chapter  6
38 Pages

The Other Side of Modernity: Legitimizing the Transition from Cultural Othercide to Physical Othercide

De Pauw’s critique of the Indians was not simply a drop in the ocean of Enlightenment philosophy. Rather, his writings had important eff ects politically and exerted an infl uence philosophically. Politically, his ideas off ered support to Latin American landowners who sought to diminish the laws that protected the Indians (Keen 1973: 263-89). That said, De Pauw’s conclusions also sparked scathing replies from a group of mainly Jesuit writers born in the New World, including José Antonio de Alzate, Giuseppe Jolis, Juan Ignacio Molina, and Francisco Javier Clavijero, who contributed to a tide of national self-awareness in Spanish America which combined a valorization of the continent’s indigenous past with the contribution of Christianity brought by missionaries (Browning 1978; Weber 2005: 19-51; cf. Cañizares-Esguerra 2001). Thomas Jeff erson was also highly critical of De Pauw’s initial argument about the degeneracy of the American continent, claiming in a letter to Chastellux dated 7 June 1785 that it “is scarcely possible to fi nd one truth” in De Pauw’s work (Jeff erson 1950: 8:185). More importantly for my purposes, as an argument against the assimilability of the Indians, De Pauw’s ideas served as an ultimatum to which those who defended the Indians in the Enlightenment by prolonging Las Casas’s legacy had to respond. In the words of Gerbi:

When De Pauw revived and exacerbated the argument for the inferiority of the American it contained, already . . . a strange assortment of elements-strains of political theory and racial prejudice, humanitarian axioms and geogenic hypotheses, zoological laws and fragments of history: the dregs, in short, of three centuries of debate all jumbled together with the leftovers of even older speculations picked up and swept along by this murky current to be fi nally deposited on the threshold of the new era. (Gerbi 1973: 79)

Philosophically, while De Pauw’s rhetoric was rejected, the question of negotiating and understanding what a limited faith in the assimilation of the

Other implied, that is, of articulating a civilizational discourse that accommodated the spread of European civilization and the continued alterity of the Indians, remained a pressing issue.1 And in this negotiation, something of De Pauw’s logic, an element inherent in encounters with the Other since the sixteenth century, was retained-the notion that the true barbarian was somehow beyond the limits of equality. If one accepts the logic that the true barbarian is beyond humanity, then isn’t accepting De Pauw’s conclusion about the physical othercide of the Indians simply a matter of determining the boundary between civilization and irreconcilable otherness? And once this boundary is determined, isn’t it then logical to bracket the language of rights when dealing with the true barbarian? These are dark questions that arise when contemplating the tensions of modernity. In this chapter, I discuss the mutation of the civilizational discourse from one which extolled cultural othercide as the means to inclusion to one which legitimized physical othercide as the means of exclusion. The shift responds to the underlying tension in Las Casas’s initial argument-the need to balance the continued alterity of the Other with moral and political universals.