Destruction and Desecration of Statues

This is not our first rodeo, so I have a developed position on destroying statues:  I'm always against it.  I don't care who put the statue up, and I don't care why.  Preservation of art is a worthwhile project even if only for future historians, who will want to be able to encounter the art and examine the expression of values by ancestors they no longer otherwise know how to approach.  The Taliban was wrong, ISIS was wrong, and we're wrong to be doing it now.

I can appreciate efforts to 'recontextualize' statues, for example by putting up plaques that explain what you take to be the problems with their depiction.  That's useful to future historians as well as current citizens, and it deepens the discussion across the generations about what the right values are.

Extreme cases may even permit the relocation of statutes from highly public places to museums or warehouses.  Removing Nazi statues certainly may be justified; removing horrid modern art to make way for works of genuine beauty certainly is.  Even these things should not be destroyed, though, at least not works of art that entail actual working and/or actual art.

Just as there are extreme cases that may justify removal, though, there are also paradigm cases in which desecration or destruction is especially wrong.  The cause of human liberty was advanced a long way by Robert the Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath, as has been frequently remarked here; and as far as I know, there is with the Bruce no admixture of tyranny (as there is, in the case of slave-owning, with Jefferson or Washington, two of Bruce's few near-peers in the cause of human liberty).  The argument that his heart being taken on Crusade after his death was the mark of some sort of racist bias versus Muslims is ridiculous.  "Race" wasn't a concept important to the 14th century; religion was, and the Muslims were waging war just as hotly on the Christians as vice versa.

It may be hard to say where to draw the line, but it wherever it is right to draw it is somewhere safely distant from Robert the Bruce.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Hungarians had all the Soviet statues in Budapest removed to a field in the suburbs, Szoborpark. The displays hover between mockery and plausible deniability that they are merely displaying them neutrally. I enjoyed it greatly and bought a few souvenirs. You can see me more clearly trying to restrain communism if you click on the second photo.

E Hines said...

Extreme cases may even permit the relocation of statutes from highly public places to museums or warehouses.

I can't think of any. The context of the artwork--the environment in which it was "published"--is just as important to the art as the thing itself.

We had just this discussion a little while ago regarding a statue of a bull and a statue of a little girl.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

And: It may be hard to say where to draw the line....

It's easy to draw the line: don't draw it. Either we respect the past, warts and all, and learn from it, the good and the bad, or we do not.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

The activists are looking for someone without Original Sin, someone so pure that he or she has nothing at all in their lives that might stain. And they won't accept "Jesus, if you're a Christian" as an option.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous, I am more cynical. I don't think it's even poorly thought out, as you accuse. I think they are just always looking for the next target. There's no pattern.

douglas said...

Szobor Park is a wonderful place to take your kids. The museum in the replica reeducation camp barracks building is also very good (I don't think that was there in 2001), but less so on a hot day as it has no a/c!

A few thoughts on this.

I agree that especially under the current conditions, nothing should come down.

It's also important to remember that when most of these were put up, there were still veterans of the Civil War alive- and they either supported it, or did not object strenuously enough to have it not happen. If they could make peace with it, why not we?

Lincoln set the tone for us all- while many called for policies exacting vengeance on those who wore the uniform of the Confederacy, he understood better than most that clean hands were hard to find, and that redemption and reconciliation were necessary to have a future that did not preserve the cleft in the national psyche. "“With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.“ Was Lincoln just a fool, to have his opinions on this matter cast aside? We could surely do with a lot more forgiveness (as the community of Mother Emmanuel did after the tragic attack there), and there is little question that a society that is capable of forgiveness and reconciliation is a better one than one which is not, and is instead wrapped in anger and vengeance.

The United States, it has been said, has no permanent enemies (this was said in reference to our foreign enemies). It has been proven true, time and again. Yet we are to believe that our own brethren, whatever their sins, are to be considered permanent enemies? This is simply a desire to tear apart all that America is in values and in spirit, and I'll not stand by and allow that to happen.

It's also important to note that a movement that seems to demand repentance but denies forgiveness should be rejected on its face.