Why does it always seem to be the case that on matters pertaining to free speech and assembly, the situation ends up devolving into a state of absurdity? Or, as was the case in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, fatal tragedy?
Is the right to voice an opinion so absolute, that it warrants the full protection of the right to do so, no matter how incendiary the opinion, and now matter how likely its expression will instigate a harmful physical altercation?
As a civilized people, can we not all agree that freedom of speech should not be extended to hate spewing racists who oppose the removal of symbols glorifying a belief that skin color determines whether or not one was, and still is, better off as property, rather than a person? We can all agree on that, can we not?
Surely, suppressing the opinions of those who seek to preserve a monument which dishonors the courageous Americans that gave their life to defeat slavery, is a rightly earned respect owed to their sacrifice? At a bare minimum, do we not owe it to their memory to remove memorials honoring treasonous Confederates? It is the least we can do as a society, is it not?
The questions above undoubtedly seem reasonable, and to all but the most of principled of free speech defenders, seem like a worthy accommodation in an effort to atone for the United States’ original sin: Slavery.
Regardless of how much societal progress it may feel the United States has made in righting the sins of our fathers, if the death of a thirty-two year old female counter-protester exercising her explicitly granted right to peacefully assemble and protest has taught us anything, it is that the sin of slavery is one this country may never be able to fully reconcile.
Nationalism, and its fanatical byproduct: rabid patriotism protected from dissent, are viewed by most as politically toxic and to an extent, taboo. When one hears the term “nationalism”, the first image that comes to mind is usually one belonging to the extended and slightly raised right arm of Adolf Hitler.
Unlike many political movements within modern American politics, the Alt-Right/Ethno-Nationalist/Traditionalist/White-Nationalist movement has embraced the formerly taboo terminology rather than disavowing the toxic association. Why is that? For the most part, it has to do with the philosophical groundings of their belief system: ethnicities have long standing cultures and traditions, and as such, they should serve as a sort of political guidance system in the legislative formation of a harmonious state.
On its face, such a belief does not seem inherently racist or even, if one were to believe the majority of sociology professors, a terribly inaccurate description of the United States and the defining Judaeo-Christian values its legislative and judicial system reside upon. However, when a political philosophy stops being a theoretical governing framework for societal harmony, and starts being used as a cloak for racists, when they advocate and carry out “justified” criminal acts, is the same moment it loses all credibility and ceases being useful in understanding our world. Such is the current status of America’s “Alt-Right”.
The idea that a monument democratically commissioned and erected by community representatives to memorialize a Confederate General deemed worthy of remembrance, cannot also be removed via the democratic process, is absurd. That is, unless of course one opposes its removal on grounds of the legitimacy of the decision. But the #UniteTheRight rally voiced no such concerns of legitimacy in opposition to removal of the statue. Their concerns are grounded in the growing dilution of cultural and political dominance by white Americans within the political system they have grown accustomed to controlling.
The calls for cultural preservation by white voters is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics. However, it has long been brewing in Europe and other predominantly “white” nations, especially those whose history of colonialism resulted in a unintended flood of formerly colonist immigrants. As Sir Isaac Newton discovered, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Societies possess no such immunity from the laws of the physical realm. When those who dominate the power structure of a democratic institution foresee a time when they will be outnumbered, the inevitable response is always seclusion and legislation mandating preservation. As America’s demographic dominance of white Americans grows increasingly less certain, so too will the appeal of laws making mandatory that which they hold dear.
The intellectuals responsible for spearheading this movement see it as having little to do with the color of one’s skin, and everything to do with philosophical principles those of a certain skin color held and allowed western civilization to flourish. Principles starting with those taught and discussed in Athens by the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Principles such as virtue and order, as well as answers to the questions: “What is a good life?” and “What is the best form of government for one to be able to live a good life?”
What today’s cultural preservationists miss is that those Athenian philosophers who laid the original groundwork for Thomas Jefferson’s call for life, liberty, and they pursuit of happiness, is their contributions were not “right” because they were white. They were “right” because their work sparked civilization’s explosion of human freedom as they defined it. It just so happens they were white…and male, but those two characteristics had nothing to do with the importance and adoption of their work.
One cannot help but imagine that if the intellectual founders of western civilization had been in attendance at the events in Charlottesville, they would have looked on in horror as the acts of those claiming to preserve their lessons were based upon a disgusting and ignorant perversion of everything they had ever hoped to leave behind. Human freedom, protected by the democratic process, was their goal. A monument glorifying a champion of slavery, is not one they would have ever supported the construction of in the first place. Let alone oppose its democratically decided removal.
The tragic irony of the “Alt-Right” is that they are not desperately trying to preserve western civilization’s march toward democracy and human freedom, but the power to control the lives of others they believe are ill-suited to do so. As such is the case, their opposition to the removal of a monument honoring Robert E. Lee exposes their true desire, control in the name of tradition sounds an awful lot like slavery as the Southern way of life.
Slavery is America’s original sin, and while the United States has not fully overcome its lasting effects, honoring an individual who seceded in protest to its end, is owed no memory of treason or opposition to human freedom. Just as General Lee disassociated from his country, his country has every right to democratically disassociate from his memory.
In the end, the monument will be taken down with the hope of further atoning for slavery. And just like General Lee at Appomattox, the flag the Alt-Right will be forced to wave will most appropriately match the color of their preferred skin. After all, how better to honor the memory of their heroic figure, than to continue his legacy of surrender…