Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Great Achievement of Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day has become controversial. Critics, mostly on the Left, point to Christopher Columbus's brutal treatment of New World natives and support for slavery, which they claim override his exploratory achievements that set in motion the train of events that led to the Enlightenment and ultimately the birth of America. Which holds sway; Columbus's undeniable bad aspects or his positives, which led to the such monumental turning points such as the abolition of slavery throughout most of the world?

History is messy. There are very few total heroes or total villains. Historical context is crucial, and the ultimate evaluation of any achievement must be weighed against this context and the totality of the person. On balance, from a humanitarian perspective, was Columbus a positive or negative force in the overall sweep of history?

Count me on the positive side. As my tribute to Christopher Columbus on this, his day, I present selected excerpts from selected articles by other writers:

By Thomas Bowden

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.

We need not evade or excuse Columbus’s flaws--his religious zealotry, his enslavement and oppression of natives--to recognize that he made history by finding new territory for a civilization that would soon show mankind how to overcome the age-old scourges of slavery, war, and forced religious conversion.

On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose philosophers and mathematicians, men such as Aristotle, Archimedes, and Euclid, displaced otherworldly mysticism by discovering the laws of logic and mathematical relationships, demonstrating to mankind that reality is a single realm accessible to human understanding.

On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose scientists, men such as Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, banished primitive superstitions by discovering natural laws through the scientific method, demonstrating to mankind that the universe is both knowable and predictable.

On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose political geniuses, men such as John Locke and the Founding Fathers, defined the principles by which bloody tribal warfare, religious strife, and, ultimately, slavery could be eradicated by constitutional republics devoted to protecting life, liberty, property, and the selfish pursuit of individual happiness.

On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose entrepreneurs, men such as Rockefeller, Ford, and Gates, transformed an inhospitable wilderness populated by frightened savages into a wealthy nation of self-confident producers served by highways, power plants, computers, and thousands of other life-enhancing products.

On Columbus Day, in sum, we celebrate Western civilization as history’s greatest cultural achievement. What better reason could there be for a holiday?

In another op-ed on Fox, Let's Take Back Columbus Day, Bowden said this:

We’ve been taught that Columbus opened the way for rapacious European settlers to unleash a stream of horrors on a virgin continent: slavery, racism, warfare, epidemic, and the cruel oppression of Indians.

This modern view of Columbus represents an unjust attack upon both our country and the civilization that made it possible. Western civilization did not originate slavery, racism, warfare, or disease--but with America as its exemplar, that civilization created the antidotes. How? By means of a set of core ideas that set Western civilization apart from all others: reason and individualism.

Excerpts from an op-ed in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 10, 2008

By Dimitri Vassilaros

Christopher Columbus could not have discovered a better spokesman than Thomas A. Bowden.

The accomplishments of Columbus should speak for themselves. But thanks to political correctness, the moronic multicultural mob keeps talking them down. Mr. Bowden has been speaking passionately and forcefully about Columbus for years.

"My ancestors were savages," says Bowden matter-of-factly. Everyone can say the same, depending on how far back one is willing to look at lineage. "It's nothing racial or ethnic; it's historical fact."

"Columbus critics have a disguised criticism of Western civilization because Europeans replaced Stone Age Indians. They believe that this continent would have been better off without Europeans, that industrial civilization is an evil that is to be lamented and regretted.

"That is the real criticism of Columbus. I reject it completely."

Indians typically were widely scattered Stone Age tribes, he says. "They had little agriculture and lived in poverty, fear, ignorance and superstition. They had no concept of government, ownership or private property rights.

"Slavery was perfectly common.

Well, didn't Indians at least live in harmony with nature?

"No," says Bowden. "Man should not live in harmony with nature in the sense of simply keeping it pristine. We live by impacting the environment. The environment has no intrinsic value. Our civilization is more in harmony with nature by making it serve our ends."

Well, what about all the land supposedly stolen from the Indians by European settlers?

Indians did not own the vast reaches of land that they traveled on, Bowden says. Ownership of land is deserved, he says. By that, he means a settler can acquire property rights by making the land more valuable by, say, digging it up for farming. Or to build his homestead or business.

Columbus essentially was an explorer and discoverer bringing Western civilization's cures, science and technology, he says. The philosophical legal process was another gift the Europeans gave to the Indians, he says. "Indians got all that for free."

Columbus' critics should fall down on their knees and thank the Founding Fathers for creating a nation based on the moral principle of the individual's right to life, liberty and, Bowden stresses, the selfish pursuit of happiness.

"It's the only nation that came about in such a way. Anyone who has humanity's interest at heart should love America," he says.

Excerpts from Man's Best Came With Columbus—Michael S. Berliner

Did Columbus “discover” America? Yes, in every important respect. This does not mean that no human eye had been cast on America before Columbus arrived. It does mean that Columbus brought America to the attention of the civilized world, i.e., the developing scientific civilizations of Western Europe. The result, ultimately, was the United States of America. It was Columbus’s discovery for Western Europe that led to the influx of ideas and people on which this nation was founded and on which it still rests. The opening of America brought the ideas and achievements of Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and the thousands of thinkers, writers, and inventors who followed. What they replaced was a way of life dominated by fatalism, passivity, superstition, and magic.

There is a movement to replace Columbus Day with something called Indigenous Peoples Day, which is "a holiday that celebrates and honors the Native Americans and commemorates their shared history and culture."  "Native Americans" are no more native or indigenous than anyone else born in America. Their ancestors may have arrived in North America before others' ancestors. But so what? No race of people actually emerged in North America. By all accounts so far, human life first evolved in Africa, before spreading around the globe. That said, if anyone wants to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, fine. But why replace Columbus Day? American Indian tribes had practices that were at least as vicious as Columbus, including wars of conquest and plunder, slavery, torture among each other and the slaughter of innocent settlers including women and children. But just as American Indians may have done some good things worth commemorating, so did Columbus, in spades. It's the good of Columbus that we celebrate, not the bad. Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, if you like. But there's no reason for either/or. Celebrate both.

Happy Columbus Day

Related Viewing:

Columbus Day Without Guilt—Thomas A. Bowden

Related Audio:
Progressive or Oppressive? Balancing the History of Manifest Destiny -- A panel discussion with Tom Clavin, Stephen Hicks Ph.D., John Prevas in Progressive or Oppressive? Balancing the History of Manifest Destiny.

Related Reading:

Opposing Views:

On Christopher Columbus, the Far Left Is Correct—Bryan Caplan


Mike Kevitt said...

The first humans to set foot on N. and S. America might be called aborigines. But, when they died, that was it. Their descendants born here weren't aborigines. Others came from wherever after descendants were born. But would they be called aborigines, even if they thought they were first and never encountered those who actually came first, and then left their own descendants, then died in turn? The aborigines were distinguished only in being first. But when they died, that was it. Their descendants were no more native or indigenous than me, a white guy born in Milwaukee, WI., or Virginia Dare, the first known white European born here. That the Indians' ancestors were aborigines gives them no first call on anything. They're the same as everybody else, equal in unalienable individual rights prior to law and government, and recognized as such along with everybody else, by law and government.

principled perspectives said...

Well said.