Jay Schalin of the Martin Center assesses the toppling of the Silent Sam statue at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Silent Sam, the statue of a weary, stoic Confederate Army foot soldier, came crashing down Monday night, pulled down from his post at the edge of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus by a howling mob of protesters.

But a lot more fell than a Progressive-era statue of a Confederate soldier. Another brick in the wall that separates civilization and barbarism was dislodged. Another small part of the social contract that calls on us to settle our differences through dialogue and consensus disappeared. Another thin thread in the rule of law was severed.

Even those who feel that Silent Sam was a symbol of racism—as did the mob—should be concerned about his rough treatment. Whether you believe that Sam represented white supremacy, the dignity of the common soldier, or simply the historical record of the state and campus, he now represents the defense of civil society and rule of law. And his rude descent from his perch was an assault on that civility.

It is up to the state’s leaders—the legislature, the governor, the Boards of Governors and Trustees, and the university and university system’s top administrators—to push back against the forces of anarchy. How they do so may say a lot about the future of the state—and their own.