(December 23, 2018) The destruction of Confederate statues and prohibitions on the display of her symbols is a type of censorship. Like all censors the perpetrators argue that they are abolishing an immorality. But the true target of censorship is always an inconvenient truth, not a falsehood.
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For the past forty years nearly all academic Civil War era historians have focused on the evils of slavery in order to condemn the South, and excuse the North, for the war and the stubborn racism that lingered long afterward. They feel duty-bound to debunk suggestions that Southerners could have had any moral reason to fight or resist Radical Republican Reconstruction. Contrary narratives are dismissed as unworthy of debate. Instead all are labeled “Lost Cause Mythology” that must be censored, by cultural condemnation if not yet by official government interdiction. Censorship is rationalized as a way to protect society from immorality.
The logical case against censorship is that it empowers a minority to deny everyone else the opportunity to think for ourselves. We are implicitly told that we are incapable of judging facts and interpretations that are contrary to the favored narrative. But if we are not permitted to think for ourselves, we cannot be logical.
Historians urge the banning of Confederate symbols by claiming the moral high ground against those they label as “Lost Cause Mythologists” or “Neo-Confederates.” Yet opponents should not yield that ground because what the historians are doing is itself basically immoral. They are restricting our freedom. They appoint themselves as the only qualified judges of morality and immorality. While the logical case is the foundational argument against censorship the moral case merits more emphasis in public discussion. Historians should not be allowed to dictate our thoughts. Moreover, censorship gags not only those wanting to express themselves but also everyone who might otherwise read, look at, or listen to them.