RCH: The battle that shaped Texas for one hundred years

That’s the topic of my latest at RealClearHistory. (Remember, I have a Tuesday column and a weekend column over there.) Here’s an excerpt:

In the mid 16th century, then, in what is now Texas and Oklahoma, world powers and regional polities bobbed and weaved with each other in an intricate, unpredictable game of geopolitics to settle who gain hegemony over a region destined to be important for transcontinental trade for centuries to come. The defeat forced Spain to give up its designs for the region entirely, and France was never interested in the region being anything other than a resource-rich frontier for its American port cities in New Orleans and Quebec.

The defeat also caused a minor rift between Tlaxcala and Spain, which was a big deal at the time because without Tlaxcala, Spain would have never been able to conquer the Aztec Empire as thoroughly as it did.

Please, read the rest. Texas ain’t no joke…

BC’s weekend reads

  1. I thought the Nancy MacLean’s book attacking James Buchanan was great for present-day libertarianism, in that it only weakens the already weak Left. Henry Farrell and Steven Teles share my sensibilities.
  2. What is public choice, anyway? And what is it good for?
  3. One of the Notewriters reviews James C Scott’s Seeing Like A State
  4. Aztec Political Thought
  5. Turkey dismisses 7,000 in fresh purge
  6. 10 Chinese Megacities to See Before You Die

The Year is 1534, and…

…a great deal of Spanish conquistadores are trying to cut up Mexico into personal spheres of wealth and property.  I am reading Robert S. Chamberlain’s 1966 book The Conquest and Colonization of Yucatan, 1517-1550, and so far what I have gleaned from it has been great.  Check out this passage:

“Attempted conquest with small numbers and insufficient support for expeditions […] were the result of overconfidence on the part of [the would-be conquistadores…] They had a total misconception of the character of many of the Maya.  [Two of the conquistadores] had seen a few Spaniards destroy Montezuma’s imposing empire and bring it under the yoke.  They were firmly convinced of the invincibility of their arms in face of any odds, and, underestimating the determination and military capacity of the Maya, they believed they could easily be subjugated.

Furthermore, until it was too late, [the conquistadores] failed to understand that many caciques gave fealty only as a temporary expedient, and that they intended to appeal to arms at the first opportunity […] Many mistakes could have been avoided had the [conquistadores] accurately appraised the character of the people with whom he had to deal.”

Now, since the writing of Chamberlain’s book, new statistics and revision of the historical account of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (referred to by specialists as the Triple Alliance rather than the Aztec Empire) has fleshed out his writings.  Instead of a handful of Spaniards that brought down the Triple Alliance, it was a combination of Spanish forces and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of indigenous soldiers from rival states that crushed the Triple Alliance.  The vast majority of the indigenous soldiers were commanded by indigenous military officers. Continue reading

Cannibalism and the Imperial Urge

I am writing this from my phone during lecture, so if my grammar or my tone seems hasty, you have been warned! (Update: I found a computer to sit down at and write)

The lecture I am enjoying at this very moment has to do with the readings I was assigned over the holiday weekend, and I am a careful reader so I am not too worried about missing out on a key insight. What I would like to do is hearken back the early 15th century and the time of the Spanish attempt to conquer the major polity of the Mexico Valley: the Triple Alliance aka the Aztecs (I don’t want to get in to the specifics of why I think that the term Aztec sucks, but I will just quickly note that it sucks and has been an extremely detrimental title to the memes associated with pre-Columbian New World polities).

One of the major justifications for the Conquest was the need to rid the New World of cannibalism, which all nations practiced in the New World. The extent of this practice varied from nation to nation, of course. The Triple Alliance was perhaps the worst of the worst in this regard.  The people of the Inca Empire did not indulge very often, and the decentralized polities associated with much of the New World rarely had the elaborate practices associated with the Triple Alliance (the Mayans are an exception to this, but at the time of the Spanish arrival, the Mayans were extremely decentralized, and thus much, much harder to conquer, but that is another blog subject for another day).

Cannibalism in the New World was largely associated with war and the State, and the elaborate ceremonies of human sacrifices practiced by the priests of the Triple Alliance were loathed as much as they were feared.  So when the Spanish arrived upon the continent of the New World, cannibalism was widely being practiced not only by a not-yet-known-but-definitely-heard-about Triple Alliance, but also by the neighboring peoples of the Triple Alliance.

Now, to be fair to the Spanish (and Europeans in general), the practice of cannibalism had largely disappeared from their culture, and from the cultures surrounding European society (think of the Turks and the Barbary polities; do you think Islam permits the eating of human flesh?), so when the Spanish saw this practice they were rightly horrified as well as disgusted.

Yet, was cannibalism itself a justification for the inevitable slaughter and slavery that was to be the Indians’ lot? Continue reading