Riley Parr: Don’t consider history in the context of today

Riley Parr“A Republic, if you can keep it.” That was what Benjamin Franklin purportedly told somebody as he exited the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Fifty-one years later, speaking on the durability of American institutions, Abraham Lincoln mused, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

A person watching the events of the last several weeks might well question whether Franklin’s and Lincoln’s warnings are coming to pass.

When I started college nearly a decade ago, most discussions around topics like constitutional interpretation and government’s actions and powers centered around fundamental questions like: “What did the Founders intend?” or “What does the Constitution mean?” For many today, those questions are irrelevant.

Those questions are irrelevant for some segment of the left today because the Founders (certainly we cannot refer to them as the Founding “Fathers”) did not eradicate every societal ill. This misguided reading of history shows itself by, among other acts, tearing down monuments to those titans of Western civilization, many of whom helped shape the most prosperous societies to ever exist and fought against tyranny. George Washington? He owned slaves, so tear it down. Teddy Roosevelt? He spoke positively of Robert E. Lee, so tear it down.

Still others want to cast down the Emancipation Memorial—the money for which was raised by freed slaves, by the way. For those keeping score at home, that’s three out of Mount Rushmore’s four.

The mob has made its way across the pond, too, calling for the removal of Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, the same man who fought the Nazis while waiting for America and later warned of getting in bed with Communists.

J.K. Rowling—the most contemporary target, at least so far, of the so-called Cancel Culture—has been chastised for daring to point out the rather obvious fact that females differ biologically from males, and that pretending differently undermines the hard-fought rights of women (indeed, one shudders to think what might happen to someone for pointing out that the Supreme Court’s recent Title VII decision puts it on a collision course with Title IX).

And while we’re on the topic of banning books, schools in Minnesota announced they will no longer include such seminal American authors as Mark Twain and Harper Lee—yes, the same Harper Lee who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

A fundamental flaw of this mob is that it applies today’s morals and expectations to centuries past. But can any of those armed with torches and pitchforks seriously say that if they had been born in a different era they would hold precisely all of the same beliefs they have today? To answer yes is a few notches above the height of arrogance.

For those truly seeking to root out the disgusting weed of racism, they will find many allies, as will those who want to legitimately reform policing. Those admirable aims should not be confused with recognizing that the world as it exists today did not simply pop into existence.

It is, literally, thousands of years in the making and often propelled along by many of the same people whose statues are now being toppled. Unlike some who would say otherwise, celebrating the likes of Washington, Lincoln and Churchill and believing that Black lives matter are not mutually exclusive.

Mobs like these have a habit of turning on their own. Perhaps some at the end will be like Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, who, when asked what he did during the Reign of Terror, replied, “I survived.” Undoubtedly, others will not be so lucky.•

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Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is executive director of the Indiana Young Republicans and president of the IU McKinney Federalist Society. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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