Modern Inquisitions: Peru and the Colonial Origins of the Civilized World / Edition 1

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Trying to understand how “civilized” people could embrace fascism, Hannah Arendt searched for a precedent in modern Western history. She found it in nineteenth-century colonialism, with its mix of bureaucratic rule, racial superiority, and appeals to rationality. Modern Inquisitions takes Arendt’s insights into the barbaric underside of Western civilization and moves them back to the sixteenth century and seventeenth, when Spanish colonialism dominated the globe. Irene Silverblatt describes how the modern world developed in tandem with Spanish imperialism and argues that key characteristics of the modern state are evident in the workings of the Inquisition. Her analysis of the tribunal’s persecution of women and men in colonial Peru illuminates modernity’s intricate “dance of bureaucracy and race.”

Drawing on extensive research in Peruvian and Spanish archives, Silverblatt uses church records, evangelizing sermons, and missionary guides to explore how the emerging modern world was built, experienced, and understood by colonists, native peoples, and Inquisition officials: Early missionaries preached about world history and about the races and nations that inhabited the globe; Inquisitors, able bureaucrats, defined who was a legitimate Spaniard as they executed heretics for “reasons of state”; the “stained blood” of Indians, blacks, and descendants of Jews and Moors was said to cause their deficient character; and native Peruvians began to call themselves Indian.

In dialogue with Arendt and other theorists of modernity, Silverblatt shows that the modern world’s underside is tied to its origins in colonialism and to its capacity to rationalize violence. Modern Inquisitions forces the reader to confront the idea that the Inquisition was not only a product of the modern world of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but party to the creation of the civilized world we know today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Modern Inquisitions is a superb inquiry into the obscured American origins of modernity. With exceptional lucidity and judicious indignation, Irene Silverblatt persuasively argues that the Spanish Inquisition in colonial Peru was a modern institution that intimately intertwined race-thinking and bureaucratic rationality. By illuminating the subterranean currents shaping the modern world, this outstanding book renders the violent civilizing hierarchies they have carved at once more comprehensible and more intolerable.”—Fernando Coronil, author of The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela

Modern Inquisitions is an extraordinary work of research and interpretation. Based on painstaking archival research in the Lima Inquisition records, it makes crucial contributions to the debates about race, state-formation, and colonialism.”—Barbara Weinstein, author of For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in São Paulo, 1920–1964

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822334170
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,276,390
  • Product dimensions: 4.78 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Irene Silverblatt is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. She is the author of Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru. She is past president of the American Society for Ethnohistory (2001–02).

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Read an Excerpt

Modern Inquisitions

Peru and the Colonial Origins of the Civilized World
By Irene Marsha Silverblatt

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2004 Irene Marsha Silverblatt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780822334064


We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface.-HANNAH ARENDT, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Puzzling over the rise of fascism, Hannah Arendt searched for a precedent in Western history-a form of government supporting worldwide dominance by a would-be master race-that might have eased the way for civilized peoples to embrace barbarity. She found it in the global imperialism of the nineteenth century, when northern European nations like England were putting the machinery in place to rule their colonies around the globe. That machinery included an organization for absolute political control and an ideology of social superiority. Imperial powers governed their colonies as despotic bureaucrats, argued Arendt, and racial ideologies turned mere bureaucrats into members of a superior caste. Her fear was this: intertwined, "race thinking" and bureaucratic rule could unleash "extraordinary power and destruction," adestruction all the more terrible since it was bathed in an aura of rationality and civilization.

Colonialism's governing principles, however, were not launched by nineteenth-century imperialism. That honor goes to Europe's first wave of colonial expansion, spearheaded not by northern Europe but by Portugal and Spain. From the sixteenth century through the mid-seventeenth, Spain was in the vanguard of the modern world, installing cutting-edge bureaucracies along with templates for race thinking in its colonies dotting the globe. This book is rooted in Arendt's insights but applies them to the Spanish empire and its workings in the Viceroyalty of Peru. If we take the first wave of empire as the origin of the "subterranean stream of Western history," we have a better grasp, I think, of its complexity and depth: the dance of bureaucracy and race, born in colonialism, was party to the creation of the modern world.

We trace our modern beginnings to the efforts of European monarchs to extend their power and consolidate their victories-the initial moments of state-making. What we often forget is that history wedded these domestic efforts to incursions abroad. Spain is a prototype of this double-edged politics. Castilian monarchs were vying to increase their authority over the Peninsula when they triumphed in the Americas, struggling to control Iberian principalities when they worked out details of colonial government, battling the English when they established Indian courts, and skirmishing with the Dutch when they defended colonial borders. The Spanish experience-fashioned out of colonial efforts and European conflicts-colored all the West's state-building projects. European statemaking, then, was bound in various ways to imperial expansion; this link is hidden if we date colonialism to the nineteenth century and not to the sixteenth.

To make a Spanish colony out of what had been the Inca empire was an extended process. Although begun in the 1530s when Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, overwhelmed Cuzco's native forces, it wasn't until the century's end that royal authorities-having confronted civil wars, rebellions, and settlers' raw ambition-could successfully root the institutions of government. The Crown quickly learned that successful colony-building pivoted on control over immigrant colonists in equal measure to control over native peoples, and it instituted bureaucracies to curb and administer both. Learning from pitfalls on the Peninsula, the Crown consolidated colonial state power in ways that would have been unthinkable in Europe. The Crown gave royal officials (as opposed to Spanish settlers) jurisdiction over Indian commoners and had royal officials broker relations between Peru's colonizers and colonized natives. The Crown appointed magistrates to supervise Spanish-Indian relations, designated local headmen to represent native communities before the royal authorities, and established courts, armies, and district governors to oversee the rest. It fell to the Crown's ally, the Church, however, to instruct Indians, as well as colonials, in the ways and necessities of civilization.

Like all bureaucracies, that of colonial Peru functioned through a cultural matrix, and race thinking was its scaffold. Royal authorities, grounded in the experiences of a developing absolutist state, imposed broad, racialized classifications on their imperial subjects. They created two unequal "republics" as the foundation for colonial rule. Native Americans and their descendants-regardless of origin or ethnicity-were classed as Indians; Iberians and their descendants-regardless of origin or ethnicity-were privileged Spanish colonists. With the exception of the native nobility, all Indians owned tribute and labor to the Crown; Spaniards in the colonies, unlike lower-class Spaniards in Europe, had no such obligations. When Indian populations, decimated by disease and upheaval, could no longer meet labor demands, the Crown turned to slavery, spurring the creation of a third abstract category, negro, which included all Africans brought to Peru and their descendants-regardless of origin, ethnicity, or social rank. Ancestry determined the official categories of colonial government. But, as authorities were soon to realize, colonial realities could not be contained within colonial categories, and "hybrid" racial classes (like mestizo, mulato, and sambo) entered the Spanish political ken. This was Spanish legal theory's flat presentation of colonial order-a caste trio of espanol, indio, and negro along with mixtures. Like most categorical descriptions, this one too concealed the historical processes-and the contradictions-at its heart.

For something akin to a cultural revolution was taking place: a revolution of social selves, social relations, and social understandings, a revolution mapped by the great transformations in political order and economic power during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The new human beings of the modern world-espanol, indio, negro, mestizo, mulato, sambo-were born out of the same upheaval that made "nations," "bureaucrats," "slavers," "global merchants," and "colonies." It was the modern world's signature to etch economic dominance and political supremacy into a radical cultural design. It was also its signature to hide the social relations that were brewing supremacy and conflict behind a semblance of "race things."

The Modern Inquisition

Most anglophones regard the Spanish Inquisition as an implacable, premodern institution, manned by greedy fanatics who gleefully and brutally defended Spain's religious purity. This stereotype, with origins going back to Queen Elizabeth's propaganda wars against King Felipe II, has blinded us to the fact that the Inquisition was one of the most modern bureaucracies of its time. It has also blinded us to the fact that the tribunal's function as defender of the faith and nation was inseparable from its bureaucratic structure.

The Spanish Inquisition was established at the end of the fifteenth century to meet a perceived threat to national security: namely, the under- mining of the Spanish state; first by Judaizers, and then by all manner of heretics. In spite of its religious demeanor, the Inquisition was an institution of state, under the jurisdiction of the Crown (not the pope), and like other organizations it was subject to the bureaucratic and judicial norms increasingly shaping the governmental institutions of the modern world. Like any bureaucracy, the Inquisition was run according to procedures and rules, and its workings were overseen by bureaucrats, i.e., credentialed letrados (learned men, university graduates). Although not a court of law, the Inquisition was guided by the legal practices of contemporary judicial systems: it was subject to regulations regarding evidence and the use of torture, and its procedures were weighted in favor of the prosecution, in spite of some legal protections for the defense. But the Inquisition was startlingly different, too. It was, perhaps, the most modern of Spain's bureaucracies. Not only absorbed by rules and regulations, not only structured by offices in a clear hierarchy of command, the Inquisition's mandate extended to all members of society (except Indians; see below), regardless of social standing, wealth, or power. Nobleman or slave, governor or laborer, Spaniard or black could be brought before its bench and strapped to its racks. In this sense, the Inquisition was the empire's fairest court. It was certainly the empire's most extensive court, for it was the only Spanish institution with dominion throughout the empire, headquartered in Madrid and with branches across the globe.

Spain brought this renowned institution to the Americas, establishing branch offices in Lima (1569-71), Mexico (1569-71), and Cartagena (1610). The Lima Inquisition was launched during the tenure of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, a prepotent administrator often credited with solidifying Spain's presence in the viceroyalty. His attitude toward the tribunal, like that of many royal authorities who followed, was one of studied ambivalence. On the one hand, Toledo never doubted the colony's serious religious needs and took great delight in the tribunal's arrival; on the other, he was wary of the tribunal's incursions into the domain of secular power-that is, into his domain. Toledo wrote to the Council of the Indies that the Inquisition "would be a factor of great importance in the preservation of these kingdoms" and that the inquisitor Servando de Cerezuela, "occupies the most important and needed office in this land"; however, Toledo also warned of the difficulties faced by the viceregal government "because [the inquisitors] were extending their jurisdiction much more than they should."

In Spain, where the Inquisition believed its mandate was as pivotal to the empire's survival as that of any other imperial bureaucracy (and with officeholders just as arrogant), the jostlings between royal authority and Inquisition were legion. Drives, ambitions, and egos of individual protagonists could inflame, or mollify, discord; nonetheless, the conflicts between tribunal and viceregal government were, first and foremost, institutional battles over the character of the emerging state. And, like the rest of European state-making, the balance ultimately tipped in favor of secular power.

Nonetheless, because of its authority over pivotal aspects of religious life-in a country where Catholicism was akin to a nationalist ideology- the Spanish Inquisition and its episcopal counterpart, the "extirpation of idolatry campaigns," were commanding figures in colonial life. As the state structure responsible for cultural security, moreover, the Inquisition was a significant arbiter in race thinking designs.

The Inquisition was one structure of many that were involved in the colony's moral regulation, but it was nevertheless responsible for the empire's rawest displays of cultural force. In the great theater of power, the auto-da-fe-and, in smaller, daily theaters of reputation and fear-the Inquisition clarified cultural blame by presenting who, among the colony's non-Indian populace, held beliefs or engaged in life practices that were considered threats to the colony's moral and civic well-being. These threats included a range of heretical crimes-from blasphemy, sexual misconduct (including the solicitation of sexual favors by priests), and witchcraft to the capital offense of worshiping within non-Catholic religions, whether Islam, Protestantism, or Judaism.

Most of us presume that the inquisitors always got their man or woman, that the verdict was fixed, that the tribunals were, if anything, mere show trials. We commonly expect that a combined weight of prejudice, greed, and fanaticism determined trials from the start. This is a plausible reading, but a simplistic one.

The accused were severely handicapped, it is true. Presumptions of guilt, the character of testimony, the nature of evidence-all worked to the prisoner's disadvantage. Disadvantaged, however, is not the same as predetermined. Inquisitors did not act as a concerted group, executing the will of their superiors; verdicts did not catapult themselves forward. Lima inquisitors, who were midlevel bureaucrats, were a quarrelsome bunch: they quarreled among themselves and they quarreled with their superiors. Magistrates, albeit rarely, had to publicly admit to errors of judgment; they had to publicly concede mistaken arrests. Men and women accused of heresy and imprisoned-sometimes for years-while waiting for their case to run its course, might find that their case had been "suspended" or, in the end, that they had been exonerated. These exceptions help us see the obvious: the Inquisition, like all state institutions, was not a monolithic, coherent body; the Inquisition, like all state institutions, was structured by bureaucratic exigencies; the Inquisition, like all state institutions, was only, or all too, human.

After the Inquisition ran roughshod over native Mexicans in the early years of colonization, the Crown prohibited the tribunal from sitting in judgment over Indians. Nevertheless, indigenous beliefs and practices did not go unmonitored. Church mandates put Indians under the direct surveillance of local bishops and, sporadically throughout the seventeenth century-at different times and in different places-those bishops sponsored missions to investigate whether heresies still poisoned the souls of their native congregation. In Peru, the most vigorous crusades were waged in the Archbishopric of Lima; at least that is where we find the most abundant records. The trial transcripts, housed in the Archbishop's Archive, paint the idolatry campaigns as smaller, restricted versions of the Inquisition itself. First, "inspectors" were sent out into the countryside, where they read an "edict of faith," posted it on the church door, and warned the by now baptized flock about their religious obligations. Natives were encouraged to confess idolatries and to name sinners: as with the Inquisition, personal testimony and denunciations were the principal sources of evidence. As with the Inquisition, too, judicial policies encouraged further confessions and further denunciations (and further false testimony?). As with the Inquisition, family and friends often ended up being pitted against one another. And, as with the Inquisition, colonial subjects were participating in a bureaucratic institution whose rules and procedures, internal conflicts, and political allegiances were enmeshed in the possibilities of a particular time and a particular place.

Bureaucracy and Modern Life

"Bureaucracy" holds special sway over the West's social theorists, who have considered it crucial for shaping modern lifeways and sensibilities: bureaucracy stands for modernity. This argument's most famous proponent, MaxWeber, believed Western bureaucracy to be the most fully rationalized organizational type-and therefore the most modern-in the contemporary world. Weber, like others before and many since, divided history into two periods, characterized either by "modern" forms of social organization or by "traditional" ones. Traditional bureaucracies were everything modern ones were not; traditional officeholders, mired in patronage and chosen without regard to merit, were corruptible, biased, partisan. On the other hand, modern bureaucracies, in Weber's vision, were professional, rationally organized, impartial, and impersonal. Bureaucracy, then, became a line in the social sand, dividing societies into the modern and the not modern, the progressive and the backward. Weber didn't write about the Spanish Inquisition, but I bet he would have put it in the "not" category.


Excerpted from Modern Inquisitions by Irene Marsha Silverblatt Copyright © 2004 by Irene Marsha Silverblatt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Three accused heretics 29
Inquisition as bureaucracy 55
Mysteries of state 77
Globalization and guinea pigs 99
States and stains 117
New Christians and New World fears 141
The Inca's witches 161
Becoming Indian 187
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