Bonfire of the Confederate Vanities

Recent events are a reminder of the Medici phrase “omne nefas victis, victoribus omnia sancta” -- “all crimes to the losers, to the winners all things are pure.”

The Left in America considers itself a pure winner -- at least in its own mind. As it must always keep winning wars real or manufactured to progress to utopia, Leftists will not acknowledge the Civil War is over. 

Of course, the moral purity the Left assumes in its quest to rid the nation of artifacts that would remind Americans of a period of history considered deserving of being erased completely is to be unquestioned. Continuing to fight the Civil War and crushing the American South is a holy battle for leftists, and victory will not be ensured until every vestige of even the memory of slavery and every historical microaggression triggering racism are eradicated forever.

An impossible task and a very dangerous one.

Dangerous because for one thing, erasure of historical memory vitiates the entire foundation of the civil rights movement and the fight against racism, as contemporary history reflects the lingering aftermath of the very conflict the Left seeks to erase from our collective memories. Accurate recollection of the Civil War in all its glorious and inglorious complexities is necessary in order we can evaluate and improve race relations. The old cliché that the person who forgets history is condemned to repeat it was seldom more applicable than today, as reckless voices call for destruction of history and monuments dedicated to memory of history. Monuments are testaments to the past, whether good or bad. They are signs to us to remember and to learn and to change.

But the cultural cleansing of even the memory of Southern history -- or any other history the Left does not like -- is the means by which the Left, like other religious/political cults past and present, is attempting to expurgate America’s past. By destroying or at least putting out of public view what are considered cultural idols such as the Confederate statue “Old Joe,” which was returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, true faith will prevail and a virtually sinless society can be established. 

The idea is to cleanse the nation of what Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe considers unexpurgated evil: “We should not glorify a part of our history in front of our buildings that really is a testament to America's original sin.”

To put it another way, the thought is that the original sin of America can be atoned for by destroying the nation’s history, particularly the history of the South. Sin lies in the past and finds its locus in statues, monuments, buildings and other historical artifacts the public has worshipped; therefore, all the past must be annihilated in order that moral purity be victorious. Once the artifacts of America’s past are destroyed, from the ashes will arise a society free from even the memory of evil.  Racism will at last be eliminated from the social fiber and we all will be clothed in the robes of righteous purity with minds become tabula rasas on which can be writ the new holy script of leftism.

To accomplish this impossible goal, a new version of total warfare is springing into place. A Sherman’s march through history will ensure hate will never rise again. 

Destruction of the past and of offending material objects and thoughts as necessary for societal purity is not a new idea.

The current mania over destruction of Confederate themed monuments hearkens back to Savonarola's "Bonfire of the Vanities," during which pieces of art and books were burned due to the puritanical frenzy whipped up by the renegade priest. It is said the artist Botticelli threw at least one of his paintings into the fire. Similar attempts to expiate sin by burning things and sometimes people instead of efforts to cauterize hateful hearts eventually burn themselves out, but only after great cost to the afflicted society.

Savonarola, who is still lauded by some for his sincere attempts to improve the morals of the corrupt society in which he lived, became discouraged by verbal exhortations and eventually fastened his cauterizing gaze on objects rather than on souls, claiming that Florence could become the new Jerusalem if the citizens would repent and destroy their iniquitous luxuries, including their priceless objects of art.  

He soon gathered groups of youths, who, robed in white and singing hymns, confiscated vanities to be fed to the flames in a giant bonfire. Wigs, combs, mirrors, pictures; whatever the youths, who were accompanied by armed guards, thought sinful were seized. Books of Greek philosophers, works by Cicero, secular and/or lewd paintings and sculptures as well as musical instruments were thrown into the gigantic pile. The artist Botticelli may well have seen his own paintings fed to the flames. Yet he may not have objected because, like much of the city, he too had come under the sway of Savonarola.

Bonfires of things and people are what happens when the single-minded rage of a cult effectively sways the crowds. Everything goes, as rage recognizes only the moment, only the mindless frenzy of destruction. When anger is the primary emotion, it can be assuaged only by greater and greater destruction. Anger acknowledges no end to the things to be angry about.    

Savonarola’s template for temporal purity was to be imitated countless times, particularly during the periods of cultural cleansing that characterized countries such as China. Mao Tse-Tung’s young Red Guard revolutionaries, who were fairly exact copies of Savonarola’s youths in temperament and ideological frenzy, were put in charge of exterminating Western influence and destroying China’s past in order to assure the ideology of Mao’s Little Red Book became the supreme guide of the nation.

The Pol Pot regime emptied universities and hospitals, driving into the countryside those they considered corrupted by ideas incompatible with the severe political views of their leader. Even eyeglasses were considered vanities and the people who wore them put to hard labor, becoming examples to the masses of the dangers of intellectuals swayed by corrupting influences. As was the case in Savonarola’s Florence for at least four years, a type of fanatical religious/political monasticism was to be fastened on Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian society -- as it is in North Korea to this day.  

The fanaticism of Savonarola and his religious and political imitators past and present, are indicators of a cult mentality that is narrow, severe, and destructive. They are almost entirely characterized by anger and a sense of victimization cultivated by those favored classes deemed oppressed. Such cults, if successful, guarantee a society that is unfree and increasingly oppressive, for the suppression of history and speech inevitably turns to suppression of people whose views are different or who are just plain in the way of those who wish to control the levers of a given society.

It is not enough for such cults that statues representing America’s so-called “original sin” must be destroyed, including the ones representing the best the American South had to offer. Free speech is also to be suppressed. History and language itself must be reformed to show and tell only one story. That is why radical feminists sought to change the English language, and it is why the latest permutation of the cultic Left seeks to change language once again to reflect gender neutral terminology. The idea is to prevent anyone who disagrees from having the use of a language whereby they may express opposition. It is hard to write about the rights of men and women if the very pronouns indicating sex are eliminated and other pronouns which are essentially the equivalent of “it” are substituted for “he” and “she.” Destruction of the means to articulate one’s thought clearly is the very essence of brainwashing, for thought and language are inextricably intertwined.

It is increasingly clear the final goal of the Left involves far more than an attack against anything seen as racism; far more than virtue signaling by tearing down the statues erected in memory of the great Robert E. Lee. The ultimate goal is to disable rational thinking and to ensure the destruction of memory. 

There are, in short, ways to silence voices other than to not allow the opposition to speak. There is a way to make speech meaningless by rendering language meaningless; to annihilate the ability to think altogether -- a sort of mental nihilism; a Sherman’s march through the brain.

America will not be cleansed of “original sin” and become purer if her collective memory is erased and she is made unable to speak intelligibly. She will not achieve salvation by targeting a race as inherently evil, be that race black, white, red or yellow skinned. She will not become good by erasing her history. Her purity will not be achieved until opposing voices are silenced and the opposition degraded to a social status of untouchables.  She will not attain utopia by ensuring every institution and every person is saying and doing the same things. She will not become righteous by memorizing the new leftist commandments while seeing to it the Ten Commandments are destroyed. She will not be made better by making her people mute.

The truth of the matter is that original sin resides in the heart of every person ever born and must be repented of before the God who made us all.

The solution lies in changed hearts and minds, not in the destruction of monuments and language. 

As God commanded Israelites of the ancient past, “Rend your hearts; not your garments.”

Or to put it another way, “Break your hearts; not your statues.”

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her a prize for excellence in systematic theology.  She is a regular contributer to American Thinker.  Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines, including CNS, Fox News, RealClearReligion, National Review and Russia Insider.  She may be reached at