Is the West destroying its own history?
Since the 1970s, the dominant voices within academic history have worked to generate a widespread cynicism about the nature of Western democracies, with the aim of questioning their moral and political legitimacy. In the United States, the most dramatic manifestation of this occurred in 1992. That year, the quincentenary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus became the occasion of an extraordinary outpouring of moral outrage. In book after book, the European discovery and settlement was denounced by many academics as one of the greatest calamities to have befallen not only the native Americans but the human species as a whole and, indeed, the planet itself. In American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, the American academic historian David Stannard accused Columbus of starting a process of unprecedented human destruction. He wrote: "The road to Auschwitz led straight through the heart of the Americas." In The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, the historian and environmentalist Kirkpatrick Sale accused Columbus of finding a land where man lived in harmony with nature and of transforming it into one where he not only rapaciously exploited nature but also exported his form of environmental abuse to the whole globe. All this has left us, Sale wrote, "at risk of the imperilment--worse, the likely destruction--of the earth." This critique was not just noble savage romanticism. The fate of the indigenes of the New World was elevated to the one of the critical gauges of Western civilization's moral legitimacy. As Stannard's evocative comparison with Nazi Germany demonstrated, the very claim of the West to be civilized was itself under question.
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