Refuting Newt Gingrich’s Hysteria Claims about Southern Confederate Monuments

downloadIn his own words after Charlottesville, Newt Gingrich believes that leftwing actors and the elite media support “eliminating large parts of American history.” He continues, “If a person defends a historic monument or statue, the Left and the elite media immediately claim it is a sign of racism, anti-Semitism, and any other harsh emotional condemnation.”

Let’s clarify. It’s not just about defending “a historic monument or statue.” We’re talking about a particular species of Southern monuments erected in the Southern United States post Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and onward that glorify a past in which African-Americans were not considered moral persons. The critique of these statues is very specific to these statues based on actual ethical reasons, “not emotional condemnation.” The feelings of condemnation come from ethical principles of universal dignity, not the other way around. It’s for this reason I’ve decided to respond to you, Mr. Gingrich. You’ve inadvertently made several philosophical arguments. Bad ones, I admit, but you made arguments nonetheless.

John Locke, with whom Thomas Jefferson (and conservatives and indeed many libertarians love) was inspired by to write the Declaration of Independence, wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689). In that piece, Locke argued for the conditions under which toleration should be enforced amongst Catholics and Protestants. The irony, of course, with respect to Locke (as much as Jefferson) is that John Locke wrote The Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas in 1669 in which he advocated for slavery. One cannot deny that the seeds of white supremacy have been here from the beginning of the Republic—even in the very beginning of the philosophical idea of the United States. With that said, what relevance does Locke have for us today in his letter about toleration and what does that say about Southern Confederate monuments?

Toleration is morally valuable because it is enforced by agreed upon ethical principles. Toleration is itself morally valuable such that you must be intolerant of intolerance. It’s not revisionist history to try and be honest about the systematic oppression of various groups in the United States’ history (Native Americans, Catholics, women, and African-Americans and the LGBT community to name a few) and where this toleration has been lacking. This analysis is not hysteria, but philosophical and intellectual honesty about what we wish the United States means today for us and our children. I bring this up mainly because of the central problem in political philosophy. The central problem is trying to conceive how pluralistic democratic societies should be and what toleration conditions look like reflecting that very democratic pluralism.

When you equate the physical act of removing Southern monuments with eliminating history, it’s anything but that. In fact, that’s a typical strawman fallacy where you oversimplify and distort the actual point of your opponent such that you argue against your own oversimplification rather than be honest about what your opponent might be saying. What’s more, the fact that your opponents are all grouped into leftwing fanatics and elite media is even more suggestive that your argument is made with no nuance in mind. I would hope this engagement changes your mind.

In light of the strawman fallacy, you are guilty of ignoring some historical facts.

First, the majority of these Confederate monuments and statues were built post-Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) in Southern states. The bulk of them were not about mourning Southern sons, but are arriving on the scene 40, 50, or even 60 years after the ending of the Civil War and at the height of racial tensions. See the chart below from the SPLC:
Second, the timing of their construction endorses and memorializes a white supremacist future.

Third, when we talk about removing these statues, our civil society starts to reckon with its past. It’s a red herring to think simply statue removal amounts to “sanitizing your history to make you feel better.” It’s about encountering that very harsh and oppressive past for the hopes of making a better world for all of us. In other words, the claim of sanitation is a distraction rather than truly reckoning with that historical past.

Moreover, you have also engaged in a slippery slope argument. A slippery slope argument relies on projecting dangerous effects about accepting an idea rather than again being honest about what the idea is about. The idea is about removing Confederate monuments in Southern states, it’s never been about removing monuments to Jefferson or Washington. To push that agenda is to miss the point of the critique and in itself fosters the very hysteria you want to say the liberal media is causing when it’s really your inability to keep an honest focus about what some of us are saying about Confederate monument removal.

Next, I’ll just concede that you are accurately citing NPR, PBS, and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and that “62 percent of voters nationally think monuments of Confederate leaders should remain up as historical symbols, while only 28 percent” endorse their removal. An ad populum fallacy is when someone relies on the popular sentiment of a conclusion rather than offering supporting reasons of fact for why the conclusion is true. If all you have is how popular a conclusion is felt, then you have no premises to give us to make an actual argument for your case.

When you end on the fact that the Left is engaged in distractions, it is beside the point, which ironically is a distraction from the discourse about removing Southern Confederate monuments. You are trying to trivialize the very engagement with understanding history and the values of tolerance. Part of this is that by conserving many aspects of tradition, you become blind to how complicit conservatism often is with maintaining aspects of that past that contribute to white supremacy and racism.

In short, your arguments are guilty of ad populum, slippery slope, strawman, and red herring fallacies. In brief, your argument is very bad, intellectually dishonest and violates the standards of good reasoning.


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