More ludicrous erasure: students at Brown demand removal of two Roman statues, while students at UW Madison vote to remove Lincoln statue

October 28, 2020 • 10:15 am

At Brown University there are two bronze copies of statues of Roman emperors. One is of Marcus Aurelius:

. . . and the other is of Caesar Augustus (sources of both photos, and a discussion of the statues’ history, are here)

Well, all statues these days are subject to intense scrutiny, and a group of 6 students representing “Decolonization at Brown” (endorsed by 28 student organizations at the University, including the Brown Birding Club), wrote a petition/letter at the Blogonian—an independent student newspaper at Brown University—about the two monuments. The students and groups strongly assert that the two statues are harmful because they exemplify white supremacy and values and thus are offensive to students of color. They have to come down!

Read (click on screenshot) and weep:

What’s telling about all the beefing is that the claim that the statues symbolize colonialism and white supremacy, and were put up to show that Brown was trying to inculcate its students with whiteness, are not based on fact, but on student offense. There’s no record of anything intentions to codify white supremacy. Rather, the statues were clearly erected to symbolize Rome as an antecedent of Western culture and philosophy.  Some quotes from the beef above:

Last spring, Brown’s Public Art Committee proposed to restore and relocate the bronze copy of a Roman statue of Augustus, which currently stands in front of the Ratty, using tens of thousands of dollars solicited from an unnamed donor. Under this proposal, the statue would be moved to the Quiet Green, across from the Slavery Memorial.

We strongly oppose this proposal and urge the Public Art Committee—and any community members or donors who are invested in the role of public art at Brown—to replace both the statue of Augustus and the statue of Marcus Aurelius (currently on Ruth Simmons Quad) with new works of art commissioned from local Black and Indigenous artists.

These monuments were brought to our campus with the goal of upholding the ideals of the “perfect” white form, white civilization, white supremacy, and colonialism—ideas that we believe are incompatible with Brown today. Consequently, removing and replacing these statues is a crucial step in confronting such legacies. We see this as a moment of immense opportunity for transformation and reflection, and we hope that the broader campus community, the Public Art Committee, and potential donors will, too.

It goes on and on like this; the language is by now very familiar:

Because they are not actually from ancient Rome, we must understand them as modern monuments to a set of values and political stances which existed when they were commissioned for Brown’s campus.

. . . The connection between the U.S. and Rome is entirely ideological. There is no natural or direct tie between the two—there is only a fabricated lineage of whiteness. Statues made in the Roman-style, like the two at Brown, are intended to materialize this connection. They convey the supposed supremacy of white values over non-white cultures, a reading in which non-white people should learn and aspire to whiteness. Alt-right groups, like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa, use this idea of “white virtue” to ground white supremacy.

. . . To the significant number of students, staff, and faculty at Brown today who are not white, these statues function as a constant reminder that Black, Indigenous, and people of color are not included within Brown’s conception of the University community. The presence of these statues is therefore not only incompatible with, but violates Brown’s stated commitment to inclusion, equity, and change.

The authors and supporting organizations call for the complete removal of the statues.

I deny, first of all, that these statues are harmful, or that any students genuinely feel offended by them (there’s also an antiracist monument calling attention to Brown’s involvement in slavery). The offended, I argue are pretending to be offended, using offense as a means of asserting power—of making the campus do what they want. If these statues are removed because Rome engaged in expansion, well, let’s just write off every monument to Greece and Rome, both bellicose empires, but also empires that helped form the ideals of the West. And why not expunge all Roman and Greek writing from the curriculum as well?

At least one student— a woman of color—has pushed back in an article at the Brown Daily Herald, another student newspaper. While Bhaskar could use some lessons in how to write more simply (I’d recommend her reading Strunk and White or Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”), she does make the point that what goes for statues can also go for curricula. After all, if a Roman statue is offensive, what’s to ensure that readings of Roman and Greek thinkers won’t be expunged, too? No more Meditations of Marcus Aurelius the Colonizer and White Supremacist.

A quote from Bhaskar:

Now, more than ever, the world needs graduates and scholars who are able to recognize the many intricacies and layers of the past and who can use this multifaceted knowledge to consume historical and artistic vestiges of the past with intentionality and a capacity to use such lessons to guide progress. The University must move beyond tendencies to censor “uncomfortable” or “controversial” topics that fail to echo the outspoken post-modernist and left-leaning images associated with Brown in favour of upholding the tenets of free inquiry and the preservation of nuance within the exploration of historical relics. Outlining tangible steps for creating robust anti-racist curricula, while equipping students with the patience, wisdom, and skill-set to grapple with uncomfortable realities and relics of the past, is crucial for the University to uphold its mission of “communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.”

There’s one student who’s much wiser and more thoughtful than the many who have a kneejerk reaction to classical statues as symbols of “white supremacy.”

Meanwhile, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in front of the administration building atop a hill. I saw this when I visited Madison to speak at the FFRF:

Well, Lincoln is in bad odor, too, these days. Lincoln! The man who fought a war against those who wished to preserve slavery, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation! Why Lincoln? Well, read and weep again:

A group of students are calling for the removal of the Abraham Lincoln statue at the top of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

This comes after protesters took down two statues on the state Capitol grounds: one embodying the state’s motto “Forward” and another of Civil War Union Army Col. Hans Christian Heg. The students say despite the former president’s role in the abolition of slavery, he had a racist past in supporting the notion of a “superior” white race.

“I just think he did, you know, some good things…the bad things that he’s done definitely outweighs them,” Nalah McWhorter, president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, told the Badger Herald.

Lincoln was memorialized on the university campus for his role in creating land grant universities, of which UW-Madison is one. The land for the campuses was largely seized from Native American tribes in 1862 through the Morrill Act. Lincoln also ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men that same year.

The students say the sum of the former president’s actions warrant taking down the statue.

“And I do want the 100% removal of the statue. I don’t want it to be moved somewhere or anything like that. I want it removed,” McWhorter said.

And on what basis did “the bad things Lincoln did definitely outweight the good ones”? Does Ms. McWhorter know how many lives were saved or made better by the ending of slavery in America? Yes, Lincoln did order the execution of 38 Dakota tribesmen who killed settlers and soldiers, but he also commuted the death sentences of many more of the convicted. But against that we must measure Lincoln’s legacy, and I can’t imagine what kind of mind would decide that Lincoln caused more harm than good. Again, I assert that this is faux outrage disguising an attempt to get power over a university. Removing a statue of Lincoln, or of Roman emperors, will do exactly nothing to ameliorate racism or better the opportunities for minorities.

In fact, following a student petition with many demands, the first of which was to remove the Lincoln statue (it also demanded the abolition of the campus police), a resolution was brought before the student government demanding attention to BIPOC demands, including doing something about the Lincoln statue, one of the “remnants of this school’s history of white supremacy.” According to Campus Reform, a right-wing site, the student government passed that resolution unanimously.

I don’t know what’s worse: these student demands to remove statues that not only honor great men, but remind us of history, or the pusillanimous administrators who bow to those demands. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is a welcome exception, but after the students and African-American Studies Department castigated Schapiro’s hard-nosed response to defund-the-cops protestors, he’s showing signs of caving.

For those who think that all this madness will end when Biden is elected, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The students have had a taste of power, and they won’t stop until they’re running the asylum.

60 thoughts on “More ludicrous erasure: students at Brown demand removal of two Roman statues, while students at UW Madison vote to remove Lincoln statue

  1. Yes, there is no slippery slope; it’s a waterslide. We already know that the Wokiees are committed to “decolonizing” everything. Truth is just another aspect of white supremacy.

      1. Mussolini called Mickey Mouse “the most miserable ideal ever created. Mice are dirty.” He was a fan of Popeye, however.

        As long as we are banning symbols of colonialism, are we going to ban any statues of Hispanics from Latin America? They stole the land from indigenous people.

  2. Important footnote or asterisk — the “McWhorter” is not John McWhorter — I had to read that twice to snap out of it.

  3. I think the pusillanimous administrators who bow to those demands are worse.. . I just can’t… This is so depressing.

    1. “I don’t know what’s worse: these student demands to remove statues that not only honor great men, but remind us of history, or the pusillanimous administrators who bow to those demands.”
      I hope you used that ‘I don’t know what’s worse’ as a way of speaking. I’m sure you think these administrators are worse (at least I do). These students are youngsters, barely out of puberty, with very ‘influenceable’, often wild ideas and goals, while the administrators are supposed to know better, have a more matured view of things.

    1. I should think a former governor like Thompson would be less reticent about throwing his weight around than an academic bureaucrat who came up through the ranks.

      If I’m recalling correctly, during the rough and tumble of his political career, Thompson was given to the occasional gaffe, but rarely shy about sharing his opinions. 🙂

    2. I wish President Thompson all the luck in the world combatting these self-righteous fools. He’ll need it.

  4. I would not think that Biden’s election would have anything to do with this. These children live on another planet not connected to this country’s own history or people. The only thing to be said is they are dead wrong and apparently have no business studying history in the first place. Without Lincoln, or Washington for that matter, it is doubtful if we would even have a country. If the children do not know this, I certainly cannot help them.

    1. We have seen how effective Trump was at countering wokeness during the last four years, i.e. not at all. The notion that presidents control popular culture is a bit daft. They also don’t control what kind of music people listen to or what kind of hair styles people wear.

  5. Did Lincoln make what by today’s standards would be considered racist pronouncements? Yes. Did he for most of his career support the idea of colonization, the proposal to ship freed blacks out of the country? Yes. Did he believe prior to the war that the federal government had no power to interfere with slavery in the states that it already existed? Yes. But, let’s consider what he did when he attained the presidency.

    First, he ordered the used of armed force to oppose secession. It is not at all certain that any of the other major political figures of the times that could conceivably have become president in 1861, including his Republican rivals for the nomination in 1860, would have done this. Thus, it is probable that if it were not for Lincoln, an independent slave republic of at least seven states would have come into existence. How long slavery would have continued to exist in this new country is anyone’s guess, but probably at least for 50 years. After that, probably some sort of apartheid system would have been initiated. In addition, slavery would have remained legal in those slave states that had not seceded.

    Second, Lincoln continued the war even when things were going badly for the Union. If, in fact, another president was in command and surprisingly had resisted secession by using force may very well have thrown in the towel.

    Third, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and then supported the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery. We cannot be at all sure that any other president would have issued an Emancipation Proclamation.

    The ignorant protestors have no idea what this country may have turned out to be if it were not for Lincoln. As all extremists of whatever ilk, they exhibit a common trait: the demand for purity. And, in Lincoln’s case, they probably do not realize how he evolved over the years.

    1. The execution of the Dakota in Mankato was a tragedy, but the student’s summary (ordered execution of 38) perhaps typifies the attitude and ignorance of this group. Lincoln personally reviewed the trial transcripts of over 300 who were condemned to death, and personally saved 264 of them, plus one more at the last minute. And that during the midst of the Civil War.

      1. The Indians apparently revolted after the US [Lincoln?] failed to meet its treaty obligations to supply food and left the them — men, women, and children –to starve overwinter on their reservations. Only one indigenous group rebelled, but afterwards Minnesota kicked all off their treaty-guaranteed reservations and deported them to the Dakotas. [This is what I remember offhand of the case, and I may not be entirely accurate] During the Civil War, federally backed railroad construction linking the East to California, with the coming ethnic cleansing of the Great Plains Natives it implied, never ceased.

    2. One of the few good things you can say about the Civil War is that it ended slavery, the Union, as a abstract entity, survived, and Lincoln was never able to put into action his deportation (resettlement) plan for Black people. This course of events was largely due to Lincoln’s incompetency. What can you say of a war in which one young soldier died for each 5 slaves freed? It could have been done better. Much better.

      1. His deportation plan? The fact that Lincoln was once in favor of that, as were millions of other people back then, does not in any way mean it was his plan. Thomas Jefferson had the same idea many years before Lincoln. To say Lincoln was incompetent kind of puts up forward as a southern boy? That is where most of that comes from along with the lost cause.

      2. From the 1850s, Lincoln was called an abolitionist by a number of people. The deportation plan was proposed by various individuals in differing iterations, not exclusively by Lincoln. All the issues surrounding slavery and the Civil War were extremely complex, with no easy solution.

        Prior to announcing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln tried to get the northern states to each come up with their own plan for resolution of the slavery issue. They didn’t do it. When a comparatively positive point was reached in the war, he gave the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all the slaves in the Confederacy.

        We have fought this war ever since it happened with lots of second guessing. Had any of us been there, I doubt whether we could have handled this enormously complex
        set of issues better than Lincoln did.

      3. If Lincoln could have taken steps to prevent the Civil War, then yes you have a point.

        I’d like to hear you flesh that out (or at least point to some sources that do).

        A good argument demonstrating that Lincoln’s incompetence led to the Civil War would be something that would greatly diminish him in my opinion, and then I could start to entertain arguments to lower his standing in history.

  6. “If these statues are removed because Rome engaged in expansion, well, let’s just write off every monument to Greece and Rome, both bellicose empires, but also empires that helped form the ideals of the West.”

    And basically every other empire and most countries throughout history, including the African, Middle Eastern, Asian, etc., which also engaged in widespread slavery. Heck, even most Native American tribes were “expansionist,” fighting each other for land and enslaving those from other tribes long before Europeans arrived on the scene. But, somehow, I have a feeling that none of the aforementioned empires and tribes will receive the same opprobrium.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure eg. the Comanche ’empire’ leaders would be flattered and cheer with joy in agreement to be called ‘oppressed’.
      Yes, there is no empire possible without war and oppression, and ’empires’, big or small, are found all over the place.

    1. Marcus Aurelius is a personal hero to me. His writings have helped me a better person in many ways, from handling hardships to increasing my ability for critical thinking.

    2. Indeed, and one just has to read his Meditations to know he was a thoughtful, empathetic, self-conscious and “good” man, trying to become better. But to even try and judge an ancient human from 2,000 years ago is the height of folly. While there at it, these students might as well call for the cancelling of god- he loved slavery and murder and oppression; after all, it was god and the bible that affirmed whites and the West were supreme and should rule the world.

      1. And they’d better cancel themselves, while they’re at it, just to save time later, since none of them have achieved “purity” by any kind of definition they might choose, it’s almost a mathematical certainty.

        1. Instead they choose the cosmetic option: go after statues and stage useless campaigns whose only aim is to give them an air of moral purity they will never really have.

          To live in America and prosper here means accepting a degree of moral impurity, given our nation’s history. That doesn’t mean complacency, and we can all take steps to better the lives of African and Native Americans. But throwing tantrums about statues of Lincoln isn’t one of them. This would be a wonderful time for the University’s History department to school those misguided children.

        2. Well, isn’t that what they are actually doing? Any deviation from the orthodoxy of the day is punished.
          I agree about Marcus Aurelius, as good an emperor as they get.

      2. I’ve thought about the cancelling of God thing before. It seems like a logical (!?) extension of their thinking but I don’t think it’ll happen. Cancelling God would offend to many POC, especially those of faiths with a demonstrated willingness to use deadly violence against wrongdoers.

        No way the Woke are ready to take on the true believers.

    3. The students demanding that the statue of Marcus Aurelius be removed clearly know nothing about him. If they want to decolonize somewhere maybe they should leave the US, which would at least be a practical and principled step – or isn’t that how this stuff works? (Full disclosure: I am one of the members of staff of Marcus Clawrelius, so I could be considered to have a … er… cat in this fight!)

  7. In my day, the normal activity for campus pranksters was raiding the girls’ dorms, or decorating statues without regard to who they depicted. But in those days, nobody expected the administration to bow down before the pranks. Nowadays, similar campus escapades need only dress up as “decolonization” in order to secure a near-official halo. Our host correctly understands that the present escapades are also meant to exercise power, which makes them potentially a little more worrisome than their prank predecessors.

    They also reflect the woke undercurrent of resentment against the entirety of European civilization. That civilization includes, among other things, freethinking, the Enlightenment, experimental science, the principles of democratic government, and little things like the students’ cars, bicycles, and telephones. Before long, we may expect student demands to “decolonize” not only history and language, but also transportation, electricity, and medical practice.

  8. Is “wokism” a special American thing?

    I don’t see much of it here (Netherlands).

    There is some discussion about statues and street names honouring bad guys (e.g. there is a former national hero called J.P. Coen, who had about 15,000 people massacred because they did not want to give him a nutmeg monopoly).

    But -aside from some occasional fringe views- the discussion is pretty reasonable: should we add a plaque detailing what he did, or move him to a museum, that sort of thing.

    I haven’t heard calls to remove books from libraries. Also trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces are unknown here (AFAIK).

    Maybe people from other parts of the world can weigh in.

    1. Nope, Dick. Iceland: I quote, “(The Centre for Capacity Development, Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Societal Change) is primarily funded by the Icelandic government, as part of the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs development assistance plan. It operates under the auspices of UNESCO as a category 2 centre, aligning the fields of specialisation in teaching and research and contributing to the implementation of UNESCO’s strategic programme objectives.”

      It has 3 development programmes that you could almost guess at for Iceland: Geothermal Training, Fisheries Training and Land Restoration Training. Oh, and one more, the runt in the litter. Gender Equality Studies and Training. In case you need to spot the racists on the cod trawler. Intolerably smug and sanctimonious mind-readers and excommunicationists: everything you could guess about them is true.

  9. I know it is not really about facts but power, with these people, but wait until they hear about the Spanish, Arabian and North African emperors of Rome. 5 Spanish emperors, I think. Not so much Latinx as Latinv.

    The closest I have ever found of what we moderns would call ‘racism’ is this interesting quote on wet-nurses from the C2nd CE.

    “What the mischief, then, is the reason for corrupting the nobility of body and mind of a newly born human being, formed from gifted seeds, by the alien and degenerate nourishment of another’s milk? Especially if she whom you employ to furnish the milk is either a slave or of servile origin and, as usually happens, of a foreign and barbarous nation, if she is dishonest, ugly, unchaste and a wine-bibber; for as a rule anyone who has milk at the time is employed and no distinction made.” (Favorinus in Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 12.1.17).

    1. There were three emperors off Hispanic origin: Trajan, Hadrian and Theodosius the Great. Septimius Severus originated from North Africa. Elagabalus hailed from Syrian parents. And Philip the Arab was born in what is today Shahba, Syria.

      Just to name a few non-Roman, non-Italian and, maybe, PoC emperors. 🙂

      1. On top of that, the Egypt that Rome conquered was ruled by the Ptolemaic empire – white Greeks, basically.

        You look at the track of Roman conquests, and most of that land area is land from which the colonial powers of the later 15th-18th centuries arose. They conquered the very people the wokies complain about being in power.

        1. Regardless of what nationality was ruling Egypt at whatever time, the people were Egyptian and of many derivations. Without taking the time to go look for the specific period involved, the southern half of Egypt was once Kush or Nubia and Black. Maybe Black statues should be removed also. All or none.

          Given the fact that history has usually been told by the so-called victors and that history is routinely modified to meet the needs of current times, one not only needs to study recent history, but a very broad swathe of history, to get a better sense of what may really have happened. For example: we are given the impression that Africa has always been very primitive, but there were some very important highly civilized, intellectual and wealthy cultures in Africa. And, the Chinese haven’t always been reclusive. Once upon a time, they had the best seafaring navy in the world with highly designed, huge ships. They conducted trade as far away as Africa. And, although, Genghis Khan and bunch were murderous barbarians (as were many others of that time), they were admirable governors accepting beneficial elements from throughout the territories they ruled.

          For the most part, the “woke” not only do not know ancient history but, don’t know the reality of their own time.

          1. Rowena, Kraeurterbutter and Eric. If you are interested, I’ve done a week of a MOOC by FutureLearn called ‘Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city’ by Prof. Matthew Nicholls of the University of Reading and so far it is stellar.
            He has created a digital 3D reconstruction of Rome in the C4th CE. He really knows his onions.
            In my experience, MOOCs are either really good or really bad: this looks to be one of the great ones. I recommend it.

  10. What irks me the most at a personal level is the attitude of the demanding individuals. “And I do want the 100% removal of the statue. I don’t want it to be moved somewhere or anything like that. I want it removed.”

    I’d be inclined to respond the way I did to my kids when they were very young and slipped into such language, by sayin, “Oh, this is fun. I want…a pony…and I want…world peace…and I want…a unicorn…and I want…a trip to Paris…”

    It’s astounding how entitled and privileged these students are.

  11. The WOKE need to stop this piddling protesting of a few statues. Being committed to “decolonizing”, they should commit themselves to decolonizing America! Namely, they should remove themselves and all other non-Native Americans from the land that was clearly stolen.

    1. Ah, but that would seriously impact their class and cultural privileges! University students at good schools are rather slow in giving those up. They would rather engage in pointless gestures of moral vanity.

  12. “… no record of anything intentions to codify …”

    “the bad things Lincoln did definitely outweight the good ones”?

    [the “t” is not standard, but may have been intentional]

  13. I attended Gonzaga University. There you’ll find a statue of one of the school’s more famous alum, Bing Crosby.

    How long before students realize his recording of “White Christmas” is a clarion call to racial supremacy and demand its removal?

  14. Rare is the individual who exceeds the limits of his or her time. Those that do, aren’t likely to accomplish this feat in every endeavor or aspect of their lives. That’s probably a good thing because total outliers generally run afoul of the masses before too long. And even if they were, it’s likely that even their more enlightened baseline would fall short of the norms of some future time. But these incursions beyond the boundaries of the status quo are where progress begins. The heroes of enlightenment are those that moved the boundaries forward – not the current generation of the woke who denigrate anyone who falls short of modern perspective. Moving the needle forward is heroic – even if you don’t completely exceed the limits of your contemporary programming. Our secular heroes are incrementalists. Celebrate that instead of tearing down their legacy because they weren’t born of your time and didn’t start with your advantages.

  15. Jerry, how dare you write this in the oppressive letters of the latin alphabet?! I am so offended!
    Actually I am offended by the ruddy Romans, but this is getting into Life of Brian territory!

    Interested to hear what WEIT readers think to this – were the Roman models for the American republic not Republican Romans, rather than these two emperors? Consider all the early leaders if the revolt – my guess is their models were Cicero & his ilk?

    The first memorial statues in St Paul’s Cathedral under the dome, include John Howard the prison reformer, & a rather awkward looking Sam Johnson depicted as Romans, I would say as republicans… I wonder if as the 19th century progressed, imperial Rome became more important as a model for both British & American empires?

  16. The effort to remove the statues of Roman emperors reminds me of the fire of Notre Dame a few years ago. There were a lot of posts by SJWs on social media asking why they should care about a building built “on black bodies.” They had to be educated that 12th Century France didn’t have black slaves. Do these college students think that all of the Roman slaves were African?

    1. The SJW posters were undoubtedly unaware that Notre Dame cathedral is in a place called Paris, which is not in the USA. You can’t expect avid students of Critical Theory to know every little thing.

      1. Recently saw something claiming The Lord of the Rings was racist because Tolkien wrote it in an environment of Jim Crow. It had to be explained to her that the UK never had Jim Crow laws. SJWs are extremely Americancentric.

  17. I think theres a relativism or assumed equivalence at play in these phenomena. A notion that nations, states, etc. of any sort are equivalent – relativism. Forgive my weak knowledge on these examples, but tribes, nomads, “city states”, constitutional republics, communist regimes – the only reason any one stands is relative, and the same country could be based on a different type of nation if only for the “race” of those in the executive roles.

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