July 1, 2020 Reading Time: 13 minutes
Jefferson Memorial

Statues are historical symbols of people and events from the past, and as such they reflect the heritage and values of a country. In the heightened current racial tensions in the United States, demonstrators and vandals have insisted that monuments glorifying the Confederacy and the old slave South must come down. 

But this challenge and attack against America’s past, in fact, runs deeper and beyond the statued faces of those who actually defended and fought for the preservation of slavery or who supported a perpetually race-divided America. No, this attack is on the very political foundations of and a philosophical rationale for there even to be a United States. 

This is seen in the tearing down or defacement of statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and several others including prominent American abolitionists of the middle decades of the 19th century. They are classified under one condemnatory label: owners of slaves or racists and therefore enemies of justice in all they did and stood for, even if some of them not only were not slave owners but were fervent opponents of that “peculiar institution” in the American South. 

This serves as the means to throw out the baby of liberty along with the dirty bathwater of a slavery and segregation that is long past. If the likes of Washington and Jefferson are, in fact, fundamental and unredeemable racists due to their ownership of slaves, then all the ideas they spoke out for and the political institutions they helped establish may be equally condemned as nothing more than rationalizations for an unjust and immoral social order. 

Tearing Down Symbols and Remaking Society

We have seen all this before over the last one hundred years wherever Marxian socialists succeeded in implementing their radical transformations of society. Symbols of the “old order” are blown up and destroyed. Building facades are defaced and then the buildings are renamed, along with the names of streets, towns, and all other historical images representing the corrupt and exploitative capitalist regime that has been or is in the process of being overthrown.  

In other words, if Washington, Jefferson, and others of that earlier era are “erased” from history (symbolized by removal of their statues and their names from buildings), and if, therefore, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (which they helped to author and establish) are merely the “false consciousness” for a “superstructure” of class, race, and gender oppression throughout the country’s history, then on what rationale can you justify the existence of the United States or any of its (capitalist exploitative) institutions?

Some have asked, at what point will these attacks on the statues and other symbols of the country’s history no longer need to be targeted for demolition or removal? The answer, at least for the aggressive and radical “progressives” and “democratic” socialists in academia, on social media, and among the violent street mobs, is only when all the ideas and institutions of the country have been torn down. 

For these people, theirs is a racial, gender, and social class warfare against the “capitalist” society of individual freedom, private property and free enterprise, and a constitutional order meant to limit government while preserving civil liberties and civil society. America is face to face with its own version of revolutionary Marxism, regardless of how its proponents choose to label and call themselves. 

So many people have become emotionally guilt-ridden and equally fearful of having the racist “R” branded on their forehead by challenging and speaking out against what is going on around them that they embarrassingly remain silent or sheepishly surrender to any and all demands made in the name of anti-racism. 

This enables those among the demonstrators who wish to use the justifiable concerns about racial injustices and police abuses for their own anti-liberal and collectivist agendas to move the country into directions that cooler thinking would make clear is not where America should be moving if the goal is really a free and just society. 

Race Marxism and Humiliation of Human Beings

What we are witnessing, therefore, is Racial Marxism, with a Cultural Dictatorship of the Identity Politics Warriors serving as the “vanguard of the revolution” against America. Indeed, some of the activists involved in trying to bring about such a radical change in the United States have even admitted that they are well-trained in Marxist ideology as the template for their goals. Said Patrisse Cullors, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter in an interview in 2015: “The first thing, I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame . . . We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories.” 

One of the classic Marxist tactics of self-incrimination and humiliation,  especially in Stalin’s Soviet Russia and Chairman Mao’s Communist China were the “self-criticism sessions.” Someone accused of “deviating” from “the Party Line” would be commanded to appear before his coworkers or other Party members to admit and confess their “bourgeois” tendencies, or their opposition or resistance to Party policy, or their words, phrases or innocent instances of everyday conduct that they were expected to recant and beg forgiveness for as instances of thoughts or actions against the “interests of the people,” and the great socialist revolution and remaking of society into a communist paradise.

It did not matter that the individual in question was totally innocent, had not meant anything by the words he spoke or the actions he had made. In fact, he might have considered himself a loyal and enthusiastic follower and participant in the Party’s purposes. But someone had denounced him either out of a personal grudge, or their wanting to get ahead themselves in the socialist structures of power and privilege, or out of fear that if they did not inform on someone about something, they might be the next target of the Party’s wrath. 

The accused would grovel, apologize, and admit his errors of any and every thought and deed. The height of such these ideological inquisitions came during the famous Soviet show trials of 1937-1938, when prominent Party members whom Stalin had arrested, threatened, and tortured by the secret police appeared in court admitting to whatever script their interrogators had put in front of them, and begged the court for the ultimate punishment – to be executed – because their betrayal of the Party and Comrade Stalin demonstrated that they did not deserve to live. 

Marxist Self-Criticism Sessions, American Style

To arouse the emotions of “the masses” there has to be an “enemy” to hate, to fear, and demand to be wiped from the face of the earth. All evil, all injustice, and unhappiness in life are wrapped up in one face – the face of the “capitalist exploiter,” whose full and total eradication is necessary for human redemption from the sufferings of life. No compassion, no considerations for human imperfections or mistakes, no simply putting the past behind. No, it is a war between the justifiable outrage of all those who have been victims of the capitalist system and every “capitalist” owner of the means of production, past and present. 

What are we currently seeing in America? In the words of Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankees baseball player and manager, we are experiencing “déjà vu all over again.” No one with any drop of humanity in them cannot be anything but embarrassed and disturbed to watch businessmen, entertainment celebrities, news media editors, reporters and opinion writers, and political figures offer their whimpering apologies and sorrowful regrets and promises to “sin” no more due to some wrong word, thoughtless phrase, offhand comment, remark or joke, that was made either yesterday or decades ago that is now considered racial slurs or gender insensitivities.

Please, please don’t fire me, don’t ruin my career, please don’t shun me as a politically incorrect pariah. Please let me live. I promise never to do it again. I did not know I was a racist or a sexist. I realize now that all my errors and offenses are due to the “white privilege” I didn’t even know I had or just took for granted without realizing that my very existence as someone born “Caucasian” meant that I was inescapably the enemy and exploiter of all women and “people of color.” And in a few instances, in true Stalinisque style, some sensitive “progressive” academics have even apologized for being alive, since by their race they are a member of the white oppressive class. 

“Whiteness” is declared by “progressive” white academics to be inherently racist. Race Marxism, at this point, shows itself to be aligned to another totalitarian form of 20th century collectivism. Here we see the face of a new “left” Nazism: It’s in “blood” and the color of your skin that makes you a danger to the rest of humankind. Being “white” is the new “Jew” representing everyone else’s social “misfortune.” Whites are a minority in the global population, just as Jews were a minority in Germany and Europe. Whites are a plague on the majority of non-whites around the world wanting “social justice,” just as Jews were the biological vermin threatening “Aryan” racial purity. 

Welcome to the new ideological world in which Marxism and National Socialism are melded into the 21st century’s totalitarian mindset, reborn. 

The Irrational Rationality of the Madman

Watch the faces of many of those who have been aggressively and sometimes violently taking to the streets and pulling down statutes or demanding their removal and a radical transformation of society. No pity, no tolerance, no room for debate, discussion or deliberation about the complexities and foibles of the past and those who lived in earlier periods of history. They are on a “mission” similar to the religious wars of centuries ago: a battle between heaven and hell, salvation or Satan, “good” and “evil,” virtue or vice.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), in his book, Orthodoxy (1908) asks us to reflect on the nature of the “madman.” No one is more “rational” and determined than a madman. In his eyes, nothing just “happens;” there is no serendipity, no innocent actions or mistakes, no faults and foibles to human nature, no “weaknesses” that get hold of people and lead them in wrong directions; no unintended consequences.

The madman sees intentionality in every chain of events; evil designs and malicious motives and meanings are everywhere. Everything has had its “cause” in a planned and designed act. Bad things do not just happen; no, there is always a conspiracy, ulterior motives, an overarching evil force at work in the affairs of men. These are designs and forces that the madman has traced out and discovered that others do not see or choose to ignore for their own nefarious purposes. 

The madman never laughs; he never tells a joke on himself; he never gives others the benefit of the doubt, because he doubts nothing; he knows. Everything is “connected,” and he has unearthed the connections that others have missed. And he must “save” the world.

This is the mindset and worldview of many in the “progressive” and “democratic” socialist circles and movements in America today. Racism is everywhere, gender oppression envelops society, every interaction with a “white person” is a threat and an exploitation against “people of color.” 

Individuals disappear and are submerged in tribal categories of “white” and “black,” and male and female including every transgender permutation in between facing their “oppressor.” Belonging to one of these collectivist classifications defines who and what you are, and not of your own choosing, mind you, but by the identity politics warriors and the politically correct possessors of knowledge of the “real” relationships underlying all of society – yesterday, today, and even tomorrow. (See my article, “An ‘Identity Politics’ Victory Would Mean the End to Liberty”.)

Ideological Ad Hominems to Destroy American Freedom

In the eyes of these race and gender ideologues, all of history is a tale of social conflict between white, male property-owning oppressors and all women and non-Europeans who have been the victims of ruthless aggression and exploitation. Notice that this is merely a variation on the traditional Marxist interpretation of history as conflict between capitalists and workers, the exploiters and the exploited. Instead of social “class” warfare in the original manner of Marx it has been transformed into a race and gender Marxism. (See my article, “Collectivism’s Progressive: From Marxism to Race and Gender Intersectionality”.)

An embedded technique in this race and gender class conflict is what might be called “ideological ad hominemism” Unearth or highlight the tainted personal conduct or beliefs of someone and that, therefore, classifies them as an irredeemable “racist.” Any and all ideas that they have authored or are identified with that may have nothing directly or indirectly to do with any labelled “racist” behavior in the past, becomes grounds enough to condemn their views and values on everything.  

It is not necessary (indeed, it would be morally wrong) to accept or discuss anything they have said or done, since the very “R” for racist branded on their forehead demonstrates that everything connected with their life was and must have been rationales and justifications for white oppression and enslavement of the black man. 

It is no longer required to logically and historically explain why the Declaration of Independence should not be seen as a unique document in human history that for the first time insisted that each and every individual has rights to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, regardless of sex, race, or religion. And that for the securing and protecting of those individual rights people come together to form governments to keep them safe from plunder and tyranny. 

It becomes equally unnecessary to argue why a Constitution such as that of the United States should not be understood and appreciated as an equally historical document that was meant to institutionally restrain the powers of government so that it remained a servant to preserve people’s freedom rather than a master enslaving all under the power of those holding political authority. Or why the first ten amendments to the Constitution should not be seen as the great attempt in human history to safeguard people’s individual freedoms of speech, press, religion and peaceful assembly, or legal protections from unwarranted searches and seizures by the agents of government, or to secure everyone from self-incrimination and to be assured of a speedy and impartial day in court as someone presumed innocent until proven guilty; and to be safe from arbitrary governmental taking of private property without just compensation.  

No, having branded the authors of these foundational documents with the irreversible “R,” the identity politics warriors and radical statue stalkers can just get away with saying these are racist and sexist documents to be erased from history along with their authors and advocates. There they go, down George Orwell’s memory hole, with the history of the past rewritten to fit the race and gender Marxist narrative of the present, and always open to revision in the future to serve the latest and changing agendas of these collectivist tyrants of the mind. (See my article, “Tyrants of the Mind and the New Collectivism”.)

The Idea of Freedom Has Guided Social Improvement

But wait, has not America been tainted with a slave and racist past? Have not women been treated as second- and third-class citizens not even allowed to vote? Yes. But notice that this was the past, not the present. Blacks no longer sit in the back of the bus, drink from different water fountains than whites, are prevented from applying and attending state colleges and universities, suffer the humiliations of a legally segregated life, or prevented from marrying someone who is white. 

Not only are these things all in the past, but the vast majority of white Americans have attempted in most everyday ways to treat those citizens who happen to be of African descent with equal courtesy, fairness, and respect. In other words, however, imperfectly and sometimes awkwardly, they have tried to make those who previously were abused and shunned to now be integrated as equal members of American society in social life and the workplace.

Anyone who does not see this and know this is either ignorant of American history covering the last fifty to sixty years or is too young to have a living memory of what life was still like in the 1950s and 1960s for black Americans. This applies equally to the treatment and status of women in society. From the immediate post-World War II imagery of women returning to be the “little wife” at home after working in the war industries, there are today few occupations, professions, and employments, and indeed all walks of life that are not equally open and available to those women interested in such career paths. (See my articles, “The Meaning and Mind of an American” and “George S. Schuyler: Anti-Racist Champion of Liberty”.)

Positive Responses to Racial Tragedies 

This is not to say that residues and elements of that darker past do not still linger in corners of American society. I live in the Charleston area of South Carolina, and I vividly remember the shocking events of June 17, 2015, when 19-year-old Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church near the center of the old part of the city, and shot and killed nine people during a Bible study meeting. 

Here in the state that first seceded from the Union in December 1860 in the name of preserving the institution of slavery, in a state that preached and practiced Jim Crow; what was the response of the people of Charleston and surrounding areas? Was it to riot and violently demonstrate? No. Thousands of people, black and white, peacefully held hands over the main bridge in the city as a public vigil in memory of those innocent people shot down for no reason other than they were black, and to show a common opposition to the odious racist delusions in Dylann Roof’s mind. 

Nor it is to say that instances of police abuse of their legal authority to use force, up to and including lethal violence, in various interactions with the citizenry, must not be challenged and restrained through necessary and needed reforms in the methods and techniques of policing. 

Again, shortly after I moved to South Carolina in 2014, a bystander recorded on their smartphone a white policeman stopping a black driver on a road in North Charleston. When the driver began running away on foot, unarmed with empty hands visible, the police officer just stood there and opened fire, and shot him several times in the back, killing him in the process.

Justice was swift. The police officer was suspended, an investigation was made in a timely fashion, especially with the help of the video of the incident; the officer was fired, charged, and found guilty of murder, and sent to prison. 

There are, of course, far too many instances around the country that do not match the outcomes of these two tragic Charleston events. But that these were the responses in a state that was the center of secession to preserve slavery and an active imposer of segregation during the Jim Crow years, shows that today’s America is not that of a half-century ago. As the old television commercial used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

It is the America of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, an America that has fitfully and often inconsistently faced the dilemma of practicing as well as preaching what those two documents demanded, that has made the country far more “color-blind” than many people realize or appreciate because of a lack of historical perspective and understanding. 

Real Slavery Around the World Not of Interest to Identity Warriors 

Are there injustices in the world, including in the United States? There certainly are. There is the need for an active crusade for racial equality of rights and treatment before the law. Indeed, there is still a need to oppose and end real slavery in some areas of the globe. For instance, according to the Global Slavery Index, there are over 9 million black slaves in Africa and parts of the Middle East. And, in fact, there are an estimated 40 million slaves everywhere around the world, including large numbers in various countries in Asia. Besides sex trafficked slaves, there are slaves forced to work as house servants and workers in farming and manufacturing. 

But this is not what the race and gender Marxists in America want to confront. That would be too “inconvenient,” because it would highlight the degree to which slavery is not the result or product of “white culture” or the capitalist system. It would bring out what has been true and known since the beginning of recorded history: slavery is an “equal opportunity” institution that most of the time has been “color-blind.” A people have been conquered and captured and the victor has enslaved those not killed to perform compulsory work and provide coerced “pleasures” for the masters. The skin color of the enslaved has often been less important than the ability to successfully force them to obey the master’s orders under the threat or use of violence.  

The avenue to a peaceful, prosperous and truly color-blind free society will not come about through a victory by the identity politics warriors and the ideological high priests of political correctness. It requires an appreciation and defense of the liberal principles of individual liberty, equality of rights before the law, and a vibrant, open, and competitive free market.

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling, an AIER Senior Fellow, is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ebeling lived on AIER’s campus from 2008 to 2009.

Books by Richard M. Ebeling

Get notified of new articles from Richard M. Ebeling and AIER.