That isn’t to say that every statue is worth preserving. New York’s Museum of Natural History just decided to bring down the equestrian bronze of the 26th president, not so much on his account as because of the placement on his flanks of a Native American and an African figure. Fine. But since the museum is largely dedicated to Roosevelt’s legacy as a statesman, scholar, and naturalist, isn’t the right way to do it to replace it with another T.R. statue — this time as a man in the arena rather than as a figure in the saddle?
Such a statue might be a useful reminder that the men and women who most deserve to be shaped in metal or carved in stone weren’t made from them. And that acknowledging the fallibility of our national heroes and the limitations of their time needn’t make them less heroic and may often make them more. And that there’s a vast difference between thinking critically about the past, for the sake of learning from it, and behaving destructively toward the past, with the aim of erasing it.
A great debate about who should remain on which pedestals can be a healthy one. The right’s idea that we must preserve the worst figures to protect the best is idiotic. The left’s idea that we should bring down the best because we know who they were at their worst is no less so. An intelligent society should be able to make intelligent distinctions, starting with the one between those who made our union more perfect and those who made it less.