Slippery slope arguments have a deservedly bad reputation. They’re generally too abstract to be useful, bypassing the merits of the actual policy being discussed in favor of perceived consequences if society happens to take a principle too far, thus presuming a progression that is not logically inevitable.
On the other hand, slippery slopes do happen. If a strong argument can be made that one action or policy is a catalyst for a parade of awfulness, it may well be prudent to refrain from lighting that particular match.
This has been the case with Mayor Landrieu’s push to remove four antique monuments, including three Victorian bronze statutes of Confederate leaders (i.e., Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, and President Jefferson Davis). There was never any logical reason to stop with these monuments; once you begin judging complex historical figures by modern standards, everything is up for grabs.
Hence, once the notion of removing historic monuments permeated the zeitgeist, it was virtually inevitable that some errant activist would target other monuments. Malcolm Suber and his “Take ‘Em Down NOLA” crew have certainly filled the role, culminating in a protest march this past Saturday to the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson at Jackson Square.
“We asked for all statues to white supremacy [be taken down] — not just four,” Suber said in advance of the march. “We think it would be appropriate for us to join the national sentiment that Jackson deserves no adoration. Jackson is the architect of the Trail of Tears, was a big slaveholder, and, we don’t think he deserves any public display.”
Suber further explained that he and his ilk intended to physically pull down the Jackson monument with ropes and hooks, at least if they had the numbers to do so. Adding even more fuel to the fire, notorious Klan crony David Duke announced his intention to ooze out from whatever rock he normally hides under and show up in support of the Jackson monument.
On the day of the protest, the NOPD responded predictably – by freaking out – and thus the square was covered with barricades, SWAT vehicles, and a phalanx of officers ready to hold back the horde of assorted leftists.
Thankfully, the protest was generally peaceful. Nevertheless, a small group of protesters were unruly, pushing at the barricades and throwing balloons filled with red paint. Several of those present were arrested.
What was most disturbing was the apparent level of ignorance on display. Local blogger Grey Perkins noted that “[s]everal people I overheard discussing the Jackson statue believed he was a confederate soldier and had no clue that he died in 1845, more than 15 years prior to the Civil War.”
Ouch. That’s even worse than former Mayor Marc Morial’s statement from last year that P.G.T. Beauregard had no ties to New Orleans. It’s not exactly surprising, though. As I pointed out in a previous column, ignorance of history seems to be a driving force behind the drive to purge historical monuments from the public sphere.
We are now seeing another aspect of that ignorance – it doesn’t stop. It’s the imposition of modern values on historical figures and events, performed without regard for the intricate fabric that forms the tapestry of our city’s past. Nothing intelligent can come of that.
There have been some efforts to draw a line in the sand, to distinguish statues of Confederate leaders from those of other figures. Over at the Times-Picayune, Jarvis DeBerry has tried vainly to argue that Jackson, though objectionable to him for the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, was nevertheless of particular importance to New Orleans, unlike Confederate generals, because of his role in the Battle of New Orleans.
DeBerry’s argument ignores the fact that many of New Orleans’ native sons fought for the Confederacy, for better or worse, and thus memorials to Confederate leaders do have relevance to the city. Particularly, it all-too-quickly dismisses the significance of General Beauregard, who was born just outside the city and lived most of his life in New Orleans.
The bottom line is that Landrieu’s political scheme has opened the floodgates, and now all our monuments are potentially on the chopping block. The standard has been set – nothing is sacred, and every generation may raze as many historic monuments as it pleases.
That, dear readers, is a real slippery slope — and Landrieu put us on it.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.