Let’s Take Back Columbus Day

by | Oct 14, 2015

Western civilization did not originate slavery, racism, warfare, or disease--but with America as its exemplar, that civilization created the antidotes.

More than a century ago, America celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage of discovery by hosting an enormous worlds fair on the shores of Lake Michigan. This Worlds Columbian Exposition featured statues of the great explorer, replicas of his three ships, and commemorative stamps and coins. Because Columbus Day was a patriotic holiday–it marked the opening chapter in American history–the newly written Pledge of Allegiance was first recited in schools on October 12, 1892.

Nowadays, however, an embarrassed, guilty silence descends on the nation each Columbus Day. Weve 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.

Throughout history, prior to the birth of Western civilization in ancient Greece, the world seemed impervious to human understanding. People believed that animistic spirits or capricious deities had supernatural powers to cure diseases, grow crops, and guide the hunters arrow toward his prey. To get the attention of these inscrutable spirits, people resorted to prayer, ritual, taboo, and human sacrifice, relying always on the mystic insights of shamans and priests.

This pervasive mysticism had practical consequences: festering disease, perpetual poverty, and a desperate quest for survival that made offensive warfare against human beings seem as natural as hunting animals. Such was the plight of Americas Indians before 1492–and such was Europes own plight, once the civilizations of Greece and Rome had given way to the mysticism of Christianity and the barbarian tribes.

It was Western philosophers, scientists, statesmen, and businessmen who liberated mankind from mysticism’s grip. Once scientists revealed a world of natural laws open to human understanding, medical research soon penetrated the mysteries of disease and epidemic, allowing us to look back with pity upon American Indians and other historical victims of diseases now preventable and curable.

On a much wider scale, the Industrial Revolution employed science, technology, and engineering to create material goods in profusion, so that even people of average ability could become affluent by historical standards. By demonstrating how wealth can be created in abundance rather than stolen by armed force, America and the West supplied a moral alternative to the bloody tribal warfare of past eras.

Western civilizations stress on the value of reason led inexorably to its distinctive individualism. Western thinkers were first to declare that every individual, no matter what his skin color or ancestry, is fully human, possessed of reason and free will–a being of self-made character who deserves to be judged accordingly, not as a member of a racial or tribal collective. And thanks to John Locke and the Founding Fathers, individuals were recognized as possessing individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness–rights that made slavery indefensible and led to its eradication, at the cost of a civil war.

These are the facts we are no longer taught–and the measure of that educational failure is the disdain with which Columbus’s holiday is regarded in the country that owes its existence to his courage. It is time to take back Columbus Day, as an occasion to publicly rejoice, not in the bloodshed that occurred before Columbus’s arrival and after, but in our commitment to the life-serving values of Western civilization: reason and individualism. We do so by honoring the great explorer who opened the way for that civilization to flourish in the New World.

Copyright 2008 Ayn Rand Institute. All rights reserved.

Thomas A. Bowden, author of The Enemies of Christopher Columbus, is a  writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Thomas A. Bowden practices law in Baltimore, Maryland.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

2 Comments

  1. All true. But in response to your statement in the 2nd. to last paragraph, where you say the individual is to be judged as such, not as a member of a collective, some will say he must be judged as a member of the overarching collective: humans. This might be meant that humans, for all ‘their’ accomplishments to date, are still a warring, plundering pack, so the individual is to be judged as such. But sub-collectives (racial, ethnic, religious, workers, etc.) can gain most favor among humans. So the individual is judged by whether he’s a member of that most favored collective.

    The overarching collective, ‘human’, must be rejected. That collective must be referred to as merely Homo-sapien, where brains are merely a potential, not present in other species. We ALL have that potential. Even retards do, to some extent. Without using that potential, an individual, for all intents & purposes, remains on a par with animals. Upon using it, he becomes more than a Homo-sapien, but also a human being. THAT’S HUMAN.

    As an individual, he can be judged by how much, and how, he uses that potential, whatever his ability. That’s what takes him out of the realm of the collective, of any collective. He can be judged as a good, or a bad, person by the extent that he thinks in terms of human life, starting, therefore, with his own life, and/or by the extent that he thinks otherwise.

    As for those who choose to remain nothing but Homo-sapiens, they’re not just bad humans. Their not even humans. They’re just Homo-sapiens, and bad ones at that, for not choosing to be humans, not even choosing to be bad humans. Mike Kevitt

  2. I’m not exactly sure Columbus was a GREAT explorer. I mean he was trying to reach Japan. He was WAY off in calculating the circumference of the Earth even though Eratosthenes had figured the distance around 200bc and Columbus knew about his work! Just change the name to Landing Day to focus on the event and not the man and be done with it.

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