You Can’t Learn From Deleted History

The “memory hole” is one of the most haunting images in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Used by government workers at the Ministry of Truth, this chute in the wall enabled Oceania’s one-party government to edit history at will and incinerate all evidence of their propagandistic deeds:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, multiethnic mobs who clearly haven’t read Orwell have been busy trying to memory-hole statues, monuments and street names across the Western world.

The first big story to hit the media was when crowds cheered in Bristol, England, as a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down, stomped on, and tipped into the river.

“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”—George Orwell

In the United States, jeering throngs managed to decapitate a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, and pull another one down outside of the Minnesota State Capitol. In Sydney, Australian police were forced to guard a statue of explorer Captain Cook after it was defaced, and when further plans to topple it were made public.

Originally, this seemed to be a campaign against memorials of slavers and early explorers. But it has since morphed into a protest against almost any historical figure whose crimes involve being white, male, and no longer with us.

In central London, a statue of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who led the nation in defeat of the Nazis, has been targeted. First vandals defaced it with the word “racist”—and then it was boarded up by authorities to prevent its complete destruction. The irony here is stark: so-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved presidents in American history. But this didn’t stop one protester from spraying graffiti on the iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and many others from trashing the Lincoln statue in London.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson was set alight in Birmingham, Alabama. A product of his time, Jefferson owned slaves—but he also authored America’s Declaration of Independence and was arguably the founding father of the nation.

Even a Matthias Baldwin monument in Philadelphia was tagged with the words “murderer” and “colonizer”. Baldwin stood doggedly against slavery in the early 1800s, long before it was fashionable to do so. Never mind, he too must go down the memory hole.

If this crusade couldn’t grow any more bizarre, we have now seen the “don’t mention the war” episode of Fawlty Towers scrubbed from UKTV. Likewise, HBO Max has pulled Gone With the Wind from its streaming service for its depiction of slavery. This blockbuster, by the way, starred Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Academy Award. Fortunately, it sounds like both of these decisions will now be reversed.

“Our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears.”

I believe a good case can be made for why statues of certain slave owners or Confederate soldiers should be reinterpreted with new signage, or perhaps even moved to a museum. But cancel culture turned cancerous the second we were no longer allowed to remember our civilisation’s own heritage.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it, so the maxim goes. We must remember that our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears. Think Auschwitz, the slave-built Pyramids—or the Colosseum, which Michael Cook has satirically suggested must also be razed to the ground.

Some memorials that do celebrate past heroes were erected by contentious people in contentious times. Mount Rushmore’s four presidents were carved on stolen land by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Should it be demolished? Do we bulldoze the work of every chauvinist architect since the Renaissance? How far must the purification go?

Far more productive than cancellation is education. A bit of education certainly would have helped those who tried to memory-hole Matthias Baldwin and other historical heroes in the recent puritanical purge.

“So-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.”

Understanding our history, rather than just raging against it, enables us to debate the good, the bad and the ugly of every era and learn from all of it. We have a lot to learn, not just about those who were memorialised, but also about those who did the memorialising. If we are willing to listen to our ancestors, we can benefit from understanding both their masteries and their many mistakes.

We might even grow some humility.

See, the cancel cult reveal at least as much about themselves as the historical figures they seek to erase. They display a deeply judgmental impulse by enforcing on people of centuries past, a new set of moral standards that we hardly agreed on five minutes ago.

They assume that they alone would have acted differently if they had grown up in the same circumstances. They seem to hope that if a line can be drawn under George Floyd’s murder and all before that be forgotten, the world might be a better, purer place.

“Prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart.”

But in trying to delete the past like they might delete their browser history, they miss what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw after staring Soviet totalitarianism in the face:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

We may make all sorts of progress. But prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart—as the cancellers themselves remind us. Because of this, all of us desperately need the past.

We need it, at the very least, to hold ourselves accountable.

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

America’s Founders on the High Price of Freedom

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”—Thomas Paine

Such was the mood on the North American continent centuries ago, when pilgrims and pioneers dreamt of a brand new nation to call their own.

Somehow, their experiment worked. Despite the founders’ striking flaws and all of modern America’s faults, the United States remains a great beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage this last month down the east coast of the USA. It’s my first time here, so given my obsession with the history of ideas, I made sure to visit Philadelphia and Washington—among many other cities—to better understand the origins of America for myself.

“There’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.”

Yes, we Australians can struggle to relate to the unbridled patriotism of America. What they achieved in a sudden, dramatic break from Britain, we too now enjoy in our quiet corner of the world. And we managed it without the same fanfare, past or present.

But with all that said, the architects of the American project continue to inspire any who stop and consider what they achieved. They were years ahead of their time, bold and zealous, and their love of liberty still resounds today.

Right now in the West, the very foundations of freedom are being called into question. So now more than ever, there’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.

Consider 25 quotes from America’s founders on what freedom cost—and what’s required to keep it alive.

Freedom Requires Risk

Many today want to feel safe from every conceivable danger—even hurt feelings. But there’s always a trade-off between safety and freedom. If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.

“Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin

“If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.”

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms.”—Samuel Adams

“Timid men… prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Appreciation

When freedom is all we’ve ever known, it’s easy to take it for granted and even be apathetic about its demise. But when we know the price others paid for our freedom, we’re inspired to preserve it for coming generations.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.”—John Adams

“It’s easy to take freedom for granted.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”—Patrick Henry

“The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”—Samuel Adams

Freedom Requires Forbearance

If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others—even when that makes us uneasy or offended. The ability to tolerate and even love people with views wildly different than ours is good for them, good for us, and good for society.

“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”—Thomas Jefferson

“If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”—Thomas Paine

Freedom Requires Vigilance

Freedom is still in short supply around the world. This speaks to the fact that freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain. If we want it preserved, we must be ever watchful.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”—Thomas Paine

“Freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain.”

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”—John Adams

“A constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.”—John Adams

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Godliness

Government can provide for our general safety and welfare, but what it cannot do is protect us from our own corruption. Unpopular as it is to admit, the further a society drifts from virtue and godliness, the further we drift from freedom.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”—John Adams

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”—William V. Wells

“Freedom cannot protect us from our own corruption.”

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”—Samuel Adams

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”—William Penn

“It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”—Patrick Henry

Freedom Requires God

It is no coincidence that the freest and safest nations on earth are also those most profoundly shaped by the Bible. The idea that all people are born free, equal, and with inherent rights is not universally accepted around the world, and it did not arise in a vacuum. Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”—Declaration of Independence, 1776

“Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.”

“It cannot be emphasised too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”—Patrick Henry

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”—Thomas Jefferson

We owe much to those who laid the groundwork for the centuries of freedom we’ve enjoyed in the West. May we honour them, and take their word on what’s needed to preserve it for the centuries to come.