“When all the stars are falling down,
Into the sea and on the ground,
And angry voices carry on the wind.
A beam of light will fill your head
And you’ll remember what’s been said
By all the good men this world’s ever known.”
So sang the Moody Blues on their 1970 album A Question of Balance. Well, I’m not sure about the stars falling down, but there are certainly serious global issues raising their heads at the moment, and angry voices are definitely carrying on the wind. I don’t know about the beam of light, but the last line poses what is the real problem, doesn’t it?
We can’t agree upon who are all the good men this world’s ever known, and so begin the seemingly insoluble arguments about who should and who should not be represented by a statue in a public place. Just to be clear, my view is very simple - you can have a statue of whomever you like. So if you want Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon, fine; equally, if you want Genghis Khan, Mobutu and Mugabe - well, that’s your choice, too. Just because somebody is on a plinth doesn’t mean I have to respect them (or their views and actions), and neither does the fact that they are not there in bronze or stone mean that the good or evil that they did is forgotten.
However, I do accept that that is just my view, and that others can have a different approach. I’m quite happy to hear rational argument that may well lead to a general agreement of the population that some should be taken down; indeed, I would not have too much problem with the removal of some of those recently in the news. Colston - well, effectively, what he did was exchange lives of the population of one region for philanthropic munificence in another. It wouldn’t take too much to convince me to modify my overall view there, because I guess we could pretty easily agree that he wasn’t one of “all the good men”.
But mostly, the balance sheet is not so clear and sadly the new puritans - like some latter-day medieval anabaptists, or Salem witch-hunters, or 1917 bolsheviks are too immersed in their own righteousness to take a pause for thought. Those of us - and I suspect it’s the majority - who are prepared to make a pragmatic balance between the visual preservation of history and genuine (not confected) disquiet are left open-mouthed at out-of-control mobs. This is a subject for discussion, not street violence.
I have my doubts about Emmanuel Macron (he seems very concerned with his own self-importance, and real achievements seem few and far between) but I do admire the firm stand he has taken (until now at any rate) on this issue:
“I will be very clear tonight, compatriots; the Republic won’t erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues.”
Bravo, M le Président.
Incidentally, although I would counsel strongly against reading too much into ‘70s prog-rock lyrics, that song with which I opened is called “A Melancholy Man” - but it does (I think) end on a more optimistic note:
“All the world astounds me and I think I understand
That we’re going to keep growing.”