Historical vandalism in full bloom

History has seen hundreds of revolutions, but only four that succeeded in destroying Western civilisation or, if that sounds too cataclysmic, at least bringing it to the brink of destruction.

The Archvandal of Canterbury

In chronological order, these are the Reformation, the Enlightenment with its culmination in the French Revolution, socialism with its culmination in Russia, and – not as sanguinary as the others but culturally just as devastating – leftie post-modern sanctimoniousness.

The Reformers rose against what they saw as a corrupt Church; the Enlighteners revolted against Christianity, with its whole cultural, social and political ethos; socialists united against capitalism and social injustice; our woke contemporaries seek redress for the supposed wrongs of every imaginable type of discrimination.

I’ve always pointed out that all those movements have much in common. Yet one similarity is more salient than the others: hatred of history and vandalism towards its relics and mementos.

That’s why the façades of the great French cathedrals (and most of the world’s great cathedrals are French – even if built in other countries) exhibit empty niches where statues of saints, martyrs and kings used to live.

Stigmata of revolutionary evil are everywhere, as if to remind us that vandalism is the real desideratum of all revolutions, whatever their ostensible aim.

In the West, statues first found themselves on the receiving end of revolutionary zeal during the Reformation, especially as preached by Calvin and Zwingli. They invoked the commandment about graven images to launch an attack on idolatry.

That animus sprang from a basic theological error going back to Byzantine iconoclasm. The Decalogue proscribes worshipping idols, but Christians adore not statues, icons and religious paintings, but what they represent.

The Incarnation, with God appearing as a man born to a woman, should have settled that issue once and for all. So it would have done, had the iconoclasts and Reformers been driven by reason, rather than rabid hatred. As it was, enraged mobs destroyed and disfigured statues throughout Europe.

When a century later similar fanatics perpetrated the English Revolution and subsequent Civil War, a bullied Parliament passed an ordinance against superstition and idolatry. That meant Catholicism, even in its semi-Calvinist Anglican version.

That injunction produced a frenzied attack on religious symbols. Priceless stained glass was smashed, religious paintings were slashed, statues were beheaded or annihilated altogether.

By contrast, the Enlighteners’ hatred lacked any denominational aspect. They loathed all Christianity and everything about it, without discriminating among various confessions.

Statues again began to fall like ninepins, or else only survived in a decapitated and amputated state. As a new and promising touch, it wasn’t just sacred statues that were targeted, but also those of any historical figures who fell short of the Enlighteners’ morality, best exemplified by the guillotine.

Thus the equestrian statue of Louis XV in the Place de la Concorde had to be taken down and melted, preparing the square for the execution of the king’s grandson – and for a name change to the Place de la Révolution.

The tradition of assault on both sacred and secular history was lovingly maintained and enhanced in the Soviet Union. The statues and relics of saints were smashed, often together with the churches that housed them. Statues and pictures of the tsars followed, with Chekists using them, along with icons, for drunken target practice.

Bolshevik vandalism exceeded the previous models in fervour and scope, but essentially it developed the formative essence of modernity, a period brought to life by slogans of love and acts of hatred.

However, I can’t recall any incidents of vandalism being championed by the prelates of Christian confessions claiming apostolic succession. Hence, as Her Majesty’s subject, I’m pleased to see a pioneering British archbishop putting his hand on the tiller of modernity.   

The Most Rev Justin Welby suggested last year that his seat, Canterbury Cathedral, be stripped of statues evoking slavery (so far the Cathedral has refused to comply). His Grace made that comment as the BLM mob was toppling the statue of Edward Colston and disfiguring that of Winston Churchill.

Specifically in the crosshairs of His Grace’s woke outrage are the statues of Isaac Bargrave and George Stanhope, both former deans of Canterbury – along with that of Richard Hooker, one of the greatest Anglican theologians ever.

All such statues should, according to His Grace, be removed and replaced with information plaques that “provide context”, that is explaining how far from today’s woke standards those historical figures fall.

I don’t think I’ll be divulging any state secrets if I describe His Grace as an intellectually challenged leftie whose grasp of theology is closer to the statue of Hooker than to Hooker. Much as he loves contexts, I doubt he is capable of discerning the one of his own pronouncements.

Yet this context is more horrible than the text. The Archbishop has volunteered to fight in the modern war on history that has been raging for at least 500 years.

Treatment of history has always had an aspect of retrospective warfare fought with falsifications and attempts to use modern pieties as a hammer shattering ancient memories. Yet what’s going on in today’s West is unprecedented, this side of the Soviet Union and its spinoffs.

We are witnessing a war of mass annihilation, with nations indoctrinated in the ideology of unstoppable progress. Each epoch is seen as a vast improvement on all its predecessors, with today’s standards representing the ultimate achievement in moral goodness.

Acting in this belief with consistency, which luckily isn’t modernity’s core strength, would mean destroying the memory of just about every historical figure, with the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

All others failed to live up to the standards formulated centuries after their lifetime. At least Britain and other ancient European nations can still scrape the bottom of the barrel and find a few unsullied titans to celebrate.

The US is in real trouble: just about every signatory to the Declaration Of Independence either owned slaves or at least saw nothing wrong with slavery. Should the Jefferson Memorial be blown up? It may still come to that.

Vandalism is a prominent feature of modernity. I just hope I won’t be around when it becomes the dominant one.  

4 thoughts on “Historical vandalism in full bloom”

  1. Here in America, one foul deed from the past gets you sentenced into oblivion. Kate Smith, the singer got her statue removed in Philadelphia. I think this American “experiment” is finished. Give me God, King and Country.

  2. Yes, Mandela may be spared. He was after all, black. And that is the key to Mandela’s whole thinking.

    The British National Party claimed that had Mandela been a white Briton, he would have supported them. And they were right. He was a black racial nationalist.

    At the Rivonia trial, he said that he had done what he did do – authorise a bomb in a crowded shopping centre for example- for his own black people. And would he have spent all those years in prison voluntarily, if the issue had been, not black majority rule, but white majority rule? I don’t think so.

    Like many ‘anti-racist’ ‘persons of colour’ who like him support Communism or leftism in one form or another, Mandela’s leftism was merely a vehicle or cover, quite possibly unconscious, for his real motivation: furthering the interests of his own race.

    Of course western liberals never saw that he was himself racially motivated. They idolised him because he was black , a communist or at least socialist and opposed to white racism.

    Ghandi too may survive because he was a non-white. But Ghandi was also a racialist. When he was in South Africa, he did not object to the British racial treatment of the population. He merely objected to Asians like himself being classified with blacks for administrative purposes. Racial attitudes to black people sit easily with the Hindu caste system.

    His statue was actually removed from the University of Ghana because he is seen as a ‘racist’, but of course, that’s black.

  3. In Australia the 26 January was recognised as “Australia Day”, it use to celebrate the 1788 raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip. Oh! But not now… post-modernist revisionist history has to make us all feel bad about the past…so now the ABC and most regions call it “Invasion Day”. It’s a grand occasion to splash paint and deface a Captain Cook statue as well.
    My wife is Aboriginal and is very pleased that Christianity spread across the land and that she’s not destined to search for yams in 36 degree heat and attempt sleep in bark shelters.
    Vandalism is not the only prominent feature of our woke contemporaries; their thinking is so left that they walk in circles.

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