Vandalism

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Vandalism is the behaviour attributed originally to the Vandals, by the Romans, in respect of culture: ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable.[1] Such action includes defacement, graffiti and criminal damage.

Contents

History of the term

The Vandals, an ancient Germanic people, are associated with senseless destruction as a result of their sack of Rome under King Genseric in 455. During the Enlightenment, Rome was idealized, while the Goths and Vandals were blamed for its destruction. The Vandals may not have been any more destructive than other invaders of ancient times, but they did inspire British poet John Dryden to write, Till Goths, and Vandals, a rude Northern race, Did all the matchless Monuments deface (1694). The term Vandalisme was coined in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution. The term was quickly adopted across Europe. This new use of the term was important in colouring the perception of the Vandals from later Late Antiquity, popularising the pre-existing idea that they were a barbaric group with a taste for destruction.[2]

Historically, vandalism has been justified by painter Gustave Courbet as destruction of monuments symbolizing "war and conquest". Therefore, it is often done as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both. Gustave Courbet's attempt, during the 1871 Paris Commune, to dismantle the Vendôme column, a symbol of the past Napoleon III authoritarian Empire, was one of the most celebrated events of vandalism. Nietzsche himself would meditate after the Commune on the "fight against culture", taking as example the intentional burning of the Tuileries Palace on May 23, 1871. "The criminal fight against culture is only the reverse side of a criminal culture" wrote Klossowski after quoting Nietzsche.[3]

In a proposal to the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law held in Madrid in 1933, Raphael Lemkin envisaged the creation of two new international crimes (delicta juris gentium): the crime of barbarity, consisting in the extermination of racial, religious or social collectivities, and the crime of vandalism, consisting in the destruction of cultural and artistic works of these groups.[4] The proposal was not accepted.

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