Given that a biography published in 2003 described him as an “imperial icon”, it would not be surprising if Rudyard Kipling’s statue in the English village where he lived was on some or other list for toppling or removal. But politicians, journalists, municipal officials, bureaucrats, academics, police officials, curators of galleries and museums, priests, and others joining in the current excitement should instead be heeding the advice he gave in his celebrated poem If - to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”.
No matter how anyone tries to spin it, the frenzied attack on statues of slave traders and others is intolerance and dogmatism manifested as vandalism by activists with as much contempt for public and private property as for the opinions of others.
Nor is that the worst of it. More serious than the destructive behaviour of the activists, and accompanying mobs that the British Guardian describes as “joyous”, is the acquiescence in, even enthusiasm for, their actions among opinion-leaders in academia, business, the media and elsewhere.
Some, of course, have rejoiced as outrage against the killing of George Floyd has been transformed into a new front in a long-term multi-pronged culture war. Part of this is that white people are collectively guilty of victimising blacks, “whiteness” being akin to original sin. Another part is that those who disagree with this characterisation are right-wingers, racists, and fascists, whose rights to free speech may be legitimately curtailed by violence or blackmail or threats thereof. This group, hard-line Leftists, are in the minority.
The majority of those who have hailed the vandalising of statues include people who have opted for appeasement and those who have jumped on the bandwagon because that’s a comfortable place to be. Some are simply cowards, among them Oriel College, Oxford, which has finally capitulated to demands to remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes.
Others appear to be simply naïve. When Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford, says the university authorities “wholly identify with the vision of Black Lives Matter” one wonders whether she has bothered to ponder what that vision might actually be.