Even for Liberal University Folk, It is Hard to Hide European Greatness

Domitius Corbulo
Occidental Observer

December 19, 2013

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Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

In the egalitarian world of academia the deeds of great European men stand like an irritating thorn. Allowing university students (the majority of whom are now females) to learn that practically every great philosopher, scientist, architect, composer, or simply, everyone great, has been a male makes them uncomfortable. Academics feel even less comfortable, terrified even, at the thought of teaching their increasingly multiracial classrooms that these males are overwhelmingly European. While universities cannot ignore altogether the cultural achievements of Europeans, otherwise they would have little to teach — all the disciplines, after all, were created by Europeans — the emphasis tends to be on the evolution of “progressive” ideas framed as if they were universal ideals by and for humanity.  Egalitarians particularly enjoy teaching how these ideas have been improved upon, and continue to be, through the “critical thinking” of teachers and activists. Hail to the professors fighting for humanity’s liberation right inside their classrooms!

But it is not always easy to “critically” hide European greatness. It stands out in every subject of human endeavor. I would say that, when it comes to the teaching of history, academics have implemented four major discursive strategies to deal with this irksome issue in an age of egalitarian expectations. The first strategy, and possibly the most influential, is to argue that Europe’s history has to be seen in the context of “reciprocal connections” with the rest of the globe. The Greek classical world was part of a wider network of cultures within the Mediterranean Basin, predated and “fundamentally” shaped by the “foundational” civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Rome was both Western and Eastern. Christianity originated in the East. Medieval Europe borrowed its technology from China. “Without the Islamic Golden Age there would have been no Renaissance.” The Enlightenment was “the work of historical actors around the world”.

Another strategy is to argue that the “Great Divergence” occurred only with the coming of the industrial revolution of 1750/1820. Europe became different because it experienced this revolution first.  Before this revolution, Europe was a typical traditional culture in which the vast majority of people barely managed to survive. All the peoples of the earth were equally susceptible to Malthusian cycles. The “great mass of people” in pre-industrial times experienced the same pattern of existence within the constraints of agrarian stagnation, inert mentalities, and servitude. The “great personalities and ideas” were devoid of influence outside miniscule social circles. This revolution is now part of the “human experience” and the Asians are surpassing the Europeans.

The third strategy is to argue that England, as the “first industrial nation,” was the “lucky” recipient of plentiful coal, African slave labor, and cheaply produced tropical products in the New World. Columbus’ encounter with the New World was accidental; he was heading for the affluent and superior markets of Asia, and, without knowing it, “stumbled” upon the Americas. The “ultimate cause” of Europe’s faster rate of development was her geographical fragmentation, which resulted in the generation of a highly competitive inter-state system, which promoted innovations.  As one historian put it, Europeans “weren’t just lucky; they were lucky many times over.”

But there is a fourth strategy,  one I will address in this essay, not always overtly articulated, but deeply held, and perhaps better identified as an underlying ontological attitude permeating the academic world and the minds of cultural Marxists generally. It is an outlook, a way of thinking about reality and the nature of things, prevailing throughout the social sciences, which may be best summed in the way economic Marxists did: cultural life is fundamentally “superstructural” and the further away cultural achievements stand from the masses and the facts of survival, the less significant they are historically and democratically. The worthwhile facts of life revolve around economic survival, security, and comfort. Anthropologists later added that cultural differences were no more than adaptations to different ecological settings. Then cultural Marxists generally insisted that culture was important in regards to the everyday life and the “struggles” for class identity by workers and peasants, but also by women against patriarchal norms, and by a whole host of “minorities” neglected by traditional academics — gays, transsexuals, lesbians, Blacks, natives, etc.  This egalitarian emphasis on the culture of oppressed groups contained a corresponding assault, and inevitable devaluation, of the one agent that stood out as unoppressed, as ultimate oppressor: White European males.

Egalitarianism calls for equal appreciation of the cultural longings and achievements of non-Europeans.  The Western Canon is the purview of privileged White males. This Canon has to be diversified and leveled. The teaching of high Arts, Philosophy, Classics, and History must be provincialized to accommodate the equally valuable study of all cultures. This is not merely a curricular matter; it is an activist oppositional stance: the critical thinker must be dedicated to the promotion of non-Whites and females seeking a “voice” against European males. This has entailed not just a replacement, or mere addition of non-European experiences, but a concomitant depreciation and steamrolling of European greatness.

But there is a problem: the greatness of Europeans is overwhelmingly substantial and pervasively present in all the fields; it cannot be effortlessly placed (equally) alongside the achievements of other cultures:  we may add Chinese philosophers to the history and discipline of philosophy, but how much do we teach about native aboriginal metaphysics, Mayan epistemology, and African ontology? European greatness must somehow be explained away, cut back, hidden, contextualized, and, in the end, held in contempt. European males stand in violation of human equality and, as such, must be dealt with accordingly, desecrated and defiled.

I view all the major schools, interpretations, methodologies, and discursive analyzes of the last decades as consisting of efforts to negate, one way or the other, implicitly or explicitly, the attainments of Europeans: Global History, Deconstruction, Orientalism, the Annales School, “History from Below,” World Systems Theory, Dependency Theory, Afrocentrism, Structuralism, Foucauldian discourse analysis, Ethnomethodology, Symbolic Interactionism, Quantitative History — to list some.

It remains to be shown, in a concerted way, how all these academic movements have amounted to a relentless assault on Europe’s high achievements. In this essay I will discuss only one very telling example — subject of exploration. Exploration is not only a popular subject, but one filled with fascinating stories of human greatness, heroic will, and stamina against immense odds and hardship—exactly the sorts of traits that, according to cultural Marxists, should not be found to be unusually common among Europeans. Thus I am going to focus on one book, Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration, published in 2006, authored by one of the most acclaimed historians today, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. This book is an excellent example of how someone committed to egalitarian results in history reacts in the face of persistent European greatness.

91y3jRACBML._SL1500_While Fernandez-Armesto is best known as a world historian, author of Millennium: A History of Our Last Thousand Years (1995), his main period of expertise is the sixteenth century, the great age of transatlantic navigation, publishing numerous articles on this subject, as well as two books, Columbus (1991), and Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America (2007). Among his many accolades, he has garnered titles associated specifically with navigation and geography, including the Caird Medal (awarded by the National Maritime Museum [UK]), the Premio Nacional (awarded by the Sociedad Geográfica Española), and the John Carter Brown Medal (awarded by the Brown University Library). His book Pathfinders was received as a very important statement on the history of exploration, receiving numerous reviews in both the academic and mainstream media. In 2007, it won the World History Association Book Prize, a prize that is reserved only for books with a “global reach.”

This book’s assessment of exploration from a “global perspective” is extremely revealing. The book was written as a challenge to the one-sided Eurocentric preoccupation with European explorers; it would set the record straight by bringing into light many ignored non-European explorers.  The New York Times described the book as a “brilliant…rich study of humankind’s restless spirit.” From the opening pages ones gets the sense that a whole new approach to exploration encompassing all the peoples of the earth is about to be revealed.

Exploration is possibly the most male-oriented subject a historian could write about. All explorers are males, and most accounts of exploration were either written by the explorers or by male historians. But Armesto was determined to be different — he habitually calls himself “a true revolutionary” — informing us in the first page that he will write about this subject as if he were an imaginary cosmic observer, not just any observer, but a goddess standing on high with a gift for judging the affairs of men on earth:

Imagine a cosmic observer [Armesto], contemplating humankind from immensely remote space and time, seeing us with the kind of objectivity that we — who are enmeshed in our history — are unable to attain. Imagine asking her— for, perhaps on the basis of my own experience of home life, I see omniscience and omnipresence as female qualities — how she would characterize the history of our species on our planet. Imagine her answer (1). (My emphasis)

Approaching the most male of subjects from a female point of view would afford him the opportunity to treat this subject “objectively”.

The first chapters, evocatively titled “Stretching” “Reaching,” “Stirring,” “Springing,” all seemed to be perfectly organized and written according to how a goddess would see it, starting with the migrations of Lucy’s descendants out of East Africa to the rest of the continent and to Eurasia, continuing with the spread of cultures throughout the world, from the Tigris and Euphrates to the Pacific Islands, the Middle East and Africa. It all seemed so global and “stirring” — never mind that Armesto, or the imaginary goddess he was, was confounding two very different subjects, migrations and explorations. Let’s give her a pass here. There are some readable accounts of the Austronesians of the Pacific, the Thule Inuit’s and Norsemen in the Artic and Atlantic, and of navigators who learned to decode the monsoon system governing the Indian Ocean. The explorations of the Greeks throughout the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, all the way to the North Sea, and their invention of the science of geography and cartography are given short shrift, but we get some lively anecdotes about a Japanese woman’s maritime diary.  The territorial expansion of the Mongols and the Silk Road trade are loosely defined as exploratory, though the Roman territorial expansion is left unmentioned.

Armesto uses “elegant” and “felicitous” words, as one reviewer has it. He is quite keen recounting Zheng He’s voyages in the early fifteenth century, describing them as a display of “China’s potential as the launching bay of a seaborne empire,” relishing “the capacity and productivity of China’s shipyards; her ability to mount expeditions of crushing strength and dispatch them over vast distances.” He excuses the termination of Zheng He’s expedition, and China’s prohibition of further exploration, by pointing to the priority China’s Confucian government assigned to “good government at home” rather than “costly adventures” abroad.

Mind you, he infers that the Chinese, not the Europeans, were the true explorers on the grounds that He’s expeditions along the Indian Ocean were more difficult due to less predictable wind patterns as contrasted to the Atlantic.

Zheng He, I will note, was not a true explorer since he was navigating well-known sea routes in the Indian Ocean and did not discover a single new nautical route or territory, unlike the navigations of the Spaniards across the unknown Atlantic and the Portuguese down the western coasts of Africa. But again, let’s give Armesto a pass; he at least acknowledges the “great leap forward of the 1490s” by Spaniards and the global routes established in the next two centuries by Europeans generally, even if his prose is not as endearingly affecting as in the first chapters. There is a real change in tone, however, in all the subsequent chapters; Armesto’s celebratory manner undergoes a dramatic change as he reaches the 1700s and after.  He wanted a “global history” of exploration, announcing confidently in the first page that as an imaginary cosmic goddess he would be able to show “objectively” that the history of humanity was “above all” a history of “increasing diversity” (1).

Armesto’s main gift as a historian and scholar is that he is an effective narrative writer who can puff up one book every year without overburdening himself with too much analysis and philosophical reflection. I would not be surprised if he truly believed that as goddess he would be able to write a book that would break with the old Eurocentric approach, showing empirically that exploration was a very diverse affair populated by many ethnic groups. But as he kept writing beyond the amorphous migrations of Africans, expansion of Mongols and anonymous seafaring of Polynesians, he could not escape the persistently European character of exploration after the 1450s. With each new chapter and century thereafter, there was not only less and less diversity; there was no diversity at all: the entire endeavor was 100 percent dominated by Europeans.

After witnessing this reality, and unable to find sources challenging it, Armesto’s interest in the topic of exploration wanes to the point that he actually starts to trash the very actors and activity of exploration itself! The goddess is clearly upset.

What was all the more surprising to me was that his put downs become all the stronger as Europeans began to explore for the sake of exploring without engaging in the territorial expansions and violence that had characterized this activity in the pre-1700s. When European explorations started to take on a more scientific and humane character, less by soldiers, merchants and missionaries than by scientists and pure explorers, the tenor of Pathfinders becomes extremely cynical and disparaging.

Chapter 8, which deals with the period between 1740 and 1840, opens with this sentence: “What good came of all this exploration?” After which he writes:

Certainly, the excesses explorers committed — of arrogance, of egotism, of exploitation — showed the folly of supposing that travel necessarily broadens the mind or improves the character. (289–90)

Keep in mind his praises for Zheng He’s peaceful navigations,it was during this period that one begins to see among explorers men like Antoine de Bougainville, deliberately commissioned by the French government to circumnavigate the world in 1766–69, with naturalists, scientists and artists. It was at this point, more than ever, that explorers began to ask such questions as: “Where these people [from the Pacific islands] had come from, and how they had evolved a state of society so different from the Europeans?”[1]

The most illustrious member of this emerging group of peaceful explorers was Captain Cook. As a young apprentice in a navy merchant ship, he applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy. During the course of his legendary three Pacific voyages between 1768 and 1779 he showed that New Holland and New Guinea are two separate lands or islands, dispelled belief in the long-imagined southern continent, discovered New Caledonia, charted Easter Island, and discovered the Hawaiian Islands. It is said that he explored more of the earth’s surface than any other man in history. His methods were “painstaking, practical, and humane.” He prided himself on the fact that his feats were achieved “without loss of life among his crew as in the discoveries themselves.”[2]

Cook was undoubtedly a heroic figure, filled with a zeal for greatness, adventure, and immortal fame, a man with “indomitable courage”. In his own words, what he wanted above all else was the “pleasure of being first”; to sail “not only farther than man has been before me but as far as I think it possible for man to go”.[3]

Armesto recounts Cook’s voyages in a fairly detached way. His disapproving tone is actually reserved for the most benign forms of exploration, the explorations to the Polar Regions of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He seems unsure of his ground handling the Faustian “adventured-craving” of Europeans, as Spengler put it, “for uncharted distances” for the sake of testing one’s character as a noble man. What could have motivated Europeans without the presence of colonies and spices? He starts trashing everyone and the entire purpose of exploration. “Almost all the explorers who have featured in this chapter,” the period from 1850 to 2000, “were failures,” “amateurish”, “naïve”, “credulous,” “bombastic,” “mendacious,” “myopic,” “incompetent” (394).

David Livingstone, arguably one of the greatest land explorers of all time, is portrayed as a buffoon:

Livingstone was already famous as the author of what he called ‘missionary explorations’. It is not clear how far missionizing and exploring are congruent or even compatible activities. Missionary work…demands compromises with alien cultures and collaboration with distasteful regimes. Livingstone was unsuited…He had a strong sense of his own ‘Channel of Divine Power’, but how much of a missionary vocation he ever really had is doubtful. Notoriously, he is supposed only ever to have made one convert who soon reverted to paganism. … He tackled slavers and Boers and intractable native chiefs with gusto. … The expedition failed in all its objectives: no trade, no converts, no suitable sites for British colonization, no new geographical discoveries resulted. …His meanderings took him nowhere useful (353-354; my emphasis).

This is a barefaced caricature. At the age of ten, Livingstone started working in a cotton mill for 12-hour days, while putting himself through medical school, later landing in Algoa Bay in 1841, and until his death thirty two years later in 1873, travelling thousands of miles during his sojourns there, for a total of about 30,000 miles (!), mostly alone —”a solitary White man with a nucleus of faithful [African] attendants,” enduring sickness and dangers of every kind, at times during the rainy season and even once desperately sick with dysentery. His legacy includes: discovery of the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru, Lake Bangweulu, Lake Nyasa, and Victoria Falls. Livingstone did not sympathize with Africans from the safe comforts of an Ivy League professorship; contrary to Armesto’s claim that his missionary efforts involved no compromises with Africans, he lived with them, learned their local language, vehemently condemning and working against the cruelty of the slave trade.  As Clare Pettitt writes,

David Livingstone did not just explore Africa and then come home again, he lived there and worked alongside Africans. … Much of his writing is from Africa looking at Europe and the ‘old civilized countries’ as from a distance.[4]

Similarly, Armesto has nothing to say about Ernest Shackleton’s incredible voyage to the South Pole, except that it was a “failure,” “pointless.” His standing as one of the greatest figures of the “heroic age of Antarctic exploration” is thusly dismissed. Of Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904), the first European, and possibly the first person, to circumnavigate Lake Victoria, to connect the Lualaba River to the Congo River, and add many new place names to the map of Africa, Armesto simply says that Stanley did nothing worthwhile except “spent his patron’s wealth and his men’s lives with equal profligacy. … Stanley worked for millionaires or governments.”

He describes Robert Peary’s identification of the location of the North Pole as an achievement that “was much disputed…unverifiable,” “remains a matter of doubt” (379–380). That’s it.

Behind all these assertions, I should add, there is little scholarly effort, only a handful of books and biographies are referenced. He trashes completely with utter disrespect Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic expedition to the South Pole in 1911–12:

Scott was an irresponsible commander. … He jeopardized his men by refusing to recognize the obvious symptoms of scurvy. … Scott’s final message with its pathos and patriotism, its historic nostalgia and its unspecific religion, was perfectly calculated to appeal to British sensibilities and match the common notions the British share of themselves. (381–384)

Not a single one of the many biographies written on this iconic British hero is referenced. Armesto is British, born in London to a Spanish father and a British mother. Scott was a revered figure during the first half of the twentieth century, with more than 30 monuments and memorials set up during the first dozen years following his death. But in the last decades of the twentieth century, as the cultural Marxists marched through the institutions, Scott became a figure of controversy and even ridicule, particularly after the publication of Roland Huntford’s 1979 biography Scott and Amundsen, where Scott is portrayed as a reckless, sentimental amateur responsible for the death of his men. Armesto, however, does not cite this biography. And he is completely unaware of subsequent attempts to rescue Scott’s reputation from Huntford’s interpretation.

One of the most welcoming aspects of studying explorers is the healthy fascination and admiration for adventure and heroism even in some universities and surely among educated laymen. Cultural Marxists have had a difficult time imposing their resentful views in this field.  This may explain why Armesto’s main source on the explorations of the Arctic and Antarctica is a meager book, M.H. Rosove’s broad survey, Let Heroes Speak (2000). He can be excused for not citing Stephanie Barczewski’s Antarctic Destinies: Scott, Shackleton and the Changing Face of Heroism, which came out in 2007, a year after Pathfinders was published, overturning Huntford’s “at best one-sided, at worst wholly malicious” attack on Scott. But Armesto could have consulted many other sources including Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s 2003 biography Captain Scott, defending Scott as a great historic hero, and praised by reviewers as a stinging rebuttal of Huntford’s “story of a living liar.”[5]

Armesto references Scott’s famous diaries, the 1913 edition by L Huxley, published as Scott’s Last Expedition. Citing Scott’s legendary last letters to his family and country, Armesto comments:

Despite the fine words, they had died demoralized, unwilling or unable to go on, though they were only 11 miles from a food stump…The suspicion abides that they were virtual suicides, who preferred to die dramatically rather than live in obscurity. Scott’s excuse for failure was bad luck. (383; my emphasis)

Just to set the record straight: when Scott and his party of five men were 21 miles from the depot, he wrote in his diary:

We have had more wind and drift from ahead yesterday; had to stop marching; wind NW, force 4, temp. -35. No human being could face it, and we are worn out nearly. … My right foot has gone, nearly all the toes. [6]

A few days later, one of the explorers, Lawrence Oates, who was barely able to walk, willingly left the tent and walked to his death. When they were some 11 miles away from a food depot, held up by a blizzard that howled relentlessly for nine days, with their supplies almost out, Scott wrote his final words, “Message to the Public,” defending the expedition’s organization and conduct and adducing weather conditions for the party’s failure:

We took risks, we knew we took them. Things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last…Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. [7]

Armesto questions the sincerity of these words, and even imputes that the deaths were orchestrated by Scott and his men as “the best career move” (396).

But the meteorologist Susan Solomon, in The Coldest March, Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition (2001), has factually defended Scott’s message, attributing the failure of the expedition to the extreme weather condition of February and March 1912.

The Wall Street Journal review of Pathfinder informs us that Armesto writes with “gusto and panache.” Armesto certainly delights in the use of mocking phrases against Scott’s somber expressions of patriotic duty. Scott was dutiful alright, says Armesto, “until the glare of the ice got in his eyes and the scent of the quest in his nostrils. Then he forgot his ‘plain duty’” (395).

Max Jones, in his “Introduction” to Robert Falcon Scott’s Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, offers a very different view. Scott

composed the most haunting journal in the history of exploration. … Scott carved his name on the nation’s psyche by penning a last testament of duty and sacrifice” (xvii). Jones extols the pervading idea of the journals, the heroic vision of exploration as a test of individual worthiness and national character. From his early manhood, Scott was filled with anxiety and doubts about his adequacy in life’s struggles: “I write of the future; of the hopes of being more worthy; but shall I ever be — can I alone, poor weak wretch that I am bear up against it all. (xix)

The nationalistic spirit that once encouraged Britons to have the journals of Scott read to schoolchildren throughout the land, before the 1960s, has been replaced by multicultural incantations fostering the role of Islam in British public life. Armesto describes the medieval Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta as perhaps the greatest traveler of all time.

It boggles the mind how an expert on world history and human exploration could be so dismissive of Scott without even consulting one biography. One does not have to endorse a hagiographical glorification of Scott. David Crane’s 2005 book, Scott of the Antarctic: A Life of Courage and Tragedy in the Extreme South acknowledges Scott’s organizational errors and general faults of character and, in this way, actually restores his “humanity” as a flawed hero. Stephanie Barczewski’s book recounts the “revision of the revisionist view” while offering a balanced assessment of Scott free from the reverential approaches of the early 20th century, and the cultural Marxist approach of Armesto.

I should add that, in fairness to Huntford’s biography, Scott and Amundsen, its intention was to draw attention to the long neglected achievements of Roald Amundsen, which had been obscured by the British patriotic preoccupation with Scott’s failed mission. But Armesto is equally dismissive of Amundsen’s explorations, describing them as futile, even though he was the first to traverse successfully the fabled Northwest Passage, where he learned from Inuit’s techniques, which he then used to become the first to reach the South Pole. According to Russell Potter, Amundsen’s achievements “stand unequalled.”[8] But Armesto is not impressed:

Amundsen demonstrated the paradox of the Northwest Passage. The American Arctic was navigable between the Pacific and Atlantic – but uselessly so. (380)

He says no more. Happily, Armesto’s view has only impressed academics and journalists at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, not the public. Among the many biographies of Amundsen is a recent one by Stephen Brown, The Last Viking (2012), recipient of numerous positive reviews, and fully cognizant of Amundsen’s Faustian longing. From his youth, Amundsen “had vision of vanquishing against great odds, geographical chimeras, enduring incredible suffering in the process and emerging a hero” (8).  In Amundsen’s words, in The North West Passage (1908):

Strangely enough the thing in Sir John Franklin’s narrative that appealed to me the most strongly was the suffering that he and his men endured. A strange ambition burned within me to endure those same sufferings. Perhaps the idealism of youth, which often takes a turn towards martyrdom, found its crusade in me in the form of Arctic exploration. [9]

As one reads the last chapter of Pathfinders, “Globalizing, 1850–2000,” its utter dismissals of explorers, and its complete silence on most of the European explorers of this era, one realizes that Armesto’s book is a complete travesty. A consultation of the Smithsonian publication, Explorers, Great Tales of Adventure and Endurance (2010), and The Great Explorers, edited by Robin Hanbury-Tenison (2010) quickly brings home the numerous great explorers Armesto willfully ignores. For example: Heinrich Barth’s (1821-1865) “breathtaking” 10,000 mile overland expedition and discoveries in North and Central Africa across the Sahara; Wilfred Thesiger’s (1910-2003)  dangerous journeys from Sudan across Sahara to Tibesti, and through Syria, Arabia, and Indonesia, driven by the “lure of the unknown and the challenge to resolution and endurance.”

Armesto thinks Ibn Battuta was the greatest traveler (though he travelled in known Muslim lands), but what about Alexander von Humboldt’s (1769–1859) scientific expeditions in South America, climbing Silla of Caracas (8000 ft.), mapping the course of the Orinoco River (1,500–mile), collecting 12,000 specimens, almost starving to death and being reduced to eating ants, climbing what was then believed to be the highest peak in the world, Chimborazo (19,286 ft.), to mention some epic expeditions, in the course of which he collected over 60,000 thousands specimens and a vast amount of zoological, geological, oceanographic, and astronomical data, ending it all with a massive 25–year work, Kosmos, in which he attempted a physical description of the universe.

I could go on; roughly speaking I counted about 75 great European explorers in the period from about 1800 to the present, men (and a few women) who dedicated themselves to the discovery of the unknown, reconnoitering every place of the planet, climbing the highest mountains, penetrating into the deepest crevices of the oceans and high above in space. This history is rarely taught in our schools and universities; it has been virtually banned, or slandered by charges of imperialism.

Earlier I gave Armesto a pass in his designation of any form of human movement (migrations out of Africa, trade via the Silk Road, and conquests by Mongols) as exploration. I thought these were eras with few or no literary records about human explorers. But it becomes apparent in this last chapter that Armesto was determined from the very beginning to impose a cultural Marxist definition of exploration knowing that a “global” history of this subject was impossible since all the explorers after 1450 (and most before) were European. He uses the word ‘globalizing’ to identify the last era of exploration in order to obfuscate the subject, hide European greatness, and tell an alternative story in which exploration is identified with globalization, with European imperialism, with the spread of railways, telegraph and telephone communications, car highways, and current information technologies connecting humanity across the world.  The ultimate intended message of this book can be said to be: all humans are explorers except the “useless” Europeans who explored the world!

Amazingly, a back cover reviewer of Pathfinders calls Armesto “indefatigable and daring,” and other reviewers even surmise that Armesto is the true explorer in having exposed the false credentials of past explorers. This is what egalitarianism amounts to: a lack of respect and appreciation for true greatness leaving the door open for charlatans and verbose characters like Armesto to step in front (as in this video; start at the 2:25 mark) and demand special attention as “a real man of the people,” offering a “genuinely revolutionary message about equality” from a public deprived of the history of their heroes, increasingly unable to make qualitative distinctions.



[1] Peter Whitfield, Maps in the History of Exploration (1998): 120-1; Vanessa Collingridge “Louis-Antoine de Bougainville” in Robin Hanbury-Tenison, The Great Explorers (2010).

[2] Whitefield, 121-23.

[3] Robin Hanbury-Tenison, ed., The Oxford Book of Exploration (1993): 490-3.This book is an anthology of the writings of explorers.

[4] Clare Pettitt, “David Livingstone, Africa Coast to Coast” in Hanbury-Tenison (2010): 151; Frank Debenham, Discovery and Exploration (1960): 170-5; Whitfield, 170-2.

[5] Cited in Jasper Rees, “Ice in Our Hearts,” The Telegraph (December 19, 2004).

[6] Robert Scott, “Final Diaries and Letters,” in Hanbury-Tenison, ed., The Oxford Book of Exploration, 508.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Russell Potter, “Roald Amundsen, A Burning Ambition to Reach the Poles,” in The Great Explorers, 181.

[9] In Russell Potter, 181.

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