Lynn Hunt and Torture

I found Lynn Hunt’s brief analysis of torture in relation to the development of human rights to be significant.  Hunt compares two phenomena in the mid 1700- the increase of public outcry and the growing sense of self among the populace of France.  She particularly notes how torture had become a public spectacle, with thousands of French citizens observing executions in Paris, combining

Last semester, I took a class on the Spanish Inquisition in order to fulfill my History Gateway requirement, during which period we discussed some of the methods of torture used by Spanish priests.  It is interesting to note the differences between torture in France in the 1700s and Italy in the 1100s-1400s.  Torture authorized by the church was primarily used to extract information or confessions from individuals accused of blasphemy, and was generally conducted in a private setting.  The church applied strict rules to the way torture was to be administered (although in practice these were not always followed).

The main difference between the torture that Lynn Hunt describes and that of the Inquisition is that torture used in the 1700s was used as a form of punishment rather than a means to gain a confession of sin.  Furthermore, it seems that the French methods of torture would be much more painful and debilitating than those in France.  I wonder if the shift between Inquisitory torture and torture in the 1750s represented a paradigm shift from the church’s perceived ownership of the body (and therefore focused on extracting a spiritual confession) to society’s claim over lawbreakers (thereby becoming a public event to act as a deterrent). In my mind, this shift perhaps helps explain the point which Lynn Hunt tried to make by stressing the interconnectedness of torture and “possession of the body”.

2 thoughts on “Lynn Hunt and Torture”

  1. Hi Will –
    I actually studied abroad in Spain my junior year and am familiar with some of the history you refer to. What struck me about Hunt’s passage about torture was the complexity and ritualistic nature of the act itself. On page 72, Hunt goes into great detail about what steps and specific actions must be taken and this actually reminded me a lot of Spanish bullfighting. The average spectator may see it merely as grotesque brutality, but there is a clear set of steps that must be taken to provoke, maim and eventually kill the bull. Personally, I find it really abhorrent, but I think there is a similarity between the killing in bullfighting and the described torture sequence. This makes me wonder why something such as bullfighting hasn’t been outlawed while dogfighting and various other animal cruelties have been… Would a rise in animal autonomy and empathy (the two points I feel Hunt prescribed as the precursors of the outlaw of torture) garner a similar response? What do you think?

  2. Will –

    This was an extremely interesting and well thought out post. Not knowing anything about the torture styles during the Spanish Inquisition, I would never have thought to compare different torture methods like this. Do you think that the Church had formalized rules that changed, or was it more of a reckless abandon that became out of control as the years went by?

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