Condemned by History

Condemned by History

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January 20, 2013

In the chapter titled Novels Disguised as History, from the book A Writer’s Reality, renowned Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa describes how the Quechua Inca were paralyzed by their religion when confronted by the alien patterns of war and peace presented by the Spanish conquerors, enabling a force of less than two hundred Europeans to topple an empire of twenty million Indians almost without resistance.

The chronicles of conquest Llosa examined as part of coming to understand his country are what he calls “the beginning of literary fiction as we understand it today…a world totally reconstructed and subverted by fantasy…[that] teaches us more about innocence, fanaticism, and stupidity of the time than the wisest of treatises.” Yet, the lessons of the collapse of the Inca empire—whose armies gave up “as if manacled by a magical force” when the emperor was captured, tell us more than the obvious about the hazards of religious terror in the seventeenth century Americas; they speak to the vulnerability of totalitarian systems of servile dependence on central authority of all ages.

When the axis around which Inca society was organized was captured, says Llosa, “no one knew how to act.” Stultified by the confusion and loss of leadership, the Indians were incapable of taking individual initiative and acting according to the changing circumstances; the Inca state religion of absolute power had made them docile servants supervised in every aspect of life by government administrators.

In Llosa’s view, “Such a civilization was not capable of facing the unexpected who assaulted the Tahuantinsuyo, transgressing all patterns known to them.” Unpracticed and uninstructed in either independent thought or initiative, illiterate, and essentially incapable of articulate communication, says the rather bigoted Llosa, the Inca system fell into a “monumental state of confusion and cosmic deviation.” And because among the Inca, “the individual could not morally question the social organism of the state,” servile obedience transferred automatically to the new masters.

While this condition of unquestioning servitude contrasts in many respects with our modern American confusion, our social paralysis in facing the disintegration of our system of checks and balances, constitution, and other aspects of our religion of democracy — as we ourselves confront unfamiliar patterns of aggression — is perhaps not so different from that of the Inca of four hundred years ago. As Llosa observes, our countries are in a deep sense more a fiction than a reality…”an artificial gathering of men from different languages, customs, and traditions whose only common denominator was having been condemned by history to live together without knowing or loving each other.”

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