First statues, then people

We must stand up to the mob’s attempts to establish collective guilt.

Alexander Adams

Topics Politics UK USA

Like two generations of children schooled in the British education system, I came out of my history classes knowing more about Nazi Germany than my own country. While enlightening, the classes never cleared up an essential point. Every so often, as we studied the descent of Weimar Germany into totalitarian tyranny, one of us would sigh, roll our eyes and ask the teacher: ‘But why didn’t the normal people do something? Why didn’t they resist?’ The stab-in-the-back myth, the anti-Semitism and the demonisation of democracy all seemed transparent tactics to us. How could any educated person have believed them? Moreover, how could any moral person have collaborated?

In our youthful idealism, we scoffed at the idea that anyone in possession of courage or critical faculties would not have acted decisively against a rising tide of bigotry. This is also what we thought about the propaganda of Hutus against Tutsis, Bolsheviks against kulaks, Chinese communists against monks, Lebanese Islamists against Maronite Christians and Jews, French Catholics against Huguenots, and other cases of mass persecution. As schoolchildren, we blithely proclaimed we would have spoken up.

Yet here we are, engulfed in a wave of iconoclasm and (virtual) book burning, and how many of us have stood up against it? It is a situation into which we seemed to have sleepwalked. Daily, buildings are being stripped of their names, street signs are changed, plaques removed and portraits defaced. Famous and much-loved books and films are deleted from listings. Comedy series are being withdrawn.

This cancel culture (established by a moralising media and amplified by social media) also applies to people. Comedians, writers, actors and other public persons are being punished for acts which 10 or 20 years ago generated laughter, acclaim and money. We were complicit, but our complicity is not recorded. So, with a thrill of pleasure or a twinge of shame, we join in humiliating individuals. On their knees, they must apologise. And then the mob moves to its next victim.

This situation is supported by educators, activists, lobbyists and politicians, who think they can ride this tiger. Whole swathes of our population are denounced on the bases of ideological purity and a belief in collective racial guilt. For years, we have been casually trading in terms like toxic masculinity, implicit bias, white privilege, white fragility and internalised misogyny. These ideas are so widespread and rarely debunked that we accept such chimeras exist. These unverifiable accusations are used to halt discussions and end careers. These are the modern-day equivalents of political deviationism, treachery and sinful thought. We can never disprove these accusations. The best we can hope for is respite if we publicly apologise. But the threat of renewed shaming is ever present.

Yet this situation must be different. The current accusation is that white people are culpable for past slavery and live off the inherited spoils of imperialism. So, all white British people are guilty. Yet how can one demonise a group that comprises over 80 per cent of the entire population?

The answer is divide and rule. If you can establish the validity (or at least viability) of collective inherited guilt and then persuade part of this group to denounce another part of the group, one ends up with a minority group. Those of us who refuse to accept guilt for something our ancestors may (or may not) have done are branded as slavery apologists, racists and neo-imperialists. Never mind that we have publicly spoken up against slavery, racism and imperialism, if we refuse to kneel, we are an enemy to be humiliated, ostracised and driven from employment.

Remember that social justice is collective injustice. Actual justice is administered to individuals on the basis of their actions. Social justice is retributive punishment meted out by one party on another group to enact vengeance and express a nurtured grievance. This grievance will never be settled, merely used repeatedly and strategically. We must resist the idea of social justice and instead fight for actual justice, advocate tolerance and advance dialogue. If we dislike art or literature, we have a duty to preserve and criticise it, but preservation is necessary. We have no right to silence voices of the dead.

Denunciation societies function on the basis that one can only sustain one’s good standing by denouncing others. Attack is the best form of defence. You denounce deviationism in others; if you cannot find evidence, you invent it; eventually, accusations without evidence suffice to sustain the cycle of denunciation. A climate of fearful silence descends and no one stands up. After all, if it costs you a job it could cost your family its home. So you keep silent, lower your head and wish in your heart for freedom.

Before waves of action to remove the employment, rights, property and dignity of persecuted people comes years of animosity fostered through misuse of history and quasi-scientific theories. Then comes iconoclasm; then comes legal discrimination; then (though not always) comes blood. What we are experiencing now may not lead to bloodshed. Let us pray and act to prevent such an eventuality. We must act now to prevent escalation by ending the iconoclasm and public shaming. That includes ‘public acts of atonement’. Stand firm; say people (whatever their race, nationality or political beliefs) should not be forced or encouraged to supplicate.

It is shocking to realise that people we know and love believe in collective racial guilt and group punishment. Just so, it must have been awful for people of previous societies to realise their relatives and friends believed that certain groups were inherently tainted by past crimes. People genuinely believed that entire groups should suffer and their culture should be erased. They smashed statues with joy, believing they were doing good by cleansing.

One benefit has come from recent events. Our childhood questions are answered and we now know how nations can slide into firestorms of suspicion and denunciation.

Alexander Adams is an artist and writer. His book, Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism, is published by Societas. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Marvin Jones

24th June 2020 at 5:37 pm

For every statue these ignoramuses pull down, whatever colleges and education funding that are benefiting the people and the area must be abolished, and places like the Oxford College turned into hotels. That should teach them not to shit on their own doorstep.

Tony Benn

17th June 2020 at 1:39 pm

Collective guilt? These people must have no idea of history and what that brings.

James Knight

16th June 2020 at 3:06 pm

When everyone is guilty, nobody is guilty.

steve moxon

16th June 2020 at 3:04 pm

“What we are experiencing now may not lead to bloodshed”.
It is more than likely going to lead to bloodshed. The trajectory, which is going exponential, is in effect to re-enact the English Civil War.
We’re living through unprecedentedly all-encompasing and deep-seated hate-mongering; an extreme of extreme-ideological elitist-separatism by the Left, in what is the greatest political fraud in history.
This will have to be very strongly confronted — by whatever means become necessary.

Treacle Tart

16th June 2020 at 2:28 pm

This is worth watching. A BLM activist, interviewed on TV, doesn’t know who Churchill was and says that she “hasn’t personally met him”. In all this debate about our statues, it is useful to be reminded that this is the level of ignorance we are dealing with.

Vivian Darkbloom

16th June 2020 at 3:27 pm

“I haven’t personally met him.” Gawd help us all!

Treacle Tart

16th June 2020 at 3:39 pm

It would make a fascinating social experiment to corral the BLM protestors and set then a quiz. Who was Winston Churchill? What did Lincoln do to the slaves? What does the Cenotaph commemorate? Who was Gladstone? Who was Cecil Rhodes? Who was Sir Robert Peel? The results would make interesting reading. My guess is that the protestors know nothing whatsoever about the people to whose memorials to which they display such hatred.

Vivian Darkbloom

16th June 2020 at 4:32 pm

“Yeah, like, I know Churchill is a racist and he did something bad to the Germans, like killed loads of them and oppressed them.”


16th June 2020 at 6:24 pm

Churchill certainly helped kill a lot of Bengalis in the 1943 famine.

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

16th June 2020 at 11:54 am

So many fine, intelligent, humane and sensible comments. So little chance that these voices will turn the tide of mass hysteria overtaking the West. Our political class only wants to buy time by appeasing these insane lobbies, and will gladly deliver ordinary decent people into their merciless hands, just as long as they can remain in their elite positions. Its the easy option for them. They will re-baptise this mobocracy ‘democracy,’ probably in the blood of innocents, in the end. Indeed, their State police are already beginning to persecute those who want to call that government narrative a lie. Resisters are increasingly being made outlaws – non-persons, entirely disposable, without rights. Who of us has the kind of self-sacrificing courage to become a dead person walking in that ‘Army of the Shadows’ – the title of a disturbingly realistic French film by a member of that historical wartime Resistance – when we have no prospect whatsoever of seeing any invasion by sane people with powerful forces capable of helping our own Liberation? Does anyone expect the Americans to come to the aid of the ungrateful Europeans who lose no opportunity of insulting them? And will that kind of USA even survive it’s own ‘Democrat’ hysteria, anyway? We’d better learn how to pray, again, because only something like the Grace of God – dumb luck if you prefer – can possibly save us now.

Peter McKenna

16th June 2020 at 11:28 am

People would be more meaningful than statues. But *specific* people, not collective groups: it’s not difficult to follow the money that accrued from the Atlantic slave trade.

Often it is the specifically-privileged who push the idea of collective privilege, to mask and dilute their own very real privilege. Indeed, their targets for finger-waving are often the economically underprivileged.

L Strange

16th June 2020 at 12:38 pm

That’s a good point. Britain as a nation, a state, never owned slaves or dealt in slavery. It was a matter of private enterprise by individuals.

It was abolition and the enforcement of it that was a state undertaking.

Vivian Darkbloom

16th June 2020 at 2:45 pm

That’s a very good idea Peter. An inquiry into whether those in power who lecture us have profited from slavery in the past. Should yield some very interesting results.

Andrew Shaughnessy

16th June 2020 at 11:01 am

I find this whole idea of “collective racial guilt” very worrying. Isn’t that what the Roman Catholic Church used against the Jews for centuries?

Genghis Kant

16th June 2020 at 10:54 am

The only way to get the #toxicideology hashtag to trend is to convince the majority of people that the Left are not the good guys after all.


16th June 2020 at 11:24 am

Unfortunately you don’t need to be in the majority to start a war. The Nazis, Bolsheviks, Mao, Pol Pot etc were all put into power by a determined aggressive minority and the silent (timid) majority just go along for an easy life. Listen to Brigitte Gabriel in her response to a muslim arguing that the majority of muslims are good people –

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

16th June 2020 at 12:36 pm

Mere ‘trend’ won’t do it. This is the sort of Evil that only outrage can overcome. The present dialogue of the deaf will work no conversions. I’m not up for what it would take: I’m a physical coward, and I certainly can’t expect others to sacrifice themselves. Nonetheless, it is History that overtakes us all, at times like these. The sort of anger – much more primitive and potent than ‘trend’ – that is now building up underneath the brittle veneer of society, will inevitably break out in one of those great cataclysms that periodically shake our human world to its foundations. Events are certain to force the resolution of our irreconcilable disagreements through condign suffering. Once, one man sacrificed himself to redeem our fallible and morally failing human species; this time, it appears, it is the turn of humanity to be crucified in the cause of it’s own, ultimate, salvation. The Christ’s intuition, during his time of trouble and sorrow, was precisely that: ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ Terrible conflict and anguish is inevitable. It always was. That is our human tragedy. The West is just being shaken awake from it’s beautiful dream of Peace, to face again the utterly horrific reality of Life.

a watson

16th June 2020 at 9:40 am

Democracy in Britain has been undermined by incompetent and corrupt politicians, locally and nationally. This is especially true of the Labour Party who have stealthily silenced the white working class from their ranks. That betrayal has left many of us frustrated in having our opinions and desires being expressed democratically. Really nasty elements appear to be taking advantage of this democratic failure. A dangerous situation.

Claire D

16th June 2020 at 9:27 am

Excellent article.
There have been people willing to stand up to the iconoclasts. There was the group of MPs (Conservative) who posed in front of Churchill’s statue last week, a guard of scouts was put round Baden-Powell’s statue in Poole and more potently there was the crowd of army veterans and football supporters (+ a few boneheaded nazi saluters), ordinary British men and women who gathered to defend the statue, and berate the police, at the weekend. One brave woman screamed her resistance at thousands of BLMers on Saturday in Brighton so I’ve heard (it was’nt me). I think there’s plenty of genuine potential resistance simmering away on a visceral and emotional level, but is that enough ? It might be, we are leaving the EU after all, that was a bitter fight and it was won fair and square.

The majority of young people of all colours did not protest this weekend or the one before, too busy getting on with living their lives.

Flossy Morris

16th June 2020 at 7:54 am

David George and John Lewis mention in the comments the Holodmor in Ukraine in the early 1930s. If you haven’t read it, Red Famine by Anne Applebaum is a very insightful book. Not only, as they mention, was it a famine by design that killed around 3 million people with the intention of eradicating Ukraine and any consciousness of Ukrainian identity, it reveals the lengths to which people will go in the name of an ideology. Both of these things are truly frightening, but sadly no longer shocking. Not to me at least.

The main theme of the article is, as Dominic Straiton mentions, too, is the unwillingness of the opposing side (I suppose that means people like me) to speak up for fear of being the victim of a Maoist Struggle Session. If we’ve got the wrong skin pigmentation, we’re probably marked down on “the list” already, so logic would suggest we may have nothing to lose from speaking and challenging this madness, or at least less than we would if we remained silent or, worse still, repeated the “correct” truths that happen to be in vogue (“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?”)

Philip Humphrey

16th June 2020 at 10:26 am

Interesting to note that when Hitler invaded Ukraine in 1941, he could have turned it into a valuable ally, there was so much ill feeling against Stalin. Instead he brutally suppressed the Ukrainians and took their resources (exactly as Stalin had done) which probably contributed to his losing the war in the East.

Flossy Morris

16th June 2020 at 4:40 pm

That’s certainly true, Mr Humphrey. Obviously, that did not happen because of the prevailing thinking among the German elite, and I use the word “thinking” in its broadest terms. Hitler’s aim was to completely germanize the land and not even give the surviving Ukrainians the benefit of an education beyond reading road signs so they wouldn’t get run over by German vehicles. This was the tragedy of Ukraine: exchanging one set of tyrants for another and then back to the original ones, both of which brought unspeakable misery. Of course, Hitler’s crimes are much more known than the crimes of the communists. In fact, going back to Anne Applebaum’s book, contrary to what one may presume about German efficiency, the Russian genocide in Ukraine was much better organized than the murdering committed by the German occupiers.

It’s worth pointing out that extreme ideology can lead to horrific acts and it doesn’t matter if it is an ideology of the left or the right. If you were a business owner called Goldberg at that time, the Russian communists would have shot you because you were a capitalist exploiter and the Nazis would have shot you because you were a Jew. It would be a strange person, in my mind at least, who says “well, I don’t mind if the commies shoot me. At least it’s for progressive reasons”.
Violence is violence.
Tyranny is tyranny.
Murder is murder.

Dominic Straiton

16th June 2020 at 7:33 am

It all reminds me not of the American “culture war” but the Chinese Cultural revolution. Those demented people pushing a lump of metal into the harbour are no different to the maniacs destroying everything in their way while waving their red books. Today the Chinese are busy buying back their heritage abroad because they smashed up everything they had. Millions died. “Taking the knee” or wailing apologies wont help. Unless young people stand up to this ,its all over for the most tolerant society in human history.

Philip Humphrey

16th June 2020 at 10:29 am

Yes, shame they don’t teach what Mao and the Red Guards did in schools. “Woke” history will leave you none the wiser .

Mike Stallard

16th June 2020 at 7:28 am

Throughout History, over the entire planet, ever slavery has been taken entirely for granted.
It was Thomas Clarkson, from Wisbech, Cambs, a committed Christian who, with the Quakers and the help of his friend William Wilberforce, changed the public attitude by travelling thousands of miles on horseback speaking about it.

Now these ignorant, preening hypoocrites are giving us the blame for being racist and imperialist when it was us British who stamped it out throughout the world and brought in peace!

Linda Payne

16th June 2020 at 6:08 am

I’ve got an old LM article somewhere by J Bristow in which she writes of the dangers of taking the holocaust out of its political and social context that was written over 20 years ago. All this has been building up for years, these kids did not ‘educate’ themselves, the former generation did and so it goes on the indoctrination just continues and this is where it has led us to

Gareth Edward KING

16th June 2020 at 9:30 am

Linda, Tell me the issue if you would, I’ve got stacks of LM from the 90s here filed away. Thanks.

Linda Payne

16th June 2020 at 12:06 pm

LM97 page 34 ‘trivialising history’

Vivian Darkbloom

16th June 2020 at 1:39 am

A passionate piece. I don’t want to sound pessimistic though, but it might be too late. I would wager that the majority of people expressing these ideas are over 50. The young will sweep us away, as they have always done and always will. The young are full of conviction and the old full of doubt. I love JG Ballard but he wasn’t always right. “The future will be boring” was one of his aperçus, and that’s surely true when applied to the field of work, but just look around at the cultural, social, political strangeness to which we’ve been subjected, especially since the coronavirus crisis, and tell me you’re bored. Confused or scared more likely. This is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me and I’m a veteran of the rave scene! Not only a viral outbreak being used as a cover for oppressive control but a social upheaval to boot. I’m sick of it all and crave a quiet normal life but that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

Gareth Edward KING

16th June 2020 at 9:50 am

Vivian, Less of the pessimism! Come on! For example, in Madrid there are now demonstrations that’ve started being organised in Callao (central Madrid) against the ‘plandemia’ as they’ve put it. I’ve been in touch with the organisers. One of them recognises the ‘chavist’ and the ‘year zero’ elements in this dreadful government. Each country has its own story so obviously what happens in Spain would not necessarily apply to the UK, nor indeed to the USA. It’s curious what you say about Spiked readers being over 50. We were lucky in that we were at university before the ‘indoctrination’ began. I did my PGCE at Greenwich in 1992 which is curious because I realise now that that’s where I met Clare Fox. I knew her sister Fiona 1986-87. Anyway, at Greenwich I recall very well being pulled up by one of the lecturers (all undeniably PC) and getting the rest of the class to ‘sign’ an ‘agreement’ that included ‘not discussing certain subjects’ so that I’d shut up! The story’s in one of the LM issues from that ‘changeover decade’ that was the 1990s. Literally it was a ‘Maoist struggle session’!

Claire D

16th June 2020 at 11:13 am

Vivian, a bit of comfort; the over 50s are the biggest population group in the UK, are increasing at present and predicted to continue to do so.
The BLM protests in total across the UK involved approximately 160,000 over the first weekend. There are well over 10 million 18 – 30 year olds of all colours who were not there.
I realise this is only part of the story but it’s an important part. The media thrives on dramatic happenings but life, for most of us, continues in a quieter way, and it’s up to us to pass on what’s important to the steadier ones. As well as continue to argue with the vociferous ones.
It’s not over yet.

Vivian Darkbloom

16th June 2020 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for that reminder of reality, Claire. I keep forgetting the huge numbers of people not involved in this madness. Because we live near Parliament Square I suppose I’ve overestimated the numbers concerned; not surprising as we’ve had marchers outside our flats, riot police and dog units chasing suspects, sirens, helicopters, etc. It’s tiring and quite frightening at times. On top of lockdown it sometimes feels as if we’ve slipped into an alternate dystopian reality.

It’s increasingly hard to feel optimistic, especially as the MSM are belatedly waking up to the economic damage and social harm. Still, I must retain some degree of optimism, at least for the sake of my family. Thanks again for your sensible comment.

David George

16th June 2020 at 1:39 am

One of the most awful elements, I think, is the idea that individuals should be defined in terms of their group identity at all. This is one of these weird inversions that’s so characteristic of this chaotic state that we’re in.

When people originally started fighting against unfair discrimination… the initial idea was to eliminate the proclivity for people to be categorized according to their group identity, because that was interfering with everyone’s ability to view them as competent individuals. But that got flipped, probably in the 70s after the Soviet state so self-evidently was revealed as a catastrophe. That got flipped so that the world was turned into one group against another—a power struggle from one group against another. And then the social justice warrior types and the lefties, even the Democratic Party, started categorizing everyone according to their ethnic or sexual or racial identity, and made that the canonical element of their being.

That’s an absolutely terrible thing to do. In the Soviet Union when that happened, they introduced that idea along with the notion of “class guilt.” So, for example, when the Soviets collectivized the farms, they pretty much wiped out or raped and froze to death all of their competent farmers. They called them “kulaks,” and they attributed class guilt to them because they were successful peasants, and they defined their success as oppression and theft. They killed all of them, pretty much—shipped them off to Siberia and froze them to death. And they were the productive agriculturalists in the Soviet Union. And then in the 1930s in the Ukraine, because of that, about 6 million Ukrainians starved to death. The Soviets were big on collective guilt.

And all of these things you hear about now, like “white privilege” for example, are variants of collective guilt. I pick your bloody identity, whatever it happens to be, and then I make you a guilty member of that category, and then you and the rest of the guilty members of that category are judged as a unit. It’s murderous, pushed to its extreme. And we’ve seen that many, many times.
Dr. Jordan Peterson.

David George

16th June 2020 at 1:45 am

When you are judged guilty because of some aspect of your identity, your genetics, there is no path to redemption. No amount of taking the knee, no sobbing apology will suffice. You really have no choice as to which side to take, it’s been decided by your ethnicity.
God help us if this continues to unfold as it is.

John Lewis

16th June 2020 at 6:49 am

I hate to argue with Dr Peterson but the Ukraine famine or Holodomor was an act of deliberate genocide by Stalin which resulted in approx 3.5 million deaths. Removal of the kulaks was only a minor contributory factor, the main reason was that most of the available food was deliberately shipped out to other regions in order to starve the population and crush any idea of Ukraine gaining independence.

Mike Stallard

16th June 2020 at 8:40 am

But the tractor production figures in the Ukraine were constantly on the increase!

George Whale

16th June 2020 at 12:54 am

For all the criticism of Saturday’s ‘drunken hooligans’, those men were out there expressing their opposition, as were many more sober, dignified protesters.

I believe we would not be in this dire state if educated, middle class people – those best able to lead, organise and communicate – had not left it to the poorest sections of society to carry the fight.

Previous generations risked their lives in defence of freedom. By comparison, losing a job or a few fair weather friends is insignificant.

We really need to grow a backbone.

Mike Stallard

16th June 2020 at 8:43 am

By sacking all the Pale, Male and Stale experts we have got people in who have’nt got a clue, who chicken out and who love to obey and grumble. It was pale, Male and Stale people who ruled us when we were still a proud, great people. Now that is WRONG. Wrong. WRONG. Got it?

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