Motives of Discovery and Exploration I - RR144A1

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Lesson[edit]

Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: 1. Motives of Discovery & Exploration I
Course: Course - American History to 1865
Subject: Subject:History
Lesson#: 1
Length: 0:39:56
TapeCode: RR144A1
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format
American History to 1865.jpg

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission.


Before we begin, I’d like to have a show of hands of those of you who are the college students here. Alright. Now I believe you already have Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, do you not? Read chapters three, four, and five, to begin with. It will be a few days before we come to a consideration of it, but I want you to get started in it, because we will be devoting more than a little time to de Tocqueville. And I want you to be ahead in your reading, because when this book, Redeemer Nation, by Tuveson comes you’ll have some reading to do to catch up, and you might as well get ahead on de Tocqueville.

We shall be considering the ideas and moving doctrines in American history between 1776 and about 1864 or 65, till approximately the end of the Civil War. Now in the course of doing that, we shall take some glances both before and after those dates in order to see the direction of American history. I am going to assume that you all have a very thorough schooling in the basic facts of American history, as I am sure you do have in your training here at Fairfax.

So we are not going to devote too much time to rehearsing the battles of the events, the administrations, which president came after which; but an understanding [of] what made these men tick, what were the basic ideas behind American history. We are going to start by going way, way back; and our concern this morning will be with the very beginning, the discovery of America; and our subject will be the motives of discovery—the motives of discovery.

The reason why we’re going to concentrate on the motives of discovery is this: the reasons that led men to discover and explore America are very much with us today; and unless we understand those motives, we cannot understand what is happening all around us and over here in Washington. Ideas have consequences, and ideas have a longer life than men and nations. Great empires has risen and fallen. The greatest of them, Byzantium, had a thousand years; but even longer than a thousand years ideas have governed and dominated men for thousands upon thousands of years from the earliest days of the world. [00:03:19]

And so it is important to recognize ideas, because...[edit]

And so it is important to recognize ideas, because ideas, good and bad, have governed men from the beginning of time and will continue to do so. Moreover, behind all ideas are certain religious presuppositions—a religious faith; and men act in terms of what they believe. And as men believe something, they act on it. Actions spring from faith. If you believed that there were thousands upon thousands of silver dollars scattered out there on the lawn, I wouldn’t be able to hold you in the class, would I? You’d be out there to pick up those silver dollars. If you believe something you act on it; and whatever impediments are in the way you will overcome, because if you believe something you want to follow through on that faith. Man thinks in terms of his basic faith. He acts in accordance with that faith. The culture he develops is an expression of that faith.

Now America, from the moment it was discovered, has had a history in terms of the faith of its discoverers. The evidence is increasingly mounting that long before Columbus, America was discovered over and over and over again. We know now that Lief Erickson and other Viking explorers came to the Americas. There were very definitely colonies of them in Greenland. We know that they went from Greenland to Canada, and what is now New England. We know also that in the early days when some of the earliest Viking raids took place in the British Isles, some of the Irish left that area, and settled in Iceland and Greenland to get away from the Vikings. And there are stories (we don’t know how true they are), but it is not unlikely that from there they explored North America. [00:06:04]

A Harvard professor of some years ago, the father of...[edit]

A Harvard professor of some years ago, the father of Norbert Wiener, who has had a great deal to do with cybernetics, wrote a three-volume study, in which he demonstrated there were many Arabic words in Indian languages, like Iroquois. So, he concluded, in the early centuries of the Christian era, Arab explorers, traders, almost certainly came westward and discovered America.

Then there are evidences that from the Orient some explorers came to the west coast of North and South America. On top of that there is one scholar who has written a book, in which he claims that in the days of Solomon, the Phoenicians and Hebrews discovered Mexico and Peru, and began to mine silver there.

Now some of these we don’t know for sure whether they are true or not. In some cases there are evidences accumulating that some of these stories about early explorers are true. We are not interested today in getting into that argument. There is a great deal of evidence pro and con, and various scholars say anyone who believes that so and so discovered this country is believing legend, and other scholars say look at all the evidence that I have; you’re not looking at the facts if you deny it.

My point is this: we do know there is evidence that there were various discoveries; which were actually real, and which are legendary, we don’t know; but America was discovered over and over again by at least some of these men. That we do know. Why was nothing done about it until Columbus? You would think with these discoveries a great deal would have been made of this new continent, but nothing was done. The reason was, of course, these earlier explorers saw no significance in the new-found land. They were not interested in the development. If there was something they could take back home, well and good; but men must have a basic reason, a driving motive, to take and utilize something like a new country, and the earlier explorers found it interesting. [00:09:09]

We have some records of the Viking explorations...[edit]

We have some records of the Viking explorations. They found the new country very interesting, but they were basically raiders. They wanted to seize whatever wealth there was and move on. But suddenly at the time of Columbus, the motives were there; so that when Columbus came back and reported what he had found, there was tremendous excitement.

Now, of course, before we analyze Columbus’ exploration, it is important to note that the idea that people then believed the earth was flat is nonsense. They did not. They knew it was round. The only concern was they did not know the exact size of it, and they wondered about what was on the other side. And their ideas were governed by various pagan myths. The very name for the people on the other side reflects some of the myths. The other side of the world was called the antipodes—in other words, the other side. What were men like there? Was living any different? What was the effect? So there was a great deal of concern and curiosity about what was on the other side of the world, and some of the ideas were fanciful; but they knew that there was something on the other side.

Now the question was: was it islands, or was it continents. We do know that there were maps existing. Maps of the ancient sea kings gives us a list of some of the ancient maps that shows North and South America, but those maps had been pretty largely forgotten by Columbus’ time. So some of the things they knew had been forgotten. [00:11:36]

Incidentally, one of the worst things that happened...[edit]

Incidentally, one of the worst things that happened to learning was the invention of printing; because when the first printing press was invented, and new books were published, people began to despise the old handwritten books. And so they forgot a great deal, because they weren’t interested in the old books. And so there was a great deal of ignorance, simply because they despised that which was old. They became quite modern in their outlook. The book that was worth reading was a modern, printed book. The invention of printing, therefore, was a setback for learning.

Now one of the basic ideas that governed men at this time very powerfully came from ancient pagan antiquities. It was a humanistic doctrine that believed in the golden age and a golden realm somewhere. Horace gives us a poem in which this faith is set forth. Now, the dates of Horace are somewhere in the first century B.C., approximately 65 to 8 B.C. Horace was one of the great Roman poets. Then, somewhere, mid-point in his life around 35 B.C., Horace wrote a poem, his Epode XVI. And in Epode XVI, he expressed the hope that he and others could find a refuge from the troubles around them. Rome was in the midst of civil war. There was a threat from foreign enemies, and it seemed as though everything worthwhile in their civilization was doomed. And so Horace said there is only one thing for us to do, to leave Rome. Let us get in this ship and go to the western sea—in other words, across the Atlantic—and let us look for those islands out there, those lands of which we know vaguely, the Isles of the Blest, Paradise. [00:14:17]

Now this is what Horace wrote in this epode, in part...[edit]

Now this is what Horace wrote in this epode, in part: “Scourges of civil dissension now lash us, the new generation, and Rome by her own strength is falling ruin-banned. Rome her unnatural sons blood-tainted to ruin are bringing. Wild beasts again for lairs shall choose the soil of Rome. Aliens triumphant shall trample her ashes. With hoof strokes ringing the horsemen of our foes shall spurn the ancient home. Let this be our counsel of counsels—as when after dread oath taken, the people of Phocaea left their ancient home, fled from their lands, from the hearths of their fathers, their temples, forsaken for boars to dwell therein, for ravening wolves to roam. Let us go, whither fortune may guide, whither over the surges the finger of wild Southwest or West wind may beacon us away. Thus are ye minded? Have any better to counsel? Why linger to haste aboard the ship in this the accepted day? Us ocean awaiteth, the girdler of earth. Let us seek, on-sailing, the fields of Paradise, the Islands of the Blest, where yearly the soil without tillage bestoweth the harvests unfailing, where blossoms always the vine by pruner’s knife undressed. There to the pail unbidden the milch-goat comes in the gloaming. For love the heifer comes full-uddered to the byre. They hear not at even the growl of the bear round the sheepfold roaming, nor earth with viper-nests swells up in hillocks dire.” [00:16:15]

Now, of course, the crisis passed, and Horace and his...[edit]

Now, of course, the crisis passed, and Horace and his friends did not leave Rome and sail across the Atlantic to find this marvelous land he was talking about. But the dream that Horace here set forth, and which he held, survived. Now, it was not new with Horace, although Horace gave it a very beautiful form in Latin, so that it was memorized by men of culture and became a very familiar part of the humanistic dream. By the time of the Renaissance, which was well underway when Columbus sailed, this dream had become important to men.

Now let’s analyze this dream. Remember, Horace says there’s a land out there somewhere, the Isles of the Blest, a paradise on earth. It is a perfect land. Of that place, there is no need to work, because the fields give a harvest, whether you work or not. In fact, he said, the milch-goats come to give milk without being called, and the cow comes and just drops her milk into a bucket for you. The trees drop their fruit in your hand. The wild animals do not harm you. It is Paradise. Let us find it.

Now consider the importance of this message. It was believed from Horace’s day and earlier, right through Columbus’ day and this present day (we shall deal with that later), by countless numbers of people who are humanists in their orientation. The essence of this fate, therefore, was that somewhere there is a perfect environment. Man’s salvation, therefore, is to find that perfect environment. Now do you begin to see the influence that this meant to this day? After all the world was explored, and there was no longer any place where man could find that perfect environment, that paradise on earth, then the idea developed: man’s salvation is to create the perfect environment, and then all will be well. In other words, man’s problem is not in man; it is in his environment. If only we can recreate the right kind of environment, then we can have a perfect man. And Horace is saying our problem is that this environment is hopelessly corrupted, not that I, Horace, is a sinner, or that other Romans are sinners; if only we Romans can flee from this place, Rome, which has been corrupted, and go across the ocean to the Isle of the Blest, a perfect environment, an earthly paradise, there all our problems will disappear. [00:19:56]

Now here, we have one of the basic motive forces in...[edit]

Now here, we have one of the basic motive forces in the discovery of America. It is still a basic motive force in the life of America. After all, isn’t this the idea behind our slum housing projects; if only we’d give these people a new environment, all will be well; if only we’d take this delinquent and give him a good environment, all will be well. Now, this motive force, therefore, is very early present; if man can escape to a new world, to a new environment, man will find salvation. Salvation for Horace, thus, was not a regenerated man, but a perfect environment. And today this idea means salvation is a regenerated environment, rather than a regenerated man.

Salvation, thus, is escape from an evil environment to a good one.

Now this motive is still with us in another form. If you read very carefully some of the things that are said by men connected with NASA, and some people who write about space exploration, you find that some of them actually talk about a new beginning for man on some new planet. So a very powerful motive force with us today, one which led to the explorations of America, it now leads the explorations of space—let’s go somewhere where we can find a new uncontaminated world, and there we can have a paradise; the environment is the answer. [00:22:13]

Now on the other hand, the physical faith holds that...[edit]

Now on the other hand, the physical faith holds that man’s salvation is through God’s sovereign, regenerating grace. The answer, therefore, is the creation of a new man through Jesus Christ; and then the establishment of God’s order in the world, binding to God’s Law, that regenerate men can create a new order, God’s order. Thus, the two motive forces in 1492 were for salvation by a new environment and salvation by a new man. Both of these were very important in the discovery of America.

Now the dream of a new environment also led to another very important myth, the myth of the noble savage. If you go to the early literature, it really is surprising what you find, because you find that over and over again these people are reporting on what they see among the Indians. They found cannibalism here, for example. Now, cannibalism comes (the word) from the Americas. It was originally caribalism from the Caribbean, the Carib Indian, and little by little the “r” got changed with “n.” But if you look it up in an unabridged dictionary you’ll find that the word cannibal comes from Carib and caribal. They found cannibalism. They found the most inhuman kind of tortures among the Indians. They found numerous things that were really quite shocking to anyone who was ready to look at them realistically. And yet, some of these people who saw these things still wrote about the noble, uncorrupted savage. They were afraid that if the white man had too much contact with them, he would corrupt them. A white man should sit at their feet, as it were, and learn from them. And one of the most popular kinds of literature in Europe for a long time, almost to the, well, to the present age (in fact, now it’s anthropologists who are writing these books) is about the pure, uncontaminated savage; and how we who are the civilized ones who’ve been polluted by Christianity (this is what they feel) are corrupting these people, and the world as it is without Christianity is a perfect world: we mustn’t touch it or tamper with it. [00:25:35]

Now you know about the pipeline situation and other...[edit]

Now you know about the pipeline situation and other like things, and how the ecology people are fighting to prevent it at every turn. They have requirements now that they’ve gotten into law that there can be no projects without environmental testing to determine whether the environment will be destroyed, as the result of whatever project is being put in. Well, Friday’s paper in California told of one environmental project where the testing required soil samples to be taken before they can go ahead with whatever work they’re going to do. Now the ecology people, the eco-freaks, are in court fighting the soil sample idea, because they say if you even dig to take some soil samples, you’re going to pollute that perfect environment. They actually killed, for example, a project out in the desert between California, Nevada, and Arizona, out of Barstow, where one of the oil companies was going to put in a refinery, a $300,000,000 project. They were not going to be near any city; they were going to go out into the desert, so no one could complain about the smell of oil in the air for a mile or so around. And they still killed it, because it was going to harm the ecology for the rattlesnakes out there. In other words, don’t tamper with a perfect world; it’s modern Christian man who is the polluter. Incidentally, let me add that the only reason we have a fuel shortage today is not because we don’t have the fuel, but because there are no refineries to process it—almost no refineries; only one or two have been built for five years, and the key is to have refineries. We have a lot of refineries in California, and the oil is just sitting there waiting to be processed, to be made into gasoline and fuel oil, or whatever else.

But these people who believe in a perfect environment as man’s salvation, they don’t tamper with that environment. And one scholar after another says that Christianity is the great polluter, the great tamperer, interested in changing everything. This humanism, thus, was one basic motive force, and the other was Christianity; changing the environment, or finding the perfect environment, or changing man. [00:00:28]

Now one of the things that characterized ...[edit]

Now one of the things that characterized 15th Century Christendom was that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction. It is not an accident that the discovery of America and the Protestant Reformation took place within a few years of each other. In 1492, Columbus discovered America; about 20 years later, Luther’s work took place, so the events are not unrelated. There was a tremendous Christian dissatisfaction with things the way they were behind both events. Now, there is a great deal in Columbus in which we find a confusion of the humanistic and the Christian motive. There are points where we begin to share, to a degree, the humanistic interests. But in spite of that, there is a great deal in Columbus which was very, very definitely and clearly Christian. For example, Columbus wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella, and I quote, “I say that your highnesses would not allow any foreigners, except Catholic Christians (there was only Catholicism then) to trade here or set foot here, for the whole object of the enterprise was that it should be for the increase and glory of the Christian religion, and that no one should come to these parts who was not a good Christian.”

Well, some would say, Columbus went west to find the Indies, which was an economic motive, to find a short route to the Indies. True, but behind that economic desire was a Christian motive. At that time to reach the Indies you had the long land route through the Middle East, or the newly discovered route around Africa, which made anything coming from the Indies, the spices and other things, still very expensive. But Columbus thought a short route would be from Spain right across the ocean. He didn’t know that the new continent was in the way. He thought there would be a number of islands—great islands—but he didn’t expect a continent.

So, he wanted this short route, because he thought it would be very profitable. But why did he want that profit? What was the motive behind it? Now if you want to get rich, it is rare (unless if you’re a miser and not altogether there in the upper story) for you to want to accumulate money just for the sake of money. If you want money you want it for a reason; maybe it’s a new house, or a new dress, or a trip to Europe. You want money for a purpose. And what was Columbus’ stated purpose over and over again: to have money for a crusade to recapture the Christian parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Europe that had been lost to the Turks; to have money to begin to evangelize those areas and other areas in the Far East and Africa. His motives, thus, were intensely Christian. He wanted money for missionary purposes, and he thought here is the way of doing it. [00:32:38]

Now Isabella was the one of the two who was most interested...[edit]

Now Isabella was the one of the two who was most interested; and Isabella, of the two, was the one who had a like faith with Columbus—very, very intensely concerned that there be a revival of Christianity. Now we wouldn’t agree entirely with their theology; but we must recognize there was a genuine faith there, and a very, very strong desire to see the conversion of the ungodless. Over and over again, Columbus, as he wrote, stressed this motive, the Christian motive; and it is because historians have not been Christians they’ve bypassed him. Moreover, Columbus, over and over again, wrote of himself as one who was called of God to open up the world for the gospel. And he wrote, among other things, and I quote, “Of the new heaven and the new earth which the Lord made, and of which St. John writes in the Apocalypse as the Lord told of it through the mouth of Isaiah, He made of me the messenger, and He showed me the way.”

Now Columbus very definitely felt that he was called to open up the whole world to the Gospel through his work, and that others were to follow him; that he was going to explore the world, raise the money through the trade with the Indies, and open up the whole world for evangelization, so that the whole world could be converted to the gospel, and the millennium be ushered in. This was very strong in Columbus. Moreover, this faith was very strong in virtually all explorers. Today, it’s called post-millennialism. [00:34:53]

But this aspect was very powerful in one explorer after...[edit]

But this aspect was very powerful in one explorer after another. For example, Cortez’ address to Montezuma was such a thoroughly Christian appeal that one historian today who is not a Christian says it would have done credit to Cortez’ chaplain. Incidentally, the idea that Cortez was a brutal conquerer of Mexico is nonsense; he had only a handful of men. How did he proceed against Montezuma? Montezuma had a tremendous army for this reason: Montezuma and his men were savagely exploiting and oppressing all the other peoples of Mexico. They practiced human sacrifice as a part of their religion. There are actual eyewitness accounts of some of the earliest explorers and missionaries who accompanied Cortez that human meat was sold in the market of the Aztecs. When Cortez, thus, appeared on the scene, all these oppressed people rallied around him. They saw him not as an oppressor, but as a deliverer. And many of them saw him as a deliverer, not only from Montezuma, but from their religion; and there were a great many conversions. Now this is an aspect you don’t read about in the textbooks, but it was important to Cortez; it was the reason why he succeeded. As a matter of fact, Cortez pleaded with Montezuma, because, he said, their paganism was leading them to Hell. And he pleaded that they, and I am quoting, “No longer adore those idols, or sacrifice Indian men and women to them, for they were all brethren; nor should they commit sodomy or theft.” [00:37:05]

Now we cannot say that all the explorers had such Christian...[edit]

Now we cannot say that all the explorers had such Christian motives; there is one very signal exception to Darrow in Peru. But very clearly, the Christian motive was very, very strong in many of them; just as in some of the others, the humanistic motive was exceedingly strong. And we would have to say that it is impossible to understand early American history, the explorers, and all of American history to present apart from these two motives: the Christian and the humanistic. In fact, there is a story (one or two historians now are beginning to doubt it; why I don’t know), which is very revealing of the pagan or humanistic motive: Ponce de Leon. Can anyone tell me what Ponce de Leon is said to have been looking for in the Americas? The fountain of youth! Yes, the fountain of youth in the Garden of the Hesperides; now that was a part of the pagan myth that somewhere there was a perfect environment for man to be regenerated by the environment. Now that’s humanism to this day. And, of course, what are the people in Washington looking for: a fountain of youth through some kind of legislation. If only we can get the right combination of laws, why, somehow, there will be a fountain of youth; and the whole world will be regenerated. So let’s work for that fountain of youth in Washington, in the UN, in Moscow, and so on.

Now our time is almost over, so we will not go any further. We’ll continue this, before we go on to the next area, this evening. Are there any questions? We have about two minutes left. No questions? Alright. Now, don’t forget to read the chapters in Alexis de Tocqueville, chapters three to five; and we shall meet this evening at 8 o’clock, 8:00 to 10:00. You are dismissed.