We are enjoying, or suffering, an epoch of the toppling of statues. Now consider the recent demand for the "contextualization" (meaning the embedding of critical plaques) on, among others, the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. What's really going on?
It will come as a surprise to some, especially anti-big-government libertarians and my fellow paleoconservatives, that Washington, D.C., was abolished … 150 years ago. Yet its ghost persists. This persistence would not have surprised Ronald Reagan (whose name still adorns, however temporarily, the main airport serving our nation's capital.) Reagan, in 1964: "A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth."
When D.C. was first created it included two incorporated cities, Georgetown and Washington. Both were abolished (although nobody, as a colloquial matter, seems to have noticed) in 1871 when the Congress revoked these cities' legal existence and replaced them with the District of Columbia. As an aside, in the "the more things change, the more things stay the same" department an early D.C. governor undertook infrastructure projects costing 3 times the amount authorized, bankrupting the District.
We've seen the denaming of Mount McKinley in Alaska and, recently, Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school. Why not dename a gargantuan obelisk on the national mall and a domed colonnade on the tidal basin? While at it, why not persecute those who persist in referring to America's capital by its deadname, "Washington?" While at it, why not change Columbia, an allusion to that imperialist Columbus?
Let me tell you why. Doing so represents a step away from liberal republicanism and toward totalitarianism.
President Franklin "Big Government" Roosevelt commissioned and dedicated the memorial to the libertarian Jefferson. FDR concluded his dedication: "He believed, as we do, that the average opinion of mankind is in the long run superior to the dictates of the self-chosen. During all the years that have followed Thomas Jefferson, the United States has expanded his philosophy into a greater achievement of security of the nation, security of the individual and national unity, than in any other part of the world. It may be that the conflict between the two forms of philosophy will continue for centuries to come; but we in the United States are more than ever satisfied with the republican form of Government. ..."
FDR, a social democrat (not "democratic socialist"), could also recognize himself as, as he was, a liberal (as in libertarian) republican. He knew that his predecessors like Washington and Jefferson were worthy to be exalted in spite of their faults. Their sin of slaveholding is, as it deserves to be, condemned. That said, to tarnish the monuments to their heroic, noble, achievement of creating a liberal republic — one that eventually eradicated slavery — by "contextualizing" is tone deaf and wrong-headed. The context of that context is all wrong.
Abhorring slavery, I stand in opposition to the denamers and "contextualizers," extensions of "cancel culture," itself a euphemism for the suppression of our freedoms of speech and of the press. I, an old school liberal republican reprobate, deplore every totalitarian impulse. And that is what this is.
The left's playbook was written by Antonio Gramsci, who died a martyr imprisoned by the Italian fascists for his real (rather than mob rule "antifa") antifascism. Gramsci was that rara avis, a liberal, non-totalitarian, Communist. One of Gramsci's most powerful contributions to political thought, something now fallen into enemy hands, was the concept of "cultural hegemony."
The hard left is actively working to eradicate the classical liberal republican culture conscientiously created by America's founders. The left is attempting to obliterate, or at minimum create a revisionist, history to advance another political order. What order? Totalitarianism.
George Orwell anticipated this. "Cancel culture" is the action of the ThinkPol, the "Thought Police," prosecuting "Thought Crimes," political adjuncts to "Newspeak," the foundation of the totalitarian cultural hegemony. Orwell anticipated the current effort to rename or, by "contextualizing," defame America's founders as intrinsic to the "pro-fa" crusade under way.
Orwell spelled it out in The Principles of Newspeak. "The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc— should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words."
As one of those few remaining fluent in Oldspeak let me give it to you straight up. Abolish Washington? Been there, done that.
Dename or defame the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial? Washington Monuments Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down? One giant leap for totalitarianism.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $88T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior adviser, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as co-founder of and senior counselor to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.