If there is a more revoltingly inhumane and despicable society known to history than the Aztecs, I really don't care to know about it. But, on top of the moral ugliness of the Aztecs, there is the undeniable fact that almost everything they made was aesthetically hideous, too.
The sculpture is brutal, square and blocky. The decorative styles are coarse, without any obvious expressive power.
The jewellery and mosaic styles are vulgar and showy ...
As I was reading Hensher's review, I thought to myself that he was going to provoke a reaction. He was violating two principles of modern liberalism. First, he was declaring a non-Western culture and civilisation to be inferior. Second, he was asserting an objective standard of good and of beauty.
There are certain reactions you could predict to Hensher's two violations of the "code". The first is the claim that the West is equally guilty of whatever the non-Western culture is alleged to have done. The second is the claim that standards of beauty and goodness are merely relative: that we cannot judge another culture by our own standards, which are only true for us.
Sure enough even the Daily Mail readership has internalised these predictable responses. Here's a little selection of hostile comments directed at Philip Hensher:
Sarah, USA: It doesn't matter if it's gruesome, our civilization is even more disgusting. At least they did those sacrifices with a greater outcome in mind. What do you leave for us? Let's kill whales to the extreme to feed sushi lovers? Let's kill seals just because they're paying me to do it? ... Please, for the sake of knowledge, don't let this person write anything else, ever.
AnnMae, USA: Frankly, I find it difficult to judge other civilizations from our moral judgment today. Today we live far differently than they did, and by this token we really cannot judge why they did what they did, or the morality of it ...
Now, how 'bout looking at the artefacts with an unbiased eye? Despite their uses, they are still SACRED objects, just as crosses, prayer mats, and certain head coverings are today. I don't see our author condemning every Christian or Muslim because some shed blood in a holy name . . . this no different.
David, North West: the greek and roman civilisations, upon which the enlightenment ideals were built in the 18th century and which have had an enormous impact on modern society, on democracy and also on art, were both pretty gruesome as well.
you cannot judge past societies on today's standards
using this man's 'logic' we'd have to condemn all modern art as having been produced by a society that could permit 30,000 children to die of preventable illnesses and starvation every day, while the affluent grow ever more obese
Dave, Torquay: How many artifacts [sic], artwork and buildings in Britain are the result of bloodshed. Mr Hencher [sic] comes across as bigotted [sic] and ignorant.
Miss Ann, Fife: What an amazingly ignorant article. It is exactly this kind of disrespect and fear of other cultures and civilisations, both past and present, which has got Britain into the kind of mess it is in today. This isn't journalism, it's propaganda and ignorance.
Sean, USA: Our contemporary North Atlantic culture has far more sanguinary cruelties rationalized, symbolized, idolized and accepted: wars, economics and social policies.
James, NY: What I'm waiting for is for the author to condemn and call for the demolition of the Tower of London and all its heinous artefacts... I'm sure that his righteous fury towards the savage race that built that den of torture is equal to his fervor over the ancient Aztecs.
Claire, London: What we find evil, repulsive and distasteful now, was perfectly normal and legal for the Aztecs at that time
David, London: your ignorance is unsurprising, secondly, i would imagine you have no problem with christian iconography which often depicts torture and murder ...
Basically, its all about context, and a basic tenent [sic] of intelligence is the ability to remove yourself from your own narrow minded worldview...
Nearly all of the 80 comments carry on along these lines. Think of what this means. It means that even the cruellest of ancient societies has to be defended furiously by modern Westerners - as being right for its time and no worse than the modern West.
Or think of it this way. An art critic states that he finds the cruel, brutal sacrificial art of the Aztecs unappealing. This is enough to unleash a barrage of criticism that he is ignorant, biased and unintelligent and shouldn't be allowed to write for a newspaper.
This is a losing mindset. The conditioned response that we are always worse in what we do or have done, even when compared to the cruel and bloody culture of the ancient Aztecs, is much too negative a view to take our own tradition forward.
(Lawrence Auster has discussed the issue of Aztecs in a post at VFR here.)