Acton Institute Powerblog

Kevin D. Williamson responds to ‘Ben Shapiro and the alt-right smear’

In my Friday post titled, “Ben Shapiro and the alt-right smear” I wrote:

Thus, National Review – once a bulwark of American conservatism – advocates that gay marriage is a family value – according to Jonah Goldberg – and that statues of former Confederate leadership must be torn down by patriotism – according to Kevin Williamson.

Williamson objected, saying this is what he actually wrote in his August 2017 piece “Let It Be” in National Review:

The current attack on Confederate monuments is only another front in the Left’s endless kulturkampf. The Left is committed to always being on the offense in the culture wars, and, with Donald Trump and his white-resentment politics installed in the White House and Republicans lined up queasily behind him, the choice of going after Confederate totems is clever. It brings out the kooks and the cranks, and some respectable conservatives feel obliged to defend them. Getting Republicans to relitigate the Civil War is a great victory for the Democrats, who were, after all, on the wrong side of it as a matter of historical fact. Rather than embrace their party’s proudest and finest legacy, Republicans are now trying to explain away President Trump’s insistence that there were some very fine gentlemen among the tiki-Nazis in Charlottesville. President Trump’s schoolboy forensics is here particularly embarrassing. From Abraham Lincoln to Donald Trump: Evolution runs backward for American political parties.

We should not, in any case, accept the fiction that what is transpiring at the moment is a moral crusade rather than political opportunism.

I am glad to correct the record, and I apologize for any errors or misinterpretation of Williamson’s views that my original post may have created.

Nevertheless, I stand for what I have said. If Williamson recognizes that the idea of destroying statues is part of a cultural war that helps to shape modern public debate, I could not disagree more with him.  What this business with the statues really represents is an effort to erase our collective historical memory — and replace these memories with lies about the past.

In “Let it be, “Williamson writes: “What ought conservatives to do? They should listen to the oldest and most widely applicable of all the councils of conservatism and do – exactly – nothing.” Well, I can not agree that to “do nothing” is a conservative position. Quite the opposite, Conservatism is a political doctrine that implies action – or reaction – insofar as it seeks to preserve social arrangements against revolutionary temptations.

Millennials – whose knowledge of history is deficient, to say the least – are not only rallying against former Confederate soldiers or the pleasant memory of the antebellum. The war they are promoting against the Confederate statues is a war against American history and against all those who do not fit into the politically correct narrative of the past. If General Lee’s statues are torn down today, tomorrow will be Thomas Jefferson’s. If in the morning they burn Stonewall Jackson, by night it will be George Washington’s turn to meet the same fate.

In this case, the only thing silence – or inaction – means is complicity.

There is a totalitarian impulse in this pulling down of statues, one we’ve seen elsewhere. To create the new reality, the new man, you must first destroy the reality we have.

The great scholar of Marxism, Leszek Kolakowski, wrote about the falsification of history under the Soviets, particularly under the regime of Joseph Stalin. But this practice of re-editing the past, Kolakowski observed, continued under other leaders. He cited the case of Lavrentiy Beria, chief of Soviet security and the secret police, who was executed a few months after Stalin’s death in 1953.

… when Beria was put to death by the new leaders, subscribers to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia found a note in the next volume telling them to excise certain earlier pages with a razor blade and insert the new pages that accompanied the note. On turning up the place referred to, the reader found that it was the article on Beria; the substitute pages, however, were not about Beria at all but contained additional photographs of the Bering Sea.

Homepage picture: Wikimedia Commons.

Silvio Simonetti

Silvio Simonetti is a Brazilian lawyer, graduated in international affairs from the Bush School at Texas A & M University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Silvio loves history and the Catholic Church.