Primitive Spiritual Accumulation and the Colonial Extraction Economy[1]

Daniel Nemser
University of Michigan

Volume 5, 2014

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent…are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation.

(Marx 915)

. . . without the original terror primitive accumulation would never have gone into its second stage. Las Casas would never have converted a single native.

(Moreiras 353)

Karl Marx’s analysis of the emergence of the capitalist mode of production and Carl Schmitt’s study of rise of the jus publicum Europaeum both turn significantly on the question of origins.[2] Marx starts from the recognition that each step in the circuit of capitalist accumulation presupposes the step that precedes it; as such, “[t]he whole movement . . . seems to turn around in a never-ending circle” from which the only escape is identifying “an accumulation which is not the result of the capitalist mode of production but its point of departure” (873). Instead of the morality tales told by classical political economists, Marx traces the historical processes of early modern expropriation—its “chief moments” include the conquest and colonization of the Americas—which create the conditions for the capital-relation while at the same time revealing, in the negative, the often violent interruptions required for its continued reproduction in the present day. In parallel, Schmitt’s examination of the nomos—the “original, constitutive act of spatial ordering” from which “all subsequent regulations of a written or unwritten kind derive their power” (Nomos 78)—turns on the so-called “age of discovery” and specifically the Spanish conquest as the epochal break that inaugurates modern international law. Within Europe, the consolidation of sovereign states that saw each other as equals solidified a new legal regime. Instead of religious wars of annihilation, war became something like a duel, between legitimate enemies instead of criminals, regulated and monitored by the community of states. This internal “bracketing” of war through the production of commensurability within Europe, however, was made possible by the construction of difference “beyond the line.” If European soil came to acquire a particular juridical character, it was only because war was channeled to the outside, to non-European space. The opening up of a vast, “empty” territory for appropriation thus gave rise to the modern nomos of the earth.

According to Schmitt, colonial space—defined by its status as “free” for colonization—is analogous to the state of exception (Nomos 98-99). Outside the bounds of the jus publicum Europaeum, where nothing was proscribed and everything permitted, the conquistadors were “free” to engage in the terror so vividly documented by critics like Bartolomé de las Casas. One implication of this argument, which Giorgio Agamben and Achille Mbembe take up in their own work, is the idea that colonial space comes to be defined not as a temporal state but a territorialized space of exception. Agamben writes that in the camp, which first arose in Spanish colonial territory during the late nineteenth century, “the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such nevertheless remains outside the normal order” (169).[3] While relations between European states fall under the jurisdiction of the jus publicum Europaeum, colonial space, which is constituted not as a state but a frontier, becomes “the location par excellence where the controls and guarantees of judicial order can be suspended” (Mbembe 24). This shift in the form of the exception from a temporal to a spatial category decenters the figure of the sovereign, whose capacity to decide on the suspension of the rule occupies such a central place in Schmitt’s earlier writings. In the sphere of imperial sovereignty explored in The Nomos of the Earth, the concretely decisionist paradigm outlined three decades before in Political Theology fades and is replaced by a depersonalized formation of sovereignty rooted in the ordering logic that gives the space of modernity its meaning.

In colonial space, then, the exception is always already the rule. But this exception is not synonymous with an absence of law, as Mbembe at times seems to suggest (25)—if anything there is a superabundance. One need only glance through the Recopilación de leyes de los reinos de las Indias, let alone the colonial archives, to see that Spanish colonialism was predicated on the proliferation of letters and laws. Paradoxically, this legal profusion was in fact a result of the exception—as Schmitt suggests, the laws themselves are not at stake, as legal positivists hold, but the “radical title” that sustains them. Within colonial space, the law as such reflects and inscribes the exception. Neither its distribution nor its effect is juridically uniform or smooth, however, but uneven and heterogeneous, shaped by political capacities (e.g. enforcement) and attached to geographic formations (e.g. islands, hills), marked by zones of indistinction, legal anomalies, and degrees of sovereignty which continue into the present day (Agamben; Benton; Stoler).

This essay examines one such zone of indistinction as a technology of primitive accumulation: the silver mines of Potosí and by extension the colonial extraction economy. Dependent on the forced labor of indigenous workers, the mines rested ambiguously at the limit of liberty and slavery, life and death, an early biopolitical tendency toward the maximization of productivity and a necropolitical tendency toward the neutralization of impediments to colonial rule and evangelization. In Peru, the colonial extraction economy was consolidated within a juridical breach between the imperium of the king and the delegated sovereignty of the viceroy. The colonial mita or indigenous labor draft was implemented by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1572-1573 in the context of a legal vacuum resulting not from a sovereign decision but from its glaring absence, what historian Peter Bakewell calls “a masterly piece of kingly ambivalence” (62-63). It was not officially approved until 1589, seven years after Toledo’s death (Bakewell 62-64, 74-75; Cole 19-20). If the silver mines made possible the consolidation of Spain’s global empire, as colonial officials asserted, the exception is undoubtedly lodged at the heart of the law—it is the law’s very condition of possibility. Even the subsequent codification of the mita could not banish the exception from the mines. “Los dichos mineros y mayordomos,” wrote Guaman Poma at the beginning of the seventeenth century, “son tan señores apsulutos que no temen a Dios ni a la justicia” (489). This supreme authority was reinforced by an imperial metaphysics based on the hylomorphic division between active form and passive matter. Nature, and by extension even the indigenous population, became a “standing reserve” in need of ordering and improvement (Bentancor 117-119; Taussig 203-205).[4]

The silver mines, dependent on forced indigenous labor, thus became an exemplary space of exception, critical to the emergence of the world market and the rise of capitalism in Europe.[5] “Force,” wrote Marx, “is itself an economic power” (916)—but it is also, I argue here, a spiritual one. If Schmitt is interested in the colonization and war “beyond the line” that ground the “bracketing” of war within the jus publicum Europaeum and Marx in the ongoing force and expropriation that ground the “silent compulsion of the market” under capitalist accumulation, my focus here are the violent conditions that ground the modern economy of conversion. Marx wrote sarcastically of the Puritan colonists in North America, “those sober exponents of Protestantism” who set prices on indigenous scalps to incentivize genocide, and suggested that this violence contradicted Christian piety. But what if we take Marx seriously and consider “the Christian character of primitive accumulation” (917) in colonial Spanish America? How is primitive accumulation implicated in evangelization? In what ways might foundational violence, as Alberto Moreiras suggests in the epigraph above, enable sincere conversion?

The logic of primitive spiritual accumulation is most apparent in José de Acosta’s widely influential missionary treatise De procuranda indorum salute, published in 1588 but written over a decade before. In a recent essay, Ivonne del Valle presents a sophisticated reading of the evangelization project in De procuranda. Acosta’s approach to conversion, in line with his Jesuit formation, turns in large part on the formation of new subjectivities through the gradual cultivation of practice.[6] I will return to this strategy below, but for now I want to highlight the fact that time is a key element of this missionary work. If the Indian’s idolatrous customs have crystallized into something nearly hereditary, a sort of second nature, the Jesuit’s proposal is to replace them with a new set of practices that will eventually harden into a Christian habitus. “El tiempo podía borrar el origen y transformar una práctica en otra cosa; podía lograr incluso que situaciones que en un principio pudieran haber representado un escándalo, quedaran converti[das] en verdad anodina y convencional simplemente por la constancia de su reiteración” (del Valle, “José de Acosta” 311-312). But conversion will never, can never be complete. Embedded in both indigenous languages and the natural world—and, as I argue below, the Indian body itself—obscure idolatrous associations resist the attempts of the missionary apparatus to capture, neutralize, and reduce them to Christianity. Acosta’s program is “realist,” argues del Valle, to the extent that it acknowledges these insurmountable difficulties, yet refuses to abandon the impossible project. It is in this context that Acosta, an organic intellectual of empire (del Valle, “José de Acosta” 320; cf. Moreiras), advocates “humanizing” Spanish colonial rule, attenuating the violence on which it depends in order to create the conditions in which conversion could proceed, albeit imperfectly.

Del Valle’s analysis captures what could be called the major strategy of Acosta’s evangelizing realism, but I want to suggest that there is a second strategy at work in De procuranda, visible in the gaps and ambiguities of the text. If the major strategy doubles down on the slow and always incomplete reconfiguration of Indian subjectivity, this minor strategy identifies and attempts to overcome the material and theological blockages to both true conversion and the increasingly troubled narrative of Christianization. The minor strategy of primitive spiritual accumulation (without which the major strategy would be impossible both to implement and even to think) is conceived through reflection on the structural violence of the mines, since Acosta the realist sees precious metals as the force that drives evangelization. Del Valle points to the Jesuit’s call not to abandon the mines but to moderate their horrifying conditions (“José de Acosta” 317). But beyond alleviating the physical burdens on the mitayos, what Acosta stresses most is the importance of missionaries in the mines to care for their spiritual health—and, primarily, to administer last rites as they invariably succumb to death. For a disillusioned clergy that sees the Indian through a baroque lens of racialized permanent suspicion, a quasi-miraculous Christian death resolves the immediate crisis of conversion by neutralizing the constant risk of the indigenous apostasy. With this weaponization of the ars moriendi, indigenous bodies are thus sacrificed to the twinned economies of mineral and spiritual extraction.

Putting Christianity front and center in the discussion of primitive accumulation clarifies the historical specificity of the rise of the first global nomos, profoundly shaped by Spanish colonialism and missionary practice. In Schmitt’s account, the consolidation of the jus publiucm Europaeum is not a single event but a two-part process lasting more than a century. Only once the old nomos, the spatial order of the respublica Christiana, has been destroyed can a new order based on the sovereign territorial state gradually begin to take shape (Nomos 126-130). During this sixteenth-century interregnum the extension of Christian concepts to the colonial space of exception engendered new technologies of pastoral care dedicated to making indigenous bodies live, as well as violent techniques of evangelization based, as in the silver mines, on letting them die. This Spanish regime and the varied forms of material and spiritual accumulation it developed were not nihilistic per se. Rather, foundational violence shaped both the praxis of evangelization as well as enduring conceptions of “true” conversion and Christian subjectivity. In the colonial context, primitive accumulation takes a decisively Christian form.[7]

Furthermore, the concept of primitive spiritual accumulation challenges the vulgar materialism of the conventional wisdom regarding the Spanish conquest, which declares Christianity to be nothing more than a flimsy “ideological” cover used to justify what in reality was motivated strictly by greed. A legacy of the Black Legend, this argument descends from the early writings of Spanish critics of the conquest such as Las Casas and the Protestant propagandists, who redeployed them in support of the colonizing claims of Spain’s European rivals. This legacy reduces religion to a discrete sphere of thought, and Christianity to a univocal corpus instead of a densely contested field of conflicting interpretations and practices. This is especially the case with regard to Christianity’s ambivalent relation to violence, a connection that is erased on the assumption that only material interests would be capable of producing the atrocities of the conquest. Implicitly or explicitly invested in Christianity’s innocence, this view is irreconcilable with the treatment of violence in De procuranda.

In The Nomos of the Earth, Schmitt makes a brief though telling reference to Acosta in a footnote in which he summarizes the Jesuit’s elaboration of possible models for the integration of force and evangelization (109 n14). What has made Schmitt’s work so useful to scholars over the last few decades is in large part his sharp critique of liberalism, rooted in the insistence that conflict cannot be entirely excised from society, that the constitutional rule of law cannot exist without a sovereign capable of deciding on its suspension, that the “bracketing” of violence does not eliminate but rather displaces it to other temporal or spatial terrains. In fact, this is precisely what Schmitt identifies as the problem with liberal reformulations of the arguments of one of Acosta’s predecessors and points of reference, the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria, whose work, according to Schmitt’s narrative, inaugurates the shift from the respublica Christiana to the jus publicum Europaeum. One of the qualities that Schmitt most appreciates in Vitoria are the productive tensions within his work, for example, between his interest in non-discrimination and reciprocity on one hand and the distinction between Christians and non-believers on the other (Nomos 113). Modern liberal jurists have “instrumentalized” Vitoria’s arguments by stripping them of not only their theological context but also of these limits and hesitations. While Vitoria, in Schmitt’s reading, sees and acknowledges the colonial violence that grounds the humanization of war within Europe, in the liberal re-reading this violence is disavowed.[8] But perhaps Schmitt would have been better served by a more extensive consideration of Acosta, since Vitoria, much like Las Casas, writes imperial violence through its own critique (Moreiras 361-362). Acosta, on the other hand, never averts his eyes from the force on which evangelization necessarily depends.

Potosí and the Mines as a Space Exception

Habrá cuatro años que para acabarse de perder esta tierra, se descubrió una boca del infierno por la que entra cada año gran cantidad de gente, que la codicia de los españoles sacrifica a su dios, y es una mina de plata que se llama Potosí.

(Domingo de Santo Tomás, qtd. in Dussel 65)

Pero más Indios que metales an molido los ingenios, pues cada peso que se acuña cuesta diez Indios, que se mueren.

(Calancha 1680)

Historians often divide Spanish colonial rule in sixteenth-century Peru into two phases, the hinge being the arrival of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1569.[9] If Peru experienced four decades of generalized instability and war following the Spanish invasion in 1532, under Toledo the colonial state was restructured, society reorganized, and the last Inca insurgent publicly executed. The history of silver mining at Potosí roughly maps onto this same periodization. The silver mine was discovered in 1545, but it is not until the 1570s that the extraction economy was transformed into a highly rationalized and productive project organized by the colonial state.

While independent indigenous producers using an Andean technology known as the guayra (a wind-fired smelting device) dominated silver production during the first phase, by the 1560s Potosí had entered a period of stagnation. Beginning in the early 1570s, Toledo introduced a new refining technique (mercury amalgamation), massive state investment in fixed capital (refining mills, dams, and reservoirs), and a radical restructuring of the forced labor draft (the colonial mita). As a result, mining experienced a rapid recovery and productivity skyrocketed. Amalgamation permitted the refining of lower quality silver ore, and even the tailings that had previously been discarded as waste were recuperated. In order to be processed, the rocks had to be crushed into a fine powder, so stamp mills, powered by water flowing from artificial reservoirs in the hills overlooking the city, began to proliferate. The mita transformed community or allyu-based labor obligations for collective work into a labor extraction regime that channeled one-seventh of the indigenous population into the mining industry at any given time.[10] Toledo’s extensive survey of the tributary population was used systematically to calculate the precise percentage of the population required for the newly expanded mining operations. In the process, independent guayra producers were displaced and transformed into workers operating under varying degrees of coercion. According to Bakewell, the result of this restructuring was Potosí’s decas mirabilis, a “decade of wonders” that lasted from about 1573 to 1582 (26). Again, all of this took place years before the official codification of the mita.

Under Toledo, the colonial state was consolidated through multiple forms and across multiple sites of dispossession: not only mineral resources from the mountains, but also the control of silver production by skilled indigenous refiners using guayras, the collective labor power of the allyu whose value was transferred through social reproduction to the individual mitayo, and of course the life and labor of the mitayo himself, whose sweat and blood were transferred little by little to the ore he dug out of the mountain and purified in the refineries. The deadest of dead labor—the waste product from the previous cycle of extraction—reentered the sphere of production and, through the living labor of the mitayo, was brilliantly resuscitated. The introduction of new technologies of production, capital investment, and state violence overcame what had once constituted a major blockage in the extraction economy.

De procuranda appears as the theological counterpart to Toledo’s political and economic restructuring. But this separation is not entirely accurate, since Acosta’s treatise deals extensively with questions of civil administration as well. After reviewing the justifications for Spanish control over the Americas in the first two books, in Book III Acosta specifically turns to the state’s role in facilitating missionary work. Evangelization must not be left solely to the religious orders, lonely representatives of Christ lost in the wilderness of the Indies. Before detailing the duties and obligations of individual religious actors, he outlines the institutional foundations of the colonial state that make possible the work of the missionary. But the intersection of the temporal and the spiritual goes beyond indirect supporting roles—for Acosta the two projects are fully integrated. However, it is not in the church, the temporal manifestation of spiritual matters, that this intersection is most clearly articulated but, strikingly, in the silver mines.

Reflecting the mines’ exceptional character at the limit of life and death, Acosta’s description of the colonial extraction economy is deeply ambivalent. He begins, in true scholastic fashion, with the contra argument: “Muy duro parece el mandamiento [imperium] que obliga a los indios a trabajar en las minas [metallis effodiendis]” (DP I, 527; translation altered).[11] The force of the Latin imperium locates the mines, from the outset, as a problem of sovereignty, that is, as a problem of the suspension of the rule. In this case, the general rule that is suspended is found in not only royal legislation but also the law of nature, according to which every human being is born free.[12] Here the exception unfolds less from a sovereign decision—as we have seen, Acosta wrote in the context of a juridical vacuum with regard to the mines—than from the spatial order that determines the character of a given regime. Within the space of exception that composes the colonial extraction economy, Indians are stripped of their natural liberty and reduced to bare life. The ancients had reserved forced labor in the mines as a punishment for those who had committed only the most horrendous of crimes: “Esta condena era la más cercana a la pena de muerte” (DP I, 527). Almost a death sentence, but not quite. The margin of difference, however, is minimal, and Acosta concedes that “es un hecho que los pozos de plata fueron a la vez cementerio de indios [tumulos indorum]” (DP I, 527). Cutting minerals from the mountain, the mitayos dig their own graves (the Latin effodiendis comes from fodio, to dig up, from which fossa, grave, is derived). In the refineries, as Antonio de la Calancha would later suggest, it is not only these minerals but Indians themselves that are ground into powder in preparation for amalgamation. In this powerful image, indigenous bodies are literally worked into the metal that enters into circulation as coin.

At the limit of life and death, human liberty and natural slavery, the mines operate as an exemplary zone of indistinction. In a long passage that is worth quoting in full, Acosta describes a hellish landscape of never ending toil and death:

Horror da referir cuál es el aspecto de los minerales que se esconden en las más profundas entrañas de la tierra. ¡Qué vértigo y qué profundidades! Parece que el infierno mismo se abre a tus pies. Y no sin razón los poetas antiguos fingieron que las riquezas estaban escondidas en los reinos de Plutón. San Juan Crisóstomo refiere elocuentemente y con asombro los trabajos de los hombres de su tiempo al extraer los metales. Pero todo aquello es sombra y humo en comparación con lo que vemos ahora: noche perpetua y horrenda, aire espeso y subterráneo, la bajada sumamente difícil y complicada, lucha durísima con la peña viva. Pararse es peligroso. Si se escurre el pie, se acabó. El acarreo a hombros es pesadísimo, y la subida se efectúa por rampas oblicuas y de mala consistencia. Y otras cosas que sólo el pensarlo da espanto. Pero hay mucho más: frecuentemente las venas de plata están en lugares fragosos e inaccesibles y en parajes inhabitables. Para beneficiarlas, los indios han de venir desterrados de sus tierras, abandonando muchas veces a sus hijos y a su esposa, y mudando de suelo y de aire. Contraen enfermedades con mucha facilidad y terminan muriendo. ¿Y qué vamos a decir cuando se trata de la explotación del mercurio? Sólo con respirar, aunque sea ligeramente, los vapores que exhala la combustión en sitios cerrados, produce la muerte instantánea.

(DP I, 527-529)

If in the Historia natural y moral de las Indias Acosta observes that the ancients would have been astonished by the riches of the Potosí mines (HNM 152-154), in De procuranda what is ultimately most impressive about the Peruvian mines are their horrors. He begins by likening them to the kingdom of the devil, filled with eternal suffering and shrouded in perpetual darkness. I will return to the significance of the devil below, but for now I want to point out that in this description the violence of silver production extends far beyond the subterranean tunnels of the mines. The colonial mita, based on the circulation of bodies across vast distances and divergent climates, creates the conditions for disease spread, while amalgamation with toxic mercury means that the journey can easily end, much like the passage above, in death.

What could possibly justify subjecting the indigenous population to these conditions? Forced labor was not only physically dangerous, but also appeared uncomfortably close to a sort of servitude that would be impermissible for free subjects (Pagden 158-162). Domingo de Santo Tomás, in the epigraph to this section, even likened the pursuit of silver to a form of idolatry, which transformed the metal into a cruel god who, mirroring Spanish representations of indigenous religious practices, demanded human sacrifice. For Acosta, nevertheless, the precious metals buried in the mountains of the New World figure centrally in a divine plan—they are responsible for awakening the Spaniards’ greed and, as a consequence, setting the colonial and missionary project in motion. Given the strength of the desire for gold and silver, acknowledges Acosta, God has established a structural link between worldly riches and the salvation of souls and in doing so resolves what, to the uneducated eye, appears as a fundamental contradiction in His creation: “ahora la avaricia de los cristianos se ha convertido en causa de evangelización de los indios” (DP I, 533; cf. HNM 142). Acosta the realist acknowledges the materialism that drives the conquest and at the same time inserts it into an overall providential scheme.

If evangelization depends so entirely on the Spaniards’ desire for precious metals, mining must continue despite all human and moral costs. In Acosta’s words, it is the job of the “sabio y religioso administrador de la república” [sapiente et religioso reipublicae administratore], to make sure that “el laboreo de los metales no desaparezca o venga a menos” (I, 535; translation altered). Given the hellish working conditions, however, Acosta acknowledges that something must be done and names a set of safety regulations intended to minimize the exploitation and the harm done to the mitayos. Since many such laws are already on the books, he observes, it is not necessary to propose anything new; rather, it is enough to summarize (and presumably enforce) the main points of this existing legislation. But while these ordinances largely focus on the physical conditions in the mines and the social conditions of the mita—ultimately temporal considerations—Acosta’s primary concern is spiritual:

Primeramente, no han de faltar a los que trabajan en las minas ministro para su educación y cuidado espiritual. Haya quien les diga misa, quien los instruya en los rudimentos de la fe, quien los confiese a la hora de la muerte y les administre los demás sacramentos necesarios.

(I, 535; translation altered)

Only after underscoring the need for this spiritual care does he mention the protection of Indian bodies. It is worth noting Acosta’s tendency to structure his arguments in the opposite order, with the temporal or material generally preceding the spiritual. Far from an arbitrary choice, this method of exposition arises from Acosta’s reading of 1 Corinthians 15: “Trataré, primero, de lo que es material; después de lo que es espiritual” (I, 341; also see I, 377; I, 385). Indeed, it could be said that De procuranda overall follows a similar structure, in which, after a general overview of the state of evangelization in book I, he begins with an examination of the justifications for the conquest and the role of the civil administration (Books II-III), and only then proceeds to a detailed discussion of the organization of the missionary project (Books IV-VI). Given this hierarchical structure of thought, any inversion stands out.

Furthermore, although Acosta claims that his recommendations are strictly derivative, there is little concern for the Indian’s spiritual health in earlier legislation. Toledo’s extensive ordinances of 1574, which run for a hundred pages, never mention priests in or near the mines (Levillier 143-241). Of the 21 laws included in the section of the Recopilación that deals with the mines, only one contains a spiritual component:

A Los Indios, y esclavos, que trabajan en las minas, se les pongan Clerigos, ó Religiosos, que administren los Santos Sacramentos, y enseñen la doctrina Christiana, y los interessados en ellas paguen el estipendio: y el Prelado Diocesano, guardando el Patronazgo en la proposicion, y institucion, haga, que los Domingos, y Fiestas oygan Missa, y acudan a la Doctrina.

(lib. VI, tit. 15, ley 10)

While these concerns largely mirror those of Acosta, what is central for the Jesuit, and entirely absent above, is death. His emphasis on the importance of religious intervention at the time and place of death follows logically from the extended discussion that precedes it about the conditions in the mines—those tumulos indorum in which, as Marx describes, the indigenous population is entombed. After all, no ordinance can relocate the veins of silver to more accessible parts of the mountain, or modify the climates through which the mitayo must pass on his journey to Potosí. And no law can exorcise the devil from the mines (Taussig 203-205). Without denying Acosta’s interest in humanizing the violence of extraction, it is equally important to consider the uses to which the violence that inevitably exceeds these limits might be put. In the right circumstances, its strategic concentration and redirection could offer a means of resolving what had become the most intractable problem of the spiritual conquest.

The Racial Baroque and the Crisis of Conversion

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

(Proverbs 26:11)

Parallel to the shift from conquest to consolidation, in the second half of the sixteenth century came a change in the ideology of evangelization. Initially, the “spiritual conquest” of the Americas was characterized by millenarian optimism. Early faith that the Indians would convert quickly and easily to Christianity fueled the work of the Franciscans who arrived in Mexico soon after the fall of Tenochtitlan. Writing at the end of the 1530s, Motolinía asserted that for all intents and purposes idolatry had already been eliminated. While the indigenous had at first buried their idols to hide them from the friars, as evangelization progressed they voluntarily returned to these secret locations to dig up and hand over the idols so they could be publicly destroyed. Those that were not recovered decayed and were ultimately forgotten. “[D]e esto que aquí digo yo tengo harta experiencia,” declared Motolínia. “[E]stos pobres Indios… tienen los ídolos tan olvidados como si hubiera cien años que hubieran pasado” (255). By the second half of the century, however, this euphoric optimism was replaced with skepticism regarding the first wave of conversions and, despite providential overtones, a deep and enduring ambivalence about the apostolic future. Writing in the 1570s, Bernardino de Sahagún warned that idolatry had far from disappeared—and worse, it was happening before the missionaries’ very eyes. “Para predicar contra estas cosas, y aun para saber si las hay, menester es de saber cómo las usaban en tiempo de su idolatría, que por falta de no saber esto en nuestra presencia hacen muchas cosas idolátricas sin que lo entendamos” (31). If for Motolinía the Indian’s Christianity was visible on the surface, by Sahagún’s time these surfaces had become deceptive. To put it another way, in Motolinía the threat of idolatry was the buried idol, external to the Indian, while in Sahagún it was internal, embedded in the Indian body itself.

According to Fernando Cervantes, a corresponding transformation occurred in the field of demonological thought. On the basis that all of God’s creation was good, Aquinas had argued that the devil should not be seen as essentially evil. Rather, he was essentially good, but through an act of free will had decided to betray this essence. This argument provided a theological foundation for the belief that the devil, as an essentially derivative force, did not constitute much of a threat to God. Until the middle of the sixteenth century, therefore, indigenous superstition in the Americas was seen as a perfectible outgrowth of natural reason and at worst an instance of the social crime of malefice. In the wake of the Council of Trent, however, such practices acquired a more sinister valence (Cervantes 8-25). To borrow the language of Juan Carlos Estenssoro, this is the moment at which, in the eyes of Spanish missionaries, paganism became idolatry, a form of active resistance to Christianity. As the Simia Dei, the devil played a central role in this transition through his domination of “las malas artes del engaño, la apariencia, y la simulación” (Estenssoro 195).[13]

I am interested in the way the interiorization of Indian idolatry and the rise of demonic illusion map onto the emergence, toward the end of the sixteenth century, of the colonial baroque. In The Order of Things, Foucault characterizes the transition to the baroque or “classical” episteme as the detachment of words from things and the shift from resemblance and similitude to identity and difference (50-51). Where language once formed part of the natural world, one component of the coherent unity created by God and inscribed with a prose that could be deciphered to reveal its secrets, now language became separate and discrete, a human construct designed to represent the world around it. In the baroque, resemblance is decentered, remaining only in games and tricks, deceptive illusions, and trompe-l’oeil. Likewise for William Egginton, the baroque is a problem of thought, that is, an organizing tension or contradiction at the heart of cultural production. The enduring problem of modernity, which begins to take shape in the late sixteenth century, is “the problem of appearances and the reality they purport to represent” (143).

Transposed to the human body, this problem often takes the form of the modern subject. If in architectonic terms the baroque appears in the autonomy of the façade from the living quarters, the same is true with regard to the architecture of the self. In Gracián, we find this architectural break mapped onto the human subject: “Ai sugetos de sólo fachata, como casas por acabar porque faltó el caudal; tienen la entrada de palacio, y de choza la habitación” (104). But the break between the two is incomplete. The task of the courtesan for whom Gracián writes is to avoid falling victim to deceptive surfaces by going beyond the “vista superficial” and developing new optics capable of penetrating the veil of appearances and accessing the obscured truth (105-106). In the New World, however, the constitutive split of the baroque subject takes on a threatening racial dimension.[14] Once childlike and transparent, architectonically flat, by the second half of the sixteenth century the Indian has acquired a depth that, though structurally similar to the modern European subject, has a unique set of racial implications. Split between external appearance and interior essence, the Indian becomes newly inscrutable and permanently suspicious.[15] At the same time, the courtesan’s baroque optics adopt a weaponized form that resembles what Talal Asad has described in a different context as “official hermeneutics” (31). Almost like another New World, the “discovery” of the Indian subject’s newfound interiority opens up a new domain that must be subjected to colonial authority. Needless to say, these techniques are often tied to certain forms of state violence, such as torture.[16]

It is in this context that we have to read Acosta’s discussion of the significance of death for the project of evangelization. Closely following the language adopted by the Council of Trent, Acosta writes that death represents the culmination of Christian life—and also, perhaps for that very reason, the most opportune moment for the devil to strike. Although the life of a Christian is full of openings, at no other time do the devil’s efforts become so intense (DP II, 449). The moment of death, in other words, is truly a crisis—a turning point or moment of hesitation mediating between two extremes: right/wrong, life/death, salvation/damnation. This is why the Indians must not be excluded from the sacrament of extreme unction. While the church’s official position required the clergy to provide this sacrament to Christianized Indians (indios fideles), in practice it was widely seen as sacrilegious to do so (DP II, 453; Ramos 78-81). But to ignore them, argues Acosta, is to condemn their souls to the devil, especially given that the Indians are “asustadizos por naturaleza” (DP II, 451). Acosta’s views on Indian nature are ambivalent, but what comes through clearly here is that the Indians are in desperate need of support at this critical moment of weakness—they are simple, fearful, and unprepared for a confrontation with the reinvigorated devil.

While all Christians face this danger on their deathbed, for Acosta the Indian is particularly at risk. This specificity is important if we are to understand the crisis of evangelization in the late sixteenth century:

Porque los pontífices de los ídolos [idolorum pontifices] y los hechiceros (todavía hoy abundan), que resisten con todas sus fuerzas la religión cristiana y engañan a los demás, ponen todo su esfuerzo y su alma en persuadir a los enfermos en peligro a que se confiesen con ellos, según su antigua superstición, y ofrezcan sacrificios a los ídolos para aplacarlos y tenerlos propicios. Muchas otras cosas impías y sacrílegas ordenan a estos desgraciados que…con el atractivo de sus antiguas costumbres y bajo el temor al peligro de muerte, fácilmente prestan oídos a semejantes promesas falaces.

(DP II, 451)

If the Indian is always already a Christian in potentia, the Christianized Indian is always already a potential apostate. His faith remains tenuous, and pre-Hispanic practices continue to abound. Instruments of the devil, hechiceros—the dark reflection of the missionaries themselves, idolatrous high priests inspired by the devil-turned-mimic—move into action at the precipice of death, a structural moment of doubt, targeting the Indians’ “almas vacilantes” (animas instabiles) (DP II, 453) and luring them off the straight path of the Lord and into eternal damnation.[17] Andean sorcerers thus constitute an external threat to the Indian’s Christian faith.

But the threat of apostasy is also embedded internally within the structure of the baroque Indian subject. Those whose Christianity is sincere and whose faith is firm, Acosta explains, “conciben la fe en el corazón y la confiesan con la boca” (DP I, 199). Sincere conversion is rooted in the heart, the repository of inner truth, while the mouth articulates words as signs that in this case act as confirmation of that truth. It is not that this sincere Indian is flat, but that interior and exterior have been synchronized. In contrast, while insincere Indians may appear to be Christians, their loyalties are divided between God and the devil—they are “cristianos de apariencia y de nombre, pero de corazón y en realidad infieles obstinados” (DP I, 199). Insincere conversion shimmers across the surface, in appearances and false words that diverge from the truth of the heart. Acosta expands on the Indians’ split subjectivity, further emphasizing this dangerous separation between exteriority and interiority:

Dan culto a Cristo y sirven a sus dioses, veneran al Señor y no lo veneran….Lo veneran sólo de palabra, lo veneran mientras insta el juez o el sacerdote, lo veneran, en fin, bajo una falsa apariencia de cristianismo. No lo veneran en su interior, no le dan culto de verdad ni tienen la fe de corazón que se requiere para la justicia. ¡Para qué seguir! Sus descendientes siguen hasta hoy haciendo lo mismo que sus antepasados.

(DP I, 201)

Indian essence is static, rooted in an unchanging, idolatrous past. Yet what is most threatening about the Indian is precisely the opposite, the possibility of change. If the millenarianism of the early Franciscans led them to conceive of evangelization in teleological terms, this confidence had largely disappeared by the 1570s. In Acosta, the missionary project is no longer a process of unceasing forward motion but rather one of stops and starts, barriers and obstacles—and even, most worrisome of all, reversals. Fear of losing ground that had already been “conquered” intensified. As Acosta warns future missionaries,

no se fíe imprudentemente de los bárbaros, lo cual ha acontecido a algunos de los nuestros, que, por fiarse más de lo justo de los traidores, han pagado cara su temeridad. Nada hay más mudable que el natural de los indios [Nihil mutabilius barbarorum ingenio]. . . . Así es la condición de los bárbaros: los que ayer os tenía por el mayor amigo, hoy, sin deciros la causa, os mandarán matar, y al que poco antes tenían por criminal y digno de muerte, ahora, si a mano viene, adorarán por dios.

(DP I, 367)

Under the baroque missionary gaze, the Indian poses a constant threat of backsliding. Even the sincere convert, having brought his heart fully into line with his mouth, is always capable of letting them slip out of joint, whether deliberately or by accident, and, under cover of a façade that had once appeared as transparent, returning to the idolatrous practices that the Spanish colonial project had set out to eradicate—“volviéndose al vómito” (DP II, 377), Acosta calls it in reference to Proverbs 26:11. Nihil mutabilius barbarorum ingenio: the mutability of the Indian (mutabilius barbarorum) is a quality that inheres in his nature and may even be passed down over generations (the Latin ingenium comes from gigno, to give birth to or beget). The risk of these abrupt and unexpected inversions—Acosta’s examples, the transformation of friend into enemy and criminal into god, are revealing—constitutes the ultimate limit to the gradual work of subjectification.

Necropolitical Theology and the Miracle

The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.

(Schmitt, Political Theology 36)

At the end of 1569, the year of Francisco de Toledo’s arrival, the Jesuit Luis López penned a report to the secretary general of the order, Francisco de Borja, updating him on the state of the missionary project in Peru. Attacking both the mendicants and the secular clergy, as Acosta would later do, he identified their poor example as a significant impediment to evangelization. But he also foreshadowed Acosta’s claims about the nature of the Indians. They are “gente facilíssima para creer, y más fácil para bolver atrás; inconstantíssimos, vicio que a todos los que nacen en esta tierra es natural” (Egaña 328). How, then, were these naturally inconstant and backsliding peoples to be converted? For López, it would require a miracle: “Gente, que para entrar Dios en ellos a de concurrir con milagros” (Egaña 327).

López’s statement reveals the full force of the crisis that reversibility posed for a form of evangelization imagined as a long process of linear development. As outlined above, the major strategy of conversion in De procuranda is founded on the construction of a Christian habitus. Calling for the extension of the sacrament of communion to the indigenous population, Acosta takes Augustine’s classic axiom and inverts it: “Que crezcan y ya comerán. Más bien al contrario: que coman para crecer” (DP II, 411). The emergence of belief through practice, as we have seen, is largely a temporal question. Custom may indeed be altered, but it is a long and difficult process. “Porque es bien posible que sea ahora el tiempo de sembrar la semilla y algún día en el futuro el de recoger la cosecha” (I, 219; also see I, 85-87; I, 207). Furthermore, this positive reconstruction of the Indian subject requires a negative component, in which ancient practices and knowledges are abolished: “¿quién puede dudar que en las generaciones venideras brotarán frutos que merezcan ser presentados ante Dios, una vez desaparecido [abolito] todo sabor a añejo?” (I, 223; also see del Valle, “Jesuit Baroque” 151-152).

The major strategy alone, however, cannot resolve the crisis of conversion. If there is nothing more unstable than Indian nature, evangelization necessarily refuses to obey any law of forward motion. In pushing back so hard against the Aristotelian argument for natural slavery, Acosta opens up the far more threatening possibility that Indian nature is in fact too fluid, that at any moment the Indian who just yesterday attended mass, pronounced the Pater Noster, and took communion can today turn around and stab you in the back. The instability of Indian nature is compounded by the baroque crisis of representation, the breakdown in transparency between words and things. Christian appearances can no longer be trusted, since they do not necessarily reveal anything about the reality of Christian belief. Missionaries must adopt a radical skepticism with regard to the Indian while simultaneously cultivating an “official hermeneutics” capable of seeing through meticulously constructed façades of identity. But all progress is tenuous. The risk of reversal, of the return to the “vomit” of idolatry, is ever present and the evangelization project can never afford to pause, even—especially—where it has already been successful (DP I, 331).

Enter the miracle. Brought about by the hand of God, the miracle exceeds—or, Schmitt would say, suspends—the laws of nature and for that reason produces wonder in the eyes of those who witness it. Unfolding against a backdrop of everyday experience—without natura there can be no contra natura—the miracle would seem to offer the possibility of circumventing the dual blockages to evangelization that had been posed by Acosta and López as problems of Indian nature: his opaque subjectivity and “inconstantíssimo” character. During the Counter-Reformation, however, Catholic theologians became increasingly skeptical about the miraculous, and the Council of Trent confirmed as official doctrine the need to police the boundaries of the supernatural, declaring that “no new miracles . . . be accepted or new relics recognized without the bishop’s examination and approval.” Miraculous claims were subjected to institutional truth procedures to impede their slippage into heresy and, as a consequence, were gradually displaced by marvels (maravillas), which carried less theological baggage (Taylor 9-10). This could be seen as an opening act in the history of secularization sketched out by Schmitt, in which theological concepts were transferred to the state, “the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver,” and the miracle became the exception (Political Theology 36-37). Rather than excised or “banished,” in other words, in practice the miracle—or to be more precise, the structural logic it represents—simply changed form and location.

In De procuranda, Acosta makes visible the miracle’s decentering, coupling it to and conflating it with the exception in order to recast it as a technology of governance. As an example of the “signos y milagros” that have accompanied the evangelization of the Americas (DP I, 133), the Jesuit tells the story of an unnamed indigenous woman who decides, on her deathbed, to convert to Christianity. Calling for a priest, she explains what had changed her mind after so many years of idolatrous practice:

al acercarse la muerte se puso a su lado un joven blanco que le reprochó duramente su vida pasada y le persuadió a recibir cuanto antes la religión de Cristo. Al otro lado, por el contrario, se puso un etíope negro que le estuvo inculcando largo rato la superstición de sus antepasados. Angustiosamente perpleja durante mucho tiempo, al fin venció el joven de Cristo. Al punto se inflamó en tales deseos de recibir el bautismo, que nada lamentaba tanto como el no haber sido cristiana desde su primera edad.

(DP I, 135)

Following an act of faith, the woman is baptized, after which she immediately passes away and, with her last breath, exhales her soul. At that moment, all those present in the room experience an intense sense of wonder. Acosta concludes with a reference to the new procedures of institutional verification: “Conocí el hecho por referencia del sacerdote, que a su vez tuvo buen cuidado de transmitirlo a su obispo con pruebas de legítimo testimonio” (DP I, 135).

Death folds into the miracle. It is worth noting that the other miracle recounted by Acosta in this section is the story of an indigenous man who dies and is brought back to life three days later (DP I, 135-137). This sort of story is actually far more conventional—in Potosí, for example, stories of the miraculous rescue of indigenous workers trapped in the mines were common (e.g. Mills 65-66). Yet what stands out in the account of the indigenous woman is precisely the fact that she is not saved, at least in a temporal sense. The moment of death, as noted above, is the single most important moment of a good Christian’s life, and the indigenous woman bears witness to a battle between God and the devil for possession of her soul. Although personal revelation can certainly constitute a miracle, however, I want to suggest that what is truly miraculous about this event—and what makes it most interesting for Acosta—is the certainty of the outcome and the interruption of the Indian’s natural tendency to backslide. Not only is the indigenous woman’s act legible, but any need for second-guessing about insincere or subversive motives and any doubts about the endurance of her belief are cut off by her immediate death—after all, the witnesses read the event as both marvelous and successful. Moreover, in theological terms her death is outweighed by the promise of eternal salvation. Her example thus constitutes a strangely ideal scenario, not only ratified by the bishop but furthermore intelligible to all those present, who see and understand exactly what has happened. In a barren missionary field, this case of effective Christianization comes as an unexpected model. If the miracle story contains the possibility of overcoming the crisis of conversion, Acosta’s call for missionaries in the mines appears as an admittedly imperfect yet nevertheless functional structure that attempts to mimic and artificially reproduce this “miracle effect.” As with the unnamed indigenous woman, the anonymous Indian in the mines, reduced to bare life and confessed for the last time at the moment of death, will never return to his idolatrous past.

By itself, realist evangelization, the gradual, unstable, and always incomplete cultivation of Christian subjectivity, collapses under the weight of the contradictions and insecurities embodied in the Indian subject of the racial baroque. The minor strategy, however, enables the major one—just as primitive accumulation in the Americas sets into motion modern capital accumulation as well as the juridical foundations on which this accumulation would take place, primitive spiritual accumulation, formulated as a necropolitical theology for the mines, creates the conditions for a modern economy of conversion in the classically Jesuit form of subjectification. It does so in two ways: directly, by neutralizing the instability of Indian belief—a dead Indian is incapable of apostasy, while the corresponding Christian soul, harvested by the missionary in the mines, will live forever; and indirectly, by inaugurating a targeted wave of “extirpation” in order to clear the ground for future evangelization. We have seen that late sixteenth-century missionaries believed that idolatry continued to circulate among the indigenous. Initially these idolatrous assemblages took external forms, including idols and huacas, but by the 1570s the primary locus of idolatry had shifted to the Indian body. The missionary’s task was no longer to seek out and destroy the idols buried under ground, but to uproot and eradicate the propensity for idolatry buried within the Indian subject. “Para empezar, en nada hay que poner más empeño ni trabajar más asiduamente que en desarraigar completamente de los ya cristianos, o de los que van a serlo, todo amor e inclinación a la idolatría. . . . [N]o hay ningún veneno que, una vez bebido, penetre más íntimamente en las entrañas” (DP II, 247).

Because these customs become increasingly ossified over time, the evangelization of indigenous adults, who make up the bulk of the mitayos, presents more difficulties than it does with their younger counterparts. “Los de edad avanzada se aferran a sus modos de vida y rechazan drásticamente los que les vienen de fuera. Las posibilidades de enmienda habrá que lograrlas en la población de corta edad, es decir, a través de una esmerada educación de niños y jóvenes” (DP II, 541). What Acosta is suggesting here goes beyond simply attending to one group and ignoring another. The persistence of indigenous knowledges and their deployment by hechiceros means precisely that these adults cannot be ignored, as they pose a constant danger to the newly converted and threaten to reverse any advances made. Here again, the example of the indigenous woman redeployed strategically in the colonial extraction economy offers a simple solution. The mines generate work and fear (labore et metu) to keep them occupied and out of trouble (DP I, 145)—but also death, to neutralize more permanently the threat they might pose to the next generation. In this respect, the infamous extirpation campaigns in seventeenth-century Peru may be said to have begun by destroying not the material culture of idolatry but rather the Indians themselves, to eliminate the idolatry seen as literally embedded in indigenous bodies and embodied in indigenous practice.

The foundational violence of conquest and colonization in the sixteenth century thus enabled the consolidation of modern capitalism and the spatial order on which it depended, but it also contributed to the emergence of modern forms of subjectivity and conversion. By pairing the extraction of silver with the extraction of souls, an economy of extraction with an economy of salvation, Acosta likens the Indian body to a raw material that, like tailings from the mines, is easily discarded (Bentancor 119-120). This violent and unsettlingly rationalized separation of Indian bodies from Indian souls, furthermore, can be situated within a longer genealogy of dualism. Aníbal Quijano has suggested that the doctrine of the primacy of the soul became most salient in the context of sixteenth-century Inquisitorial reason regarding Muslim and Jewish conversion on the Iberian Peninsula. “[B]ecause the body was the basic object of repression, the soul could appear almost separated from the intersubjective relations at the interior of the Christian world” (555). This process of separation, as I have argued here, was also taking place in the silver mines of Peru. There, however, the objectification of the Indian body and the salvation of the Indian soul unfolded as a problem not of Cartesian philosophy but of necropolitical theology within the colonial space of exception.

If this reading of De procuranda seems provocative, it may be a sign that the text’s ambiguities—which Acosta himself acknowledged (DP I, 57)—have not received enough sustained attention. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that Acosta was calling for the systematic extermination of the indigenous population. Nor was what I have called the minor strategy of evangelization implemented precisely as sketched out above. Yet the violence in the mines was real and as such presented a dilemma to Peru’s temporal and spiritual authorities. What this reading suggests is that colonial violence was conceptualized not solely as a problem to be regulated, let alone eliminated, but also as a productive force that could be deployed toward particular ends. Whether or not it was consciously applied as policy, furthermore, there is no doubt that the violence of the mines not only continued but also contributed, as Acosta suggested, to the dispossession of other ways of life, just as it contributed to the erasure of other modes of production.

Primitive spiritual accumulation can take other forms than the one I have traced here. Broadly, it refers to no more or less than the preconditions for the “free” encounter between not capital and labor but truth (Christianity) and falsehood (idolatry). To paraphrase Moreiras, it is not so much how or even why the Indians converted to Christianity but what enabled them to convert, to believe (345). Like the encounter between the capitalist and the worker, this encounter can only occur on a terrain that has already been (and continues to be, up to the present day) reconfigured by violence and dispossession—of the material means of survival, certainly, but also of practices and knowledges, the elements of social life and understanding. For Acosta, the exceptional space of mines and the colonial extraction economy made it possible to imagine a set of techniques for concentrating and redirecting its otherwise random and dispersed violence toward bodies that posed particular problems for the colonial project. With the intervention of missionaries in the mines at the moment of death, the more these workers-idolaters and mitayoshechiceros were killed, the more they, and their descendants, would live—forever.


01. Thanks to Ivonne del Valle, Jody Blanco, Seth Kimmel, and Brian Whitener for their thoughtful and generous comments.

02. Recently, Gavin Walker has proposed reading Schmitt and Marx together as a way of approaching the unthinkable logic of the origin itself. He views primitive accumulation as a set of ongoing processes that deal in not only expropriation and dispossession but also the production of a grid of commensurability and difference. Similarly, echoing the language of Schmitt, Sandro Mezzadra reads primitive accumulation not as a single historical moment but “a kind of reservoir of potential ‘exceptions’ . . . that can be activated at any ‘stage’ of capitalist development.” By reading Schmitt and Marx together, we can trace the relation between the violent origins of modernity and the continuing production and distribution of norms and exceptions, that is, the rooting of shifting anomalies in the space of the modern world system.

03. Agamben suggests that the concentration camp first emerges in colonial Cuba during the war of independence against Spain (166). He is right to note the significance of colonial space, but in fact the centralizing logic of the campo de reconcentración emerges far earlier as one of the driving policies of Spanish colonialism: reducción or congregación, the forced centralization of dispersed indigenous communities. While a full discussion of the colonial logic of concentration is beyond the scope of this essay, it is worth noting that, along with the mita, the implementation of a reducción general was one of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo’s major reforms in Peru.

04. Bentancor observes these hylomorphic assumptions at work in Acosta’s writing on the mines (120).

05. On the importance of American silver in the formation of the world market and the emergence of capitalism, see Flynn and Giráldez, Marichal, and, of course, Marx 914-926.

06. Jason Read argues that primitive accumulation deals with not only the violence of expropriation and the passage of “bloody legislation” but also the production of new forms of subjectivity: “In order for a new mode of production such as capital to be instituted it is not sufficient for it to simply form a new economy, or write new laws; it must institute itself in the quotidian dimensions of existence—it must become habit” (45). While subjectification is obviously one of power’s productive effects, I am interested here in the way these transformations are grounded in a violence that seeks to both destroy prior social relations and erase the memory of their existence.

07. Although it is the Protestant version of Christianity that, since Weber, has been indelibly linked to “the spirit of capitalism,” Claudio Lomnitz outlines a Counter-Reformation counterpart in colonial Mexico, which produced a new regime of work and property. Specifically, he traces the construction of capitalist social relations to “the management of death and the afterlife,” that is, the ideological meanings and ceremonial practices into which they were enfolded (182). For Lomnitz, however, violence and death were primarily problems to be prevented or minimized, to the limited extent that this was possible. Acosta, on the other hand, understood that the long game of subjectification would fail without a parallel deployment of necropolitical violence—in this case, to be more precise, planned exposure to heightened vulnerability—meant to target not only the memory of prior social relations but the numerous embodied manifestations of those relations, e.g. Indian bodies.

08. Schmitt pays significant attention to James Brown Scott, whose book, The Spanish Origin of International Law: Francisco de Vitoria and His Law of Nations, was first published in 1934. Notably, Scott was not only a professor of international law and foreign relations at Georgetown University but also the Secretary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Fernando Gómez argues that by recuperating the legitimation of early modern Spanish colonialism Scott transforms Vitoria from scholastic theologian into a representative of the “liberal humanitarianism” that would characterize the period of U.S. expansion after World War II. By whitewashing the dark underside of the Spanish colonial project from Vitoria’s relectiones, he provided the legal groundwork for a new cycle of capital accumulation.

09. Focusing on the “spiritual conquest” in Peru, Juan Carlos Estenssoro uses the Third Council of Lima in 1583 as the historical pivot of his analysis. Still, he acknowledges that without the restructuring of the colonial state under Toledo the evangelization project would have been impossible. As such, the Third Council could be said to codify a set of changes that began with Toledo in the early 1570s (243-245). On the history of mining in colonial Peru, I have relied on Assadourian, Bakewell, Cole, Robins, Stern, and Tandeter.

10. Stern distinguishes between the pre-conquest mit’a and the colonial mita: “A local mit’a system, integrated into a network of reciprocal interchanges of labor among a community of producer-relatives, had long played an important part in the subsistence economy. . . . But the colonial mita made such expectations problematic, even foolhardy, not only because it reduced the total labor-time available for community work, but also because it disrupted the dependability of traditional forms of interchange” (89). Bakewell largely agrees with regard to the “economic and perhaps psychological distinction” between the two systems, although he believes that the indigenous population nevertheless saw a meaningful continuity between them (45). 

11. All citations of De procuranda refer to the two-volume Pereña edition, primarily because it includes the original Latin text. When noted, and in consultation with all three versions of the text, I have altered translations in order to highlight certain words whose strength or specificity in Latin, in my opinion, does not come through in the Spanish (e.g. imperium, which Pereña gives as “legislación”).

12. “Suponemos primeramente . . . que los indios no están sujetos a esclavitud, sino que son completamente libres y dueños de sí. Lo declaran así las leyes públicas, la costumbre duradera y razón constante y cierta” (Acosta, DP I, 507).

13. In his genealogy of mining in the Andes, Michael Taussig argues that the massive devastation caused by colonial extraction on both the human and the natural worlds transformed the spirit of the mountains into the devil in the mines. Tangled webs of material and spiritual reciprocity were reconfigured by a one-directional outward flow, little of which was returned to either the miners or the gods. “If ever the devil were to emerge, he would appear here in these mines. Here, we would expect to find him at his fiercest and clearest” (204).

14. The racial character of the Latin American baroque is often depicted as a problem of mestizaje, in terms of the proliferation of racial categories in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “If profusion of detail and hierarchy are among the typical characteristics of the Baroque, they were increasingly present in the ethnic composition of the neomedieval communities of the New World” (Leonard 37). While this may or may not be a useful description of the social manifestation of the baroque, I am more interested in its effects on the architecture of the Indian self. If as del Valle suggests the Jesuit baroque demands constant vigilance on the part of the subject to fight off the incursions of the devil, the missionary context magnified the sensation of baroque danger, because the Indian was seen as less capable of defending himself (“Jesuit Baroque” 145).

15. I borrow the term “permanent suspicion” from Nelson Maldonado-Torres (244-45). Although his focus is the more general problem of what he calls the “coloniality of being,” I have found this expression useful for thinking about the work of race especially in the colonial baroque. Quijano’s discussion of the idea of race as a key component of the coloniality of power, which emerges with the conquest of the Americas, is a useful framework for understanding the intimate relationship between colonialism and modernity, but it is somewhat schematic and at times misses the specificities and shifts within and between particular racial formations (534-535).

16. Writing about the United States after 9/11, Asad describes the transformation of suspicion into hermeneutics: “while hermeneutics doesn’t necessarily spring from hostile suspicion, it always presupposes that what appears on the surface is not the truth and seeks to control what lies beneath. Through interpretation, it converts absences into signs. A form of official hermeneutics—an official suspicion about meaning—has flourished in the United States since September 11 as part of the war against terror: namely, the interrogation of captured Muslims by U.S. officials” (Asad 31). In Spanish America, one institutional formation into which this violence congealed was the Inquisition, established in Peru and New Spain beginning in 1569. But the Inquisition had jurisdiction strictly over the non-indigenous population—its indigenous counterpart is found in the extirpation campaigns of the seventeenth century. As I argue below, the emergence of the racial baroque inaugurates the move toward extirpation.

17. The Second Council of Lima drew its language about the administration of last rites from the Council of Trent, but instead of naming the devil alone as the enemy against which Christian souls would inevitably struggle it added the term “and sorcerers”—an acknowledgement of the specificity of Andean religious practices and an attempt to situate them as the work of the devil (Ramos 80). 

Works Cited

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