LGM prides itself on its fairness and balance. It only seems right, then, that Erik’s thoughts below opposing imperialist genocide be paired with the profound views of another important public intellectual, the late Christopher Hitchens:
My old comrade David Dellinger, hero of the antiimperialist movement, telephoned the other day to tell me of the fast he was undertaking to protest the celebration of racism, conquest and plunder that impended on Columbus Day. I am as respectful of my elders as any ancestor-worshiping Iroquois, and David has been to prison for his beliefs more times than I have had hot dinners, but a hot dinner – with steak frites, cheese and salad and a decent half bot. of something, all complete – was what I urged him to go and have. Break your fast, old thing, I beseeched; 1492 was a very good year.
I can never quite decide whether the anti-Columbus movement is merely risible or faintly sinister. It is risible in the same way that all movements of conservative anachronism are risible, and reminds me of Evelyn Waugh’s complaint that he could never find a politician who would promise to put the clock back. it is sinister, though, because it is an ignorant celebration of stasis and backwardness, with an unpleasant tinge of self-hatred.
One need not be an automatic positivist about this. But it does happen to be the way that history is made, and to complain about it is as empty as complaint about climatic, geological or tectonic shift. Not all changes and victories are “progress!’ The Roman conquest and subjugation of Britain was, I think, a huge advance because it brought the savage English tribes within reach of Mediterranean (including Ptolemaic and Phoenician as well as Greek and Latin) civilization, whereas the Norman Conquest looks like just another random triumph of might.
The very dynasty that funded Columbus put an end to Andalusia in the same year, and thus blew up the cultural bridge between the high attainments of Islamic North Africa and Mesopotamia and the relative backwardness of Castilian Christendom. Still, for that synthesis to have occurred in the first place, creating the marvels of Cordoba and Granada, wars of expansion and conversion and displacement had to be won and lost. Reapportioning Andalusia according to “precedent” would be as futile an idea as restoring Sioux rights that are only “ancestral” as far back as 1814. The Sioux should be able to claim the same rights and titles as any other citizen, and should be compensated for past injury. That goes without saying. But the anti-Columbus movement is bored by concepts of this kind, preferring to flagellate about original sin and therefore, inevitably, to brood about the illusory counterpart to that exploded concept-the Garden of Eden.
Forget it. As Marx wrote about India, the impact of a more developed society upon a culture (or a series of warring cultures, since there was no such nation as India before the British Empire) can spread aspects of modernity and enlightenment that outlive and transcend the conqueror. This isn’t always true; the British probably left Africa worse off than they found it, and they certainly retarded the whole life of Ireland. But it is sometimes unambiguously the case that a certain coincidence of ideas, technologies, population movements and politico-military victories leaves humanity on a slightly higher plane than it knew before. The transformation of part of the northern part of this continent into “America” inaugurated a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation, and thus deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto, with or without the participation of those who wish they had never been born.
And, hey, I bet David Irving thought 1492 was a very good year too!
As I’ve said before, whatever his merits as a prose stylist and literary critic, as a political thinker he was incoherent and puddle-deep. When he reached the right conclusion his arguments were just as driven by personality considerations and self-consciously “provocative” contrarianism as they were on the many occasions when he reached terrible ones.
[Via Jeet Heer]