Jump to content

Celebrating Columbus, Brave and Bright


Recommended Posts

celebrating-columbus-brave-and-bright-charles-c-w-cookeNational Review:

Imposing modern morality on the past is a form of historical illiteracy.

Charles C. W. Cooke



As children, my friends and I knew as a matter of indisputable rhyme that “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and that, by doing so, he both discovered America and proved that the earth was not flat. Few of us, I’d venture, ever questioned whether or not this was true.




This, like most political correctness, is a grievous mistake. As the historian William J. Connell argues, Columbus may not have been the first of the voyagers to discover America, but he was undoubtedly the most important. “His arrival,” Connell argues, “marks where we as a country and a hemisphere began our identity.” Unlike previous landings, Columbus’s mattered. It was the first to lead to a permanent settlement and the first enduring landing from a civilization that boasted modern ideas such as a belief in science, reason, individual achievement, and Christianity. Ultimately, Columbus’s story serves as the introduction to a story of immeasurable historical importance. To dismiss celebration of the man because he didn’t make it to America first would be akin to declaring that we must scorn Isaac Newton’s contribution to science because he wasn’t actually hit by an apple.




Heinous as this behavior was, to impose modern morality on the past is to exhibit historical illiteracy. Contrary to the picture painted by modern progressives, the Pinta, the Niña, and the Santa Maria did not sail nonchalantly through a barrier of enlightened protesters — (Don’t) Occupy America! — on their way to the shore, only to ignore their modernity. Columbus was a man of his time, and we should judge him by the standards of that age, regardless of how we assess them today. He subscribed to an internationally popular Aristotelian precept that those captured in battle were rendered slaves, which distinguished him from nobody; he was desperately ambitious and something of a social climber, qualities without which he would never have made such astonishing expeditions; he was motivated by glory and greed and evangelical fervor, as was most of the world (as is, perhaps, the world today). The fact that he reflected his society is not the interesting or exceptional thing about him. Columbus’s first voyage, like the trip to the moon, is worth celebrating in and of itself, without worrying about whether he’d be invited to the ThinkProgress annual gala.




Columbus’s voyage was the overture to a European colonization of the North American continent that has been a net good for the world. He may have practiced much that made the Old World execrable, but he opened the door to a New World that has set itself apart in human history as an incubator and beacon of liberty. Columbus set off a veritable scramble for America that culminated in British triumph, American insurrection, and the eventual glorification of Enlightenment values that have, by virtue of their codification, been protected at home and abroad by American predominance.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • 1686236806
  • Create New...