Progressive historians have a remarkable ability to exponentially magnify the violence of Western Civilization while simaltaneously downplaying the violence of other primitive cultures. These politically motivated, erroneous interpretations should be identified and corrected. Let’s examine an instance of this with Eric Foner’s treatment of the Aztecs in his textbook, Give Me Liberty Volume I.
The Aztec civilization/empire came into direct contact with the Spanish fleets during their voyages to the new world. Aztecs dominated their region with brute force, and often kidnapped surrounding tribes for the purposes of mass sacrificial rituals. The first explorer to encounter the Aztecs was Cortes, who arrived at the ‘capital’ of the Aztec empire located at Tenochtitlan (Foner, Pg. 21). Foner does something peculiar when describing the Aztec civilization. He says, “The Aztecs were violent warriors who engaged in the ritual sacrifice of captives and others, sometimes thousands at a time. This practice thoroughly alienated their neighbors and reinforced the Spanish view of America’s native inhabitants as barbarians, even though in Europe at this time thousands of men and women were burned at the stake as witches or religious heretics, and criminals were executed in public spectacles that attracted throngs of onlookers.” (Pg. 21) Notice how Foner compares the ritualistic sacrifices of the Aztecs as “thousands” with the supposed “thousands” of ritualistic sacrifices done by the Europeans. In my view, Foner is attempting to suggest that there were really no civilizational differences between the Aztecs and Christian European culture, at least with regard to the idea of human sacrifice and barbarism. He offers no sources with regard to his claims about either culture, rather, he merely asserts this comparison as fact and moves on.
But is this the case? Can such a flippant comparison be legitimately made of the two cultures? I am inclined to say a comparison like this is entirely untenable.
Let’s bring a bit more detail to the evaluation to see if one culture was actually worse than the other, rather than neutral in the levels of sacrifice and cruelty. In, A Patriot’s History of the United States, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen say this, “But it was sacrifice, not science, that defined the Aztec society, whose pyramids, after all, were execution sites. A four-day sacrifice in 1487 by the Aztec king Ahuitzotl involved the butchery of 80,400 prisoners by shifts of priests working four at a time at convex killing tables who kicked lifeless, heartless bodies down the side of the pyramid temple. This worked out to be a ‘killing rate of fourteen victims a minute over the ninety-six-hour bloodbath.'” (Pg. 5) Schweikart and Allen then provide a source to back this claim. The source provided is Victor Davis Hanson’s book, Carnage and Culture, Pg. 195. Now, if this is an accurate depiction of what was taking place in the Aztec culture, we may infer that despite the occasion of burning people at the stake in Europe, it was not even close to rivaling the roughly 100,000 people butchered in the span of four days by the Aztecs. What Foner may have in mind when making this comparison is the Spanish Inquisition that lasted over a span of several hundred years and resulted in the killing of a few thousand people. Now that is potentially a few thousand too many, but a few thousand over several hundred years is much different than 100,000 people in 4 days. Moreover, the United States presently sacrifices unborn babies by the hundreds of thousands every year, and roughly 3,000 per day in the name of liberal bodily autonomy. Our contemporary progressive culture, unfortunately, has more in common with the sacrificial barbarism of the Aztecs than it does with Christian Europe.
Henry Kamen’s work, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (now in its fourth edition), is a reputable source that constructs a more realistic account of the Inquisition than is popularly referenced by New Atheists and their secular progressive followers. The Inquisition, much like the Crusades, is surrounded by negative mythic interpretations. A lot of new scholarship has only recently begun to challenge these falsehoods.
Another critique I have of Foner’s narrative is the notion that the brutal practices of the Aztecs merely “alienated” their neighbors. The Aztecs did not alienate the neighboring tribes. They killed, sacrificed, and enslaved them. Alienation would have been a welcome invitation compared to having your beating heart ripped from your chest followed by having your lifeless body kicked down the stares of the pyramid where your public execution had just taken place. Moreover, the judgment of Cortes to utilize various tribes to defeat the Aztecs may have been shrewd, but it is also misleading to suggest that the neighboring tribes did not welcome such an ally in order to defeat their brutal oppressors. Maybe the shrewdness was mutually beneficial.
Foner also suggests that disease was a significant cause of the devastation of the Aztec society. This is also a debatable claim that recent scholarship has challenged. Yes, natives did not have immunity to some of the diseases brought over from Europe, but this suggests that no epidemics took place before the Europeans arrived. Schwiekart and Allen show this to be the case on Pg. 6-9 of the book previously referenced, and they provide ample source material to back their claim.
History is important, and it is equally important to expose the politically motivated slants used to justify contemporary agendas.
– Lucas G. Westman