Economist Bryan Caplan, sometime Reason contributor and author of some great consensus-breaking books about voting and child-rearing, speaks up against that rat bastard Chrisopher Columbus on this national holiday celebrating him (on which most of you are likely working anyway):
The far left's radical critique of Columbus Day rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But the facts are on their side. Columbus was not just a brutal slaver; he was a pioneer of slavery….
Can you condemn a man just for being a slaver? Of course. It's almost as bad as you can get. And Columbus didn't even have the lame excuses of a Thomas Jefferson, like "I grew up with it," or "I couldn't afford not to do it."
The lamest excuse of all is that we have to judge Columbus by the standards of his time. For this is nothing but the cultural relativism that defenders of Western civilization so often decry. If some cultures and practices are better than others, then we can fairly hold up a mirror to Columbus and the Spanish conquerors, and find theirs to be among the worst.
But hasn't the European colonization of the New World been an improvement? Even if this were true, it would be no reason to have a special day to honor Columbus and his ilk. If Mengele had cured cancer, should we celebrate Mengele Day? In any case, you've got to ask: Compared to what? The benefits of Western culture would have spread at least as rapidly if the Europeans had arrived in the New World as traders and teachers instead of conquerors and slavers.
Since it is often presumed that a point-and-quote blog post implies strong agreement on the part of the blogger, I will point out that I'm neither sure I agree nor disagree with this sort of application of contemporary moral standards on figures from the past (and I expect that I will likely have emotional responses based on how much I otherwise admire or despise the figure at times rather than reactions based on unimpeachable and unaltering applications of eternal principles).
I'm not even sure I agree that it matters in any way what judgment you or I in the present have about figures from the past, so this is presented as an argument-starter, not an argument ender.