A better application of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle would be difficult to find than the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue (above) of Nathan Bedford Forrest, swashbuckling Confederate general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, from two public parks.
As we have discussed here in great detail, I am unalterably opposed to the current mania among our Left-leaning friends and neighbors of tearing down statues, monuments and memorials honoring past historical figures because their lives, beliefs and character do not comport with current day standards or political norms. This primitive exercise in historical censorship has been especially focused on famous and notable figures from the Confederacy, although recent efforts have targeted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even Theodore Roosevelt. Of the attacks on memorials to Confederate figures, I wrote,
[ Union veterans] didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule. After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.
Yet now, self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing views, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.
Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record.
I feel strongly about this, as the tone of that post, far from my first on the subject, shows.
But… Continue reading →