Idealism is a powerful motivator, especially in the young. The desire for a just, even perfect society, is resident in almost all of us. I was brought up with the ideals of the American experiment: truth, justice and the American way. American, the land of the free and the home of the brave, was dedicated to equality of all humanity from our Declaration. How distressing it was to learn that the United States has a sinful past. The litany of its transgressions is long: betrayal of Native American treaties, the banishment of the mostly Christian Cherokee people by Andrew Jackson when gold was discovered on their lands, slavery, and the treatment of coal miners and labor by corporate powers. As I grew up, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy; the goalless Viet Nam War; and Richard Nixon’s abuse of power, all cemented my disappointment with America’s failures to fulfill its promises, dreams and ideals.
However, I see a strange and unrealistic movement in the radical left today to somehow fix the country by cleansing its history of all its imperfect past. This strange attempt to erase history, rather than to learn from it, is more than idealism. It is more akin to thought control. In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, the powers that be were constantly changing and rewriting history to fit with their present political objectives. If New World was at war with Oceana, then the powers would rewrite the history books to say that the New World had always been at war with Oceana, even if they had been allies the day before.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – 1984
The problem I see with this utopian urge for a perfect, and perfectly cleansed society, is a type of blindness. There is no end to sin and no end to sinfulness. Every person has flaws and all history is compromised by circumstance and inheritance. Yes, Jefferson and Washington had slaves, the South wanted to preserve slavery, Woodrow Wilson instituted segregation in the federal government, and Southern Democrats wanted to preserve segregation in the South in the 1960’s. There has always been a battle in this nation for equality and justice and it has never ended.
But the attempt to fix our past by erasing it is confused by a utopian mindset that any nation ever has or ever could be perfect. If we look around the world and at world history, we see that no nation, no civilization, no people have ever been perfect or perfectly just. There has always been use and abuse of power by all peoples of all times. Raping, pillaging, political prisoners, enslavement of people through conquest, impressment, even torture and cruelty, all have been more common than free republics. And even most free republics, like those of Greece and Rome, have relied upon military conquest and slavery.
My point is this: tearing down Confederate monuments and expunging references to, and honor of, the nation’s founders will not make this country a better place. It is destroying our past without a prospect for our future. Acknowledging our past sins and confessing them is a better place to begin to redeem our past in order to construct a better future. Attempts by idealists to create perfect societies have often ended in greater injustices. When Lenin and Stalin took power from the revolutionaries, they ended up murdering hundreds of millions all in the name of ideological purity, including purging the revolution of revolutionaries. Mao murdered 90 million and France instituted a Reign of Terror in an attempt cleanse their history.
What I’m saying is that the hatred of our history and of those with whom we disagree creates a toxic environment prone to totalitarian remedies. It is an intolerant intolerance of opposing views, even to the point of silencing them at any cost rather than to listen to what good ideas they might have or even to find areas where just people might honestly disagree. The inability to accept differences, or allow them, is a recipe for dictatorship. Orwell described this mindset as GroupThink. Everyone must agree or be eliminated.
The practice on many college campuses today is to shut down debate rather than engage it, to forbid people with opposing views from discussing them, and to name call and label as a way of preventing disagreement. And it appears that this tactic is only one sided: the Left declares all conservatives guilty before hearing their case. The Left, not liberal in their manner, are insular and deaf to all but their own echo. This radical approach of self-righteousness is a danger to democracy, freedom and individual liberty. And the greater problem is that their prescription for a new world order has all the earmarks of a tyranny of thought leading to a tyranny of control.
In short, this movement is driven by hate: hate of others, hate of the past, hate of the present. All this without the release valve of forgiveness or repentance. Any new government built on this foundation will end up trying to exterminate anyone who disagrees with them, and because they are so right, they will feel justified in their persecutions. It reminds me of this saying of Jesus, “the time is coming that whoever kills you thinks he is offering a service to God.”
It is so much better to acknowledge one’s sins and confess the sins of the nation, and to seek to live up to one’s ideals, and to recognize that we live in an imperfect and fallen world, with other sinners like ourselves: to realize that perfection in human governments is not possible, and to live with that salted truth of realism. With all our flaws, we are still working towards a more just society, and that unlike other countries, we have freedom to disagree. Any other path will lead to civil war, or tyranny, or both.