The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Abolitio Memoriae

Over the past few days,  the removal of civil war statues has (predictably) expanded to statues of others who somehow offend delicate progressive sensibilities. Leftist NYC Mayor, Bill Di Blasio, is recommending a "commission" to consider the removal of statues of historical figures such as Ulysses S. Grant and Christopher Columbus. If allowed to continue, this lunacy won't stop there.

Conservative historian Victor Davis Hansen has written a notable essay on abolitio memoriae—the “erasing of memory”. He writes:
After unhinged [Roman] emperors were finally killed off, the sycophantic Senate often proclaimed a damnatio memoriae (a “damnation of memory”). Prior commemoration was wiped away, thereby robbing the posthumous ogre of any legacy and hence any existence for eternity. Powered by more practical matters, there followed a concurrent abolitio memoriae (an “erasing of memory”). Specifically, moralists either destroyed or rounded up and put away all statuary and inscriptions concerning the bad, dead emperor. In the case of particularly striking or expensive artistic pieces, they erased the emperor’s name (abolitio nominis) or his face and some physical characteristics from the artwork.
Hansen then goes about the deconstruction of the current left-wing efforts to recreate abolitio memoriae in the aftermath of Charlotteville, and why those efforts are deeply flawed from a historical, moral, and contemporary perspective.

Hansen raises so many excellent historical points, they are difficult to adequately summarize in a brief post. In essence, he notes that slavery was an evil that cannot and should not be justified, but that any attempt at erasing any physical representation of anyone or anything that was connected to slavery will result in the erasure of much of our past. He writes:
What about the morally ambiguous persecution of sinners such as the current effort in California to damn the memory of Father Junipero Serra and erase his eponymous boulevards, to punish his supposedly illiberal treatment of Native Americans in the early missions some 250 years ago? California Bay Area zealots are careful to target Serra but not Leland Stanford, who left a more detailed record of his own 19th-century anti-non-white prejudices, but whose university brand no progressive student of Stanford would dare to erase, because doing so would endanger his own studied trajectory to the good life. We forget that there are other catalysts than moral outrage that calibrate the targets of abolitio memoriae.
It is those "other catalysts" that we must understand before joining the mob who is in favor of abolitio memoriae. Who, exactly, defines the appropriate target for abolitio memoriae, and are they so morally superior that they can demand that their selected targets be torn down? Is it, as Hansen notes, the province of extremists like Black Lives Matter or antifa?
When Minnesota Black Lives Matter marchers chanted of police, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” was that a call for violence that was not long after realized by a spate of racist murders of policemen in Dallas? Are such advocates of torching police officers morally equipped to adjudicate which Confederate statue must come down?
There were certainly psychopaths among confederate leaders who deserve no commemoration. But there were also better men who fought for the wrong cause 150 years ago and often regretted it later in life. Regardless, it is not the province of left-wing extremists like BLM or antifa to lead any ill-conceived attempt at abolitio memoriae. In many ways, their own intolerance, demonization of others, and violent response to those with other views are analogous to those historical figures who they demand as targets of abolitio memoriae.

Hansen's essay is important. Read the whole thing.