Notre Dame As A Symbol – World Liberty Weekend

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Greetings! Welcome to the inaugural publication of World Liberty Weekend, which will serve as an internationally focused column on issues, both general and specifically pertaining to libertarians, outside the United States, but will surely win the hearts of everyone. With the liberty movement appearing most active in the States, I feel it’s important to not neglect the plights of freedom lovers worldwide and to offer support whenever possible. This week let us review what happened and the meaning behind Notre Dame.

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Every tragedy in the world sparks an argument over when the right time to begin political discussions around it should begin. Douglas Schoen, The Hill opinion writer, noted in an article over the mass shooting in Las Vegas that the typical reaction to these events is near immediate calls to action, followed by zero solutions. The famed French cathedral Notre Dame was no exception to this cycle.

A day after the spire toppled, there were already theories that the fire had been intentional and potentially done by Muslims as an attack against Christianity. Ben Shapiro also got into the mix of accusations of politicization when he tweeted about people refamiliarizing with the “philosophies and religious principles” of Notre Dame’s construction. The Daily Wire editor then dedicate Wednesday’s episode of his podcast to explaining how the cathedral was a symbol of the triumphs of Western culture.

That’s the real heart of these responses: people want to assign a representation and a meaning to the destruction. While Shapiro focused on what it meant in the past, and those conspirators wanted it to be another battleground for an alleged culture war, I believe there’s a larger reason why the news has resonated worldwide. Truly, the toppling of that ancient spire is a metaphor for the current socio-political climate.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 bubble, Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, and the rise of populist political leaders have demonstrated that theirs is a declining faith in what was considered stone steady institutions. Governments and corporations were like the walls of Notre Dame, longstanding, maybe tinged with some controversy, but ultimately trustworthy. The United States saw a conflagration begin in 2001 with the collapsing twin towers, a parallel to the cathedral.

At first, those flames were manageable; President Bush called for war, and we were going to get justice for the violence of a terrorist group. Wikileaks soon fanned them by exposing the true casualties and cruelty of the US military in Iraq, and the faith in government began to dwindle. Then another burst of fire rekindled its roar in 2008 when the housing market crashed, and suddenly financial institutions couldn’t be trusted.

The heat continued to build, as more information would be dropped by Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden would reveal that the US was spying on its citizens. The spire of confidence finally came down in 2016, when Donald Trump won the presidency in an upset that shocked most Americans. Suddenly, Americans were very concerned with the distribution of power and its toll on life.

This isn’t a story limited to the US though, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. It’s observable in France with the election of newcomer Emmanuel Macron against the populist Marine Le Pen, and the current yellow vest protests. England’s shaken foundation can be seen through Brexit and all the drama that has arisen in that regard.

The Catalonian’s of Spain showed it through declaring their independence, which failed and is expected to be a hot topic ahead of the election of their prime minister. Brazil elected the highly controversial right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro as their president to disrupt their previous socialist-leaning leaders. All this pointing to a dramatic shift in the eyes of the population of the world; no government or corporate leader is to be trusted and the people want their voices heard.

Notre Dame’s saddening damage was felt internationally, I believe, for this reason. Watching flames engulf a gorgeous, longstanding piece of history before everyone was the perfect symbol of the millennial decades. It shook us to our core because inside, we feel that what was once considered inherently true and valuable can collapse in a moment.

The question becomes how to continue. Does one reach for those comforts of the past, and try to recreate them as a blanket? Is angered allowed to cloud our once reasonable mind and lead one down even more destructive path? Or perhaps, the world begins embracing the new absurdity of reality and use this new awareness of the dangers of power and its knack for manufacturing truth to create a better world.

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Luke Henderson

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is an educator, composer of fine art and electronic music, and also contributes to Think Liberty, Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Coalition.