Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first. It has been scientifically demonstrated, that the original “discoverer” of the Western hemisphere was the first human who crossed the Bering Strait several millennia ago. Some have claimed, without any solid proof, that the Chinese visited the western coast of the Americas prior to Columbus. Perhaps. And Vikings briefly visited what are now the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and perhaps the coast of Maine four or five centuries before 1492.
Columbus’s voyages of exploration and discovery, however, commenced the permanent connection between the Americas and Europe, and later the rest of the world. In most significant aspects, the New World over the next five centuries became the New Europe. The culture termed Western Civilization came to dominate the world, and its world has been much better ever since. Anyone that does not believe that it has is not paying attention.
The leftists in the United States, especially the majority of the university professoriat, are certainly among them. They are the blind who will not see. Their fiction is that Columbus and his immediate successors rapaciously conquered “paradise” and brought war, disease, racism, slavery, and oppression to the inhabitants who had long communed in harmony with nature.
This is nonsense. Western Civilization did not invent racism, disease, slavery, or warfare. Those maladies existed among humans from time immemorial, and still do, chiefly in non-Western cultures. The West, however, during the post-Columbus centuries ended slavery, and drastically curtailed disease. While racism may have been mitigated, the leftist identity politics have given it a new life under a different name, but it will fade eventually. War has not been eliminated; perhaps that is impossible for so long as there are those who eschew reason.
This is not to say that Western Civilization is perfect. It has had, and still does have, its flaws. Likewise, other civilizations have their merits. They would not have developed and continued if their values failed to generally work for their inhabitants, given the environmental milieu in which they existed. But none have achieved the dominance the West has. That dominance has not been so much by force of arms, but by force of ideas and the fruit of those ideas that mitigated the Hobbesian nasty, brutish, and short life that humankind suffered for millennia since its beginning.
Christopher Columbus was in the vanguard of the West. He was the individual with the courage to strike out and risk his very life by sailing into the unknown to discover a new route, not for conquest, but for trade and commerce. He found a new hemisphere where Western Civilization was to expand and flourish. If it had not been Columbus, it doubtless would have been another European who discovered the existence of the American continents. But no matter, he was the first, and in more than four voyages he made the connection between the old and new worlds permanent.
So let us celebrate Columbus Day for the man who put in motion the process that truly changed the world 525 years ago.
For further reading on the impact of Columbus and Western Civilization see:
Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: the Origins of the Modern Economy.
Ian Morris, Why the West Rules: For Now.
Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier.
Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations.
Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History. (This is a 13 volume tome. There is a two volume abridgment published in 1957 that retains the essence of Toynbee’s thesis.)