Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Marxist Iconoclasm: Why Smashing Abe Lincoln Makes Sense, and MLK is Next

It’s gone from bad to worse. The pattern of destruction of statues in the public square, which is emblematic of the general escalation of violence, has steadily morphed, it seems, into an ever broader and angrier and more irrational expression of lust for the wanton destruction of every statue.

Many who are worried by this development see it as the work of an ignorant mob which is so unaware of the history of the US and the West that in its misguided quest for social justice, is destroying even statues of people whom we might think are on the same side, for example, those who helped to abolish slavery, such as Abraham Lincoln.
A statue of Lincoln vandalized in Chicago
I am worried too, but I don’t think what is happening is irrational. It is all consistent with the ideology of the agitators who want to destroy the West.

What began over 100 years ago as an intellectual exercise in our art departments, in which traditional representational art was discredited in favor of abstract art, has turned into all-out iconoclasm, which aims to destroy all images that symbolize or uphold Western values, as part of the mission of destroying Western civilization itself. By this, there is a clear logic to the destruction not only of the statues of Junipero Serra, Washington, and Jefferson, but also of statues of Abraham Lincoln, and even Frederick Douglass.

A sculpture of  escaped slave Lucy Higgs Nichols defaced
This matters, and it will not stop until it destroys all that these images symbolize, unless we stop it first. To counter it, we must understand the Marxist narrative of history that drives it, and know our own narrative, which is Salvation History. Then we must stand firm and promote the truth. We must work at least as tirelessly as the Left has for the last 100 years or more to promote our values attractively, intelligently, and with zeal and courage. This means building up the natural institutions of Western civilization, and especially the Church, the nation, and the family in a cultural war (and which includes as a vital part of this, the erection of statues in the town square). Images are a vital part of this cultural war.

A sidewalk shrine in Florence, Italy from the days when public art was chosen to promote Western values.
The logic of the destruction of statues 
The left is destroying statues because it understands well that images are a vital part of how society speaks of its values and essential truths, and stimulates faith in what is good. The imperative to create images that speak of what we hold dear has long been recognized. In the 8th century, the Church declared in the 7th Ecumenical Council that images of Christ, of Mary and of the Saints are not only permitted, but they are also a necessary part of our worship and our faith.

Faith is the firm assent of the mind to things unseen. The firmness of our faith is motivated by the credibility of the witness who communicates to us what is true. Images direct our imaginations to their prototypes and in so doing, stimulate our capacity to accept the existence of things unseen. In this case, the artist is the proximate witness, who directs us through his art to the Saints portray therein, who are themselves witnesses to the Faith. By grace, this is a chain of communication that does not become distorted at each link as in like the children’s party game Telephone. Rather, with God inspiring the artists, fidelity to truth is maintained, and the light of truth becomes steadily more brilliant and more attractive with each piece of sacred art.

Della Robbia
It is the beauty of sacred art that convinces us that their ‘words’ are true and that the lives of those they portray are good and worthy witnesses to the existence of a loving God. Images are not the only means of communication, they are a vital part of the culture of the Faith.

Marxists who are driving the current wave of iconoclasm understand deeply, perhaps more than many Christians, how images can communicate ideas, and so will seek to destroy any that are contrary to their dogmas of the socialist, neo-Gnostic faith and replace them with their own.

But surely, you may say, I can perhaps understand why they would go for Junipero Serra, but why destroy a statue of Lincoln? Why try to stop the play Hamilton in which people of color play the Founding Fathers, thereby reinforcing the dignity of all in an America faithful to the ideals of the Founding Fathers?

The current pattern of iconoclasm makes perfect sense to me as one who used to consider himself a Marxist. Here’s why:

Marxism pushes a narrative which is an interpretation of history that predicts a utopian future for mankind. This earthbound, quasi-heaven is an alluring vision, but there is a catch. This future state will only be ushered in when today’s society is utterly destroyed. And they mean destroyed, as in annihilated. The power of this vision to attract people is wondrous, given its absurdity, but for its adherents, it is held as deeply as any faith, for it offers the prospect of heaven without God, which is what the proud desire.

The goal of the Marxist is to speed history along its course by precipitating the destruction of current society. To the Marxist, outside their own ideology and all that services it, there is no absolute truth or morality; the very concepts of absolute truth and goodness are themselves seen as constructs of Western society. The only measure of good is that which contributes to the mission of destruction. This justifies propaganda and violence in pursuit of their aims. The only measure of truth is their narrative, which is beyond reason, and which is only known by the elite few, the modern-day gnostic priests, who are generally university intellectuals.

To this end, violent conflict is necessary and desirable. They therefore aim to plant and then amplify the sense of injustice in manipulated victim classes through lies and propaganda, so as to create conflict and violence. The different classes in society, which used to be defined by economic criteria (e.g. the working class) are now defined by theories of race and gender. The immediate goal of the Marxists is not to right wrongs. It is exactly the opposite. The goal is to make the conditions steadily worse for the oppressed class while blaming the designated oppressor class as the cause. They want to increase the resentment and the sense of victimhood. This will lead, they believe, to a grand crescendo of anarchy and violence which ushers in, magically, the new utopian order.

In the context of the culture, the first attacks were relatively benign. Their target was the idea of images in art, which they attacked by creating a modern art that seeks to portray a false or distorted reality in its form. Imitation as the basis of art is rejected. Nearly every public work by a modern artist is pushing leftist ideas through its form; therefore, and more importantly, it displaced what could have been a beautiful piece of public art that bears witness to reality.

Public modern art in Sidney, Australia, which locals call “Poo on sticks.”
As with all leftist propaganda, this is just a convenience of ideology. As soon as they are allowed to, they will reintroduce images again, but this time images that promote their cause. Soviet Russia didn’t adopt abstract art, because it had already eliminated the imagery of Christian Russia from its town squares. It was free to introduce images of its own “saints” immediately.

Why is Lincoln an appropriate target by this logic?
In the America of 2020, we have now moved beyond the discussion of art theory in our university art departments. People are openly smashing public art that does not promote their own ideal. Here too they work incrementally. They attack first the statues of those figures whom people are generally least inclined to defend, but once they see the lack of pushback, they move on to those that really do represent the society they want to destroy. The more that people unify around the figure, the more they want to destroy the memory of that person. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are high on the hitlist, therefore. I predict that Martin Luther King will become a target in the future.

MLK was not a revolutionary. His message was of peaceful change towards a better America in which all lives matter and people should be judged by the quality of their character and not their skin color. This is a message that tends to eliminate injustice and bring harmony and peace to society, which is not what a committed Marxist would want to promote. They may not dare to do so right now, but when they know they can, I predict they will make him a target. Either MLK will be smashed, along with everyone else who stands for what is good in the world, or else history will be re-written to conform to the narrative, and he will be re-cast as one of their own, that is, as a proponent of the destruction of the nation and the West.

Once they hold sway, we will no longer see “poo on sticks” modern art, the ideology of which was just a convenient construct and will have done its job. They will happily now create their own sacred art - images of the glorified leaders of the revolt.

The British rock group The Who wrote the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in the 1960s as a deliberately anti-revolution song, which ended with the line “Yeah (screamed by Roger Daltrey in typical fashion), Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss.” This song is 100% wrong in its prediction - most people have been fooled again; and the chief fools are the jesters in the court of the liberal elites, the stars of the current entertainment industry (Kanye West excepted). Plus ca change…

Consistent with this desire to destroy society altogether, the agitators seek to destroy the natural aspects of human society that promote Western values of freedom, harmony, and order. These are, for example, the Church, the nation, and the family. We must counter by telling the truth and standing up for what we believe. We must assert the true facts of history and push our narrative, which is Salvation history. This is not easy; even as I write this I wonder if I am doing enough.

In regard to images, we must discerningly uphold the images and cultural forces that help to uphold the ideals we espouse and defend our right to have them. Beautiful and well-chosen art in our churches, in our public squares, and in our domestic churches is not an option, but a vital part of the battle.

And we can work incrementally too. Let’s start campaigning for the end of public art that looks like this:

And for more that looks like this:

We cannot do this unless we know Salvation History ourselves. Salvation History is taught through the study of Scripture and by orthodox participation in the liturgy. It is supported by the study of history as it actually happened, and especially of those institutions that hold society together, Church, nation, and family. Unlike the Marxists and their allies in politics, education, and the press (who are either complicit in the deceit or fools manipulated by them), our narrative is rooted in the truth, and the facts of history support all that we believe. History may not always be what we would like it to be, but we know that it conforms to the ultimate end that God has for us. Christians, contrary to the way we are portrayed, are not afraid of the truth or of reason.

The example of this is contained within Salvation History itself: in the Old Testament, Moses and Joshua, for example, addressed the Israelites and told them the story of their nation, and in so doing, explained to us the story for all people. In the New Testament, Ss Paul, Peter, and Stephen are all described as addressing people first with a summary of the historical account of the events of salvation. The writers of the Gospels aimed to do this as did St Paul, for example, in the writing of the Letter to the Hebrews. Just as with the Marxists, the account of history tells us where we are going, the only difference being that our story is true and theirs is false.

As just one example of addressing this, I cite a project I have been involved in which is the creation of the Master of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University. Intended as a formation for any that wish to contribute positively to the culture, as artists in any discipline or as patrons of the arts, the connection between Salvation History and the culture is made explicitly. It has been created by a team, of which I am part, and aims to teach the narrative through the study of Scripture and the encouragement to orthodox worship God, and to connect these to Christian culture. To this end, we have at the core courses in the Old Testament in Words and Images; the New Testament in Words and Images, the Bible and the Liturgy, the Psalms in Words, Images, and Prayer. These are all taught by Father Sebastian Carnazzo. The courses on Christian culture and art, A History and Practical Theology of Images, and the Mathematics of Beauty, describe how the values of the Faith and Salvation History are communicated in the culture in general, explained through the prism of art history. We also demonstrate how modern art seeks to undermine those values. We also have a class in Ecclesiastical History.

Through this, people will understand why art such as this is intended to promote disorder and undermine traditional Western culture. It is soft-iconoclasm, abstract art that distorts reality and displaces images of what is good and which precedes the real iconoclasm.

The domestic church is the starting point for our radical transformation of society
Postscript: just after I had written and posted this piece, there were signs of an escalation. I read news reports of arson attacks and serious vandalism against Catholic churches in a number of locations across the country.

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