Transforming Anthropology

Colonial Peru and the Inquisition: Race-Thinking, Torture, and the Making of the Modern World

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Abstract

The Spanish Inquisition in colonial Peru: Bureaucracy, Race-Thinking, and the Making of the Modern World Trying to understand how “civilized” people could embrace fascism, Hannah Arendt searched for a precedent in Western history. She found it in 19th century colonialism, with its mix of bureaucratic rule, “race-thinking,” and appeals to violent, “civilized” rationality. This article takes Arendt's insights about the barbaric underside of Western society and moves them back to the 17th century, when Spanish colonialism dominated the globe. From the 16th century through the mid-17th century, Spain was in the vanguard of Europe, putting in place cutting-edge bureaucracies, like the Inquisition, to administer and control colonial populations. The Inquisition was the premier bureaucracy to evaluate and install race-thinking designs and ideologies of “civilizing” that camouflaged the horrors of modern experience—including the use of torture.

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