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The Possessed

What's left of the George Washington statue Antifa pulled down in Portland, OR, last night

So, this is where we are.

From the outside, it has long looked to me like Portland is a lawless city. Is there a government there? A police force? Why do they let this happen?

If this were a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., would Portland authorities have let this happen? The questions answers itself.

According to the Oregonian, no one was arrested last night.

These people, and their many sympathizers who would never trouble to topple a statue of a Founder, but who approve of it all the same, bring to mind this famous passage from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed. Shigalov is a theorist of nihilism:

“He’s written a good thing in that manuscript,” Verkhovensky went on. “He suggests a system of spying. Every member of the society spies on the others, and it’s his duty to inform against them. Every one belongs to all and all to every one. All are slaves and equal in their slavery. In extreme cases he advocates slander and murder, but the great thing about it is equality. To begin with, the level of education, science, and talents is lowered. A high level of education and science is only possible for great intellects, and they are not wanted. The great intellects have always seized the power and been despots. Great intellects cannot help being despots and they’ve always done more harm than good. They will be banished or put to death. Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes put out, Shakespeare will be stoned—that’s Shigalovism. Slaves are bound to be equal. There has never been either freedom or equality without despotism, but in the herd there is bound to be equality, and that’s Shigalovism! Ha ha ha! Do you think it strange? I am for Shigalovism.”

The toppling of these statues are birth pangs of a new, violent, despotic order. This iconoclasm is massively significant. In Live Not By Lies, I write about how forgetting is an act of cultural power. The totalitarian regimes knew that consolidating their power over the captive peoples of Eastern Europe depended on controlling their cultural memories. The identity of a culture, like the identity of an individual, depends on memory. That is, the things we remember tell us who we are. Statues and monuments are physical embodiments of cultural memory. To defile and remove a statue is an attempt to force the society to forget the historical figure embodied by the statue, and what that figure symbolizes. In Washington’s face, it’s American democracy. You cannot get a more iconic symbol of the Republic than Washington.

Nobody thinks that Antifa is going to overthrow the Republic. But acts of desecration like this, of iconoclasm, is a test. Tearing down Washington statues is a ritual embodiment of the New York Times‘s 1619 Project, which openly seeks to “reframe” American history around slavery. Portland protesters spray-painted the figures “1619” on the desecrated statue of Washington — which is the right thing to do if you believe what the 1619 Project teaches: that the true foundation of America is not 1776, the Declaration of Independence, but the establishment of slavery. If the 1619 Project’s claims are just, then Washington must fall. And Jefferson, and all of them.

From Live Not By Lies:

You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.

Here’s an important example of this happening in our time and place. In 2019, The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, launched the “1619 Project,” a massive attempt to “reframe” (the Times’s word) American history by displacing the 1776 Declaration of Independence as the traditional founding of the United States, replacing it with the year the first African slaves arrived in North America.

No serious person denies the importance of slavery in US history. But that’s not the point of the 1619 Project. Its goal is to revise America’s national identity by making race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth. Despite the project’s core claim (that the patriots fought the American Revolution to preserve slavery) having been thoroughly debunked, journalism’s elite saw fit to award the project’s director a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution. Equipped with this matchless imprimatur of establishment respectability, the 1619 Project, which has already been taught in forty-five hundred classrooms, will find its way into many more.

Before Washington’s statue was toppled, Washington and what he stands for was toppled in the minds and memories of these people. Antifa are enacting what they learned in college.

They begin by destroying statues. They will end by destroying people. “Damn white men” they wrote on the Washington statue. Believe them. Something very, very powerful is happening here. Either we fight it, and fight it seriously, or we don’t. Either we defeat them, or we will be defeated by them. The fight is not just in the streets, with anarchists who desecrate monuments, but in classrooms, in families, in hearts and in minds.

Here is an important piece in the British magazine Unherd, by Matthew Goodwin. He’s writing about how Boris Johnson is losing the people who brought him to power — and he’s losing because under his premiership, statues are coming down all over Britain. Excerpt:

Activists who as recently as last year played a role in mobilising a revolt on the Right against the Conservative Party complain that there is a ‘moral vacuum’ at the heart of British politics — a failure to stand up against what they see as the relentless, onward march of cultural liberalism. “What are you conserving, Conservatives?” asked one former MEP. “What are you for?”

Conservatives might have political power but they seem to wield remarkably little cultural power. This concern was then put on steroids by the unfolding ‘Statue Wars’ that saw protestors unilaterally tear down or vandalise statues, attack police and desecrate cherished memorials. Rather than view this as an ephemeral by-product of the protests in America it is clear that it is another touchstone of our underlying values divide.

Leavers were horrified by the events. More than eight in ten disapproved of how statues were pulled down without consultation, the same proportion saw the events in Bristol as a ‘criminal act’ and six in ten disapproved of how the police failed to intervene. Many question why it took Conservatives so long to intervene in the debate and worry that much of this is the start of a broader assault on national heritage and culture — and one that is taking place while conservatives are actually running the country. The covering up of the statue of Winston Churchill appeared as a fitting symbol of this general timidity.

Same thing is happening here. Trump is weak. There are bound to be tens of millions of Americans watching these atrocities, watching their country being seized from them by anarchists, racists, children of the professional class and their cowardly, self-hating parents. They’re watching while cities burn, and the police stand down. They are watching their fathers — the fathers of their country — shat on by the mobs of demons.

They are not going to sit back and take this forever. Something is coming.

UPDATE:

UPDATE.2: Reader Isidore the Farmer comments:

Like with ever progressive story, we were mocked three years ago for saying their actions and positions would lead to this. True of every form of progressive activism that exists, especially so as it relates to LGBT and race. They say you are crazy for suggesting they would ever take it that far, then they take it that far and say you are a bigot for disagreeing with them.

These are not good people. None of them…

Yes, I’ve had it. My “Law of Merited Impossibility” (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) was meant as a joke, but the reality it pointed to was serious. Now it’s not even funny in a black-humor way. It’s just true. I don’t believe there is any limiting principle to the destruction that progressives will bring. I believe that there are sincere people among them — you can read them in my comments section — who honestly think it’s going to stop at X point. They are lying to themselves.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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