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Modern Progressives as the New Iconoclasts

Progressivism was born in no small measure from opposition to the rule of law, because it wanted to overthrow the Constitution by means other than the amendment process, if necessary.  But today progressivism’s opposition to the rule of law is not confined to the Constitution.

The latest example comes from Yale, a bastion of progressivism.  There a dining hall employee purposely destroyed a stained glass window that depicted African Americans picking cotton, because he found it offensive. Initially, Yale fired him and referred him for prosecution. But after protests from professors and students, Yale declined to prosecute and is in negotiations to reemploy him. The protesters celebrated his act of “civil disobedience.”

The support for this act of vandalism and Yale’s pusillanimous climb down are misguided on many levels. Begin with the more minor issue—the aesthetics of the window itself. A friend who has studied the window suggests that in fact it portrays the dignity of African-Americans laboring under the injustice of slavery or peonage. In any event, I am sure that the Yale art history department regularly teaches that works of art can have many and complex meanings to different people.

But it is certainly possible to believe that this work should be moved, because some find it offensive.  The crucial point is that it was not up to the Yale worker to make this decision, still less to shatter the window.  The argument that his “civil disobedience” should excuse him is foolish. First, civil disobedience requires the law breaker to be punished, at least if the law he violates is not itself unjust. And a law forbidding the destruction of others’ property is obviously just.

Second, civil disobedience generally requires non-violence. And shattering the window was a violent act, as made all more clear by the passerby who was hit by a shard from the shower of falling glass. Perhaps sometimes violent civil disobedience is justified, but only if it is proportionate to the injustice. And violence is hardly proportionate to offense some might take from a picture window.

It is not civil disobedience that the protestors are celebrating but iconoclasm—destroying hated symbols.  But iconoclasm has no place in civilized society at peace, let alone at a university. Symbols are expressions. We may oppose the ideas they express, but should not destroy the symbols any more than we should attack the speaker of ideas we oppose.

And sadly a mark of modern progressivism has become its policing of symbolic expression. That is also the reason that progressives want to force those with religious objections to provide support for same-sex marriage ceremonies even in jurisdictions where it is obvious that same-sex couples could easily procure those services elsewhere. It is an old story that progressives lack commitment to the rule of law. But modern progressives are the new iconoclasts as well.

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on August 01, 2016 at 00:55:31 am

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Iconoclasts
on August 01, 2016 at 05:43:46 am

Conservatism was born in no small measure from opposition to the rule of law, because it wanted to overthrow the Constitution by means other than the amendment process, if necessary.

A typical example comes from Alabama, a bastion of conservatism. There the chief justice of the state Supreme Court erected a Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse and refused to permit it to be removed, even when confronted with an order from a federal district judge and a federal circuit court of appeals. His “religious freedom” was celebrated by up to 4000 protestors a day outside the courthouse. He was removed from office. But after protests from the public, he was re-elected to the same office.

It is not religious freedom that the protestors were celebrating but raw dogmatism. Raw dogmatism has no place in civilized society at peace, let alone at a state’s supreme court. Symbols are expressions. We may support the ideas they express, but should not impose them on the public any more than we would compel others to practice the religion of our choosing.

And sadly a mark of modern conservatism has become its exercise of religious dogmatism. That is also the reason that conservatives have opposed a citizen’s right to burn his own copy of the American flag, and have celebrated Kim Davis, a county clerk who claims that her religious beliefs should supersede her official duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It is an old story that conservatives lack commitment to the rule of law. But modern conservatives are the new dogmatists as well.

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nobody.really
on August 01, 2016 at 10:52:44 am

Ahh, yes! From one who accepts the notion that The Constitution is WHATEVER the Supreme court says it is!

And from that perspective, yours is a good piece.

Yet, remember that it was not *conservatives* who at the outset of their movement declared that their objective was to destroy the constitution and it's structure- no, for that one ought to look at the writings of Woodie Wilson; being an expert himself, he thought (and sought to enlist) experts could do a superior job in governance than the citizens of a republic.

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gabe
on August 01, 2016 at 12:25:58 pm

Yup, but this liberal trend goes back much further. Even liberals such a George Washington, who fancied himself an "expert" in military matters, concluded that he would not give military commissions to citizens at random, but would rather give them to his fellow "experts" who he had the temerity to say could do a superior job than the other citizens of the republic.

And thus it has been since the dawning of the republic: president after president hiring people based on their so-called "expertise" while obviously sneering at their fellow citizens who don't put on such airs. Fortunately we can count on President Trump to put an end to this pernicious exercise of elitism. Perhaps we can finally extend to all of government the policies thus far implemented only in the Army, as observed by Tom Lehrer:

One of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.

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nobody.really
on August 01, 2016 at 12:34:02 pm

Luv'd it!

Sadly, it is NOW true that the Army has dispensed with the antiquated notion of ability as grounds for promotion. all that is required nowadays is to be a close adherent of the current faddish thinking.

It was not always so and many a young man (and some women) were improved as a result of this *antiquated* notion.

Here is one for you, buddy:
The true value of military service is this: The military (used to, anyway) compels you to confront your capabilities - not your failures.

We now have *experts* whose primary function would appear to be highlighting everyone's failures / shortcomings/ guilt. No wonder our young'uns seek safe spaces.

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gabe
on August 01, 2016 at 14:47:44 pm

No wonder our young’uns seek safe spaces.

Ok, you got a smile out of me there.

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nobody.really
on August 01, 2016 at 15:43:12 pm

I really hate political propaganda. And I have no use for people who adhere to it as if heart-felt religious dogma.

What a waste of human lives.

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Scott Amorian
on August 01, 2016 at 17:06:31 pm

Another example of liberal iconoclasm: In 1961 South Carolina raised the Confederate Battle Flag above its capital as a sign of opposition to racial desegregation. But in 2015 some damn symbol-hating liberals such as Nicki Haley and the South Carolina legislature decided to take it down.

Thank goodness the South Carolina Secessionist Party insists on restoring this glorious old symbol of conservatism to its place. According to this party, “Our treacherous state Legislature voted to remove i[the flag] without the consent of the people in our state…. We, however, owe this opportunity [to rally] to them. Without their poor judgment and lack of integrity, we would not have this cause.”

According to House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, “This defies logical and common sense. But we don't regulate crazy.”

Doubtless this symbol-worship warms McGinnis’s heart. In other news, McGinnis is raising funds to restore Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq thoughtlessly damaged by rampaging liberals....

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nobody.really
on August 01, 2016 at 19:41:08 pm

Guess you have not been to the Ballard section of Seattle where a statue of Vladimir I. Lenin has stood in peaceful pose for many a long year.

You can't regulate crazy - but you can let the pigeons perform their own form of symbol bashing.

"McGinnis is raising funds to restore Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq thoughtlessly damaged by rampaging liberals...[ who, as partial atonement for their mistreatment of Saddam, are now raising funds for a statue of the Ayatollah to be placed in New York (actually NJ) harbor to replace the Statue of Liberty.
Now that is icon destroying. But at least it may assuage some of the *guilt* that Leftists perennially harbor.

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gabe
on August 02, 2016 at 07:53:14 am

...to replace the Statue of Liberty. Now that is icon [worth] destroying.

Eh. Been there, done that.

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nobody.really
on August 03, 2016 at 14:37:21 pm

I have always been an iconophile. But in my devotion to religious imagery, I never thought about buying a depiction of slaves picking cotton as a religious symbol. Perhaps, it is because I reject Calvinism.

The Islamic State represents the iconoclasts. Evidently, the janitor at Harvard has issues
However, defining this individual as an iconoclast seems to be a stretch.

For you iconophiles, the Eastern Orthodox Church is your go to source.

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jstrong365
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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.