We’ve lost our ability to be nuanced about the past

Americans understand the Founding Fathers and other historical figures weren’t saints.

In “The Six Grandfathers, Mount Rushmore, and our national identity“ July 8, ECH editor Ray Miller-Still mentions the Sioux name for Mount Rushmore no less than eight times.

He goes on to list the sins of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. What a pity. The writer correctly points out that the four images were originally conceived to represent the founding, expansion, preservation and unification of the United States. I would guess that most visitors to the site understand that. Some people apparently now believe that statues, carvings and other images of historical Americans are similar (in a way) to the saints of the Catholic Church, i.e. that they are to be personally hallowed because of their perfection, but that is not true in the case of American icons – they are not saints. Their images represent an idea and an ideal most often related to an accomplishment – intended to invoke inspiration, aspiration and appreciation but not veneration.

Unfortunately it seems that we have lost the ability to consider this type of nuance, subtlety and ambiguity in our national discussions. What a pity. About 10 years ago, I was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal by Bret Stephens entitled “Our Incompetent Civilization”. The principles he cited are timeless, namely that there are limits to virtue and that while we must learn from history we cannot let it cripple us. As we try to cleanse our history we go too far, we inflict a deeply debilitating wound on ourselves – a self loathing that is polarizing and immobilizing. What a pity.

Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their own history”. The high priests of the new totalitarianism preach this gospel of nihilism. They’re unaware that their scripture and orthodoxy are not new, it never works, it leads to destruction – but I fear we will travel down this dangerous path anew. Again, what a pity.

Brian DiNielli


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We’ve lost our ability to be nuanced about the past

Americans understand the Founding Fathers and other historical figures weren’t saints.