It has been in the British news recently that students at Leicester’s De Montfort University want to change the name of the institution. It is said that the 13th century English knight, who the university is named after, was antisemitic.
Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, had previously been seen as laying the foundations for democracy in England, after leading a revolt against the unpopular King Henry III. Yet, he was a fanatical christian and murderously persecuted the Jewish community in England.
As with the recent toppling and defacing of other monuments (associated with racism and slavery) in the UK, people are once again looking critically at history and examining who is still being celebrated, despite having dark shadows in their pasts.
Perhaps in a similar way to the criticisms of Winston Churchill a few months ago (althugh comparisons are not always helpful), the greater the figure in history, the bigger their shadow. Many celebrated figures are said to have had certain views or have done certain things that we no longer consider acceptable in Western society in 2020.
De Montfort clearly did some good. He supposedly attemped to establish a more democratic system, when the authoritarian monarchy allowed no freedom for other citizens to participate in the country’s politics.
Yet, he was also an anti-semite, which is not acceptable.
As with many things and many people, we need to be able to say “Both…And”.
He was Both an advocate for democracy And antisemitic.
This non-dual thinking is so important, yet we struggle to find this Third Way in many aspects of contemporary society.
We are too polarised and convinced “we” are always right. We want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Or maintain the status quo.
What do you think?