To my knowledge Immanuel Kant never expressed any interest in Christopher Columbus. Certainly he is not known for having done so or considered influential regarding the debate over the question of Columbus’s place in history or the discovery of America. (There was, of course, no debate on this question until the twentieth century.) Nonetheless, it is Kant who, on the most fundamental level, stands between Columbus and the historical acclaim he rightly deserves.
Evidently, egalitarianism and multiculturalism are the ideologies driving attacks on Columbus. When people assert that Leif Ericson “discovered America,” they are obviously not claiming that his landing in Vinland is anywhere near as significant to history as Columbus’s voyage of 1492. They cannot, because Ericson’s efforts were absolutely barren of historical results. What Ericson proponents are really asserting is that no individual–and no discovery–is more historically significant than any other. Similarly, it would be ludicrous to claim that the Iroquois Confederacy or the Aztec Empire were bastions of individual rights, comparable to the United States. Multiculturalists do not assert this. Instead, they evade the fact that political freedom is an objective standard of value, and present Indian social systems as merely variants within a “spectrum,” “pageant”, or “kaleidoscope” of different civilizations.
The intellectual roots of egalitarianism and multiculturalism in Kantianism are complex and difficult to trace, but they are there. One important aspect of Kant’s philosophical system that underlies both of these views is the idea that a man’s consciousness necessarily distorts his perception of reality. This premise empowers attackers of Western civilization against any emphasis of certain individuals and civilizations in history, by allowing them to claim that these are merely expressions of a “Eurocentric” cultural prism through which Westerners view the world. Kant’s “deontological” theory of ethics also plays a part, because it damns any valuing activity–including the valuing of historical changes–that reflect one’s interest (regardless of whether that interest is objective or not).
There are other related ideas that Kant provided which underpin modern attacks on Columbus and the West, but his role in Columbus’s fall is far greater than merely the empowerment of Columbus’s enemies. Kant’s most nefarious part in the anti-Columbian intifada is his work to disarm of the defenders of civilization who should have stood at the ready to repel the anti-Western onslaught–the scientists whose job it is to define and promote the value of the agents of progress in time–i.e. professional historians.
(Continued tomorrow, in part 2).