Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Article excerpt

It looks as if Christopher Columbus may survive after all. Last year his detractors seemed to have blackened his reputation so successfully that Columbus Day would ever after be celebrated only by moral vermin who revel in shame.

This year the day has come and gone again, yet raised scarcely a peep of protest against honoring the Genoese navigator with parades and school holidays. Such is the swiftness with which our modern crusades end up moldering on the shelf.

In modern crusades, timing is everything. That's because a modern crusade's chance of success depends heavily on media attention. This doubtless explains why Columbus's detractors chose last year to have their go at him but let him off scot-free this year. Last year they were assured of maximum media.

Why? Last year was the 500th anniversary of his first Atlantic crossing. This year is the 501st. Nobody makes a fuss about 501st anniversaries, least of all the press. If, however, you want camera crews and reporters destroying your lawn, porch, roofing shingles, aluminum siding and parlor rug, simply let it be known that you have a 500th anniversary in progress.

Last year's attacks on Columbus were denunciations of a human product of 15th-century European culture, but they were more than attacks. They were also celebrations of the superiority of the present culture.

The modern custom is to stand in front of the full-length mirror, patting yourself on the back and loudly congratulating yourself on how thoroughly your moral superiority exceeds that of the old-timers of long-dead generations.

Every time I hear some philosopher of the water cooler explain that Abraham Lincoln was "a racist," I am touched by the display of eagerness of modern Americans to boast that their own enlightenment puts to shame the great figures of the past.

What makes it comical is the assumption that the present is a pinnacle of some sort. Poor benighted Lincoln hadn't the good luck to be of the present age, so how could he avoid being "a racist," even though in some respects he was not half as unenlightened as a lot of the old-timers?

Look at Jefferson. A slaver. A sexist, to boot. …

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