If we don’t stand up for Western values, who will?

Photo by Mike Boening http://www.mikeboening.com

Christian Gonzalez/Staff Writer

Documentary evidence of Columbus selling girls as young as nine or 10 into sexual slavery exists. He sent natives to work in gold mines under brutal conditions. He chopped off innocent people’s hands. He personally participated in the destruction of numerous indigenous villages.

While it can often be condescending to judge our ancestors’ actions with contemporary moral standards, Columbus did not even adhere to the normality of the 15th century. So egregious were his violations that on one occasion, he was arrested and shipped back to Spain to answer for his crimes.

There aren’t many reasons to object, therefore, to FIU’s Global Indigenous Group’s recent petition to change the commemoration of Columbus Day. I don’t see why it follows that the day must be changed to “Indigenous People’s Day” as has been suggested, but at any rate this is a minor point; there are more important things to worry about than the things written on our calendars.

Yet I fear that this plan is, or at the very least may be, a symptom of a larger and more insidious strain of thought — the attempt to lambast, morph, and fundamentally alter Western society and culture.

The people who wish to rename Columbus Day are in certain ways a different manifestation of those who want to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the buildings at Princeton, who criticize American culture for being a nefarious patriarchy, who hold the conviction that all cultures are inherently equal, who maintain that a moral equivalence exists between the West’s open society and its military enemies and who decline to stand for anthem of the United States.

These various forms of Western self-flagellation have the potential to induce severe damage, and not just to the West.

Critics of the West typically point to its historic crimes as evidence that we —by “we,” I mean Western society— really have no moral standing from which to criticize other cultures or other nations. How dare we, the colonizers of the world, the enslavers of Africa, the creators of racism, the destroyers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Vietnam, stand on any type of ethical plateau?  

The West can and should.

To present only Western crimes ignores far more important and long-lasting Western accomplishments, such as: the British Empire’s moral and military crusade against the transatlantic slave trade, beginning in the early 19th century, when the United Kingdom launched a massive naval operation to arrest those awful human traffickers; the liberation of Europe and East Asia from German and Japanese fascism, respectively; the protection of South Korea from Stalinism; the triumph over the Soviet Union and the defeat of its communist doctrine.

Such anti-Western invectives also ignore that most other cultures and peoples also practiced imperialism, slavery and all the rest of it.

To name just a few: The Aztecs ran a madly violent empire in central Mexico, sustained in part through monstrous human sacrifices. The Maori people in Polynesia exterminated virtually every member of the Moriori tribe in a neighboring island. Ottoman ships regularly enslaved Europeans into the 19th century.

By no means is this meant to serve as a retrospective moral exculpation of Western atrocities. Just because almost everyone else perpetrated similar offenses doesn’t mean the West is not responsible for its own. I suggest only that it’s misguided to condemn Western crimes as if only the West committed them.

If the Western world is unique in its relationship to slavery, racism, sexism and other such practices and beliefs, it’s only in the sense that it was almost invariably the first to launch philosophical and political campaigns against them, through notions of liberalism and democracy.

Niall Ferguson, a respected British historian at Harvard, makes this point well in his rather pretentiously-titled book, “Civilization: The West and the Rest.”

He writes, “No serious writer would claim that the reign of Western civilization was unblemished.” But still, “the West was Janus-faced: capable of nobility yet also capable of turpitude … Competition and monopoly; science and superstition; freedom and slavery; curing and killing; hard work and laziness — in each case, the West was father to both the good and the bad. It was just that … the better of the two brothers ultimately came out on top.”

It was Western powers that imposed on the world the present liberal order at the end of the World War II, which made possible a hitherto unprecedented expansion of freedom and prosperity.

This system, despite its considerable flaws, inefficiencies and even injustices, has facilitated an increase in global gross domestic product from $1.42 trillion in 1961 to $73.434 trillion today, according to data from the World Bank. In per capita GDP terms, that’s an increase from $450 to $10,000. Such figures speak for themselves.

Ferguson lists in his book the specific accomplishments which allowed for this increase in material well-being, including the scientific revolution, the expansion of the rule of law and parliamentary institutions, the wonders of Western medicine — and on and on, too numerous to list here.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with wishing to rename Columbus Day, so long as we don’t fall into the broader anti-Western narrative. To spurn the West is to reject the ingredients necessary for prosperity.

The British journalist Douglas Murray once debated the merits of affirming the superiority of Western values. His thoughts were terse.  “If we don’t stand up for Western values,” he asked, “then who will?”

Indeed. Who will?




The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of FIU Student Media Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Image retrieved from Flickr.

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