Linda Erdmann: Rule of law or mob rule?
It seemed to start with Christopher Columbus.
As children we learned that “in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937 at the urging of the Italian community. Columbus Day is now a time of heated discussion about what a bad person he was who should no longer be honored.
In 2016, the Harvard Crimson Editorial Board requested the University officially change Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples Day” because, “Columbus’ arrival … led to the enslavement, exploitation and mass genocide of indigenous people.” A statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle in New York City was a gift from Italy in 1892 commemorating the 400th anniversary of his voyage. There was a five-day celebration at the time. Now this statue may become victim to Mayor DeBlasio’s review of “hate symbols.”
The history term, “presentism,” where one applies contemporary moral judgments and world views to those of the past, is a virus spreading across college campuses and into other areas of society. The calls for removal of the Confederate Flag, the attacks on Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and most recently the obsession with removing all confederate statues and monuments, are only a few examples of this growing force. Some historians think the movements and protests calling for these removals very closely resembles mob rule and claim also that these mobs act without factual or any historical understanding. This virus threatens the answer to history’s most basic question — “Why did these people do what they did and what led them to certain actions?”
Historians dedicate themselves to not falling into the trap of presentism. Historian Herbert Butterfield who was a professor of history and vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge stated the historian should be a “recording angel” rather than a “hanging judge.” Historian Ashley Cruseturner states, “History represents the preservation of our collective past as well as the study of change over time … The role of the historian encompasses a sacred duty to offer a multi-dimensional picture of the past (and the people of the past) in the context of the past.”
Or as Ronald Reagan sensibly said, “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important .. If we forget what we did we won’t know who we are.”
This “mob rule” has permeated so many other areas of our society. Several years ago Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich had to step down because he had the audacity to contribute to California’s Proposition 8.
There are mob boycotts of restaurants because of the owner’s beliefs or they supported Trump, didn’t support Obama or wouldn’t bake a cake. The 2012 Chick-Fil-A boycott, which backfired, was led by a left-leaning mob for its CEO’s beliefs on gay marriage, hoping to damage the business. People have lost their careers over some perceived politically incorrect comment on Facebook or Twitter. And, of course, there are those antagonistic mobs at the town halls. While colleges are suppose to be places of learning and openness, speakers, mostly conservative, have been disinvited to college campuses because of threats of mob violence.
There are numerous examples of intolerance on college campuses (purportedly to protect the student’s “safe spaces”). In 2014 a Yale University student-organized attempt to cancel speaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born American activist known for her women’s rights advocacy and critical remarks about Islam, used “hate speech” as a justification.
Most recently Berkeley has been the scene of numerous acts of mob violence, culminating in costly damage to buildings, injuries and the introduction of the masked Antifa group. Protesting what they claim is “hate speech,” Antifa and the left-wing group “By Any Means Necessary” threw rocks at police, carried baseball bats, bricks, metal pipes and other things confiscated by police. Antifa is also credited with the recent defacing of statues in Portland, Durham, Memphis and a peace monument in Atlanta.
These “enlightened” mobs do not have a monopoly on the truth and we cannot let them decide which viewpoints are permissible or what history is worthy of preservation. All these growing “viruses” are violent attacks on our rights and even our fundamental system of government.
“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom — and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin
Linda Erdmann lives in Grass Valley
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.