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Rhodes to Perdition

Oxford University, famed throughout the world for being the one that isn’t Cambridge, is apparently seething with controversy over the reputation of Victorian philanthropist Cecil J Rhodes. Oriel College – originally ‘oriole’, referring not to the type of bird but the type of window, although the former might be more apt since its plumage is predominantly yellow – has angered the usual sort of people by erecting a statue to its former student and benefactor, and is facing calls to remove it. Key detail: they did in fact put up the bloody thing the best part of a century ago whereas the anger is only coming now, which may well be a clue to the underlying problem here, i.e., that attitudes are so susceptible to changing over time that even today’s hysterical shrieking teenagers will be considered reactionary monsters by the hysterical shrieking teenagers of tomorrow.

Consider, for instance, Germaine Greer, the radical feminist once renowned as a militant firebrand at the very vanguard of the revolutionary left, but now banned as a right-wing maniac from half the universities in the Anglosphere for having suggested that people with Y-chromosomes aren’t women. Dr Greer has made the mistake of clinging on to her 20th century modernism, which used to oppose irrational feelings by positing facts, in the very face of the postmodern 21st century’s belief in countering upsetting facts by asserting feelings. It is not too late for Germaine, however: she has time to recant her beliefs in some public forum, like one of those old communist officials who would inadvertently drift a few millimetres from whatever the Party orthodoxy was on the particular day of his ill-judged remarks and then appear on television looking contrite. She might well consider shedding a tear and begging forgiveness for the hurt which she has caused.

No such opportunity for Cecil, though: his goose is well and truly cooked, for his mistake is even more fundamental than Dr Greer’s, viz.- being dead for 113 years, and thus unable to reassure us all that his opinions are now bang up to date. Read more