Faustian bearers of the White Man's Burden, with a Castilian lisp
On a rainy day, 500 years ago, a small troop of Spanish soldiers conquered the city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, after two long months of siege. The city did not fall due to the superiority that Guns, Germs and Steel afforded the Europeans; Cortés owed his victory to the massive support the Spaniards enjoyed among native tribes, all of which had soldiers (and motives) in abundance to end Aztec rule.
Since the Cortés’ arrival to Veracruz had occurred two years prior, in 1519, it is safe to assume that by 1521 every faction had had a chance to size up the others. Trade-offs had been calculated, and alliances had been built accordingly. The outcome must have not been a surprise for the participants, Spanish or Indian. In the subsequent centuries, the floating city would become Mexico City, the capital of the blossoming Viceroyalty of New Spain.
The Viceroyalty of New Spain was added to the Hispanic Monarchy through the Crown of Castile, and as such became the King’s private property. It was governed as a massive private estate, with the Viceroy as deputy manager. This means it was emphatically not a colony based on indirect rule, as per the French and British custom.
The people living in American possessions were subjects to the Crown, and more or less as miserable as their European counterparts – who were often quite miserable themselves. After all, 16th century Europe could be quite unpleasant for the commoner. Madrid or Seville were dirty, violent places to live in, while the countryside was poor and overpopulated, and the coasts faced constant raids by Moorish pirates and Ottoman-sponsored slavers.
On August 13th 2021, and on the occasion of the anniversary of the Fall of Tenochtitlan, Spanish “right-wing populist” party Vox posted the following tweet:
“On a day like today, 500 years ago, a troop of Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés and native allies achieved the surrender of Tenochtitlán. Spain managed to free millions of people from the bloodthirsty and terror regime of the Aztecs. Proud of our History”.
The text was accompanied by a picture of Hernán Cortés on horseback, painted by notorious artist Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, whose works grace some of the articles of this blog. The statement was judged based and red-pilled enough to merit some enraged reactions from Mexico.
Obviously, Spanish rule meant the end of indigenous religions, notorious for cannibalistic blood festivals during which hundreds of people were gruesomely sacrificed to the gods and ritually eaten by the entranced masses. This practice, possibly distasteful to modern day Westerners and other real or spiritual vegetarians, is nonetheless compared negatively to the imposition of Catholic social mores.
This knee-jerk reaction is an example of the hazards posed by Unexploded Memetic Ordnance, still active from the Eighty Years War. 16th century Protestant propaganda was designed to destroy the Hispano-Catholic world, and it succeeded. Although said world does not exist anymore, leftover bombs still maim and kill. The Black Legend propagated by Perfidious Albion long ago established that Spain was an oppressive anti-Modern force, a friction perpetually working against the interests of Humanity. Habsburg Spain loved this characterization, and happily embraced its role as Christendom’s last bastion.
In summary: some underdog Spaniards managed to unite everybody against Aztec tyranny, destroying a violent death-cult in the process. Five centuries later, the descendants of the Spaniards who did not participate in this feel proud of it for entirely anachronic reasons. The mestizo descendants of the conquistadors, in contrast, feel offended and identify with the cultists their ancestors exterminated. The cause of this paradoxical attitudes? Incredibly pervasive Protestant propaganda.
The fact is, the Aztec world is gone; it lays next to the Hispanic Monarchy, buried under the sands of time. Latinx Indigenists who felt offended by Vox’s tweet missed the point entirely: taking offence is a privilege of the living. If they feel compelled to answer, it is not because they are the descendants of Moctezuma, but because they inherited a now meaningless anti-Hispanic prejudice.
The aim of the tweet is to wrestle away from the Eternal Anglo its ownership claims on Modernity. A mirror images the Black Legend, it works to establish the conquistadors as the true prophets of Modernity in the New World. Cortés, Pizarro et al are called to replace the Masonic Lockean Liberals who engineered the 1787 American Revolution.
In this memetic framework, the redemptive sacrifice of the Indian is interpreted as an emancipatory force, redeeming him of the collective guilt of his barbarian, blood-crazed society. A painful, but ultimately necessary tribute paid to the religion of Progress.
Through this alternative modernist narrative, conquistadors become archetypes of a restless, curious, ambitious and entrepreneurial kind of man, in line (and it’s no coincidence) with the traditions of the 19th century British adventurer. Faustian bearers of the White Man’s Burden with a Castilian lisp.
There are deep geopolitical reasons for this contest for the authorship of the Modern World. They will be discussed in soon-to-be-posted installments, so the interested reader should strongly consider subscribing.