Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Cecil Rhodes

The great empire builders rarely make old bones. Alexander died at 33, Julius Caesar (helped on his way by his dearest friends) at 55, Napoleon at 51, Hitler (victim of his own success) at 56. Cecil Rhodes- who had a vision of world-wide Anglo-Saxon Empire (he wasn't the only one- a number of people who were around at the end of the 19th century- Teddy Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling among them- thought it was doable) made it all the way to 48. I can think of two ways of spinning this. First, that empire building is a young man's game, secondly that the earth can only tolerate these people for the briefest of seasons.

Empires always fall. The people at the bottom rise up against the people at the top and shake them off. If the world is even going to come together and work as one it'll be as a society of equals and not as a hierarchy with a self-anointed elite bossing the lesser breeds about. Rhodes's empire in Southern Africa lasted for something like half a century and his larger vision never materialised. He was a bully, a thief and a false prophet. His reputation is shot. We don't particularly need him to be looking down on Oxford from a great height.

And Oriel College- to which he bequeathed a large sum for the building of the pompous- neo-Jacobean building that currently bears his name- has finally come round to this way of thinking- and voted to remove his statue. It was inevitable: when the tide is running against you there's no point in feverishly reinforcing the walls of your sandcastle. And so it goes. Oriel College demolished a number of pleasant old houses in order to erect the Rhodes Building. Many citizens of the city regretted it ever went up. Nothing stands forever.

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