Iconoclasm has been a feature throughout history as revolutionary fervour – religious, secular, ethnic and cultural – grows to a climax and a frenzy of destruction occurs, harming those most disadvantaged.
In the present case – driven by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, but catalysed by the murder of George Floyd by a policeman – the toppling of statues of the long dead won’t lead to improved living standards. It is clear from a study of history that only peaceful protests result in significant gains for the disadvantaged and dispossessed. Violent and destructive protests alienate the majority of the population.
The fervour finds force because of hubris – the poorly educated protesters (including many ABC employees) consider themselves morally pure. But humans are by nature good and bad in varying mixtures which can change over a person’s lifetime. All figures in history are flawed; what we celebrate are those whose goodness is much greater than their badness. Or those who are reformed and redeemed and pursue good works in penance or to expiate their past bad behaviour (note it is the pursuit of good works – often quietly – that is the virtue, not the public signalling of virtue which is itself a sin). Would protesters think that all prisoners are forsaken, unable to be redeemed or rehabilitated? That is implicit in their rejection of many flawed but great humans.
The great irony is that the whole concept of human rights is found in western civilisation and no where else. It was the west which first conceived a State without slavery, which still persists in some countries around the world. It is the west which allows people to migrate, irrespective of their religion, race, culture or nationality. It is the west which is the beacon for hope and higher living standards. The figures that the iconoclasts are pulling down are among a long line of thinkers and doers who have advanced western civilisation, sometimes imperfectly, but always with a broad view of human rights.
For this we should be celebrating western civilisation, which is the only way in which the peoples of the world can live in freedom, prosperity and peace. And let us be thankful that it is British enlightenment thinking that was brought to this continent – without slavery even if individuals and groups acted abominably. After western settlement, the State never sanctioned slavery in Australia. The archaeological record is too sparse to determine whether slavery existed prior to western settlement in Australia, but it clearly did in most countries around the world.