I’m committing a bit of an analytical sin in this column, for which I’ll apologize. That sin being, of course, that I’m giving entirely too much credit for intelligence, perspective, and good faith on the part of the cultural Marxist revolutionaries who are running around the country bowdlerizing historical landmarks and monuments of public art.
Those revolutionaries are not acting on a righteous desire not to honor slavery. If they were, they would have stopped at Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Beauregard and Forrest. But when this ISIS-style campaign of iconoclasm progressed not just to Washington and Jefferson but to such insane lengths as Lincoln, Grant, Miguel Cervantes, Teddy Roosevelt and even Frederick Douglass, and when even such supposedly intelligent and mainstream publications as the New York Times and Washington Post followed the Democrat Party’s Twitter account in joining the fringe effort to chisel away Mt. Rushmore, we are long past the point of true righteousness.
It’s a cultural revolution — literally a 21st century equivalent of Mao’s Red Guards — disguised as the signaling of virtue. These are revolutionaries who want to wipe away American law, culture, and economics so as to replace them with new norms and institutions of their own making. Much of that work has already been done in the schools, as President Trump so eloquently noted, and he’s correct — American youth are the least patriotic and most ignorant of their cultural and intellectual patrimony of any generation in our nation’s history, ironically at a time when more information about that patrimony is readily available for perusal than ever before.
But the urgent necessity of destroying American public education as currently constituted is another column entirely.
The ignorance spread by our schools informs the current iconoclasm in a very specific way, however, and at the risk of being accused of defending the Peculiar Institution of slavery, there is a point which must be made.
Slavery is America’s original sin. Slavery is also the original sin of all of mankind. Slavery, in all of its forms, has been with us from the beginning of time. It has been a key part of the wretched condition of humanity since the dawn of civilization and its general end is something of exceedingly recent vintage. Even now, there are millions of people consigned to some form of slavery or other around the world, including actual slave-markets trading in black Africans being run by Muslims in the northern reaches of that continent — a phenomenon that the Black Lives Matter crowd seem peculiarly silent about as they wrap themselves around the axle over whether Washington and Jefferson owned slaves.
Since the Enlightenment, or truly even long before, it was generally accepted that slavery — treating another human being as chattel — was sinful and immoral. It was only in the 19th century that putting an end to slavery became an imperative in the Western world and by the leadership of Europeans and Americans an end to the practice came elsewhere.
Do you think it was a coincidence that the great abolitionists — Wilberforce in Britain, Douglass, Garrison and Lincoln in America, and Brissot and Schoelcher in France, for example — came from the West? Of course not.
And why was that? The answer is very simple.
The West discovered capitalism and developed industry to replace slavery as a result. The West could afford to end slavery.
Before the Industrial Revolution, which was the sole product of capitalism, there was no other option but for slaves to do the necessary work nobody else wanted to do, which is why every society in world history had slaves of one sort or another.
In the bygone days before machines were invented, agricultural techniques were improved and capitalist economics were developed to distribute increases in productivity, there was a severe shortage of labor in the dirty, excessively menial jobs. It wasn’t possible to find enough people who would agree to do the back-breaking, dangerous, and filthy work for the amount of money landowners or controllers of capital could afford to pay them. And for major projects like sugar plantations, salt mines, and so forth, before there was machinery to leverage the power of labor it took hundreds, even thousands of people to get the work done.
So slave labor was brought in to do that. It was brought in via the trans-Atlantic slave trade in America, but in Europe it existed as well. What is a serf if not a slave? A serf doesn’t have the freedoms of a citizen, to be sure.
The writings of Washington and Jefferson, including the Declaration of Independence which Jefferson wrote, clearly identifies slavery as morally deficient. Douglass, the fiery and brilliant black abolitionist who escaped from cruel slavery to become the moral conscience of America in the 19th century in a way no Black Lives Matter activist could even pretend to be (and who would surely be utterly disgusted with BLM were he around to see it now), recognized that fact very clearly. His indictment of slavery precisely recognized Jefferson’s words as the truth and castigated the then-reality of American life for failing to live up to them.
Even in the South this was understood. The problem was it wasn’t possible for the Southern economies to withstand the end of slavery. Had Southern plantation owners been offered a trade of slaves for tractors they surely would have taken it, and proclaimed themselves better Christians in the bargain.
That isn’t an indictment of their moral character, and certainly not an endorsement. It’s just a simple fact. We do what is possible, especially when the alternative is to watch your children starve. That’s called perspective, and it’s crucial in order to have any real understanding of the history these revolutionaries want to eliminate.
There’s a word for this. That word is Presentism. It’s an intellectual fallacy which insists on judging figures from the past by current standards. Presentism, which should have been shouted down in our schools and colleges but instead has been promoted by quack educators who themselves are revolutionaries, Marxists, and other deficient thinkers, is why people sitting in plush chairs in air-conditioned rooms sipping latte and munching on avocado toast come off like abject imbeciles whining about the immorality of their forebears who lived an existence imaginably hellish compared to what we see in 2020.
And what bridged that gap, what moved us from that horrific life with its ugly moral dilemmas and brutality, to where we are now is capitalism, which rewards technological innovation and productivity. It was capitalism which gave us the inventors and entrepreneurs who created and distributed the technological advances which freed people from the worst of the back-breaking, life-stealing work and moved humanity to the state of comfort it currently occupies. Capitalism promoted advances in every facet of human life which provide today’s flaccid revolutionaries in suburban basements with creature comforts a Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lee, or Davis couldn’t even conceive.
And these same confused revolutionaries who castigate and disrespect our forefathers, those men who lacked all the comforts of our modern life and yet set the philosophical underpinnings for the great technological changes we enjoy through great works like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, also attack capitalism as “racist” and demand it end.
It’s a stupidity we shouldn’t tolerate.
And that’s to be kind, because as said above, the defenestrators and iconoclasts actively assaulting our history aren’t opposed to slavery. They’re opposed to everything we stand for and stand on. But even taking their babblings at face value they don’t hold water. A P.G.T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, or even John C. Calhoun is a far better and more consequential man than is a Shaun King or Ayanna Pressly, a judgment history will surely validate.
Assuming the revolutionaries aren’t the ones writing the history, which they earnestly, viciously aim to do.
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Author: Scott McKay