It may stun many folks, but the Reverend Al Sharpton -- the very man who has had a checkered past for pushing for larger government welfare programs even as he misses his tax payments, and for being involved with the racially charged Tawana Brawley sham in New York, back in 1987, yet who was consistently gracious enough to calmly chat with reporters from the legendary conservative paper Human Events – has made an excellent point about the current troubles with public statues and monuments.
His point: They are supported by tax money, and should be left up to private interests to create and maintain!
Indeed, during an interview with the looming shadow of Charlie Rose, Sharpton said:
"When you look at the fact that public monuments are supported by public funds, you are asking me to subsidize the insult to my family, and I would repeat that the public should not be paying to uphold somebody who has that kind of background. You have private museums, you have other, uh, things that people might want to do that."
This is actually an immensely valuable statement that has needed to be observed for centuries by more than just libertarians like me (sorry, Al isn't in favor of liberty, generally). People might not like this truth, but all public monuments supported by taxpayer cash, and placed on public lands to maintain, regardless of whether they idolize or mythologize figures on the right, the left, or something in between, are ethically unsupportable and can inspire justified umbrage.
The answer is to stop taking peoples’ money to create the public monuments and stop maintaining “public” lands for this purpose.
While we hear vapid statements from the left about Robert E. Lee statues, statements that are lacking in biographical and historical context, and while the left does not decry with the same intensity statues of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in D.C. (a man who illegally imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans, and lied as a matter of course), we can also acknowledge that it doesn’t matter if they are wrong or inconsistent about which statues they don’t like. The central problem will remain: regardless of how informed they are, taxpayers have a right to keep their money and not have it taken by a ruling group to build a statue that supposedly “represents” their beliefs, since they are “represented by their government.”
It might be nice to stop claiming people are represented by “their government,” which takes their tax money to build statues or grab land for "public parks and buildings," because, well, forcing people to pay for things they don't like is, ya know, massively unethical and completely contrary to the idea of peaceful interaction with one's neighbor.
But this is an idea Sharpton only appears to grasp when it suits him. For example, here's a clip of the good reverend speaking about the woes of public funding for the Jefferson Memorial -- from the taxpayer-subsidized Public Broadcasting Service.
If people don’t like Jefferson, they have a right to protest their money being taken to support a memorial to Jefferson, or to Lincoln, etc. But if people don’t like Walt Disney or Mickey Mouse, they aren’t having their tax money taken to support Disney World or Disney Land, where statues of Walt and Mickey greet paying customers. The presence of respect for private property allows us to hold differing opinions and respect those differences, even if we find those opinions deplorable.
If a neighbor of mine puts a statue of Stalin on his lawn, that is his right, and I would be trespassing and destroying private property if I walked on his lawn to damage it. Likewise, if I erect a statue to Yevgeny Zamyatin, the Russin writer who wrote the novel “We,” which was banned by the Soviets for promoting individualism, he should respect my choice to use my money in that peaceful way as well. Our physical creations are a reflection of our beliefs, and as long as we are not harming the other person or his property, we should respect these things.
In claiming we should “respect” one historical figure or another who has been depicted by a statue supported by public funds, we are actually commanding our neighbors to pay for that statue or its maintenance. This is not respectful at all. And it doesn’t matter who is the subject of the statue or monument. We need to respect our neighbors – by reducing the scope of the things funded by taxation and managed by the state.
Then again, one wonders if Sharpton would remain so stalwart against the inherent problems of taxpayer-funded monuments if one were to question, say, a statue of MLK.