Posted on Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

07.05.16, 10am, CONVERSATION I

Is statue smashing the armed wing of political correctness? Does destruction of the symbols from the past bind the wounds of the present, or are we tilting at windmills?

A confident and secure government – and populace – does not find such symbols threatening. Many symbols of preceding regimes have already been destroyed. What is new today is the concerted urge to erase all monuments of ‘politically objectionable’ eras due to contingent political conditions.

Enforced cultural amnesia diminishes the richness of a society’s own cultural life by excising parts of history that are politically inexpedient. It deliberately distorts history and mutes the voice of a former age. Even if one is opposed to an ideology, one must understand it to oppose it effectively and argue from a position of knowledge. The fear of encountering anything contradictory to one’s worldview is another aspect of the desire to have ‘freedom from speech’, which Greg Lukianoff identified in his latest book about censorship on American university campuses. In the case of the destruction of monuments, this censorious desire is even more extreme. It represents a desire for ‘freedom from history’ – from the speech of dead people and vanished authorities. These modern iconoclasts’ abhorrence of past ideas, and their desire to attack a present-day rival group, means they have a double incentive to remove unpopular symbols.