The Inquisition and the Modern World

Thursday, January 19, 2012

We think of the Inquisition as a holy war fought in the Middle Ages, but Cullen Murphy, Vanity Fair editor at large, shows that not only did its offices survive into the 20th century, in the modern world its spirit is more influential than ever. He traces the Inquisition and its legacy in  God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, traveling from freshly opened Vatican archives to the detention camps of Guantánamo to the filing cabinets of the Third Reich, and he shows that the Inquisition pioneered surveillance and censorship and “scientific” interrogation.


Cullen Murphy

Comments [8]

Ed from Larchmont

There were Inquisitions in France and Germany before the one in Spain: they needed learned theologians to protect innocent people from accusations and prosecution by the state.

A recent study estimated that 12,000 people were killed by the Inquisition over its 300 years in Spain. Not impressive, Elizabeth I's England is much more the precursor of the modern totalitarian state. I would guess that more were killed in Elizabeth's England.

England, at war with Spain, spread the black legend of the Inquisition, and it has persisted.

As stated above, the regulations of the Inquisition were more liberal than those of the state courts at the time.

The Spanish Inquisition came under the influence of the state, that was trying to unify Spain, and went too far. Three times, when word got back to Rome, the Spanish Inquisition was threatened with excommunication because of its excesses. But Rome was a little busy trying to defend itself against Muslim invaders.

Jan. 20 2012 08:06 AM

Mr. Lopate just referred to a "war against new ideas" — what a remarkable and insightful point to make, especially following the first segment on plagiarism.

Is the war on plagiarism a war on (new?) ideas?

A genuine conservative and advocate of the free market (like Columbia's Jagdish Bhagwati as opposed to Harvard's Mankiw) might argue that truly open markets of ideas would sort all this out.

Jan. 19 2012 12:59 PM

You forgot to mention the obvious example: the modern day Islamists and their belief that they are absolutely on the true path and everyone else should be on this path.

Jan. 19 2012 12:58 PM
Steven John Bosch from Wantagh, NY

In George Bernard Shaw's "St. Joan" the action of the play suggests that while being called to answer questions put by the Inquisition was a very serious matter, there were rules of evidence, the accused had the right to cross examine witnesses by competent counsel and, in Shaw's telling, the trial of St. Joan followed any number of "fact finding" commissions, and the convicted could avoid execution "if repentence follows." The threat of torture was used but there were procedures that limited.

Jan. 19 2012 12:58 PM

Unless I missed Mr. Murphy's mention of it, he has left out the sense of superiority that goes along with that sense of superiority. Right-wing economics exhibits both of these traits today (consider Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw thinly-veiled endorsement of eugenics with his claim that the America's wealthy are just genetically superior).

Jan. 19 2012 12:55 PM
ann from Brooklyn

This is R.I. Moore's thesis--"Formation of a Persecuting Society."

Jan. 19 2012 12:54 PM

A sense of moral certainty — rather like the United States has with respect to the rest of the world, especially today with respect to Muslims and Arabs.

Jan. 19 2012 12:52 PM
John A.

Wow. Can the man speak of his personal Catholic standing, now, in the face of this old history?

Jan. 19 2012 12:45 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.