Banquo's Ghost

Social IssuesCulture

  • Author Benjamin Grey
  • Published July 8, 2021
  • Word count 1,310

Only when we learn that we are not better than our fathers, do we receive the grace to do better than our fathers.

Experience is the best teacher, but only when learning from someone else’s mistakes. Fortunately, the history of Western Culture provides abundant opportunities for doing just that. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the glories of the past instead of heeding the warnings of our heroes who lived to regret the horrific costs and fearful consequences of their apparent “success.” Perhaps it is not so surprising that we despise their warnings, often uttered or penned on their deathbeds, long after their glory days. After all, it is they and not us who have seen the bloodied ghost of the murdered Banquo that led Macbeth to prophesy, “It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.” Only by taking seriously the guilt, remorse, and prophecies of our fathers and mothers, can we avoid their mistakes and live up to their highest ideals. We are not better than them, but we can do better than them. We dishonor them and ourselves when we cancel their culture by letting their last and best insights and teachings vanish with them into the grave.

As Lazarus the beggar learned when the dogs came to lick his sores, more compassion can often be expected from an animal than from a Rich Man. The Rich Man of the parable was not allowed to appear to his brethren to warn them of the fearful consequences of their neglect of the poor. One can only hope that they, like Ebenezer Scrooge, saw the Ghost of a corrupt and selfish future in time to avoid it. Because many of the wealthy classes understand that one person’s wealth or kindness cannot deliver the poor, they, like many of us, simply give up and accept no responsibility for their fellow human beings. However, Societal Problems require Societal Solutions. We must call upon one another to grant what only a society is capable of delivering, that is, liberty.

The increase of liberty in America shows that change often has small beginnings, starting with mere pangs of conscience. Before the Civil War brought freedom to the captives, Alexis de Tocqueville was amazed that racial prejudice was strongest in the states that had abolished slavery. He found that intolerance was greatest “‘where servitude had never been known.’” Even Abraham Lincoln said, in 1858, that he had never “‘been in favor’” of blacks and whites living together in social and political equality or intermarrying. He explained that he was “in favor” of whites having a “superior position” assigned to them over blacks, because “there must be a position of superior and inferior” while they remain together. However, at Gettysburg in 1863, Lincoln spoke of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. He further dedicated it to the great task before it, with high resolve to bring about a new birth of freedom. Only so, he mused, would the US government continue not as a hand of oppression but as a Government of, by, and for the people. The handmaid of liberty.

As at Gettysburg, when our faith is challenged, we remember our first and most solemn prayers. Just so today, we must remember that with freedom comes responsibility. The hard pangs of labor that brought forth freedom in the midst of great and terrible civil war were not the end, but a new beginning of a nation conceived in liberty. The purpose of the Government of a free people is to bring to fruition the liberty conceived at the nation’s birth. When something is conceived, it starts small, even in the belly, underground, and out of sight, like a mustard seed. Onlookers might not even know that it is growing at first.

Liberty in America was at first so obscure and hidden, that Founder and slave owner til death, Thomas Jefferson, like an errant Moses, despaired of the Country he helped create. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected in 1962 on how the Continental Congress had edited Jefferson’s reproof of King George for favoring the slave trade out of his draft of the Declaration of Independence. Dr. King invoked the fear and regret that Jefferson expressed six years before his death, that he and the other Founders had failed to establish true Government. Miserably, tellingly, and despairingly, Jefferson called the loss of lives by the generation of 1776 “a useless sacrifice.” The “momentous question” of slavery, Jefferson wrote, “like a fire bell in the night awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776 to acquire self-government and happiness to their country is to be thrown away, and my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it.” The Ghost of a bloody Civil War kept Jefferson up with night terrors. Blood will have blood. He would not have wanted to be celebrated as “victorious” in 1776. He would have, and did, warn us of perilous times to come because of his own failures.

America was still a land of bondage when de Tocqueville visited in the 1830s and when Lincoln ran against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois seat in the US Senate in 1858. At Gettysburg, Lincoln took up Jefferson’s mantle to lead the fight to preserve the Union, so that Government of, by, and for the people should not perish from the earth. The Monster of Slavery was slain, but the aggressive Power of that arrogant, gross minority of oppressors, formerly known as the Slave Power, was never destroyed. The Civil War proved that some whites were willing to grant blacks freedom, but most were still not ready to grant them liberty. With Reconstruction came a mixture of local and state experiments in liberty, forced segregation, and black codes, which the Federal Reconstruction government did not address in a consistent manner. When Reconstruction ended in 1877, segregation, prejudice, and oppression reigned supreme for many decades, in both the North and the South. Today a large minority of Americans deny the existence of systemic racism and call any attempt to correct it “un-American.” But if Jefferson, Lincoln, and King all gave an honest account of America’s sins and fought to redeem it, how much more should we be bold to criticize and reshape it in the spirit of patriotism?

Love does not prevent us from acknowledging and alleviating the legacy of oppression that we inherited from our wicked, perverse, and devilish fathers and mothers, grandparents, great grandparents, and beyond. It is ego that prevents us from acknowledging a truth that even our guilt-ridden Founding “Fathers,” like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, the somewhat honest and somewhat sorrowful slave owners, acknowledged. We do not honor our ancestors by denying their truth, the truth that they themselves confessed, even if they did not live up to it. It is the truth that they confessed, not the lies that they lived, that we must live up to. We derive great pleasure from considering the glories of our race and our culture. Our ancestors fought their battles. They did what they could. It is our shame, not theirs, if we do not take up their banner and push the battle lines further to claim more territory for the realm of liberty. If we do not live up to the ideals of our ancestors, we will repeat their evil deeds, disappoint their hopes for us, and cancel their culture. Whatever remains would not be worthy of the name “culture,” but the legacy of sin and shame that many of our ancestors lived to regret and came to fear, the incarnation of their nightmares. Banquo’s Ghost.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from A Divided Conscience, A Divided Country, Book No. 1 in the series Pebbles in the Reflecting Pool, by Benjamin Grey. Like this preview? Read the full book available on Amazon.

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Pallas-Amenah
Pallas-Amenah · 4 months ago
Brilliant article! It’s got me hooked - where’s the rest?!

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