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Cromwell Should Fall – and so Should All Government Statues

October 9, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

For those of us whose first exposure was Monty Python’s
song about him, it’s difficult to get animated about whether
Oliver Cromwell’s statue should continue to adorn the
parliamentary estate.

But the legacy of the seventeenth century Lord Protector does
seem to upset many, not least Brits of Irish descent. The historian
Jeremy Crick recently renewed calls for the memorial to be removed,
likening Cromwell’s anti-religious zeal to the Afghani
Taliban. A new front in the twenty-first century statue culture war
has been opened.

Recent years have seen an unsuccessful campaign to remove a
statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University.
An application for a statue of Margaret Thatcher to be installed in
Westminster was rejected.

After campaigners slammed the lack of female statues in
Parliament Square, a £5m taxpayer-funded memorial to suffragist
Millicent Fawcett was introduced. In the US, meanwhile, protests to
remove statues commemorating Confederate soldiers on public land
have proliferated.

Divisions in all cases
arise due to differing answers to the question: who is it
appropriate to “celebrate”?

Divisions in all cases arise due to differing answers to the
question: who is it appropriate to “celebrate”?

But this is, surely, the wrong question. Private entities,
buildings, or parks can host whatever they like. It’s the
public sphere where it gets tricky. And our first consideration
here ought to be: why should councils, the mayor of London, or the
government commission or allow statues at all?

There is no market failure that government provision or hosting
of statues solves. Private statues are proposed and erected all the
time — they are not public goods.

Far from bringing us together, generating national pride, or
highlighting social ideals, the controversies above show that these
taxpayer-funded displays generate polarisation, bitter
disagreement, and (in the Thatcher case) risks of violence.

Some historical figures may well be perceived
“deserving” of statues by the majority. But even
popular figures currently standing in Parliament Square evoke
fierce criticism for things they said or did.

Winston Churchill is blamed by many for the grim Bengal famine
which saw two to three million deaths in India. Mahatma Gandhi, the
Indian independence leader, famously said that German Jews should
have committed mass suicide to highlight Hitler’s violence.
And Abraham Lincoln is criticised in the US both for not going far
enough to end slavery and for hugely expanding the scope of
government.

None of that negates their historical significance. But a public
statue, as a monument, comes devoid of the broader historical
context necessary to claim any educational value. That begs the
question: why should the minority, who find these historical
figures’ legacies distasteful, be compelled to fund or
maintain memorials to them?

The …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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