With the current “War on Monuments” just getting underway, new and lucrative jobs will be coming up soon, for example, for good stone masons and foundry workers.
After all, what is going to replace all the well-crafted monuments in the public squares of nearly every town in the country that may soon get torn down? Surely, these century-old town squares can’t be left empty, devoid of any visible memorials to the new age of revisionist thinking!
How about novel monuments extolling the virtues and inventors of modern windmills, solar panels, electric cars, computer chips, cell-phones, “alternative energy,” and so on?
Clearly, the modern version of the “Bildersturm” also needs novel icons of its own.
Bildersturm-II, the coming and going of statuesAs you may have learned from recent media reports, there is a new mood in town—out with the old—and in with the new (if such exist), statues that is.
From the Carolinas to Nova Scotia (Canada), some folks think that history can be re-written by tearing down statues of people whose actions may have had a significant influence on the historic developments in their era and locale.
A few days ago, in Charlottesville, NC, the statue of General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) came to be a focal point for resistance. In Halifax (NS, Canada), the statue of Edward Cornwallis (1713-1776) is currently another bone of contention, and also this week in Durham, NC, even a Statue of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating the Confederate Civil War soldiers was torn down.
How will such current events look from the future historians` view, many years from now?
It all is reminiscent of a period of time, some four to five hundred years ago in Europe, when the Bildersturm (a German term, meaning “image/statue storm”) took place. People tore down and destroyed paintings and statues of former times, primarily in public places and churches, only to be replaced with nothing, except, (perhaps), with white-washed walls.
That whole Bildersturm period lasted about one hundred years before it had run its course over much of Europe. It destroyed countless artistic works that are gone forever.
Today`s historians call the period the Iconoclastic Fury.
It wasn’t just paintings that were destroyed then; rather whole edifices were razed in the 1500s. Those statues and whole buildings were not simply moved and relegated to a backyard, but destroyed wholesale, to be gone for good.Of course, there are some modern day equivalents to that period already. Recent iconoclastic furies are known from various places. Just think of ISIS’/ISIL’s destruction of the ancient temples and artifacts in Iraq. Or remember the Taliban destroying ancient Buddha statues carved into a mountain side in Afghanistan some years ago?
When all that medieval fury ran out of any raison d’être, i.e., there was nothing left to destroy, that period too, ended with a whimper—and a great new beginning—the Renaissance. That, in turn led to the Age of Enlightenment that influenced Thomas Jefferson’s work on the Declaration of Independence (1776) and James Madison’s contribution to the U.S. Constitution during its framing in 1787.
Both the Bildersturm and Renaissance periods did away with much—let me call it—“superfluous” stuff that came into being during the then prior centuries. Neither the artistic objects nor the intellectual ideas of the time were superfluous by themselves. What was superfluous and detrimental to true progress were the entrenched powers of the earlier days. These powers simply could not accept any thoughts that may have curtailed their lock on authority.
You may recall the then prevailing (and Vatican prescribed) world view of the Earth being the center of the solar system. Just think of poor Galileo (1564-1642)—and he was lucky (by getting away with the punishment of house arrest for the remainder of his life) for his then “heretic” findings. Others of his time were less fortunate, being tortured, burned at the stake, or whatever the punishment was. At least, Galileo was exonerated by the Vatican, though only a few centuries later.
Unfortunately, anything that claims to be novel and “inconvenient” is in all likelihood just more of the same, the entrenched powers in new “clothes”—don’t fall for it (again).
In history nothing ever appears to be entirely new. As some historians and philosophers have noted, already for millennia, history keeps repeating. For example, Pearl S. Buck’s novel Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China, a history of Tzu Hsi (1861-1908) shows that re-writings of history were common throughout. Tzu’s “good friend” was both celebrated and expunged from the history records of the country—repeatedly.
How do the recent Bildersturm-II events at Charlottesville, Durham, and elsewhere relate to history? The details really don’t matter. In my thinking, for any country to destroy symbols of historic reference (as opposed to reverence) is a permanent loss. Would Egypt now have to destroy their “World Wonder,” the Great Pyramids of Giza?
Indeed, as President Trump has rightly asked “Where does it stop?” Statues have come and gone all over but, throughout the world, the history never changed. Trying to look ahead, the new Bildersturm has yet to run its course; perhaps, it has not even hit its crescendo.
In either case, you may want to hone your stone masonry and foundry skills.
Editor’s Note. Thanks much for the historical perspective, Dr. Kaiser. Let’s hope that cool heads prevail, and this current wave of histrionic history destruction and self-loathing runs its course in 100 days, vice 100 years.