History happened. You can’t change that no matter how much you wish you could.
The assumption that you would have acted or thought differently if you had been born and raised in early 19th century South Carolina or anywhere else for that matter is truly arrogant. That somehow you would have at that time realized the benefit of all we have learned since is beyond absurd. You wouldn’t have.
Yet we judge the people of that time with the mores of today when in fact we would have shared those mores had we lived then. We are no different.
We have grown and our mores have changed with the experience of history and all that has happened.
While we can acknowledge that we would not or should not repeat the past, we cannot avoid repeating it if we deny that it happened and fail to learn from it.
To assert some sort of personal moral superiority over those that preceded us is not only arrogant, it is unjust. We would have acted no differently.
Think about it.
We Can’t Erase History — Or Simplify It
Why are we so sure we’re morally superior to our forebears?
From National Review: By BEN SHAPIRO, February 15, 2017
Over the weekend, Yale University announced that a residential college would no longer be named after John C. Calhoun, secretary of war under James Monroe, vice president of the United States under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, senator from South Carolina, and secretary of state under John Tyler. Calhoun was a pro-slavery fanatic. Here’s what he had to say on the topic:
- I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good — a positive good. . . . I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.
Calhoun knew full well the consequences of his position. In 1850, he told Senator James Mason that within twelve years, there would be a dissolution of the country that would “explode in a presidential election.”
None of this has been any secret. Calhoun’s nasty legacy of racism was well known in his time and since. Yet Yale saw fit to remove his name only now. President Peter Salovey stated, “I made this decision because I think it is the right thing to do on principle. John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university.”
Salovey also stated that the heads of residential colleges would be renamed “heads of college” instead of “masters.” This, of course, is oversensitive foolishness. The term “master” comes from the Latin magister, a title given in the Middle Ages to people who had mastered their craft; no one seriously believes that those who live in the dorms are slaves to the RAs.
Yale isn’t the first college to cave to this sort of historical expunging. Last year, Princeton University caved to pressure to remove a painting of President Woodrow Wilson and considered chipping Wilson’s name off buildings. Some students at the University of Missouri wanted a statute of Thomas Jefferson removed from campus; in 2014, Washington and Lee University removed a Confederate flag from its chapel, even though General Robert E. Lee served as the university’s president and is buried beneath the chapel.
The newfound enthusiasm for erasing history is meant to serve two purposes: first, as a final acknowledgment of the evils of American history; second, as a revisionist desire to wipe away the change and complexities inherent in American history.
It’s the second element of erasure that sticks in the craw of so many Americans. Clearly, John C. Calhoun wouldn’t be honored with a statue today; nobody is clamoring for a John C. Calhoun School of Law. But leaving his name on a building at Yale helps teach us how far we’ve come. More important, it recognizes that we must be ever wary of evil — that we shouldn’t be so benightedly complacent about our own moral standing, so confident that we would never make the moral errors of our forebears.
Calhoun’s name on buildings reminds us that Calhoun was once honored for his perspective rather than derided for it. It is a reminder that evil once held sway in our world, and that we cherished it. It also reminds us that brilliance and patriotism and good and evil can all exist in the same human being: Calhoun’s slavery advocacy existed alongside his desire to build up a strong, robust American military; he created the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the same time that he stumped for the expansion of slavery into the Western states.