(Source: José Ignacio González Faus, SJ, Spanish theologian; translation: Novena)

The brutal murder of black citizen George Floyd by a white policeman (which some would have described as “incredible” in our “civilised” 21st century) began to generate a wave of admirable mass protests to lead only to that senseless sport of breaking statues of one’s own accord, which, without a doubt, must involve enormous and very satisfying adrenaline rushes.

I am not going to judge Columbus or Fray Junípero now, but I do think it would be more reasonable to go after those truly responsible and not after those whose statues we have close at hand. And also to ask oneself what the purpose is of what I’m doing.

Now they are looking for the culprits, the vigilantes should start by knocking down the statues of Montesquieu (if there are any).

Let’s take a closer look: the father of our democracy! (which we believe makes us superior to other peoples); the author of The Spirit of Laws! (a sort of catechism of our modern-day politics…). Who will dare to say anything to him? Well, in chapter of book XV of that famous work, we read things like this:

“It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body. […] it is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men; because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow, that we ourselves are not Christians. Weak minds exaggerate too much the wrong done to the Africans…”

How could someone who had written that slavery is contrary to nature and human progress speak like this? Well, we know right away by reading the reason he gives in that same book XV:

“Sugar would be too dear, if the plants which produce it were cultivated by any other than slaves…”.

Blacks may be humans or not, but les affaires sont les affaires [“Business is business” – ed.] and that is what matters above all.

But Montesquieu is not alone.

Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary, reassures himself that “slavery is as ancient as war and war is as ancient as nature”. Here is a very old postmodernist, who is not afraid to acknowledge that “men would be equal if they were without needs”.

But we do have needs. And besides us having them, Voltaire adds that “nothing is as necessary as the superfluous”: so it seems clear that, in order for me to have that superfluous thing, others must lack what is necessary.

These origins of racism seem to prove that the problem is not contempt for skin colour: the problem is the need to have slaves, because that is fundamental to our economy.

And since we can no longer say with Aristotle that slavery is in accordance with nature (because then I myself could just as easily be enslaved), the solution has been to find some subhuman race, different from mine, in order to justify slavery.

One remembers that slogan of the reviled Marx: “the economic determinant in the last instance”. And if anyone is bothered by us quoting Marx, replace it with this even clearer quote from the New Testament: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Or else, let’s dig a little deeper into history.

When there were slaves (black, of course) in the U.S., the slave states in the South were much more economically powerful than the states in the North. So, when the battle to abolish slavery began, the great argument of the slaveowners against abolition was not about race but that “it will be an economic disaster”.

Exactly the same thing that Spanish captains of industry say today when, for reasons of the most elementary justice, people push for the suppression of our labour reform law (which could very well be called: labour slavery law).

“Slavery is a positive good”, declared the slave leader Calhoun in the Senate, describing as “too soft” those who only said that it was “a necessary evil”. Do we need to make it clearer?

And it was not necessarily a question of black people: when the Spanish nobility committed their outrages in Latin America, the argument that those people [slave barons – ed.] had to defend themselves from the accusations of many missionaries and several bishops was that the Indians did not have a human soul (even though the ignorant Pope Paul III taught the contrary).

Once again, racism was not born of skin colour, but of the need to exploit other human beings in order to make oneself rich. Voltaire already said it: “As long as we have needs, equality will be a chimera”. And our needs (real or fictitious) are endless…

And to also look at this beloved publishing house from where I write: in La Vanguardia Digital you can find an advertisement published in El Diario de Barcelona on May 31, 1798 (the Diario had been founded in 1792). The advertisement reads as follows: “Whoever wants to buy a black woman and her mulatto daughter, who knows how to cook, wash and iron well, go in front of the house of Los Gigantes, nº 9, house of Don Mariano Sanz y de Sala”.

Again, it does not seem that it is a racism of skin colour, but rather about the need to have slaves who know how to work well, in order to live at a level that deserves the title of Don and a compound surname [both marks of honour in Spanish society – ed,]. It is not that whites are wicked; it is that blacks are inferior.

See how easy it was? This allowed the Marquess of Comillas to be both a practicing Catholic and a practical trafficker. Giving credence to what we quoted above Montesquieu: heaven forbid we’re not going to be considered to be Christians.

“Banknotes, green banknotes, how beautiful they are”, the song went in the times of the peseta: “those little green banknotes always bring salvation”.

Therefore: if the origin of everything is not in the colour of the skin but in the colour of money, those senseless people who seek to salve their consciences by knocking down statues of Cervantes or of Fray Junípero would do much better if they decided to knock down statues of Milton Friedman or of Hayek, or perhaps to reoccupy Wall Street (although that could cost them another overzealous knee to the neck from another policeman: because a lot of the so-called law and order officiales are there in the first place to defend the economic (dis)order).

Secondly, all those knocking down statues should stop for a moment and simply ask themselves whether they are acting in this way to fight the racism of others or to symbolically unleash their own hidden greed.

Fighting against symbols is easier than fighting against reality and seems to be a good method of salving one’s conscience.

I said something about that when the matter of [moving dictator Francisco] Franco’s tomb was discussed: it was more important to work to exorcise Francoism from hearts than it was to bring a ghost out of that tomb. The former was never done; the latter was. And there you have Vox [a far-right, xenophobic, pro-Franco political party – ed.] as our third political force. But of course: the first is only done by proper education; for the second, just a decree is enough.

In any case: leaving the dictator’s tomb aside, the important thing is that all those who pretend to be more destroyers of the past than correctors of the present become aware of this possible hypocrisy of symbols that Jesus of Nazareth had already defined as follows: “to tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy”. And then, let them act accordingly.

More stories on Novena on the anti-racism protests around the world:

Anti-racism protests: Italian nun accuses Viganò of “throwing pearls before swine” by providing Catholic cover for Trump

In midst of anti-racism statue iconoclasm, semi-official Vatican journal extols virtues of “national repentance”

White Jesus images should be cancelled as “tools of white supremacy”, BLM figurehead says

Vatican tells UN racism is “absolutely intolerable”: “Trampling on another’s inviolable dignity is akin to treading on our own”

Opinion: Thank you, George

Council for World Mission calls on Christians to “rise up” against “pandemic” of racism

No justice, no peace: Why Catholics fight against institutionalised racism


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.