Hudson Institute fellow Arthur Herman wants you to know that Confederate monuments aren’t really racist. “If they come down now under violent pressure from the Left, we may be losing a lot more than statues of dead Confederate heroes,” he writes in National Review.
Herman manages to hit every Dunning School canard possible in his defense of the monuments. Confederates weren’t traitors; they fought heroically for their cause; Robert E. Lee was a noble man who wanted peace. “First of all, these are not ‘Confederate monuments.’ They are monuments to the dead, soldiers who fought and often died for the Confederate cause,” he writes. “In the final analysis, they are monuments to timeless virtues, not to individuals.”
Any honest white Southerner will tell you that this revisionism persists because their peers do not want to tell the truth. White supremacists, however, are happy to do it. They know that the story of the Confederacy is a story about slavery. Racism taints Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and every other Confederate officer; white supremacists understand, correctly, the real legacies of these men. They celebrate this truth while many white Southerners pretend it does not exist—and while many non-Southern whites back up their revisionist nostalgia.
Herman’s apologia is not original. I have heard versions of it my whole life. But there can be no absolution for the Confederacy. There should only be justice, though it is too late and too inadequate. So take down the statues. Rename the roads, the buildings, the schools. The South’s only monuments should be monuments to its victims. And this is only an initial step. We can take down every Confederate memorial in the country and we will not end racism or resolve racial inequalities. The latter goal is part of a broader political project that conservatives like Herman oppose:
This is in fact the best argument that those who want these statues gone can make: that the “reconciliation” between North and South was done on the backs of blacks, and that the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow were the price America paid to have peace in the aftermath of civil war. From a historical point of view, it’s almost convincing, even though what American blacks suffered under segregation was nothing compared to what liberalism has inflicted on them since the 1950s, as it destroyed their families, their schools, and their young men and women’s lives through drugs and guns and the gangster-rap culture “lifestyle,” which is really a death style.
Herman may as well write “WELFARE QUEENS” in bright red text. But we can’t eliminate the racial wealth gap without redistribution. We can’t eliminate the racial health gap without universal health care. We won’t reach educational parity without adequately funded public schools and accessible higher education. We need policing reform, sentencing reform, and the reversal of the Republican Party’s voter suppression campaign. We need, in short, to wage total ideological war on nearly every policy legacy of the conservative movement if we’re to achieve racial justice in the United States. National Review just reminded us why.