Don’t Glorify Traitors
Arguments against demolishing Confederate statues perfectly exemplify the slippery slope fallacy. A slippery slope fallacy, in short, assumes or argues that one minor action will (inevitably) lead to more dramatic actions, usually with dramatic and wholly unintended consequences. It assumes that we have no ability to draw a line in the sand — that is, we have no ability to simply define, achieve, and stop after a single action.
Slippery slope fallacies often dominate political discussion because the conclusions they present offer great shock value whose ability to stun often undermines support for the initial argument. Other examples include the “argument” that legalizing same-sex marriage would somehow lead to okaying pedophilia
, or any other number of horrors. In no logical way could same-sex marriage lead to those actions, but thus is the nature of a slippery slope: Actions somehow spiral out of control and lead to hyperbolic conclusions.
Slippery slope fallacies can also be seen in the bathroom debate as some claim that allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity will somehow result in high school boys showering in girls locker rooms
and in debates over the Federal Reserve’s inflation target rate, with some arguing that should the Fed raise the inflation target, it will somehow never stop
controlling inflation and we’ll end up back in the 1970s.
In the case of Confederate statues, it’s an outlandish fallacy to assume that by removing those dedicated to individuals who committed treason by fighting against the federal government (the constitutional definition of treason), we will somehow end up scrubbing presidential monuments or blotting out the names of great Americans flawed for their racial views.
Now, while slippery slope arguments may be fallacious, identifying worrisome precedents does have merit as it doesn’t assume an (outlandish) conclusion but rather posits that contemporary reasoning could be applied in the future for less desirable purposes. Precedents, of course, dominate our legal reasoning and exemplify the need for careful and specific reasoning for any given course of action.
Broad logic and justification invites more insidious application when mischievous factions gain power. Those arguing that the removal of Confederate statues will result in the censuring of history and the destruction of monuments to truly great Americans use fallacious reasoning; those positing that removing Confederate statues because changing social norms leaves such individuals in contempt establishes a precedent that history can be removed as society evolves have a valid point, albeit one with which I disagree.
Many also present disingenuous arguments in their arguments against tearing down Confederate statues. Commentators, aside from slippery slope fallacies, believe progressives hope to “audit” and “cleanse” history, thereby avoiding the challenging aspects of the subject and either glossing over disliked parts or labelling everyone in the past as a racist. That’s not the aim.
Progressives hope to end the public adulation of those who fought to dissolve the Union in order to preserve human bondage. There’s not attempt to censor history — there’s no effort to remove these figures from the entire of US history and simply cast them into the dustbin, never to be mentioned. They want such monuments placed in museums where people can learn about and engage with history to understand the formation of our country. It’s not an attempt to alter the past but rather a simple desire to not glorify traitors.
Public statues inherently celebrate those presented. Taxpayer dollars go to their creation; defenders of the statues readily admit it’s a part of their history that they want to celebrate. But why should the public celebrate an individual such as Robert E. Lee, who raised an army against the government? The Constitution itself defines “Treason against the United States” as “levying war against them,” which perfectly defines every Confederate icon.
Should public spaces honor those who committed the highest crime against the nation or people like Daniel Webster, the great orator, who proclaimed “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable”? This isn’t an attempt to avoid Robert E. Lee; it’s an effort to glorify the defenders of our nation, those who fought for, not against, the Constitution.
Binyamin Appelbaum, a Washington correspondent for The New York Times, laid out a wonderful two-pronged test
for whether we should remove public
statues: One, is the person famous primarily for being a white supremacist; two, did the person commit treason by rising in arms against the union?
This test ensures that we don’t publicly idolize individuals famous only for their racism or treason without the reactionary fear that removing Confederate statues would lead to an attack on others with a checkered past, such as Andrew Jackson (a terrible person, but one who doesn’t fall into the two categories) or Thomas Jefferson (a slaveholder, but the exemplification of American enlightenment and individual who should be widely celebrated).
Reactionary Strawman Arguments
Lastly, attacks on progressive motive assume some dark and malicious intent when none exists. No thinking progressive believes that removing statues will inherently better race relations or meaningfully change the lives of African Americans; no progressive wants to remove statues simply flex supposed moral superiority or flex activist power for some psychological thrill; and surely no true progressive would avoid challenging the past of their former leaders. The goal, really, is simple: End the public glorification of traitors and those famous only for white supremacy. This doesn’t hurt history or the study thereof. It’s surely not an effort to audit and cleanse the past. It’s an argument about the meaning of public statues and the values we should proudly display.
Our public space should put forth our best values and our best individuals. They shouldn’t celebrate rebels who tried to destroy the country.