Please read this extremely compelling and insightful essay, America’s Monumental Existential Problem, by Rod Dreher, which probes the defining question of how countries view themselves in the stream of history and collectively pass down legacies in stone, bronze, and buildings to future generations of progeny. In an unremitting and searing way, he compares and contrasts how angry seething mobs of willfully ignorant iconoclastic thugs are destroying and desecrating the public expressions of how past generations of Americans have viewed and expressed its secular and religious foundations, its heroes, and national glory, with how Russia, under Putin, has built a magnificent new Russian Orthodox cathedral for the Armed Forces, in Moscow, celebrating the nation’s enduring deep religious faith and past military glory and strength as a world civilization.
Has America reached its Ozymandias moment? Do we, as a country, face the Shakespearean existential query — “To be or not to be, that is the question?”
12:29 pm on June 30, 2020 Email Charles Burris
It is natural to read a culture’s attitudes to its monuments as expressions of its social health. They are the symbolic repository of any given culture, and deeply imbued with political meaning. When civilisations fall and their literature is lost to time, it is their monuments that serve as testaments to their values, to their greatest heroes and their highest aspirations. Statues, great building projects and monuments are stories we tell about ourselves, expressions in stone and bronze of the Burkean compact between generations past and those to come. As Atta’s thesis states, the architecture of the past is imbued with moral meaning: “if we think about the maintenance of urban heritage,” he wrote, “then this is a maintenance of the good values of the former generations for the benefit of today’s and future generations.”
It is only logical then, for the terminal crisis of liberal modernity to play out in culture wars over monuments, as the fate of a monument stands as a metaphor for the civilisation that erected it. It is for this reason that conquerors of a civilisation so often pull down the monuments of their predecessors and replace them with their own, a powerful act of symbolic domination.
The wave of statue-toppling spreading across the Western world from the United States is not an aesthetic act, but a political one, the disfigured monuments in bronze and stone standing for the repudiation of an entire civilisation. No longer limiting their rage to slave-owners, American mobs are pulling down and disfiguring statues of abolitionists, writers and saints in an act of revolt against the country’s European founding, now reimagined as the nation’s original sin, a moral and symbolic shift with which we Europeans will soon be forced to reckon.