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Public Monuments, Public Memory, and the Polis

By Fr. Mark Perkins

I have piece in Public Discourse today titled "Public Monuments and Public Memory." Here's how it starts:

'J. Brandon Meeks’s recent reflection on Robert E. Lee and Southern memory in First Things is lovely, moving, and heartfelt, but it ultimately evades the real questions around public monuments. The questions that our country must grapple with are not about how a particular Southerner should remember his ancestors or even about the South more broadly. That’s because public monuments are not fundamentally about recalling the past at all, whether privately or publicly. Rather, public monuments are forms of anamnesis—bringing the past into the present, to speak to the present. Through them, we look to the past not as mere memory but as guidance for the future. Monuments answer central questions about ourselves and our communities today—questions like “what should we honor in public?” This is another way of asking, “what kinds of communities do we want?”'

I do not expect that all our readers will agree with where I land on the particular questions raised in my piece, but I do think questions of public memory merit serious discussion.

In many ways, the piece is quite a bit afield of what we do here at Earth & Altar (which is one reason we did not publish it). We are focused on the parish, not the polis. Still, as members of a polis, we are invested in what happens in the public square -- in this case what we elevate for emulation in the quite literal town square.

Fr. Mark Perkins is Curate at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida and Executive Editor of Earth & Altar.


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