American Iconoclasm

For the past month, Americans have been treated to the spectacle of rampant iconoclasm occurring nationwide, the result of a concerted effort by progressives to undermine and erase America’s “racist” past.  It began with the assaults on the South’s Confederate heritage.  Statues of southern generals were targeted for removal, toppling, or complete demolition.  Some more ambitious souls have even floated the idea of dynamiting the monument at Stone Mountain, in Georgia, an altogether more difficult proposition than merely pulling down a statue of Robert E. Lee.

As predicted, the iconoclasm did not remain confined to the destruction of Confederate history.  The process has since moved on to encompass practically every visible and tangible aspect of American history.  We have seen the vandalism of monuments to as widely diverse a group as the Founding Fathers, Union generals, former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, Christopher Columbus, St. Junipero Serra, and even (in an ironic twist) the Great Emancipator himself.  Additionally, movements are afoot all across the country to rename schools and other public buildings which are named after anyone who was, essentially, a white male.  This follows the recent academic trend of replacing Shakespeare and other historical giants in university curricula (as well as in literal monuments) with pygmyish “people of colour” who were much less capable, but much more ideologically acceptable to the radical Left.

Many observers have compared the recent iconoclasm to those of various Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban, who have made a habit out of destroying millennia-old cultural artifacts in the areas they control.  Despite the obvious ideological incompatibilities between the two, this comparison does have merit on a deeper level.  The existence of the “Red-Green” alliance between radical Muslims and radical progressives should not be as surprising as many might initially think.  It is an alliance of convenience between two groups who are equally committed to the destruction of traditional Christian, white, Western civilisation and its replacement with something else.

If you want to know what iconoclasm is all about, you have to be willing to accept that the fundamental reason for it does not stem from things like religious fanaticism, economic impulses, or even from the expression of exoteric political philosophies.  Instead, the root cause of iconoclasm is power – the desire to get it, to keep it, and to exert it over one’s ideological enemies.  Iconoclasm is a way of demonstrating and reinforcing power over opponents, to force them to accept that you can destroy what they value and erase that upon which they base their identity or their claims to authority.

Iconoclasm is an expression of the power to replace one culture and way of life with another.  This is accomplished by the destruction of the outward symbols of the victim culture by the aggressor culture, demonstrating their powerlessness to maintain their own values and identity, and consequently the rightness of their replacement with the aggressor culture’s own icons and symbols.  the process does not always have to involve things like statues – simply perverting the teaching of history and replacing it with inventive and fanciful nonsense, such as is happening today with “black history” and the like, will achieve the same essential goal.

Historically, this has always been the case whenever one culture has sought to erase another rather than merely being content to rule over it.

The iconoclastic power impulse is what drove Muslims to destroy or “repurpose” everything they touched during Islam’s expansion.  It drove the destruction in 1193 of the Buddhist university at Nalanda.  It likewise proved the impulse for the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001.  The same may be said for the destruction of the ancient temple to Bel and the Tetrapylon, both in Palmyra in Syria.  It is why the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque for most of its post-Byzantine history, and why other churches were turned into horse stables or latrines.

Despite what many may think, the ideological motive behind these iconoclasms was not a purely or genuinely religious abhorrence of idolatry.  Indeed, Islam itself is surprisingly willing to tolerate remnants of idolatry within its own system, such as the veneration of the black stone in the Kaabah in Mecca (a direct holdover from pre-Islamic litholatry in which meteorites were believed by the ancients to be sent from the gods) or the semi-worship of various “saints” in certain sects.  The difference is that these remnants were Arab in derivation, and therefore acceptable in the sociopolitical system of Islam which handed down as the religion developed into its present form by around 900 AD.  Islam is, after all, a form of Arabic cultural imperialism as much as it is a religion.

This underlies the Islamic concept of the Jahiliyyah, the so-called “times of ignorance” preceding the rise of Islam.  Islam represents the monotheisation of an Arabian lunar and fertility deity (Hubal) who had previously existed as part of a henotheistic system centered at the Kabaah in Mecca.  Combined with this factor was the influence of various Judaeo-Christian (in the true sense of the term) sects that existed in Arabia which while rejecting the deity, death, and resurrection of Christ, accepted Him as “a” messiah, and taught the succession of various prophets to the Jewish people and others.  I am certain that many readers who are even passingly familiar with Islamic teaching can see several points of derivation from these.

The Jahiliyyah, then, referred to any groups or teachings which did not conform to this essentially Arabian memeplex which was developed and which crystallised into “orthodox” Islam.  Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhist, Hinduism, animism – all alike were to be explicitly brought under the power of Islam’s Dar as-Salaam, the house of submission.  Those who would not were Dar al-Harb, the house of war.  The destruction of other cultures’ relics and icons was not, then, necessarily about a detestation of idolatry, in and of itself, but rather the fact that non-Arab idolatrous systems were competitors to Islam’s explicit mandate to establish power over the entire earth.

Why destroy a temple in Palmyra devoted to a deity which nobody has worshiped for 1600 years?  Because Western archaeologists, antiquarians, and historians valued it as a piece of world history.  Hence, it could form a nexus through which ISIS could proclaim its superiority over and eventual conquest of the West.

Iconoclasm is a common historical means of displacing adversarial cultures, as well as seeking to establish power during a struggle for supremacy.  This has often been the case with iconoclasm that has occurred within a Christian context.

For example, the controversies over iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire during the 8th-9th centuries can be seen in this light as representing an ongoing power struggle between elite factions in the Empire who represented the less wealthy non-Greek portions of the the East (where iconoclasm flourished) and the wealthier, more entrenched Greeks in Constantinople and the Balkans, where iconodulism was strong.  It is not surprising, in this light, that the two strongest imperial proponents of iconoclasm, Leo III and Leo V, were from Isauria and Armenia, respectively.  Iconoclasm was a failed attempt to wrestle power (including religious power) away from the entrenched aristocracy and religious hierarchy in Constantinople.

Likewise is the case with the Dutch iconoclasms that accompanied Holland’s assertion of independence from the Spanish Habsburgs.  As Calvinists who rejected the overlordship of a Catholic imperial power, the Dutch naturally sought to destroy the outward, visible manifestations of that Catholicism.  Essentially, the Dutch were (successfully, in this case) asserting their own power by flaunting their ability to efface and disgrace the power of the Catholic Spanish – we can destroy your icons and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Even in our so-called modern world, secular states have used the power of iconoclasm to hammer home their superiority over defeated enemies.  In a figurative sense, the United States cast down the idol of the Japanese Emperor after World War II when MacArthur disestablished Shintoism and forced Emperor Hirohito to disavow divine status.  During the occupation, the USA replaced the Emperor with a nominally democratic government based upon “Enlightenment” Western values.  These moves, even more than the atom bomb, brought home to the Japanese their powerless in the face of American military might.

This quest for power is exactly what is driving the current wave of iconoclasm sweeping the USA (as well as Europe). The common denominator for all of the various statues and other tangibles being attacked today is that they are all expressions of the dominant white, Christian, European-derived culture that has formed the baseline for the United States since their inception.  Built upon that cultural foundation are all of the exoteric political expressions build around the more specifically Anglo-Saxon heritage: law and order, private property, free markets, and so forth.

To replace these social and political rally points, the Left understands now that it is necessary to destroy the cultural foundations.  The modern Left tried working within the liberal system for decades, with only partial and limited success.  So long as they “played the game,” at least giving lip service support to the cultural underpinnings of American society, they could only get so far.  However, the modern American Left is impatient – they want to achieve in four decades what the European Left took one-and-a-half centuries to obtain.  To do this, they essentially have to blow up the system as it currently is and replace it with one that embodies all of the eventual values and goals they have sought all along.  Hence, the rapidly accelerating imposition of the social justice warrior (SJW) agenda.

I’ve noted before that SJWism is a form of cultural imperialism.  It essentially seeks to replace the traditional Anglo-American culture of the older (and whiter, more Christian) United States with an urbanised, homogenised, homosexualised, corporatist globalist culture preferred by the transnational cultural elites residing on both coasts.  To this end, racial and religious minorities are being employed as “useful idiot” change agents to introduce greater and greater instability into the American social system until it finally cracks and can be pushed over the energy hump toward the sort of system the progressive Left prefers.  Don’t think for a minute that the coastal Cathedral elites have any intention of actually living in Mexifornia or an Islamic theocracy – they don’t.  Once the usefulness of those groups has gone away, so will any pretention to power that they might hope to have.  They’re merely being used to dilute and discredit traditional Anglo Christian culture so that it can be replaced with SJWism.

This is why normie conservatives and so-called “civic” nationalists will never be able to grasp the true significance of the current iconoclasm, much less be able to actually combat it.  Many of these folks, by limiting themselves to purely legalistic questions of “paper citizenship,” do not even recognise that there is a problem.  They essentially accept the idea that traditional American culture needs to “evolve” and “more fully represent ‘all’ Americans,” thus seeing no reason to oppose “outdated relics” from America’s past.  When you’re relying on folks like Ben Shapiro and Dinesh D’Souza to be your vanguard, you’re not going be at all effective in preserving American traditional culture, and you may even be actively opposed to those who are trying.   The oft-remarked inability of American conservatism to actually conserve anything at all will simply be proven once again.

Iconoclasm is an anti-cultural act.  It is an anti-civilisational act.  It occurs when revolutionaries seek to steal legitimate power – political, religious, cultural, social – and redistribute it to themselves.  In the process, the culture of those whom they despise and oppose goes onto the chopping block.  That’s where we’re at right now.  The Leftists who profess themselves to “love America” are seeking to destroy everything that America is built upon.  What they seek to replace it with will be the sort of failed utopia which always characterises revolutionaries who reject human nature and the traditional, organic societies (which are often distinct from governments) which are build upon the natural expressions of that human nature.

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7 thoughts on “American Iconoclasm

  1. Great take on the question. I would also add the USA’s willful negligence regarding the assassination of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem.

    I would, however, dispute your imputation of “law and order, private property, free markets” as being essentially Anglo-Saxon, which they are not. Furthermore, the new rotten foundations that are to be imposed are also thoroughly white and European, although perhaps not Christian in any Chalcedonian, trinitarian and orthodox sense.

    Your emphasis on “Anglo-American” is also forced. Much of 19th century American politics was self-consciously Anglophobic — Henry Carey’s American System, James G. Blaine, Henry Cabot Lodge, etc. Particularly as it clashed to Latin American diplomacy and England’s perceived communications with the Confederacy by the Palmerston cabinet, though it did certainly give it belligerent status, and there were plenty of English blockade runners violating Lincoln’s Union blockade. Englishmen were not spared the opprobrium against “Hyphenated Americanism,” either. That’s not even getting into the interpretations of the American Revolution itself, which left a decisive anti-Toryism. Certainly, there was a racial continuity, but “Anglo-American culture” was more of a sentimental fiction than anything else — until now, it might finally become a reality thanks to both of them converging on SJWism!

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  2. Good post. We’re effectively at the point where we need to stop whining about the fact that the left has militias that hate the left but hate Western Civilization more, and figure out where the militias are that hate Western Civilization but hate the left more.

    Iconoclasm is a misnomer for the situation, though. Iconoclasm happens when both sides worship in the same ecclesia but disagree about how to honor the object of worship (specifically, how to avoid conflation of the symbol of the object with the object itself). What is happening here is what the U.N. calls “genocide”. Antiquity had another name, though: damnatio memoriae.

    I wrote out an over-long comment about the examples of actual (Christian) iconoclasm you cite; not only do I doubt this is the same as the Islamic phenomena, but I question many of the specifics you bring up and disagree strongly with your overall claim that the iconoclasm was a veil for ethnic conflict. I will spare you that preamble and skip to the conclusion:

    (a) It does sometimes occur that two factions within one culture fight over a concept whose nature entails that it can only have one meaning for that culture. Even if there is a strong “catalytic” tendency for these conflicts to become polarized along existing social divisions/tensions (class, regional, ethnic, functional, etc.), you can’t understand the conflicts if you don’t distinguish between warfare and civil strife.

    (b) I suspect the left’s hatred of civilization is actually multiple overlapping hatreds; Northeastern quasi-ethnonationalists who think they’re still at war with Dixie, “rootless cosmopolitans” of a certain type who want to tear down the cross, resentful misfits who hate success, various Euro-mutts whose grandparents’ tribal hostility was projected onto the enemies of the Democratic Party, plus of course the dusky militias who lump us in the House of War. (Likely there are many more.) This is a very difficult question, and I suspect it makes a big difference to metapolitical strategy, but it doesn’t really arise if you approach the topic assuming all iconoclasm is interethnic damnatio-memoriae tactics.

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