National Monuments

American Idolatry Meets Woke Iconoclasm

Why do people pull down statues?


Protesters who pull down statues are usually not content with removing the inanimate metal or stone object from its pedestal. They berate it, ridicule it, hammer it; they try to set it on fire; when that doesn't work, they're liable to behead it or dump it in a river to drown. Then the authorities retrieve it, as though fishing a corpse out of the lake. They crate it up so it can do no further harm, ship it to a statue internment facility, and forget about it forever.

Sympathetic accounts of the process make it sound quite rational. A statue of a Confederate general or a slave-owning president or Christopher Columbus, looming at you above the public square, might, especially if you are black or Indigenous, make you realize that the people who run and adorn your city aren't like you. In fact, they make heroes out of the sort of people who oppress people like you, and they create a built environment where you might have to make your way through your oppressors' distorted, self-serving interpretations of history every day on your way to the bus stop.

That would be a reason to go to the city council and urge members to hold some hearings on removals and replacements. Screaming at a statue, slapping it around, and then beheading it suggest another level of rage—and another level of interpretation. The statue has come to be identified with the person it represents. Ridiculing the hunk of bronze is ridiculing the represented person and attacking everything that, in turn, that person seems to mean. Traditionally (in the French Revolution, for example), pulling a statue off its pedestal is symbolically overthrowing or expunging the leader or ruler it depicts. One of the first things American soldiers did when they got to Baghdad was pull down the colossal Saddam Hussein. Reporters and television crews covered the toppling of the statue obsessively; it may be the best-remembered image of the Iraq invasion. Overthrowing Hussein and pulling down his statue didn't seem to be clearly distinguished in anyone's mind.

Monuments are often fated to become effigies, their destruction a premonition of the fall of the leader and the transformation of his symbolic order. In other cases, the destruction of the monument is a reenactment of the death or dismemberment of the leader that has already taken place, a way of killing him over and over even if he died in his sleep, as in the fate of thousands of statues of Stalin after the fall of the Soviet Union. Robert E. Lee is dead, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't kill him again (and again) in his images. What was "he" doing still hovering over the city of Richmond in 2020, anyway?

President Donald Trump's response to this has also been traditional, indeed ancient. Appearing on Independence Day in front of one of the world's largest sculptures, he said: "Today, we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world: This monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defaced, their legacy will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom." Then he announced that the "ringleader" of the "attack" on a statue of Andrew Jackson in D.C. had been arrested.

Trump further declared that he was issuing executive orders to make assaults on statuary punishable by 10 years in prison and to establish a "National Garden of American Heroes," featuring a hundred or more sculptures depicting the likes of Davy Crockett, Amelia Earhart, Billy Graham, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton Jr., Ronald Reagan, Betsy Ross, and both Booker T. and George Washington. Sounds like the world's least dynamic amusement park, but perhaps they'll add some animatronics.

Trump's claim that Rushmore "will never be desecrated" makes clear that he, and we, still understand the mentality of the idolater: Damaging a statue of Andrew Jackson is contaminating a sacred object, which makes the act outrageous. But the fact that the act of desecrating a statue outrages the idolaters is precisely what drives the iconoclasts; it's the veneration of the person embodied in the inanimate object and in its placement and presentation that makes damaging or destroying it a symbolically powerful act. That's how you get these idol wars.

The conflict between worshipping and destroying images, between idolatry and iconoclasm, is found in some form in almost every human culture. One classical depiction is in the Hebrew Bible. Moses returned from a mountaintop talk with Yahweh to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. "He took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." Then he set them to slaughtering each other. Ever since, there have been restrictions on images: The Jewish God can definitely not be sculpted, and similar, sometimes harsher, restrictions have run through Islam. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was to a remarkable extent a conflict about the use of images in worship, with the Protestants accusing the Catholics of worshipping paintings and sculptures, and hence of being pagans and polytheists. The Protestants destroyed images all over Europe.

Now, if you ask me squarely whether I'd rather be an idolater or an iconoclast, I'm likely to answer "an iconoclast," because that sounds unconventional and interesting; I'd rather be an overthrower of shibboleths than an enforcer of them. Also, idolatry still sounds wildly irrational, as though we were worshipping the Great God Yottle, the omnipresent hunk of bronze.

But the image breakers seem rather irrational too, venting their rage on inanimate objects as though that would be a substantive blow against racism or whatever else they take themselves to oppose. It's a bit like trying to suspend time by taking a hammer to your clock radio.

Irrational though it may be, the idolatry that leads to colossal Lincolns and Jeffersons in D.C. is routine for us all. On July 4, Trump described America as "uplifted by the Titans of Rushmore," the event as taking place "before the eyes of our forefathers," just as though the presidents were alive still and inhabiting their giant rock faces. He spoke of the woke iconoclasts as "ripping down Washington and Jefferson" (the men, not their images, mind) and as literally destroying American history; it appears that the level of symbols and the level of reality have been entirely confounded. But any child might point at an equestrian statue and ask, "Who's that?" To which the answer is "Robert E. Lee" or "Napoleon," not "that's not a person—it's a hunk of bronze." I regularly say things like "I saw Trump on television" rather than declaring that I saw a very small, flat image of Trump. We all slide between representation and reality with great ease. Perhaps too great, because it leaves us vulnerable to elementary and sometimes bizarre confusions.

In other words, I'm more interested in what idolaters and iconoclasts have in common than the millennia-long conflict raging between them. Both sides evidently are working from a belief in what anthropologists once termed "sympathetic magic": the idea that a person or a god inhabits, is actually present within, the representation. One worships the god in and as the statue, or one attacks the emperor by defacing his image. Harming an image of your enemy has the power to harm your enemy; gazing at a prospective lover's or even a celebrity's picture puts you under their spell, "enchants" you. Images are often reported to weep, or heal, or speak. Or they seduce and corrupt, and must be defaced, hidden, or destroyed. The idol of today—the colossal Stalin, and perhaps even the mountain-size president-gods of Rushmore—is fated for desecration tomorrow. Idolaters and iconoclasts need each other.

They share a belief in—really, a vivid, immediate experience of—what the art historian David Freedberg, in his 1989 book The Power of Images, called "fusion": the presence in the image of the person or thing or god of which it is an image. In fusion, Freedberg writes, "the body in the image loses its status as representation"; it becomes, in the mind of the idolater or the iconoclast, what it depicts. "Arousal ensues," says Freedberg (he's got the response to pornography in mind, as well as patriotic or religious fervor): positive arousal to adoration in the case of the idolater, negative arousal to loathing, disgust, or rage in the case of the iconoclast.

"The iconoclast," Freedberg continues, "sees the image before him. It represents a body to which, for whatever reason, he is hostile. Either he sees it as living, or he treats it as living." Either way, "he feels he can somehow diminish the power of the represented by destroying the representation or mutilating it."

Freedberg argues that things have changed little, that we still experience just as vividly as ancient cultures the presence of the thing in the image. It's a hard feeling to escape, really. If you think you are immune to it, consider how you might feel if I stood in front of you and slowly ripped a picture of your mother in two. I doubt that ancient Byzantium or Reformation Europe can boast any clearer cases of the conflict between idolaters and iconoclasts than the scenes from Philadelphia in May and June, in which some people attacked while others tried to defend statues of Christopher Columbus and former Mayor Frank Rizzo (both of whom have "iconic" status in certain neighborhoods of South Philly). Certainly, it is hard to imagine such a conflict breaking out over an unshaped hunk of metal. Freedberg argues that it's the resemblance of the statue to the person that lends it power: the power to make that person, even if he's been dead a long time, manifest in the physical reality of the present.

But the "magical" identification of an image with its human inspiration goes only so far to explain widespread paroxysms of iconoclasm of the sort that occurred in eighth century Byzantium, in the Netherlands during the Reformation, during the French Revolution, or on the streets of America in 2020. Who controls public space, and hence who gets honored in public space, is a relatively raw vector of power. When the municipal or federal government is erecting and protecting images, tearing images down can become a generalized expression of anti-authoritarianism.

That's the turn of mind that turns iconoclasm from occasional vandalism, or even a focused demand to reinterpret history, into a widespread outbreak of symbolic violence indiscriminately directed at publicly venerated images in general. We reach the point at which there is a loathing not only for specific historical symbols but for the whole authoritative symbolic order, right down to its approved artistic styles and the ways it orders public space. Pretty soon you're tearing down anything that looks like a realist sculpture. Historical outbreaks of iconoclasm have often followed that pattern, progressing from criticism of specific sorts of images to what almost amounted to an attempt to erase or replace all images. Notoriously, the current wave of iconoclasm has not always distinguished between (images of) Robert E. Lee and (images of) Ulysses S. Grant, between images of slaveholders and images of abolitionists.

Even if we admit that we are all somewhat susceptible to sympathetic magic, we need to maintain some distance and distinctions if we intend to stop short of sheer superstition. Nothing you can do to his statues will alter history so that Robert E. Lee never existed. And as many totalitarian regimes have shown, it's a lot easier to change all the pictures and sculptures than it is to change people's minds or the concrete conditions in which they live.


NEXT: Brickbat: I'm Going to Make Them an Offer They Can't Refuse

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  2. There is no excuse for vandalism. Period.

    1. Are you still recovering from the felling of the statue at Firdos Square?

      What punishment, in your judgment, should have been imposed on those who destroyed that statue?

      Thank you.

      Carry on, clingers.

      1. So you’re saying we can treat the mostly peaceful protesters as an occupying army?

  3. “Now, if you ask me squarely whether I’d rather be an idolater or an iconoclast, I’m likely to answer “an iconoclast,” because that sounds unconventional and interesting;…”

    Does destroying art really sound interesting? This actually sounds rather shallow emotional gratification inbeing contrary for the sake of being contrary.

    1. “shallow”

      That’s exactly what I thought when I read this. As Adans said above, this is vandalism. Destruction of property that isn’t yours. While it can be interesting to contemplate some of the underlying motivations for this behavior, if this leads you justifying your own preference to destroy property, then you’re not a libertarian.

      1. I agree that we should follow all legitimate procedures . . . then wreck every statue of a bigoted, traitorous, Confederate loser.

        We also should mock and shun the clingers who attempt to prevent removal of the monuments to bigoted, traitorous, Confederate losers. Name them, ridicule them, shun then.

        1. Historically iconoclasm has always been performed by zealots.
          It’s amusing that Kirkland pretends to be rational but always advocates behaviors bursting from pseudo-religious fervor.

        2. You really need a hobby Rev.

          1. His Ovaltine act is stale.

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          2. you mean besides his crippling meth habit?

        3. Except it is not limited to Confederate statues either because these people are against Western civilization in general and American civilization in particular or are just colossal ignoramuses.

          1. Just like Kirkland.

        4. “We also should mock and shun the clingers who attempt to prevent removal of the monuments to bigoted, traitorous, Confederate losers. Name them, ridicule them, shun then.”

          What’s freak-en hilarious is all those “Confederate Losers” doing all the ridiculing, shunning and being bigoted traitors today ARE of the EXACT same philosophical party as the same one’s they insist on tearing down.

          Oh what’s that; as-if something that happened 500+++ (who knows when it started) -years ago is so significant today that it requires hostile protest.

    2. This actually sounds rather shallow emotional gratification inbeing contrary for the sake of being contrary.

      Yup. It’s also a bit of a false dichotomy. He doesn’t understand why he prefers iconoclasm, it’s just a feeling, a belief. When it becomes a duty to be a skeptic, such as when it comes to science, truth in reporting, or (Twitter) mob rule, these people give conventional idolaters a bad name.

  4. Ceci n’est pa une pipe.

  5. When you’re tearing down statues of Confederate generals, you’re saying these are not people we should be considering great. When you start tearing down statues of Lincoln and of Ronald McDonald and of an elk, you’re saying that nobody at all should be considered great. Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Charles Manson – we’re all the same, nobody is better or worse than anybody else. George Washington got a statue, where’s my fucking statue? I’m just as good as he was. It’s the credo of the spoiled brat, the participation-trophy entitled, the ignorant child. No, you aren’t just as good as George Washington, because it’s fucking hard to build anything that lasts in this world.

    You think remaking society and Mankind is just so simple and easy, just a matter of following a few basic rules and principles. It’s not, and the fact that you think you can just sweep away the old regime and replace it with a new and better just as casually as building a shed in your back yard shows just how ignorant you are, how little you appreciate the amount of work it takes to make a functioning society out of animals that would just as soon bash your head in and take all your shit as to look at you.

    1. How dare this hero gets no mention from you. Your statue will surely be pulled down.

      1. It’s a little known fact, but many theropod dinosaurs were slaveholders in the antebellum South.

        Pulling down the statue was a legitimate action and the theropod dinosaurs only descendants, birds, totally owe them reparations.

        1. So birds shitting on statues is theropod guilt?

      2. Come on. Dinosaurs are such a white people thing. Do we have to explain everything?

    2. Frederick Douglas.

    3. When you’re tearing down statues of Confederate generals, you’re saying these are not people we should be considering great.

      Slight disagreement. You aren’t exactly wrong. I’m sure there are people in the crowd who legitimately think that. However, I think you’ll agree that the majority or, at the very least a significant portion are saying “These are not the people *you* should consider great.” They not just stopped considering them great but outright evil (whether they were or not) a while ago. They just couldn’t tear down the statue by themselves in broad daylight without tons of people running cover for them.

  6. Both sides, to be sure.

    1. There was so much woke based excuses and value signaling in this piece it was unreadable. The pro statue argument seemed to be emotions and I’m unique yay.

      1. “I am sympathetic to the actions of a violent mob” is not that unique.

        1. especially among vice presidential nominees of major parties. it’s around 50% right now.

  7. If the people tearing down statues of Jefferson and Washington were actually advocating for Liberty and Justice and respect for individual rights they could somewhat be forgiven.

    But that’s not what they are about. Its tear down Liberty to impose a bloody, authoritarian nightmare.

  8. Tear everything down. History teaches the false lesson that our betters can fail and must be eliminated. We finally have a class of people who are too smart and good to fail; history has never seen anything as wonderful as them before and is thus misleading.

  9. image breakers seem rather irrational too, venting their rage on inanimate objects as though that would be a substantive blow against racism or whatever else

    At least most are not sufficiently irrational to vent their rage on the descendants of the people who erected the statues.


    1. unless they own a small business downtown

  10. I regularly say things like “I saw Trump on television” rather than declaring that I saw a very small, flat image of Trump.

    Oh, come on, Crispin!

    I regularly say things like “I read Crispin’s article on a computer” rather than declaring that I saw a very small, flat image of some letters.

    I regularly say things like “I saw Trump in person” rather than declaring that my cognitive system processed a very small, flat, upside-down image of Trump.

  11. I think it’s funny that the people who are pulling down statues are the same ones complaining that “our democracy is in peril!”. Getting together a mob to destroy–this is the “democratic process” they have such reverence for?

    1. Getting together a mob… is exactly the essence of Democracy.

  12. Surely Trump cannot increase the penalty for an offense by executive order. As for his proposed “National Garden of American Heroes,” the one that stands out as singularly inappropriate is Billy Graham, a purely religious leader.

    1. So?
      It sounds like many won’t be political, and Graham had a huge influence on the culture. And to say it’d violate the establishment clause is a stretch because Graham isn’t a religious symbol.

      1. That said, I think Graham himself wouldn’t have liked the idea, because he came from iconoclastic Protestantism.

  13. There is a statue of Billy Graham?

    Can someone explain why?

    1. For much the same reason there are statues of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Both inspired hope and purpose in countless numbers of people while heavily influencing the course of society (the two were actually good friends).

      1. Fair enough. I just remember him as that guy on tv asking for money.

        1. Americans love an entrepreneur!

          1. True, but don’t entrepreneurs traditionally offer goods and/or services in return for money?

            1. Eh, I was being facetious. More seriously, it’s pretty typical for non-profit organizations to ask for donations. It seems a more libertarian society would have quite a need for voluntary contributions from voluntary associates in order to meet societal needs/roles currently filled by government and coercive taxation.

              1. Agreed. And I was being facetious as well. Obviously Graham was providing a service. He made people feel good. He gave hope. And he accumulated a fortune without having to point a gun at anyone’s face. Good for him.

              2. I still don’t see that as a reason to make a statue.

                1. Yeah, lots of people don’t, and that’s fine. I’m not really that into statues either. You asked for a reason why there would be one though, and I offered an explanation. Seems as good an explanation for a stature of anybody.

                  1. I suppose. Thanks for answering my question without being a dick.

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    2. Evangelicals vote?

    3. Because not everyone has irrational hate for religious people.

      1. You’ve got the straw man on the ropes! Give it a left! Work the body!

          1. Yep. You right wingers certainly are.

            1. You being broken still doesn’t make me a right winger.

              1. Only retards and right-wingers call me “broken.” But I repeat myself.

                1. It’s sad that being broken causes a lack of insight into your bigotry towards religious people. And this is coming from an atheist.

                  1. Project much?

        1. Oh come on, it’s pretty obvious you loathe believers just for existing.

          1. Damn straight! Justin Bieber sucks!

  14. Is there really any libertarian argument for state-sponsored idolatry, especially in the age of ballooning budget deficits? If we can agree that government should be limited to protecting our natural rights, I don’t see any argument whatsoever for commissioning statues in a park.

    1. Yeah, it’s typically a pretty stupid way to spend money. But on the other hand, it’s probably one of the least destructive things government does.

    2. Extend this to parks and art now too. At some point you venture into anarchism.

      No, I dont support local governments spending money on art, but I also don’t get angry about it.

    3. Even if there isn’t, the statues already exist. No one is talking about building new ones. Given that they do exist and require little or no cost to maintain, where is the libertarian argument to tear them down?

      Beyond that, if a statue in a park is “idolatry”, then why isn’t a public art museum? There is nothing special about a park that makes it different from an art museum. Both are government owned property with art in them. Is “no public art museums” really the hill Libertarians want to die on? Moreover, how does destroying art that does exist advance the Libertarian cause?

      Even if you have them moved, that costs money. Why should I have to pay taxes to move a statue because some jackass can’t understand the difference between art and reality? That doesn’t sound very libertarian to me.

      1. Given that they do exist and require little or no cost to maintain, where is the libertarian argument to tear them down?

        Nobody said there was.

        Beyond that, if a statue in a park is “idolatry”, then why isn’t a public art museum?

        Nobody said it wasn’t.

        Moreover, how does destroying art that does exist advance the Libertarian cause?

        Nobody said it does.

        1. Then given that we are talking about mobs tearing these statues down, what the hell is your point?

          1. Are you capable of looking at something from a point of view that you don’t agree with? I find many people can’t do it. They see it as legitimizing something they abhor. Sympathizing with the enemy or whatever. That makes them incapable of even considering points of view other than their own without making them into a caricature. I don’t think you can do it. It’s ok though. That makes you part of the majority.

            1. The people who can not look at something from an opposing perspective are utterly lacking in humility and think their worldview is irrefutably correct. It is a mental disorder, and far too common in educated people these days. The original purpose of higher education was to encourage critical thought and debate, not to align to one true vision. It is pathetic how deeply unintellectual college educated people are these days. The author of this piece is a prime example.

              1. Did you read the article? The one I read looked from several points of view.

                1. No, it didnt. They are rephrasings of the same limited viewpoint.

                  1. If by “limited” you mean “beyond the reaches of the imaginations of most of these right wingers” then yeah, I totally agree.

          2. I started a new thread within this article. “We” weren’t talking about anything.

            My point was pretty clear. Governments shouldn’t be commissioning statues to be built.

            1. No you were not taking about anything. You were just virtue signaling and now don’t like being called on it.

              1. I’ve noticed that right uses the terms “virtue signaling” and “emoting” kind of like the left uses “hatred” and “racism.” They’re overused and stretched to anything you don’t believe to the point of having virtually no meaning any more.

                It’s sad that one even has to “signal” his “virtue” that maybe building statues isn’t a good role for government to begin with, but here we are.

        2. So why ask then?

    4. I’m fine with this if it also means defunding the degenerate garbage the NEA’s been sponsoring for over 30 years.

      State-funded art worked out pretty well until the WPA began sponsoring commie propaganda during the New Deal.

      1. I really don’t see any reason for state funding of the arts. Period.

        1. In general, I tend to agree with this statement. Problem is that it’s not so simple or cut and dry in practice, especially given that what is considered art is very subjective.

          I was at the statehouse in Topeka a few months ago. It’s decorated with beautiful molding, statues, and murals (including the famous and controversial John Brown painting). I admired it all, but my thoughts immediately went to the idea that it was an extravagant misuse of taxpayer funds. However, what would have been appropriate? Would it still have been artistic expression to just take away the murals? Or maybe leave the walls completely bare and unpainted. The architecture, though, has a very pleasing aesthetic, and would generally be considered art. Maybe a statehouse should just be a wood-frame box with a roof?

          1. How about when the government is building a statehouse, courthouse, etc., they ask for donations for anything above the basics?

            1. I like that idea, but again, how do you determine what “the basics” are?

              Ha, if it were up to me, I’d say “the basics” are renting basement space from the Holiday Inn (or lowest bidder) once a month for legislative sessions.

        2. How do you expect mediocre artists to earn a living? Voluntary support from customers in a free market?

          1. “Would you like fries with that?”

  15. The fact is the idolater and the iconoclast are the same person. They both equate the statue with the person, and both attribute the same, almost supernatural, power to the statues to determine the future of the country. The only difference is their opinion of the person the statue is of.

    1. Yes that is true. There is however a third person who values the statue without holding it up as an idol.

    2. When I looked at the statue of Cromwell in front of Parliament, I didn’t worship him for his opposition to the British monarchy, and I didn’t condemn him for the brutality in the conquest of Ireland and want to tear it down.

      I instead thought about what the Victorians who erected it were trying to say, and what it said about the history of parliament itself, and how it suited it’s location.
      How I looked at it was how normal people look at statues.

      1. But I completely agree that the the idolater and the iconoclast are the same person.

  16. This isn’t iconoclasm in the sense that it rejects all images the way say Islam does. The closest analogy to the woke mobs of this summer is probably the Protestant mobs of the early Reformation. The Protestants were not pure iconoclasts either. They didn’t object to religious art in general. You could have your painting of Mary or the trial of Jesus in your home. They objected to these images in churches because when placed in a church these images became idols in the Protestant’s view.

    The woke mob of today is similar. They do not reject all images. And they at least claim to not object to such statues on private property. Their objection is to the statues being in the public square. Much like the Protestant mobs, they see these statues become effectively idols if they are allowed in the public square. The only difference is that the Protestants considered churches sacred and the woke mob considers government and thus the public square to be a sort of sacred institution.

    Before iconoclastic mobs destroyed art in Cathedrals. Today, iconoclastic mobs destroy art on government property. It is the same phenomena except the sacred for the mob is now the government rather than the church.

    1. Except protesters have pulled down statues on private land as well, such as a confederate veterans memorial in a privately-owned cemetery in Seattle. Sure we can discuss why Seattle of all places had a confederate memorial, but the fact is it had been the target of vandalism for over a decade despite being completely privately owned and maintained

      I would say the woke mobs are more akin to the Roman Empire, when they razed Jewish and Christian holy sites and erected Roman temples, and then later, under Constantine and successors, razed the temples and replaced them with Christian churches. The only goal is destroying wrongthink wherever its found

    2. I think every Christian work of art probably violates the 10 Commandments, but what use would Christians be if not for the art and architecture*?

      *Modern Christian music and evangelical megachurches do not count, and we should probably just be done with the whole thing if they can’t even bother to make beautiful things.

  17. Why do people pull down statues?

    Because they’re fucking morons who prefer symbolic gestures over actually doing anything of substance.

  18. “Protesters who pull down statues are usually not content with removing the inanimate metal or stone object from its pedestal.”

    Judging from the photo, the most important thing is capturing the moment on phone cameras. And then–speculation alert–posting photos and video to social media to prove that (1) they were there and (2) signal their precious virtue.

  19. Trump further declared that he was issuing executive orders to make assaults on statuary punishable by 10 years in prison

    I don’t think that’s what we meant by asking for criminal justice reform.

    1. That is completely false. There is already a law on the books that made attacking a memorial on federal property punishable by a mandatory 10 years in prison. Trump just issued an executive order telling US attorneys to start prosecuting cases under the law.

      And vandalism and destroying public property is a real crime. So, yes, throwing people in prison for actual crimes rather than made up victimless ones is the kind of criminal justice reform everyone should want.

      1. Isn’t it fascinating how the lefties here have to twist everything a little to make their point.

      2. It seems that a mandatory sentence of 10 years for vandalism is a bit extreme, don’t you think? If some street thugs vandalized my property, I’m sure that they wouldn’t get 10 years, nor would they deserve that.

        I’m not for coddling these people and in many cases vandals deserve punishment, and probably jail time in many cases. Are you really for a mandatory 10 years in prison for “attacking a memorial?”

        1. No I don’t. These things are irreplaceable. Do you think breaking a window is the same thing as burning a Van Gogh? Both acts are just vandalism right?

          You think it is extreme because you are not really bothered by it and are on the rioters side in this, you just wont’ admit it. The proof of this is that if they destroyed something you valued, like say some great work of art that you love, you wouldn’t think ten years was extreme at all. If someone destroyed the Sistine Chapel or Michealanglo’s David, would you think 10 years extreme? I don’t think so. The only difference here is that you don’t think destroying a war memorial or national monument is a problem.

          1. You think it is extreme because you are not really bothered by it and are on the rioters side in this, you just wont’ admit it.

            LOL. No, not really.

            Your problem is that these are left-wingers, your sworn political enemy. I’m sure you’d be ok with a life sentence for them, just for being socialists… right?

            If it’s really just about preserving art and history, then why celebrate toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein, for instance? Why should the Russians have toppled statues of Stalin? Those were art. They were someone’s property. I’m not trying to say that Saddam or Stalin were equivalent to Confederates, but those statues were art nonetheless. The difference as I see it is that you agreed with the politics of the topplers of those statues.

            1. If Right wingers were tearing down statues, I would want them thrown in jail too. And yes, they did tear down the STalin and the Saddam statues. So, the question is whether a Robert E. Lee statue is more like a Stalin statue or the Sistine Chapel. I would say it is on the side of the Sistine Chapel, though not anything close to the same level of art, and in no way like a Stalin statue. So, I am fine with the ten years. You think it is closer to the Stalin statue. You are the one who thinks Lee statue is equivalent to a Stalin statue and not worthy of worrying if it is destroyed. But you are not a leftist and don’t sympathize with the mobs.

              Whatever get’s you through the night sweetheart. Thanks for playing.

              1. Read much? “I’m not trying to say that Saddam or Stalin were equivalent to Confederates, but those statues were art nonetheless.”

                I’m simply asking, what is fundamentally different about tearing down a Saddam or Stalin statue after they were vanquished compared to a Robert E Lee statue if they are nothing more than art (which was your argument as to why they deserved 10 years). Nothing about your argument is consistent here, unless you are saying that somehow you get to be arbiter of what art is worth 10 years in prison (a Lee statue) vs no prison time (a Saddam statue) vs, IDK life in prison (Sistine Chapel).

                What’s the fundamental difference here? You wouldn’t be using your emotions with respect to these things and doling out punishment as such would you? And I thought you believed in the “rule of law?” But yeah… I’m the leftist.

    2. You’re right.
      Summary execution would be better

      1. What is it with you and killing people with politics that offend you?

        I’m starting to think that this guy will go volatile at some point.

        Security? SWAT? Time to look into Nardz. This guy openly supports murder.

        1. Big guy behind a keyboard syndrome. You can usually tell the real life losers by the amount of online bullying that they do.

  20. “Screaming at a statue, slapping it around, and then beheading it suggest another level of rage”

    It’s not strange or unusual to see human beings getting excited like this. I guess you’ve never been a college football game and seen a fight break out over a game. At least these people are taking it out on an inanimate racist object. Tearing it like that is sorta the opposite of putting it up in the first place. Different emotions and motives of course.

    1. “inanimate racist object”


      1. “I knew the object was racist when it inanimately called me a ‘greaser'”

        1. The phrase gave me a mental, family guy-esque cut-away of a boulder or park bench shouting Archie Bunkerisms at strolling interracial couples.

        2. WOP’s up? How’s your dago?

    2. During the French Revolution all of the bodies of the French Kings were torn from their crypt at the Saint Dennis and desecrated. When Charles the II was restored, a mob dug up Oliver Cromwell’s body and chopped his head off.

      Rage at inanimate objects and the bodies of the dead is nothing new.

  21. By the standards of this article, any sort of commemoration of anything is “idolatry”. If it is idolatry to put up a statue of Lee or Grant, then it is equally idolatry to put up a memorial to war dead or to the victims of 911 or indeed a headstone to commemorate the burial and death of a loved one. All of those things are just objects created to mark the memory of someone or some event.

    Remembering the past or even honoring the past via art is not idolatry. Going to a war memorial and remembering the sacrifices of the soldiers it commemorates is not the same as worshiping the actual thing, which is what idolatry is.

    The only idolatry going on here is with the woke mob. Iconoclasm, as someone pointed out above, is a form of idolatry. You have to be an ideologist to some degree to think the image is important enough to destroy. These mobs as I explain above are not iconoclast in the technical sense. They don’t object to these statues because they think it is wrong to depict people or important people at all. They object to them because they think they are idols of people and things they don’t like. They are idolotrists. They just want different idols.

    1. Sistine Chapel.

      Michelangelo worked in the service of God.

      Was he idolatrous?

      And yes. It’s the far left woke mob doing all the destroying. It’s nihilism posing as virtue.

      1. Of course he wasn’t. Even though I am a Protestant, the Catholics were absolutely right and the Protestants wrong about this issue. The destruction of nearly all the artistic heritage of Norther Germany, England and Scotland by the Protestants is as black a mark on Protestantism as anything that can be said against Catholocism.

  22. One of the delusional roots of progressive “morality” is the entitlement to a world without offense. These coddled snowflakes believe they deserve to live without ever seeing or hearing anything that might challenge their beliefs (sorry, “Science”) or just make them feel sad.

    I first heard this ethic from a candidate for mayor of a Dallas area suburban city. It was retarded then, and it is retarded now.

    1. Your freedom of speech ends when I’m offended.

      I had a doctor tell me that’s how free speech works.

      I told him to lay off the medicine. They’re meant for the patients.

    2. More than anything woke morality is narcissism. The concept of moral authority is completely lost to the woke. The people who have the moral authority to object to the statues of Lee were the people who suffered in the war that he fought. The Union veterans and northern public had the moral authority to object to the commemoration of Robert E. Lee and they didn’t do so at the time. Someone living today has no such moral authority and no right to object to it now.

      To give a more extreme example, the woke mobs want to tear down the Lincoln emancipation statue in Washington. That statue was funded by the donations of former slaves and was dedicated by Frederick Douglas. People who actually suffered under slavery were fine with the statue. Only a total narcissist could now 150 years later decide that they were wrong and that the statue is somehow offensive. But, being woke is nothing but a rationalization for selfishness and narcissism.

      1. To examine it further, narcissism is the ultimate virtue for the woke. It’s all about what they think, and how they feel that is their sole criteria for whether or not something is good or evil.
        Nothing else matters.

      2. But progressives cloak their narcissism with claims to righteous justice for “all” people, and castigate others for selfishness.

  23. This is a very uneducated viewpoint, that ignores the critical role of history, equating any statue or remembrance with idolatry, rather then a simple commemoration. Its childish to think that statues exist as some sort of societal worship rather then the critical acknowledgement of a defining historical event or figure. Is the MLK statue in DC an idol or simply a vehicle for remebering i portant history. What about the Vietnam Memorial with its three soldiers statue?
    The sophmoric worldview prevalent in todays universities is sad.

    1. It is not only sophomoric, it is also dishonest. No way on earth would the author ever claim the MLK statue is idolatry. He doesn’t believe that public statues is idolatry. He believes that statues of people he doesn’t like is idolatry.

    2. I was in dc last year and took a tour of our monuments. Seeing them, reading the plaques and history, as well as visiting the museums, provided not a sense of worship or idolatry, but rather a contemplating of the challenges of the past and how those who were most impactful dealt with it. It was an experience of learning and reflection, not a sense of awe or worship. And it was easy to read the expressions of others visiting as well. There was no worship…anymore then there is worship or idolatry to viist the displays at the air and space museum. Simply a remebrance of challenges overcome and the history of big achievements.

      This article stems from too much time in an academic echo chamber the little experience in the diverse world of the human condition,

      Sad and bizarre

      1. It is sad and bizarre. Lack of experience and maybe some kind mild form of Autism on the author’s part are the only explanation I can see for actually believing this nonsense.

  24. Why?

    It is pretty transparent. It is purely a provocation. They want an enemy to fight.

    Charlottesville was very openly planned as such. The entire point was to find someone they could call a racist in the news. The various move on related organizations were pretty open about their plans. They ran pilot programs in smaller towns and didn’t get the resistance they wanted, so they moved on Charlottesville where the monuments were a central part of the city’s identity.

    They finally got the opposition they wanted. Antifa moved in and physically assaulted people. They laid the groundwork by telling the media that white supremacists would be violent.

    I watched NBC cover it live, telling me that the black clad kids carrying a shield with anarchy symbols and Antifa written on it were white suremacist Nazis. We watched as they attacked a bunch of middle aged dudes.

    The NBC anchors decried the Nazis and expressed astonishment that Nazis were atacking people in the streets. They told me it was clear that the black clad people were attacking regular citizens all over the place in an organized fashion.

    Then they figured out that they picked the wrong side. Oops.

    After a short break, they pivoted on a dime.

    Magically the people they said were the aggressors became innocent victims.

    It was all a show. Nothing more than kabuki theater.

    They have been escalating the provocations for months.

    Nobody disagreed about Floyd, so there is no enemy. BLM does not do those cases. Now we have a couple of cases with bad optics, but actually don’t fit the initial story. This is BLM.

    Hands up dont shoot was a lie. They are comparing kenosha to Emmitt Till. Dude was accused of violence towards his ex and she called the police because he was at her home in violation of a protective order. BLM goes with the good Samaritan lie.

    That gins up an enemy. An enemy that the media will assist them in lying about. Kenosha boy came from a completely different state to live out his white supremacist fantasies and hunt peaceful protesters.

    1. None of these degenerate criminals are heroes or like Till.

      1. They don’t need you to believe it. In fact they would prefer if you didn’t.

        They want LeBron to believe it.

        Can’t gin up the black vote unless Rufus is a racist who fights heroes like LeBron about martyrs.

    2. And all of this was crystal clear for anyone with 2 cents of political and historical knowledge. Agit prop.

  25. I think people fundamentally destroy statues and history at large because they are weak. Everyone loves to talk about “their” truth as if truth is possessive. They bought into all the high school history class post-modern neo-Marxist critical theory bullshit about history being written by the victors and truth being subjective. They identify with the “losers” regardless of their lineage and not replacing history is an affront to their existence. That’s why these people are weak; they cannot fathom that they are living a lie, nor can they come to terms with the reality that even if it isn’t right, might makes. If you don’t have the strength to support your ideals, you do not have ideals.

  26. I don’t think there’s much to learn from observations about Jewish, Muslim, or Zoroastrian aversions to graven images. I don’t think this has much to do with the pieties of the Reformation either. Because crossing yourself in front of statues of saints and the veneration of relics, etc. is a distraction from righteousness by faith doesn’t tell us anything about why social justice warriors want to topple statues today.

    When people in the aftermath of the Soviet Union falling apart went about toppling statues, a lot of that can be seen as a newly found freedom of expression. When you spent your whole life not being allowed to say anything to criticize the state for fear of imprisonment, once you can, the first thing you might want to do is deface a statue. All that forbidden fruit was suddenly there for the taking, and totalitarian iconography being ever present is a means of control. We put up statues everywhere because we can.

    I think what we’re seeing today is mostly about trying to offend the sensibilities of older generations. They think the past doesn’t apply to them, that conforming to the principles of older generations (like those in the Constitution) is holding them back, and when the economy falters, they want to lash out at somebody or something. Statues are the perfect target for that rage.

    I once saw a little girl trip on the ground below her feet. She was fairly new to walking. She fell kinda hard and when she hit the ground, it made her scream and cry. She smacked the ground and called it “dummy” (the worst word she knew) because the ground had made her fall. When we see these people lashing out against statues, I think that’s the kind of reaction we’re talking about. They’re emoting. Because they try to rationalize it, doesn’t mean it should be rationalized.

    1. Given that the average American twenty-something has the emotional maturity of a toddler, that might make sense.

  27. I and nobody I know gave a shit about statues before Trump, and pretty much everyone I know is a prog. I had heard 30 years ago at my leftist college newspaper by a student who claimed to be Native American that they should take down the Columbus statue at a local park because she found it offensive, but everyone else thought she was joking. Now, it’s become a mainstream opinion among progs that statues of old dead whites must go (except Margaret Sanger of course).

    1. It is terrifying how quickly they will adopt something if told to do so. My experience is the same as yours. I never knew a single prog who gave a shit about such statues before a couple of years ago and they were told to care.

      An even better example is transgenderism. I have prog friends that I have known for 30 years in some cases. And I know for a fact all of them rejected transgenderism until just a few years ago. In fact, when I told them that gay marriage was just a camel getting it’s nose into the tent for transgenderism after, they called me homophobic and said that that would never happen and that no one was ever going to embrace something as crazy as transgenderism. Yet, when the time came, every single one of them bought into it hook line and sinker because they were told it was necessary to be “tolerant”. It is fucking terrifying how conformist they are.

      1. Not just “them”

        Steve Martin had a great bit about taking the Nonconformist Oath.

        Most people will conform to their group. We are tribal by nature. Only us weirdo libertarians value nonconforming. We are very dogmatic about being non conformist. One might even say we are conforming to the group norm of nonconformity.

        1. I totally get the conformist instinct that people have. We are social creatures and people want to fit in. The problem arises when that conformist instinct get’s expressed in the form of political ideology. That is when things get scary.

          1. So are chimps. Seriously. Both species have primal motivations not just to conform, but to form tribes (and repel outsiders), seek status, and constantly signal.

            We can better understand human behavior through psychology and anthropology, but (and I know you are not doing this) excusing nasty behavior with ideas about innate tendencies is disingenuous.

            1. I am not excusing it. We are moral actors and should be expected to act better than just in conformity with our base instincts. I thing the desire to conform is a partial explanation for the behavior. But explaining behavior in no way justifies or excuses it.

              1. They are counting on it. “They” being the people who planned all of this stuff as a political ploy. The ones that Robby says don’t exist.

                They count on the conformity of their minions. Conformity to go out and be outraged when presented with an appropriate story.

                They count on the conformity of the media. Conformity to only report things that fit the political narrative and help the cause.

                They count on the conformity of the not-woke. Conformity to be outraged when they pass a law requiring all ladies restrooms to be open to men who identify as women. Conformity to be outraged when they come for the statue in the town square. Conformity to argue when they say that the drunk driver who resisted arrest with violence and stole an officer’s taser, firing it at him was simply peacefully resting in a parking lot, bothering nobody. Conformity to argue when they say a gentle giant with his hands up was executed.

                Conformity is their one great tool. They know they can count on everyone to play their role. That lets them persuade the people who don’t pay attention to any of this stuff that one side is bad and the other side is good…. and that they should support the good side and provide them with power to fight the bad side.

          2. Politics Ruins Everything.

            I keep trying to explain to people that *everyone’s* politics are stupid.

            It is pretty easy to convince them that other people’s politics are stupid. But most have a tough time realizing that everybody includes them too.

        2. We are tribal by nature.

          It’s arguable that cognition is algorithmic and categorical by nature. It takes a lot of energy and would be nonsensical to go around developing entirely new algorithms and categories for every single new experience or individual you came across. Libertarians are biased towards spending at least a minimum amount of mental energy to verify if other algorithms might be better (and accept that their search isn’t exhaustive) rather than simply relying on old algorithms even if they work.

      2. Actual transgenders remain extremely rare. What has happened is that gender has now become a “choice” so you have lots of teens deciding to try out a different gender to get attention from friends or parents. It seems to have worked.

  28. people who run and adorn your city aren’t like you. In fact, they make heroes out of the sort of people who oppress people like you

    The politicians who “run” the city are not the same people who put up the statues 100 years ago.

  29. Good article, but way too much analysis.
    People topple monuments they ignored for decades because:
    A) it’s fun
    B) they’ve been locked up with nothing to do due to the shutdowns
    C) to signal they’re woke

    1. and D) to have something cool to put on Instagram

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  31. Notice how nobody is burning twenty- or one dollar bills with their images of slaveholders.

    Personally, I’ve always been mildly offended by the images of dead politicians on our coinage portrayed in the manner of deified Ceasars. The anonymous eagles, Indians and allegorical figures were much more republican, in my estimation. The more realistic images of dead politicians on paper money don’t bother me, though. Does that make me an iconoclast, or not?

  32. If the headline and article are about “American Idolatry,” then illustrated it with a photo from the US — there certainly are plenty of examples — not one from the UK.

  33. Apparently, Crispin is not quite familiar with the difference between an “idol” and a “statue”.

  34. There is just too much rationality given to this problem.

    Some people just like to destroy and support destructive groups. This is the anti-social personality on display for all to view… the people who want to ruin you… destroy your goals, your relationships, your life. Stay away from them, if you want to be happy.

  35. Dear CRISPIN ,
    with a name like yours one would think you would mention the artists ,the sculptors -commissioned or not – and all the “little people”
    “cobblers; curriers; glove makers; lace makers; lace workers; leather workers; saddle makers; saddlers; shoemakers; tanners; weavers. ”
    the installers the designers of Statue ….
    NOT the destroyers ?

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