Attacking the Man or the Symbol?

It’s no coincidence that former Council member (now Assemblyman) Charles Barron, who began the campaign to remove the Jefferson statue twenty years ago, is among the most antisemitic figures in city politics. An ally of the New Black Panther Party, Barron has asserted that the “real” Semites are black and accused Israel of “genocide.” Even if he’s not targeting Levy specifically, Barron is an undisguised enemy of the pluralistic patriotism that Jefferson articulated and Levy did so much to promote. Barron doesn’t want the statue moved, “contextualized” or supplemented by other likenesses. He wants it destroyed.

The question for Assemblyman Barron and everyone else who made removal of the statue their cause celèbre is: By destroying the statue, do you mean to attack the man or the symbol? Do you mean to attack his slave-holding, or his striving for a free and democratic republic? Sometimes, it’s hard to be sure.

Jefferson’s far from the first statue to fall, and it won’t be the last. But the plaster and bronze of which they’re composed isn’t the most important thing. What matters is the fate of the ideas in that Declaration in Jefferson’s hand. The ones that Lincoln described as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” That’s what Uriah Levy saw in Jefferson and what we should continue to honor today.

 

Source: What We Lose When We Lose Thomas Jefferson – by Samuel Goldman – Common Sense with Bari Weiss