The Iconoclasm of Black Lives Matter | Harry Fitzpatrick


Palmyra, the end of the fourth century. A great mob of zealous pilgrims descends upon the ancient Temple of Athena and, jeering and roaring with laughter, fells the great statue, before defacing it and the various other tombs, statues and columns making up this great Temple. A chant was even dedicated to the destruction. “Those shameful things.. demons and idols.. our great Saviour trampled down all together”. The decapitated head of Athena had her nose cut off and a cross etched into her forehead – a symbol of the final, vicious and uncompromising victory over the old savage ways of the past and the ushering in of a new Utopian chapter.

Such destruction as occurred in Palmyra is not, of course, unique. Iconoclasm has a long history – as much as mankind has a wonderful impulse to create, so too does its demagogic mobs have a frightening tendency to destroy and desecrate. We look back now in abject horror at the myopic vandalism that gripped the late classical world – indeed, I am willing to bet even most contemporary pious Christians would be horrified at the level of needless destruction. And yet despite the ashes and shattered brick and mortar at our feet, we continue to do the same. The old adage “those who do not learn from history and are doomed to repeat it’s mistakes” comes to mind, but then I am careful to distinguish here; yes there are those – the liberals, the Conservatives, who fear and generally oppose such acts of destruction, yet remain silent or passive; these are the people who need to learn their history. No, the anti-cultural barbarians we see at work today know their history – it is a history that praises and upholds the blood drenched revolutions of France and Russia, that celebrates such tragic spasms of violence and tyranny. We are fools ourselves if we think our enemy a fool.

There are plenty who have made comparisons between the tumultuous moments they find themselves in with the fall of Rome. The traumatic extinguishment of civilisation in the Late 5th Century has etched itself onto the collective conscience of every Westerner ever since. And yet recently the typical cautionary tale of Rome and the Barbarians has been losing its appeal; the Romans, we are told, did not fall because of weakness, internal strife, or barbarian invasion. No, instead it was merely a peaceful transition from one civilisation to another. And besides, such apocalyptic warnings hardly seem necessary in an age of Pax Americana, of unprecedented wealth and development, right? And yet here too lies a crucial underlining of historical illiteracy – contemporary Romans of the fifth century, whilst understanding the crises that afflicted them (certainly, I have no doubt contemporary Romans would be shocked to hear they were merely living through a largely peaceful transition), they certainly expected the Empire and the eternal city to stand. A world without Rome seemed unimaginable. And then in happened.

I have no doubt that the current wave of violence and anti-cultural agitation is merely one of those historical spasms aforementioned. I do not think for a moment we are witnessing a “revolution” – because that would imply this event is some stand-alone catalyst. No – what we are seeing is the steady culmination of a revolution decades in the making. Make no mistake, the seeds that are today blossoming into the scenes we see unfolding today were planted many generations ago. This applies most crucially to those Conservatives who seek to entirely “other” the responsibility for this cataclysm. Yes, it may be the anti-cultural agitators physically beating people to death and pulling down the statues, but for every such anti-cultural figure there is a “Conservative” willing to justify, appease or console such an actor. This is the problem. Rome had many centuries of experience with barbarians – they did not suddenly emerge in the fifth century. It was Roman weakness that allowed for barbary and violence to fill the void of civilisation. Such is the state of nature, a fact we in the comfortable confines of our Western lives all too often forget.

If this whole affair has taught me anything, it is not that the ‘left’ despises culture or indeed the West in general – this should be apparent to anybody with any knowledge of the long catalogue of leftist iconoclasm throughout history. No, what it has instead taught me is the utter uselessness of Conservatives and “Conservatism” in today’s circumstances. In a civilised society, the scenes we are witnessing today should not even be taking place. And yet what do we find instead? Policemen kneeling before rioters, mayors and politicians prostrating themselves before the mob, any “resistance” to the wanton violence – whether physical defence or intellectual enquiry, universally condemned in the harshest of terms. There will be no conflict, because the left is pushing against an open door, left unlocked by a vacant and decadent civilisation.

I am sure we have yet to witness the worst of the destruction. It will continue, and the right will continue to desperately sprint to keep up with the ever-shifting Overton window. But you must realise this is absurd and contemptible – there is no negotiation, no meditation, with these anti-cultural zealots. They will burn and destroy, and if you stand in their way, so will you. There can be no dialogue, no mediation between those who wish to destroy everything we have built and those who wish to preserve it. No, instead it is time for those of us who are fundamentally proud and defensive of this great civilisation to step forward and refuse any and all assaults against us. But for this to happen, first and foremost a new movement must usurp that old and begotten ideology of Conservatism; it is no longer enough to ‘conserve’ or even ‘react against’ the situation we see ourselves in. Only a great rejuvenation, a new Occidental renaissance can save us from the darkness.

I call these profligates we see on our screens “anti-cultural” because they do not create or innovate; this is fundamentally a destructive movement – and make no mistake, once they run out of monuments to destroy and burn, they will surely turn on one another. Once the early Christians ran out of pagan temples to desecrate and loot, they turned on each other – the great city of Constantinople itself was almost razed because of one such sectarian riot. Those on the left who think there remains one great fight to overturn the ‘oppressive’ past and institute an essentially similar but more progressive West are mistaken – the only route we will go down if we choose this route is a Hobbesian one of perpetual flames and anguish. It is time for every single person in the West to choose – which way forward?


Photo by Nick Thompson on Flickr.

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