Nihilism versus History
By Blogger-in-Residence: Matthew Groves
All monarchists should care about history and identity. It must be said that history is the story of imperfect men who were determined by their times. Nonetheless we commemorate our historical figures for what they attained of immemorial and eternal value. We are forgiving enough of human nature to recognise every human hero, owed gratitude by his nation, would never stand up to full scrutiny – they were after all just human beings. They are still owed our gratitude. It is still important to remember why and how they furthered and promoted the values we hold dear. If we forget what they did we will forget what we value and forget our identity.
The ultimate symbol of our continuing national story is the monarchy – the hereditary family that links us to our past and future as a national family. As a family we must always grieve for those who feel that they have been wronged. On the other hand we must not allowed the ideological extremists to use a sense of wrong to feed grievance and resentment. We seek unity not to stoke division, which is why being ruled by a non-partisan head of state is so important. How then should a monarchist reflect upon the recent tumults upon the streets of our capital city? How should we respond to the scrutiny from a twenty-first century perspective of our national heroes from different times? Is it right to pull down figures from the Empire who would have shared our view of slavery and its immorality, but not been as politically correct as some demand? This attack on historical symbols has come from a reaction to a single event in North America, where the history of race relations is very different from here. While many of the statues being pulled down here are of men who opposed black slavery (and there are others from the 1600s and 1700s who did not), in the States slavery and then segregation is from a more contemporary era. The memory of segregation feeds the anger. Many of us do not believe the portrayal of our American cousins as fundamentally racist, but we must accept the history and context on the other side of the Atlantic is different form here.
The corollary is that the UK’s BLM protestors must also accept there is a different history here. For example the Empire, while it began with slavery became the most powerful force against the enslavement of Africans and black people everywhere. Opposing slavery was the passion of Victorian imperialists and a major role for the Royal Navy. The facts do matter. History is nuanced and cannot be reduced to a simplistic Marxist narrative. Of course the Marxists are the Great Simplifiers, because it feeds into their agenda. If Black Lives Matters is actually put under any scrutiny, it will be found that its ideology subscribes to a narrative that reduces everything to a battle for power between oppressor and oppressed. This is a very destructive perspective and justifies (wrongly) much of the wanton destruction and vandalism we have seen on our streets. Its key demand to defund the police amounts to an extremely Left wing perspective. For monarchists of all people we recognise the lack of validity to taking national symbols and heroes out of place and context. We recognise that while the past in its values is sometimes a foreign country there are sacred threads of value that hold us together, between past and future. If a Medieval monarch for example were to be held up to the puritanical scrutiny of today’s Left his statues would inevitably be removed. When we celebrate our Royal history it does not mean an endorsement of the things that kings and queens who are human did inevitably get wrong. It means celebrating and reverencing when they attained to the full dignity and sanctity of the role of King.
We, of all people, understand the vital importance to a nation of its historical symbols. We also recognise that there is a destructive and nihilistic spirit behind the urge to eradicate the past. It is that destructive spirit that we must always confront. It was represented by Oliver Cromwell (as a monarchist I still am able to believe his statue should remain) and the French Jacobins. It was represented by the Bolsheviks. Today this urge to erase history has come to the fore again, amidst a genuine feeling of grievance – but then it is always parasitical upon genuine grievance. In fighting this nihilism and defending our history we should not fall into the trap of allowing them to divide us. We seek unity and healing, not division and revolution. We must never fall into the trap of seeming to be what they claim they are fighting, while we must always remain firm and never appease. It is about confronting this nihilism with wisdom and with compassion for those who really feel aggrieved. That is surely the spirit of monarchism, which is about healing us of partisan division and ensuring our historical memory and reverence for our ancestors remains, which by implication also means belief in future generations and handing onto them the traditions we have been entrusted with and benefited from.