Tuesday, August 15, 2017

If Confederate Statues Go, What of the Founding Fathers?

Many of those defending statues to Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee argue that, if we remove them on the grounds that they participated in or defended the evil institution of slavery, what does that say about America's Founding Fathers? Won't they come for the Founders next? Today, it's Robert E. Lee's statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. How much longer before we're talking about the Washington Memorial in our nation's capital?

The President echoed this sentiment in his news conference earlier today. As part of his remarks about the Charlottesville violence, President Trump said: "[M]any of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So, this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?"

Let me say something very controversial (but keep reading before you jump on me)...

Donald Trump is partly right.

Now, before your brain explodes, let me explain. It's wrong to defend (or express sympathy for) the white nationalist protesters at the center of the violence this past weekend in Charlottesville. We must unequivocally denounce white nationalists and/or white supremacists.

Nevertheless, the President is correct that many in our country are not content to stop with Confederate leaders. They will come for the Founding Fathers next. In fact, in some cases, they already have.

For more on this topic (and if you'll forgive the self-promo), I encourage you to check out "George Washington and Robert E. Lee Are Not The Same" over at my blog on the American Revolution.

While I do not believe the Confederacy should be celebrated or memorialized as a noble cause, I do believe the Founding Fathers deserve our respect and a place of honor in public life. And I will vigorously oppose any effort to downgrade their hero status. I won't defend the statue to Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, but I will fiercely defend to my dying breath the Washington Monument in our nation's capital.

**Edited 10/28/17 for brevity**


Tom Van Dyke said...

As Justice Scalia noted, the Civil War settled the question of whether states had the right to secede. But of course that simply means might makes right.

Were the Confederates traitors? Or did they simply have a minority view of the Constitution that was proved "wrong" only by force of arms?


As the above article illustrates, the right-to-secession question was far from unanimous, either at the Founding or in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Once again, a question of history and morality comes down to law and legal theory.

As for Brian's explicit point here vis a vis the Founders, whether slaveowning is grounds for disqualification from the American pantheon, there is no way to keep the baby--natural, political and human rights and equality--if you throw out the bathwater. Even Jefferson, of whom my opinion sinks further every year, must be honored for those occasions when he said [often] or did [not nearly as often] the right thing.

Human cravenness and hypocrisy are pretty constant and common among men and are unremarkable; it is whether and when individuals rose above them that makes them truly "historical" figures.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or as Dr. Sowell puts it [better of course]:

Many of those who talk "non-judgmental" rhetoric out of one side of their mouths are quick to condemn the evils of "our society" out of the other side. Worse, they condemn American society or Western civilization for sins that are the curse of the human race all across the planet. Indeed, they condemn the West for sins that are worse in many non-Western societies.

Perhaps the classic case is slavery. The widespread revulsion which this hideous institution inspires today was largely confined to Western civilization a century ago, and a century before that was largely confined to a portion of British society. No one seems interested in the epic story of how this curse that covered the globe and endured for thousands of years was finally gotten rid of. It was gotten rid of by the West-- not only in Western societies but in other societies conquered, controlled, or pressured by the West.

The resistance put up by Africans, Asians, and Arabs was monumental in defense of slavery, and lasted for more than a century. Only the overwhelming military power of the West enabled it to prevail on this issue, and only the moral outrage of Western peoples kept their governments' feet to the fire politically to maintain the pressure against slavery around the world...

Art Deco said...

C.S. Lewis offered some time ago that each generation is quite virulent about the failings of the previous generation. The monuments in question can be occasions for a balanced appreciation and reflection. That's not something you're going to get out of aught but a few of those inclined to take 'stands' or 'protest'.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The one valid reason to take the monuments down is never mentioned in all this presentism and moral preening--that many of these things were erected in the ashes of the failure of Reconstruction by southern whites seeking to reassert their dominance.

The statues are not history as much as historiography, and it's a tainted one. For that reason, I'm fine with dumping them, although Robert E. Lee in particular is a poor choice, since he did help heal the wounds of the war.

“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

Would Lee have opposed his own monument today? Horn leaned toward yes, though he noted that it’s impossible to compare Lee’s views in the 1860s with the situation today.

“You think he’d come down in the camp that would say ‘remove the monuments,’” Horn posited. “But you have to ask why [he would remove them]. He might just want to hide the history, to move on, rather than face these issues.”


jimmiraybob said...

Maybe yous guys could discuss this (in part previously posed elsewhere):

There were numerous sons of the south that remained loyal to and even fought to preserve the Union; those that had no interest in treason and creating a slave-holding republic. Aren't these Union loyalists as much a part of the southern heritage? How many have gotten their own statues as opposed to the southern sons that went to war against the Union? Why not replace the statues of the leaders of the rebellion with statues of the heroic loyalists? Heritage preserved. Not an insult to more than 1/2 the population. Call it an infrastructure or a jobs program. Move the old statues to history museums or sell them to private estates – “history” preserved. Seems like a win win win win.

Washington and Jefferson and others fought to create a Union and gave us aspirational goals ( e.g., all men are created equal, freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression, etc). The southern sons that I reference fought to preserve the Union. Seems like honoring the honorable, relative to Union loyalty, would help bind a nation and protect George's and Tom's (Jefferson that is) statues from peril.

Art Deco said...

The one valid reason to take the monuments down is never mentioned in all this presentism and moral preening--that many of these things were erected in the ashes of the failure of Reconstruction by southern whites seeking to reassert their dominance.

So I'm expected to be totes OK with white liberals and black nationalists asserting their dominance? Not goin' there. .

I used to live in Baltimore. I considered moving back there to Mt. Vernon, which has some handsome monuments. I was not aware of Confederate monuments in town because it wasn't an issue with anyone in 1982. We live in a world populated with emotional juveniles who fancy they're well qualified to sort the world into kosher and traffe and that they're moral priorities are universals rather than the vanity du jour. Brian Tubbs finds it necessary to perform in front of such people, which is gross and embarrassing.

Did you catch the irony in all this? The mayor of Baltimore has taken 'decisive action' to remove monuments. She's also unveiled her program to restore public order in Baltimore. The salient feature is more spending on community colleges. Baltimore's problem is that it has a parody government run by a parody of a political class.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I have no stake in the statues. However if they a continual irritant and purposeful racial aggression--like the Confederate battle flag--then I say stop . However, if everyone got used to them [more likely to me], then the article I quoted brings up the counterargument, that tearing them down is the racial aggression.

Pretty much like erecting or tearing down crosses. Whatever violates the status quo is the aggression.

As for Baltimore, yes, politically, it's a disgrace. More spending on community colleges is a typically moronic left-wing solution to the sky-high murder rate.

Art Deco said...

However if they a continual irritant and purposeful racial aggression--like the Confederate battle flag--then I say stop

A Stars-and-Bars is an assertion of Southernness. The counter-complaint incorporates a denunciation of Southernness. There is no way to adjudicate that with an appeal to manners. If my East Tennessee cousins were at all interested in my counsel, I'd tell them to fly that flag.

The General Lee was a bit of mass entertainment that wasn't conceived of as aggressive at the time, even though we were 35 years closer to the Jim Crow era. There's a lesson in there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

My complaint about the Confederate battle flag was in its aggressiveness. You want to hang one in your rumpus room, no problem, but I take black folks' word for it that they wince at the sight of it.

I don't see it as inherently objectionable like the swastika [and IMO the hammer & sickle], but I think it's not fit for, um, "mixed" audiences.

BTW--and I was corrected by southerners," the battle flag isn't the "Stars & Bars," which refers to a different flag.


As for General Lee and this particular circus, there were worse guys than Lee. That he saw Virginia as his country ahead of the Union was not evil, and to insist otherwise is sophomoric presentism.