31 March 2021

The Stupid Iconoclastic Rage of the Reformer

Claude Phillips, “Vandalism in Art,” Emotion in Art (London: William Heinemann, 1925), pp. 220-221:

The ravages of time we deplore, yet must sighing accept; the all-devouring rage of fire we may not, with all our precautions, wholly and for ever avert. But the stupid iconoclastic rage of the reformer, the still more hideous nihilistic rage of the destroyer, to whom all greatness and beauty are an insult — these things are surely among the vilest and most irreparable crimes that the individual, or body of individuals, can commit against the human race. For to the whole civilized world — not to the past only, or the present, but to the future — belong, surely, the grandest and most significant achievements of art that the successive ages have brought forth. To slay them, to tear out the heart of their beauty and greatness, is worse even — if we may dare to say so — than to slay the human body, which may, and in the common order of things must, perish, and be replaced. Thus is destroyed, indeed, and obliterated the outcome, the embodiment of man's immortal part, his genius, his soul.

Ivan Alexeyevich Vladimirov, Soldiers Burning Paintings (1917)

When Phillips writes of people “to whom all greatness and beauty are an insult”, I am reminded of a line in Ernst Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen: “Tief ist der Haß, der in den niederen Herzen dem Schönen gegenüber brennt.” (Deep is the hatred that burns in base hearts in the presence of beauty.)