Columbus Day is here and once again we are subject to the forces of political correctness that take us down the bumpy roads (in desperate need of help here in Colorado) of protests, demonstrations and speeches demanding that this Day be abolished based on the accusations that Columbus brought slavery and diseases to the New World and that Columbus Day legitimizes these injustices.
Never mind that Columbus (or anyone else of his era) had absolutely no idea that anything like bacteria or viruses even existed let alone caused diseases… or that slavery was already flourishing in the pre-1492 New World civilizations… or that Columbus likely never even knew he had discovered an entirely new world.
Never the less, if we are going to consider de-christening Columbus Day, let’s look for a meaningful replacement. Since we all agree that the evils of slavery are an affront to our sense of morality and disease is an undesirable aspect of human life let us begin our search for a Day that reflects those sentiments. In addition let’s add to our aversions of slavery and disease both our antipathy of abject poverty and our love of our personal freedoms.
There is a misguided impression among many people that slavery, “America’s original sin” as it is sometimes called, began with the slave ships of Western Civilization that brought Africans across the Atlantic Ocean and sold them in the Americas. This is completely wrong. Not only was slavery not “original” to America but at the time it was and always had been the norm of the world. As prolific author and long-time University of Washington sociology Professor Rodney Stark writes, slavery has “been a nearly universal feature of civilization”.
More significantly is the fact that not only did Western Civilization not start slavery, it is the first civilization that ever managed to eliminate slavery! Or even to find slavery morally offensive! From the Catholic Church (“Indians and all other peoples…should not be deprived of their liberty or of their possessions…and are not to be reduced to slavery“—-Pope Paul III, June 2, 1537) to John Wesley (founder of Methodism) to the Quakers of Philadelphia Christian activists, after a long battle, eventually succeeded for the first time in history in abolishing slavery from an entire civilization.
Western Civilization is also the only civilization in the history of the world that ever waged a successful defense against what is probably humans’ most deadly enemy (no it was not lions or tigers or bears…or famine or war or violence)…bacteria. The development of modern science (arguably humanity’s greatest intellectual accomplishment) by Western Civilization resulted in the discovery of and subsequent methods for fighting and killing these tiny villains. Municipal waste facilities have saved millions of lives and sicknesses by purifying drinking water. Inoculations have saved millions more from smallpox, polio, pneumonia, mumps, measles, rubella, tetanus and so on. And antibiotics are so taken for granted today that fears of dying or even becoming seriously ill from simple infections are largely gone.
Additionally, only Western Civilization ever managed to endow its’ citizens with the levels of personal freedoms we take for granted today. From the Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution to the Bill of Rights our freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, press, religion, private property, unjust searches and seizures, representative government and so on are unmatched by any other civilization in history.
Finally, with regard to poverty it is interesting to note that for thousands of years almost all people in the world lived in abject (subsistence level) poverty. Only Western Civilization ever essentially eliminated this level of poverty. Made possible largely as a result of the freedom of private property and the resulting development of modern capitalism with its’ resultant massive increase in economic production and wealth, we live today in a society where starvation and abject poverty are virtually non-existent.
Certainly seems like we could all rally around these great accomplishments! And if we want to get rid of Columbus Day we could replace it with what we could name Western Civilization Day!
Mike McCarty is an entrepreneur in Arvada and member of the Board of Trustees for the Independence Institute.