The arrested development of art, statues, speakers, and birthdays

By Aaron Rice
August 8, 2019

Only devout progressives could be foolish enough to order the destruction of a gigantic work of art that was actually critical to the establishment’s history of George Washington and our nation’s founding and not see the irony.

In the rush to take any measure to prevent students from the unbearable experience of contemplating complex and thorny issues, the art must go. The statues of Confederates must come down. The annual birthday celebration of the founding father and architect of the University of Virginia must end. 

According to these dilettantes, modern education is no longer about developing the intellectual muscles; it is about preventing any encounter with resistance. It’s like trying to get in shape without breaking a sweat, trying to sharpen a blade without removing metal, or trying to prune a tree without cutting the dying wood.

The result of such protectionist idiocy is that we are producing students with weaker constitutions and duller minds – unable to grow into robust adults. By giving into a belief that students are unable to confront opposing thoughts, ideas, or history, and thus must be protected from such challenges, we are preventing them from becoming fully formed citizens. And we do so at our own peril.

As Jefferson wrote, “an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” What the founder, formerly known as Thomas Jefferson, was writing about is critical to our future. The nation’s future requires citizens who thirst for knowledge, possess discernment, and can courageously articulate an idea.

Whether at the University of North Carolina, the San Francisco Board of Education, or in Charlottesville, it is the progressive edutocracy, in lock step with postmodernists, who are failing the republic and setting us on a dangerous path.

If our student citizens are unable to go out into the nation and contend with diverse opinions, whether they be in the form of a monument, a mural, or a speaker, how then do we expect them to contend with a malignant threat to the West and the nation one day?

Even a cursory review of history informs us that evil and malevolent ideas will gain momentum and challenge our way of life at some point. If the 20thCentury proved nothing else, it proved that. According to R. J. Rummel’s book Death by Government, roughly 110 million people were killed by communist democide from 1900 to 1987. 

Rather than possessing faith in strong ideas and having the courage to oppose their government, citizens in these nations turned on friends and families and allowed evil, false, deadly regimes to bring hell to earth. In short, the citizens chose a naïve approach to these genocidal nightmares.

They chose temporary safety – unable to understand that they were sewing the long-term seeds of their own destruction. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, a painfully detailed account of the Russian forced labor camp system, is now available in an abridged version. If you want to understand the potential depths to which a nation and its citizen can fall, read it or listen to an audio version.

Whether a George Washington mural painted by the Russian artist Victor Arnatauff or a nameless Confederate soldier statue standing on the campus in Chapel Hill, many on the left have determined the next generation is not able to contend with it. Therefore, progressives are now marching swiftly with their majoritarian mobs to dutifully purge public spaces of symbols they find offensive. This sort of mob censorship of historic symbols is a not-too-distant relative of censoring speech and burning books.

At UNC, students and activists tore down the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam, which had stood on the north end of campus for a century. The administration and board at the school have yet to decide the appropriate next step.

Perhaps there is hope here in Mississippi? This past March, the University of Mississippi student government voted unanimously to remove the Confederate statue from its current location atop the center circle of campus and relocate it to a cemetery on school grounds. To their credit, the students have not engaged in the destruction of property in their quest to remove the statue, which has stood since its erection in 1906.

Instead, the students have engaged in a public and democratic process and taken the time to offer a proposed solution. While I may disagree with the solution they propose, they should be commended for engaging in the debate and for not cowering in the corner out of the imagined oppression by an ancient statue. It remains to be seen how this plays out in Oxford. The IHL is searching for the next leader at Ole Miss. You can bet this is one of the interview questions.

The message of the progressive movement in other places in our nation is clear, however. If you are not on board with immediately removing such symbols, you will be accused of racial animus or xenophobia.

The hard left leaves no room for complexity, context, or individual opinion. We are in a new world where the individual must, through definitions ascribed by the progressives, belong to a group.

When the collective's viewpoint must be given preference over the individual’s perspective, we have lost what it means to have individual liberty and agency. In such a world, it is easy to see how woke progressives could be so foolish as to convince themselves to spend over $600,000 to paint over a mural of George Washington.

Such is the result of groupthink. Unfortunately, our students are the ones who suffer from such arrested development.

This column appeared in the Clarion Ledger on August 8, 2019.


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