The Corner


The Furor over Statues and Monuments

The empty plinth where a statue of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee once stood sits between statues of Thomas Jefferson and the poet Sidney Lanier at the entrance to Duke University’s Duke Chapel after officials removed the controversial statue early Saturday morning in Durham, North Carolina, August 19, 2017. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

For the last several years, lots of leftist energy has been directed at objects made of stone or metal — statues and monuments depicting people they don’t like. They think (or want the rest of us to think) that the world will be improved by tearing down such objects and replacing them with new objects to represent “diversity.” Somehow, that’s supposed to make supposedly oppressed groups feel better.

Naturally, this is most evident on the campuses of prestige universities, where Social Justice Warrior students gravitate and where spineless leftist administrators can’t tell them, “Grow up and mind your studies.”

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about the battle over statues and monuments, focusing in particular on Duke. Student activists there have a plan for getting rid of representations of people who displease them and replacing them with new ones of people who will make the campus more “diverse.”

She writes,

merely removing statues they deem to be offensive is not enough for these activists. Instead, they are demanding that campuses be remade according to their radical vision. This includes calling for the installation of new monuments and memorials to be erected that are more in line with the updated values they insist universities embrace.

Doing that will remove Duke’s “inequities.” Talk about living a life absorbed in meaningless symbols.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, has to go. He owned slaves, as we all know, and therefore, according to the activists, Duke chose to have a Jefferson statue as part of its plan to support white supremacy. And maintaining it is part of the ongoing conspiracy to keep down all people of color. It’s gotta go.

“Students,” Watkins writes, “should feel part of the university community because they seek to be scholars, thinkers, experimenters, writers, and rational beings capable of producing knowledge; not because they see their particular race or gender depicted in front of a manicured lawn.” True, but these SJWs aren’t really much interested in education. They’re interested in doing anything that helps to advance their collectivist/statist vision of the world.

I went to Duke long ago. I paid no attention whatsoever to the statues and monuments around the campus. And there were plenty of black and women students who went about their educational goals without thinking about the ratio of white to black or male to female statues. But today’s students, more aggressive and more hopped up on progressive ideology, think they need to transform the campus.

Of course, they want the cost of this to be borne by others.

I like Watkins’ conclusion:

The simultaneous effort to tear down campus memorials and put up new ones that tow the line of identity politics not only sets a troubling precedent for how future generations will reconcile with history, but it deprives students of the opportunity to aspire to ideals greater than the color of their skin.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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