Monday, 15 June 2020

Pulling Down History

If a nation starts to rewrite its history it ceases to be itself and becomes something else. Recognising past mistakes is right and proper and part of a maturing process but outright rejection of the national story to fit in with a single issue extremist political ideology is an attack on a nation's soul, in no way to be reconciled with the existence of a free people.

I was recently present at a conversation about the current drive to take down statues of people associated with what are now regarded as unsavoury episodes in our country's history even though, in most cases, the statues are not there to celebrate those episodes but to commemorate other aspects of the lives of the individuals concerned. The argument raged back and forth but I did not contribute partly because in normal life no one takes much notice of statues anyway! But I do understand the symbolic significance. Then one of the participants suggested that, rather than take statues down, we should put up new statues of non-British people who, he thought, represented humanity at its best. Somewhat inevitably he put forward Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for their peaceful non-violent protests. I couldn't resist pointing out that Mandela had a past record of violent terrorism which, if you are going to ignore, why not also ignore the problems with those who are currently under attack? I added that in any Empire other than the British it is probable that Gandhi would have 'disappeared'. It is only because of the innately civilised qualities of the people he was peacefully protesting against that he could get away with peacefully protesting, though this is not to deny the justice of his cause. Besides, even Gandhi is criticised for racism now though, ironically, his words, as reported in this article, have recently been attributed to Churchill and given as a reason for defacing his statue.

But this was not my main objection to the idea. If you erect statues of people who were not central to your country's identification of itself as a nation and give them the same footing as those who contributed to the idea of the country as a special place with its own identity and role in the world, you risk losing integrity as a nation, losing the authentic sense of self. This is even more the case if these people were actual opponents of your country. It is fine to respect such people for their virtues but to celebrate them means you diminish yourself. Is that the point of statues? What is more, the two individuals proposed did not transcend representing their own group so what is their purpose here? They did not fight for humanity. They were Indian and South African respectively, and they were fundamentally political figures, thereby increasing potential divisiveness. The only possible justification for a statue of a non-national (other than a person who contributed to the national story) would be for someone who really did exalt humanity as a whole and I'm not sure I can think of anyone like that except Jesus Christ. I suppose you could add people like Plato and Mozart but really what would be the point except perhaps in an academic or artistic institution? And now I think of it, didn't Plato live in a society in which slavery existed? And Mozart is often today deemed a racist (see Monostatos in The Magic Flute) so he's out. I only thought of the potential problems with these two after I had chosen them at random which shows how complicated the selective reframing of history is.

There is something very symbolic about pulling down beyond the obvious act of destruction. Pulling down is levelling to the ground, returning something created back to the state of non-creation, raw matter. It is significant that this is the only state in which complete equality can exist. The drive to establish equality is supposed to be the rationale behind all political action on the left now. But complete equality must mean the levelling of everything down to nothing. Things are only equal when they are all nothing, all completely flattened, any individual quality crushed. As Nicolai Berdyaev says in his 1923 book, The Philosophy of Inequality, "Inequality is the basis of cosmic order. Absolute equality would have left being in an unrevealed condition. The demand for a forced levelling, which comes out of the lower levels of chaotic darkness, is an attempt to destroy the hierarchic cosmic order which was formed by the creative birth of light in darkness, an attempt to destroy human personality itself."

The destruction of the past is what all tyrants seek so there is no other framework of understanding than the one they wish to impose. Once our history is rewritten we will no longer be the same people. Maybe this is the future and part of the dissolution to be expected at the end of an age, but if we wish to remain spiritually free and not become the conditioned slaves of an ideology we must at least understand the process for what it is and not succumb to it inwardly.

None of this alters the fact that there has been past injustice and unfair discrimination and the consequences of these still exist today. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, I don't think there have been many occasions when a completely different group of people has been introduced into a society in large numbers and the result has not been bloodshed. There have been wounds and there needs to be healing but the only possible way forward requires forgiveness and respect on both sides and part of that respect is that the historical integrity of the nation must be honoured, warts and all.

Note: This essay might appear to be written from the point of view  that a particular situation can be improved and we can move forward into a better future. I don't actually believe that as anyone who has read my earlier writings will know. We are living at a time of spiritual rejection in which forces inimical to goodness and truth are manipulating reality for their own ends. This current unrest is part of that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is not to allow oneself to be sucked into a pattern of hatred and recrimination. At the same time, never compromise with truth.


Sean Fowler said...

Make no mistake about it: we intend to keep bashing the dead white males, and the live ones, and the females too, until the social construct known as “ the white race’ is destroyed. That’s the fundamental truth that needs to be addressed here. There are forces at work that seek the destruction of our past present and future. That’s what pulling down our statues is really all about. No point justifying ourselves to these genocidal loonies or even giving any credence to their arguments. Just call them what they are.
Agree completely when you state that the only way equality can be achieved is when everyone and everything has been reduced to nothing, which seems to be the logical, unavoidable conclusion to the leftist /communist drive for equality. Pol pot knew what he was doing.

Bruce Charlton said...

Once a civilization starts despising itself, and working to replace itself, it will rightly die. As CSL said some 70 years ago, nobody seriously defends a civilization, since it is a by-product of much more fundamental motivations.

But this time the destruction will bring nearly all the world down with it, since nearly all the world depends on Western Civilization simply to stay alive.

I believe that in not many weeks or months (maybe starting today?), all this will be very rapidly be swept-away - one way or another.

This is assuming something else even more rapidly and completely destructive does not happen beforehand.

William Wildblood said...

The French have a phrase. "Jamais deux sans trois." We've had plague and riot. I wonder what's next?

Sean Fowler said...

Have you forgotten about the fake climate crisis that preceded the corvid debacle William. That’s three. I agree though. Seems like they have to administer some more poison before they provide us with the antidote in exchange for our total enslavement.

William Wildblood said...

Perhaps but I do think there's going to be something more coming up and fairly soon too.

Bruce Charlton said...

It's not going to end, so long as evil has power; because the destruction of Good never ends. There is always more Good to be destroyed - because every created being (or 'thing') is a creation of God - and therefore Good in origin and essence.

As Tolkien saw for Morgoth; he could only continue until everything created had been destroyed, then destroy himself - returning reality to primal chaos.

However, that cannot Now happen since Jesus (Tolkien's world was set before Jesus), because Heaven is free from evil and immune to evil. Evil can corrupt and destroy all that is not of Heaven, and thereby reduce the scope of Heaven (motivated by spite and resentment); but Cannot corrupt or destroy Everything.

In that qualitative sense evil has 'already lost', thanks to Jesus Christ; but in a quantitative sense evil can nonetheless do great harm, can damn more and more individual souls.

William Wildblood said...

I think the point you make that evil has already lost is so true. It must know that but it wants to bring down as much as possible in the process of its own eventual demise. Its only satisfaction now is bringing other beings down with it.

Francis Berger said...

In my darker moments, I feel a great deal of everything that is happening pertaining to what you have addressed here is meant to provoke a violent reaction (essentially a trap) - a violent reaction that would then be used as proof and justification for further chaos. I'm not saying a violent reaction will occur - there appears to be far too much self-loathing and apathy or, from a more positive angle, civility, for that to happen - but the ingredients needed to instill an aggressive response are all quite evident.

By the way, I like the Berdyaev quote you chose to support your ideas.

William Wildblood said...

I agree with you about provoking a reaction, Francis . Here in the UK the people who wanted to defend statues received much more adverse publicity than those who sought to tear them down. Far right extremists they may be (whatever that is) but they wouldn't have come out if the authorities had done their job of protecting the state. Extremes breed extreme reactions but the forces behind the anti-racist protesters are not acknowledged to be the political extremists they clearly are.

I haven't read much Berdyaev but I very much like everything I have read.