Everyone’s smashing statues. From Islamic State hotheads sledgehammering ancient artefacts in old Mesopotamian cities to plummy students at Oxford demanding the removal of busts of old colonialists, waging war on the past is all the rage.
A Year Zero mentality is on the march. People seem hellbent on wiping out history, making it invisible, and starting society all over again, cleansed of the likenesses of dead people of whom they disapprove.
This fury against monuments is presented as good and radical. The statue-smashers say they simply want to erase the faces and names of people who did bad things to show how far society has progressed and to make minority groups feel more comfortable when they’re out in public.
In truth, there’s nothing good in this mob-like erasure of history. It’s a reactionary, even Orwellian, movement. The urge to ethically cleanse public life of “bad history”, to shove down the memory hole any bust or tribute to past folk whose values make us bristle today, is intolerant, illiberal and profoundly paternalistic.