Historical monuments have been lightning rods of protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The demand to remove statues from public spaces has greatly intensified, particularly in the United States, where statues of Christopher Columbus and even Thomas Jefferson have been torn down. In the United Kingdom, monuments honoring Winston Churchill have been vandalized, while in Canada, there are renewed calls for ousting statues of first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
But destroying national heritage by placing absolute value judgments on historical figures, in an attempt to discredit their significance is a dangerously inaccurate way of assessing the past.
Arbitrarily removing monuments in a symbolic gesture to address the complex history of racism and colonialism can have damaging unintended consequences that are irreversible if taken too far. What may start with the removal of Confederate generals will, in the end, swallow the culture whole, leaving a void readily filled by even less noble traditions.
Destroying national heritage is a fundamental communist tactic used to indoctrinate societies with Marxist ideology as a prelude to revolution. One of Marxism’s primary aims is to sever a population’s link to the past; the longer and richer the history, the more resistant a nation is to the influence of foreign ideologies.
In China, communists realized early on that political, cultural, and philosophical traditions gave people a measuring stick to assess the Marxist ideology they were promoting. It proved to be a significant stumbling block for the communists, who found the populace harder to control with their culture intact. To mitigate that problem, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution to purge society of its traditions and impose Maoism as the dominant ideology.
This 10-year period was characterized by violent class struggle, purges, exile, and persecution of anyone or anything with ties to China’s past. The Marxists maligned ancient customs as backward and irrelevant, merely obstructions to their “new world order.” The vast majority of China’s historical monuments, artifacts, and archives were destroyed in a fever of anarchistic rage, fueled by Mao’s cult of personality.
After 10 years of brutality and destruction, China was rendered wholly disconnected from its 5,000-year history. The goal was achieved: The fear-ridden populace was readily assimilated to Marxist ideology.
As a result, present-day Chinese are unable to understand the value of their past, the richness of their culture, or articulate a vision for a future removed from authoritarianism. In place of the sages Confucius and Lao Tzu and their age-old wisdom, China is replete with monuments glorifying Chairman Mao, a man responsible for the death of 80 million Chinese citizens.
Within the ranks of today’s activists are Marxists eager to capitalize on chaos for their own ends and erode the foundations of Western society. Their methods of disruption have been well-practiced through a century of revolutionary struggles across the world. At present, democratic countries are proving increasingly susceptible to their influence, having warmed considerably to the ideals of socialism while failing to prevent the proliferation of Marxist revolutionary groups such as Antifa.
These groups are the progenitors of violence and the mob mentality often on display in mass protests.
Society is rarely homogenized, but we must be wary of cultural and political movements that have destruction as their primary motivation. To be part of the national conversation, proponents of change need to articulate a well-thought-out vision for the future, before serious consideration can be given to their ideas. Destruction alone creates a vacuum, one that seems increasingly likely to be filled with rage and loathing.
Desecrating monuments and toppling statues out of hatred and rage, as we have seen in the United States will do little to promote racial equality and will instead only stoke more division in an already-polarized climate. The well-intentioned should separate themselves from those with destruction as their primary aims, or else their message will get lost in the swarm.
Importance of Material Culture
To reconcile the past with truth and not whitewash the sins of our forefathers, it’s right and necessary that their accomplishments be tarnished with their crimes, and a full reckoning of their deeds be part of the historical record. However, the current trend to wholly discredit these individuals without considering their merits and contributions is an attempt to airbrush and rewrite history.
Before renaming streets or removing statues that have stood for hundreds of years, there needs to be debate and public consultation. If there is sufficient rationale for changing a historical landmark, that case should be made on its merits rather than because the mob demands it. Public debate would clarify both sides of the argument and result in a necessary free exchange of ideas. The consequences of failing to protect this cornerstone of democratic discourse are too great to be casually cast aside because of political pressure.
A symbolic erasing of these representatives of history as a reckoning of their misdeeds doesn’t facilitate the necessary debate around their place in history. One could readily make the argument that the dichotomy of these monuments is the most compelling reason to keep them intact, to serve as sobering reminders of the imperfect nature of our humanity—neither wholly good nor wholly bad but nonetheless capable of remarkable feats.
All of history is stained with blood and sin, a fact we should keep in mind when weighing the virtue of our own ideas.
Moral and material development don’t progress in a linear fashion, and developed nations are not above regressing into tyranny. Without the material culture of our historical roots to keep our moral compass intact, we fail to not only honor mankind’s progress of ideas but cast aside the traditions of our shared humanity.
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver, Canada.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.