Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Statues and Consistency

I am broadly opposed to the vandalism and removal of statues of most historical figures. However, those of us who are on the preservationist side have to do better than simply insisting that "you can't erase history." The obvious response to that is that Adolf Hitler is undeniably an important figure in German history, yet Germany properly does not have statues of Hitler. And one would have to have a cold tankie heart indeed to condemn the toppling of statues of Lenin and other Communists at the end of the Cold War. "No statue of anybody should ever be removed" is as absurd a position as "Any statue that offends anybody should be removed." 

Critics of existing statues are correct to point out that a statue of a historical figure in a public place inherently implies not only that this person existed and had an impact on history, but also that it was an impact admirable in some ways and worthy of being honoured. Therefore, we have to be able to make distinctions between individuals who, though flawed (as we all are) and holding some opinions widely frowned on today, nevertheless accomplished good things by the prevailing standards of the society in which they lived and had a positive impact on their own community and country, and individuals with few or no redeeming qualities whose evil actions clearly violated moral principles with which they were or reasonably should have been familiar.

with the eponymous statue of King St. Louis IX of France (1214-1270) in St. Louis, Missouri, March 2015

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