"THE WORD ICONOCLAST HAS MEANT THOSE THAT REJECT RELIGIOUS (AND LATER POLITICAL) SYMBOLS..."
THE NEW ICONOCLASTS: JOHN A. MACDONALD IS NOT AN ISOLATED CASE
PUBLISHED: 15th August, 2018 | By MATT MARSHALL
My thoughts today have been more and more on the removal of the statue of John A. MacDonald from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. For American readers, I should probably first establish some background. John A. MacDonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada following Confederation in 1867. He is the most famous of the “Fathers of Confederation”, served two times as Prime Minister, was a loyal protestant Scot, and a ferocious alcoholic. He was a beloved figure in Canada for years, but his image has come under more and more attack in recent decades. Victoria is the provincial capital of the province of British Columbia and has until recently prominently displayed a statute of old “John A” in front of their town hall. Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps states that by removing this symbol of “colonial violence”, reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginal Canadians can improve and, well you know how the spiel goes.
John A. MacDonald is disliked by much of the left in Canada for his endorsement of the policy of residential schools. In an attempt to “Europeanize” the indigenous, aboriginal children were removed from their homes and educated at boarding schools run by various Christian churches. Many of the schools were poorly run, or had corrupt administrators, and abuse was not uncommon. Moreover it failed almost completely. While many local traditions were snuffed out, the only lasting effect is that most aboriginals speak either English or French. Otherwise aboriginal reserves in Canada remains basically multiple third world outposts within a first world country. Crime and poverty are endemic, as is substance abuse. I don’t think it needs to be mentioned that many aboriginals are not fond of MacDonald either.
I know of no public face of Canadian conservatism that would defend residential schools. I must admit that I have no love for these institutions whose only lasting impact is a political club for the left to beat the right with. But one must ask why did John A MacDonald advocate for what he did? When he was Prime Minister, the Plains Indian Wars were raging below the border. It would have most likely seemed to him that assimilation was a far better route than extermination. The abuses that would occur and the failures of the overall aim are not something that MacDonald would have had knowledge of. There have also been comparisons of the abuse and bad conditions of residential schools with ordinary schools of the same period, and pointing out that many reserves then and now had just as dismal conditions. But these are all done in hushed tones, as criticism of the official narrative is tantamount to heresy in progressive Canada. The fact is though; this debate should be moot, as the residential schools are possibly the least of John A MacDonald’s contributions to Canada. But this isn’t really about “John A” or residential schools, is it? This is about symbols and identity.
The word iconoclast has meant those that reject religious (and later political) symbols and believe in the importance of getting rid of them for various ideological reasons. It has been practiced for centuries. Charlemagne cut down the Saxon’s pagan Irminsuls in revenge for their continued resistance to his rule and raids into Frankish territory. The Moors burned Christian churches or converted them into Mosques during their invasion of Visgothic Spain, and Islamic armies would do the same to Buddhist and Hindu temples in the East. Spanish Conquistadors defaced and looted the temples to the Aztec’s heart-eating gods. Dutch rebels destroyed statues of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic iconography during the Eighty Years War, a practice brought to the British Isles by Oliver Cromwell. With the advent of the Enlightenment, iconoclasm became a domain increasingly of the political left. During the French Revolution, radical Jacobins destroyed symbols of royalism and Catholicism. The Bolsheviks would of course take this to even greater extremes in their own revolution 124 years later, as would the Red Guards in Mao’s China. In the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution, patriots destroyed statues of Stalin and other symbols of Soviet denomination.
The message has been the same in every case, “By destroying this symbol we reject you and destroy your faith in this symbol of whatever you believe in or support.” Basic psychological warfare, emboldening one’s own troops and demoralize the enemy. In this postmodern world, the progressive left has turned iconoclasm into an art form. In the United States, there is a campaign against everything from Columbus Day to the Confederate States of America, which is extremely well documented in Pat Buchannan’s book “The Death of the West” In Great Britain; there are constant calls to remove the statues of giants of empire like Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria. Even the hero cult around Winston Churchill, the implacable foe of Adolf Hitler, is under attack and the Union Jack rarely flies in public. Morris Dancing is on the chopping block too, as is the character of “Black Pete” in the Netherlands. In Australia, the moral and historical validity of British colonization is subject to constant public debate dubbed “The History Wars”. Naturally this has included the vandalism of statues of Captain Cook and other explorers. Spain is removing Franco’s remains from the country’s largest war monument under pressure from leftist groups. Germany eternally grapples with how best to handle the past, with some left-wing historians making the claim that all of German history foreshadowed Hitler. And in Canada we have John A. MacDonald and General Cornwallis.
In “Death of the West”, Pat Buchannan muses on the way American history used to be taught and how it is taught now. Likewise Canadian history and identity up until the New Left rose to prominence was a great tapestry. We were the brave British and French explores and fur traders who settled a vast and untamed wilderness. We fought a great epic war in which both Wolfe and Montcalm were dashing generals and honourable men. Their deaths on the Plains of Abraham were the founding of our nation. The French Canadians were conquered, but soon became our brothers and rejected American offers to join their revolution in 1776. Franklin died heroically trying to best the Arctic seas and David Thompson brought back maps of the Western territories he had ventured into with no fear of the unknown. And when the Yankees invaded in 1812; British, French and Indian took up arms to defend the new homeland. General Brock died a heroic martyr and Laura Secord risked her life to warn the garrisons. Then came Confederation and official nationhood, John A. MacDonald being the drunken but wise and universally-loved father of our new country. The railroad from Atlantic to Pacific was laid, and the crimson-uniformed RCMP ventured west to bring law and order to the frontier, as miners flocked to the Yukon. Yet despite being a new nation, we were still unapologetically British and French, and when those father countries called for aid in 1914 we answered proudly. Friendship was solidified with the United States in both World Wars and the stories of Arthur Currie leading at Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge, and of Leo Major single-handily liberating the town of Zwolle was made legend.
Now John A. MacDonald is a genocidal racist and most of our history is colonialism, that horror of all horrors. Occasional lip service is paid to the explorers and pioneers and soldiers, but it seems we hear far more about residential schools, Japanese internment, and the sins of Canada’s past than we do about its glories. William Lyon Mackenzie King, the man who led us through the Great Depression and the Second World War is now the man who turned away Jewish refugee boats. Louis Reil, once denounced as a traitor and madman, is a hero fighting racism and corruption. Canada’s extremely small involvement in slavery compared to everywhere else in the Americas is now a major topic of debate. Our previous immigration polices are racist. We are no longer British and French, we our officially and legally multicultural.
Canada today is what Justin Trudeau proudly calls a “post-national state”. It fetishizes diversity for the sake of itself, and makes social tolerance a mark of national identity. If North Korean identity is defined by believing in Juche, then Canadian identity is defined by believing in progressivism. Tim Hortons and Hockey are the national symbols. The progressives know this, and revel in their victory, as they know most Canadians agree with them on some level or another. Even most Canadian conservatives view themselves as American-lite in their values, and far more in the tradition of neo-conservatism than actual robust American paleo-conservatism. Only Quebec and to a lesser degree the Maritimes have managed to hold onto a sense of their older colonial identity. And that is why John A MacDonald has to go. He is a symbol of when Canada was not just the land of pronouns and coffee cups, but when it was an extension of European culture and people along the frontier. Canada’s historic identities are English, French, Scottish, and Irish. As for the aboriginals, while they were not involved to a great degree with confederation, many of them did assimilate into the new identity of Canada. But because John A. MacDonald reminds Canadians of their history, he is a threat to the new order. Just as statues of King Louis XVI gave hope to the patriots of the Vendee and were therefore targeted by Jacobins, MacDonald is a liability. Your history has to be altered and your country’s heroes demonized white boy, but don’t worry. Its all in the name of the greater good.
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