Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Of Statues, Monuments, and Flags

The Chestonian principle:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it. - G.K. Chesterton

When deciding about removing flags, monuments, statues, etc. I think it is wise to first consider the Chestonian principle - by the community that "owns" the statue/monument.
Quick thought: I don't think many people in America would object to Russian citizens toppling statues of Lenin when the Soviet Union collapsed.
A local (county, university, town, state) population should decide why they honored X (substitute the name of any Confederate General, flag, monument, public figure) on their public grounds in the first place. If they decide that this person/symbol no longer represents their values or the community and want to remove it, then they have that right.
However, outsiders like Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump or myself should have no demands in the matter.
A member of Congress from California has no standing in agitating for the removal of Robert E. Lee from any venue but from Federal property or in her own local district on public land (as a private citizen in the latter case.)
In this era of so-called "self-identification", isn't it ironic that local communities are being pressured to conform their identity to political correctness?
The argument that Confederate Generals are traitors and should not be honored is misleading. The issue of the legality of succession was decided by the War Between the States. Before the Civil War, various states (including Northern states) had discussed succession and not considered it a treasonous proposition, but an option. It is not the equivalent of putting up a statue of John Wilkes Booth or Benedict Arnold!
On the other hand, those who say we are trying to change history when we remove monuments, are also wrong. We are only re-evaluating who we honor from our history.
There is much complexity to these issues which also depend on the type of monument and its venue.
For example, a memorial for soldiers who died in the Civil War is not so much a statement on the war itself (as the Vietnam Memorial is not) as a remembrance of family and friends who died. After all while most of the Confederate officers may have owned slaves, many, if not most, non-officer soldiers did not.
The Confederate flag may have a different legacy. It is a powerful symbol that many have used has a symbol of white supremacy both recently and also when they began to be raised on Southern states capital buildings in the 1960's. There would seem to be much more justification for their removals.
Individual Confederate Generals/Officers monuments may sometimes lay somewhere in-between the two examples noted above. Many of these men may have been honored for attributes other than, or in addition to, their leadership roles in the Confederacy.
However, in each case the local community should make thoughtful decisions.
We need to pray for peace in this country (an in our own souls.)
On this Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary .... Oremus pro invicem!


Charlie said...

Tearing down a Lenin statue is one thing. But at some point, people are going to want to tear down memorials to Jefferson and Washington--two slave owners. The result is a kind of political iconoclasm. I fear that Mount Rushmore may end in the same fate as the Buddhist statues destroyed by the Taliban.

Interesting times.

Jim Dorchak said...

You Said:

"Quick thought: I don't think many people in America would object to Russian citizens toppling statues of Lenin when the Soviet Union collapsed."

I would argue that one "was" and the other at that time an "is".

The war of northern aggression WAS ie History, and at the time of the fall of the USSR if you were there in Moscow you could say the tyrant IS in control. That is a big difference.

As you well know where many of these statues are located they were erected in Memory of their Young men, fathers, and brothers, who died in the war. So they were not honoring their slave owning (as unlikely as that was among the common redneck in the trenches) as much as they were honoring their corage and service and lives for a cause that they believed in at that time, which contrary to what many would have you believe was not even closely singularly centered on slavery. (States rights, free trade, taxation).
As such they were honoring their dead.

We must ask ourselves if the Germans have a right to morn their dead and honor them? Do the Vietnamese have a right to memorialize and morn their dead? Do Catholics have a right to memorialize (Have statues) of their dead, in this case Saints?

This has happened this past week at a Catholic School. Here is the headline.

"San Anselmo’s San Domenico School creates stir by removing Catholic statues"

Who is "offended" is now the deciding factor of life and death. Even in this case in the South where the occupying force is the one finding offense with the memorials.

Will it come to the point where my sons head stone must be removed because it is offensive to someone because of his name, skin color, age, religion, or place of birth?

It does not seem to me as we are far from this point. If we try to erase or ignore history the same ills will come alive again more quickly.

Charlie said...

I can say at this point in US history that a statue of Vladimir Lenin on American soil would almost certainly go unmolested.

TS said...

Much wisdom, good post Jim.

Jim Curley said...

I have been remiss in answering comments. TS you got out of SC just in time it looks (Irma).

I don't have much of a response, as some of the comments correlate with mine, and those that disagree to one extent or the other, I stand by what I have written.

The future? I agree that in many regards that there are ongoing efforts to tear down everything good and true. For my personal soul, I am gratified in Thomas More's words (paraphrasing) that in trying times being even partially good may get you to heaven - whereas in good times(easy to live the Faith times) the bar is higher.

Cheers to all.

Nick Curley said...

Nice post, Dad. Hard question. Unfortunately, there are years and years of hate and garbage associated with these figures, and it kinda puts a veil over the American people's judgement in this situation, even when we think we are unaffected by it.

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