Christopher Columbus

Robert Clancy

[Reprinted from: The Georgist Journal, No.76 - Summer 1992]

Today there is an attitude toward Christopher Columbus and the European discovery of America in 1492 that contrasts sharply with that prevailing 100 years ago.

In 1893 (one year late. for the 400th Anniversary), the Columbian Exposition in Chicago extolled the discovery and development of America. Optimism and belief in continual progress were strong -- "all sail and no rudder." Today, at least in some quarters (the "politically correct"), it could be said to be "all rudder and no sail." Even among the less politically correct, celebration of the Quincentennial is more muted.

Although it had been known that European comers to the Mew World had been less than kind to American natives, introduced African slavery and built land-grabbing colonies, these seemed to be secondary to the great enterprise of discovering, exploring and settling a fantastic New World. But the sins have obtruded themselves and it is difficult to look at the matter without then. The belief in progress has dimmed, worries about the environment have increased, concern for Third and Fourth World denizens are more pronounced.

All to the good. And yet it is possible to go from one extreme to another. Within this outlook lie some premises we had better watch out for: productive progress must be stopped, population must be controlled, free trade is a snare, the market is wicked and we must move backward. Instead of solving the problems that come with progress, this philosophy says that we must retreat from progress and its problems.

We cannot do this. Admittedly, the world's problems are stupendous and a messy move to a global economy seems overwhelming. Yet we cannot be asked to remain in a cocoon until we become perfect human beings who will always do the right thing when we venture forth. There is not even any agreement on what is the right thing.

So we're stuck with the world, ourselves and the approaching year 2000. Our best option is to have full frank discussions with all parties, work things out, seek to improve some of our situations, try to solve problems... and move forward.