Paradox of Empire

Diego A. von Vacano

in The Color of Citizenship

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199746668
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932337 | DOI:
Paradox of Empire

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This chapter shows the importance of the writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas to the early-modern political construction of racialization. After examining Las Casas’s life, I show that his rhetorical method exhibits the basically political nature of his enterprise, which was to persuade his readers of the humanity of all Amerindians. By arguing for the essential docility and goodness of the natives of the Americas, Las Casas overturns the medieval Aristotelian tropes of natural slavery and barbarism that were prevalent in many of his contemporaries’ treatment of the natives. Las Casas also underscores the somatic and aesthetic peculiarities of the Amerindians. By doing so, he treats Amerindians as humans, but sees them as if they were of a different category than Europeans. This is the nascent racialization that occurs at the dawn of the modern era. Las Casas’s writings present us with an alternative modernity that takes place in colonial Latin America, in which a diversity of Amerindian groups were incorporated into the Spanish imperial fold.

Keywords: Las Casas; empire; barbarian; civilized; race; linaje; rhetoric; modernity; universalism; Catholicism

Chapter.  16575 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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