, was no better than a Nazi. All institutions and documents associated with slave-owners, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, are no better than Nazi documents. All of them must be destroyed.
Christian churches have traditionally been associated with condemning homosexuality as sin, or fighting against Islam. These religious buildings and their images must also be destroyed, by this logic.
Buildings traditionally associated with male privilege, or capitalism, for example old office buildings with traditional lobby spaces, or clubs that were once restricted to men, are tainted. These also have to be destroyed.
At a certain point public monuments will be attacked if they are old or have figurative statues simply because everything from the past falls short of the ideal politically correct standard and is therefore evil.
If you watch the video of the crowd tearing down the Confederate soldier statue, they are not engaged in any kind of rational political act. They are in a frenzy. They are motivated by hate, and they are literally angrily kicking and punching an inert mass of crumpled metal.
Mobs, once they taste the pleasure of mass violent action and ritual destruction, will want more of it. The conduct will not stop, but will escalate. It is a process that can get out of control.
The psychological compulsion to engage in this behavior, and the feeling of group solidarity which comes with the activity, the chanting, the sense of triumph in destroying something that is valued by people the attackers hate, is intoxicating.
Conventional politicians on the Left will find it hard to find a principled way to condemn the behavior, and will say they understand the impulse but condemn the excess.
Conventional politicians on the Right will apologize for racism and oppression in the past, but insist on law and order.
Neither will engage with the revolutionary and nihilistic impulses which underlie this behavior, or the indoctrination which made it possible.
Expect to see this behavior continue, ratchet up, break out in many places.
Expect high levels of serious vandalism and arson directed at the types of monuments and buildings I mentioned.
As usual with such predictions, I hope I am wrong.
Let’s see how it looks over the next few months.
TThat didn’t take long!
In Chicago today: Local pastor calls on Emanuel to change names of 2 Chicago parks.
Bishop James Dukes sent a letter to Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Park District on Monday asking the City of Chicago to rename Washington and Jackson Parks which commemorate former presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson, key historical figures and known slave owners.
The article notes: “On the topic of removing the statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the president said, ‘I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?'”
President Trump is a pretty smart cookie!
But it didn’t even take a week.
According to the article, this pastor “is meeting with a city official soon to discuss the process for changing the names.”
We have a whole damn state named after Washington!
That has to change.
And Washington’s head has to be dynamited off of Mount Rushmore.
And the money? Washington’s face is on the money! That has to change!
And all those statues! Take ’em down!
That will help to bring about healing.
Executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus calls for statues of George Washington to “come down”.
26 thoughts on “Iconoclasm”
“Absolutely everything that occurred in the American past is necessarily, in this view, tainted and corrupt”
This is an almost exact parallel to the Red Guards movement in China.
These young people know no history so any appeal to their sense of history is a waste of time.
The “neo-Nazis” have only a very vague idea of what Nazis were like.
The ANTIFA demonstrators are mostly anarchists who care nothing for traditions or historic relics.
The end will be ugly.
“Genuine, deep hatred of the past, of everything the USA has been and stood for, is the motivator.
This is the result of several generations of indoctrination, in the government schools. The indoctrination has been spectacularly successful.”
This.^^………And “indoctrination” is the perfect word for it.
I still think most of middle America — the silent majority — will quickly turn on these purveyors of agitprop, as well as the white nationalist “Alt-Right”.
Trump has really gotten a bad rap following his valid comments about “violence on many sides”….(I guess we’re going to pretend Republicans weren’t running for the lives on a softball field last month while being hunted by a Bernie Sanders voter.)
If however, middle America doesn’t turn on these fringe elements, then to quote W.B. Yeats, “The Center Cannot Hold”.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
It is very bad.
It won’t stop at statues
Why are they tearing down statues? Because, unlike books, they can’t burn them.
But, Dearie – I would’s be surprised if the Antifa/BLM faction were already considering burning buildings – like Monticello, Mount Vernon, Independence Hall, and similar structures; all beloved by the general public for their historical connection. THAT kind of destruction would be a metaphorical stab in the heart to Americans who value history, and those places.
And who love the aspiration and joy we have traditionally found as we look at those pieces. If you want a system that has proven itself not to work in place after place (tribalism, communism, decadence) then those that do work (democracy, capitalism, bourgeois values) must be destroyed else they stand as reprimands to those that don’t work, as viable options.
“There was a similar outbreak of mob attacks on religious statues and images during the French revolution…Everything that had occurred before their [PRC] revolution was corrupt and any attempt to preserve it was a political offense requiring the harshest possible personal attack, including violent attack, and including death.”
I didn’t realize that the Khmer Rouge got their calendar trick from the French:
The term Year Zero applied to the takeover of Cambodia in April 1975, by the Khmer Rouge, is an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar. During the French Revolution, after the abolition of the French monarchy (September 20, 1792), the National Convention instituted a new calendar and declared the beginning of the Year I. The Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh was rapidly followed by a series of drastic revolutionary de-industrialization policies resulting in a death toll that vastly exceeded that of the French Reign of Terror.
Khmer Rouge leadership were all educated in France. They took the coffee shop Marxism of the French university and tried to actually put it into practice in Cambodia. Sartre cannot be reached in Hell for comment.
Heinrich Heine observed that “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
Might be applicable to the destruction of public monuments as well.
Rousseau’s arguments were also little different from today’s campus radicals. The respect for the past that was central to the American & British enlightenments came with a good dose of gratitude. We could use more of that today. My son-in-law got us to look at Patrick Deneen – I’m having trouble (I seldom read theoretical works anymore and he seemed to be coming at nationalism from a perspective that discounted American exceptionalism. But then he comes back to gratitude enlarged by an awareness that our love and gratitude doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from others’ successful projects and mistakes. Destroying history is pretty clearly a mistake.
(For instance, a book like April 1865 shows us how much we have to learn from those guys, some of whose statues are such an irritation.) (I’m no Civil War buff but the grace of Grant and that of Lee at Appomattox – well, if Winik and Catton got it right, we’ve a debt of gratitude anyone looking at the Balkans should appreciate – but without history, how can anyone see the counter examples either.)
The hatred of every symbol and institution and custom representing Old and Evil is a signature hallmark of every fascistic movement. I find no exceptions that come immediately to mind.
I used to think Subodai was over the top in his diagnoses of our troubled Republic and where it was headed. I no longer think so. Like my father, who told me early on that Obama would comport himself as a semi-closeted Muslim because that was the tradition he was steeped in as a child, he merely saw farther.
I am guessing that soon I will have to change my moniker from “Dan from Madison” to “Dan from Diversity Land” or some such nonsense.
All communities, streets, buildings, etc. nationwide named “Washington” will be changed to “Obama.”
“This is an almost exact parallel to the Red Guards movement in China”
That could very well be. The Byzantine Iconoclasm as noted in the main text of the post bears keeping in mind because it was somewhat similar, somewhat interesting.
The movement was a reaction to the Arab conquest of the Holy Land. Icons had previously been Byzantines’ direct connection to God, but by the 7th century the empire was being conquered by Muslims who considered icons evil. The best conclusion some came up with was their use of icons must’ve been wrong, and that was the reason they had now fallen out of God’s favor. The main adherents were probably the front lines troops of Asia Minor, and the iconoclastic emperors Leo III and his son Constantine V emerged from their ranks. The main opponents of iconoclasm were probably Byzantine monks closer to the Constantinople Imperium, such as the the martyr St. Stephen the Younger. The monks eventually won the day because of their alliance with Irene, the daughter-in-law of Constantine V, who restored Icons after murdering her son, possibly murdering her husband, possibly murdering her grandson, and blinding or mutilating her brothers-in-law. I guess they had to break a few egg shells to make their omelets back then.
The mayor in Louisville (the blue island in the red sea of Kentucky) is making a list of all art in public spaces linked to bigotry, racism, or slavery. I’ve been tempted to comment that if depictions of Abraham Lincoln aren’t on the list it’s a sham.
After all he
Married into a slave-holding Confederate-sympathizing family
Favored forced repatriation of former slaves to Africa
Would have retained slavery to avoid the Civil War
Refused to free slaves in states actually under Union control
Iconoclasm…the reset to zero
” I would’s be surprised if the Antifa/BLM faction were already considering burning buildings ”
If the authorities in those cities and states, and I doubt McAuliffe is thinking at all, they should have a plan to protect them.
The French revolutionaries got into the tombs in St Denis Cathedral and destroyed the remains of French kings for a thousand year, including Charle Martel.
Genuine, deep hatred of the past, of everything the USA has been and stood for, is the motivator.
If you’d said the Confederacy instead of the USA, I’d be inclined to agree.
This is part of the resolution of our original sin of slavery. The founding fathers could not resolve it and made some progress but ultimately kicked the can down the road. Unfortunately Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin and we had to engage in a great Civil War. Lincoln’s words at his second inaugural remain alive and relevant today
We bound up the nation’s wounds by kicking the can down the road for another century of Jim Crow during which the Lost Cause was glorified in fiction, film and statuary. It’s going to take a long time to bind such grievous wounds. Getting rid of statues that honor men who sought to perpetuate and expand the scourge is part of the process.
“We bound up the nation’s wounds by kicking the can down the road for another century of Jim Crow”
No, no binding was done at all. The Radical Reconstructionists decided the South should be punished, not rebuilt, and after imposing their will briefly, just up and left, leaving a bitter and desperate South to set up Jim Crow. A Marshall Plan for the South was necessary, but other than Lincoln no one was interested in that at all.
“Getting rid of statues that honor men who sought to perpetuate and expand the scourge is part of the process.”
No, it will bind nothing. To be honest, I think a good solution would be to let Southern blacks over the age of 60 have the overwhelming vote on the matter. Everything I’ve ever seen and heard indicates that they as a group are quite clear eyed on this. What’s going on right now is doing nothing but building up resentments and anger. Telling a huge fraction of the nation that their ancestors are all worthless garbage is going to be disastrous. It’s ironic in the extreme that the alleged motivation for this is to help black Americans. Of course, the true instigators of this are Year Zero commies and other assorted vermin.
P.S. I should note that I’ve never lived in the South. I have lived in Texas. (Texas is not the South. Texas is Texas.) Right now where I live there are Union soldier monuments in every town, no matter how small. I have zero affection or affiliation with the Confederate cause. But what we do at this point in time needs to based not on what we think should have been done in 1870, or 1920, or 1960, but what makes sense to do in 2017. Mobs tearing down statues like this is just not going to lead to good outcomes.
Ok, let’s say we do this ,i.e., sanitize our historical symbolism to eliminate any taint of racism. Who would be affected by such a campaign?
Any democratic politician from the 18th, 19th, and 20th century, including many Presidents such as Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, and all the southern Democrats and their northern allies that obstructed the progress of civil rights for generations.
Any progressive who espouses any elements of early progressive ideology, which was largely an eugenics movement which openly supported the elimination of non-white races and many other mental or physically handicapped children.
Progressivism was influenced by Marx, certainly, but also very much by the blood purity theories of the 19th century, and, for example, Margaret Sanger and her contemporaries who founded Planned Parenthood, had a firm belief that aborting non-white pregnancies was a big step toward improving society. It certainly seems that any vestige of these ideas should be condemned, and any facilities founded upon them closed.
And, of course, if people are to be held accountable by race for any past infractions of their ancestors, then we must get rid of anything glorifying Native Americans, both north and south, who all engaged in slavery of captives, and had a long history of literal human sacrifice.
Then there’s the Spanish, who actually brought slavery to the Americas, not to mention their other genocidal depredations, and anything Arabic, as they were major facilitators of that slave trade, and certainly anything reflecting Asian cultures, who were steeped in slavery and various forms of servitude well into the 20th century.
At some point, it may also be necessary to hold people accountable for their belief in theories that led to massive repression and wholesale murder, such as we do with these Neo-nazis, but extend it to all the theories that have resulted in those same effects, such as marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Peronism, Kim il Sung-ism, chavezism, etc.
The resulting howls of anguish would be delicious.
I admit there are times when I would derive great satisfaction from tearing down some of those old Depression-era WPA murals and statues because I believe them to be representative of the state’s decimation of purposeful and productive human souls. But I usually just walk on by muttering expletives to myself.
Yesterday Seth Tillman tweeted out this column he wrote last year about Andrei Sakharov that had some incisive Chesterton Fence reasoning- https://reformclub.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/the-european-parliaments-sakharov-prize.html
Now here is the hard part: i.e., hard for Burkean conservatives. This prize has existed since circa 1988. What may have been a mistake in its conception is now a public tradition, which—in fact—may do some good in the world. Jacobin perfectionism demands old things be torn down or renamed. But Jacobinism does not perfect the world, it just destroys remnants of our historical past. So, although no one is asking me, I am for letting the Sakharov Prize continue, even under its current name, but in doing so, we ought not heap undeserved praise on Andrei Sakharov.
Genuine, deep hatred of the past, of everything the USA has been and stood for, is the motivator.
Missed the chance to crush these people in the 1920s “Red Scare” and in the 1950s “Red Scare,” and in the early sixties when a few college presidents who liked and respected America could have made a big difference, but none were to be found. The battle was lost a long time ago. This is denouement.
Many of the counties in Texas are named for Confederates, more, I think, than are named for heroes of the Texas Revolution. Perhaps attempts to rename those will spur resistance.
Getting rid of statues that honor men who sought to perpetuate and expand the scourge is part of the process.
Why stop with statues? Everyone who wore a Che t-shirt; every one who praised Stalin, Lenin, Mao or other slaver; everyone who defended socialism and its slave labor camps should be made beggars and stripped of their civil rights. Every book, pamphlet, or youtube video praising socialism should be destroyed. And after all the works and effects of socialism are gone, then we’ll worry about Confederates.
It’s happening everywhere:
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