In the first pages of Matthew Restall’s history, “When Montezuma Met Cortes,” the author reports how Spanish invaders reacted when they first saw Tenochititlan (Mexico City) on a fateful day in 1519.

According to Restall, the “conquistadors” were astonished by the beauty and grandeur of Tenochtitlan—so amazed that many thought they were dreaming. Diego de Ordaz, the first person from the Old World to actually see this “other new world” described “great settlements and towers and a sea, and in the middle of it, a city very grandly built.” Ordaz was so amazed by what he’d seen that it appeared to have caused him “fear and astonishment.”

Cortez was different story. Though also blown away by the marvels he saw, “Cortez imagined how perfect such a city could be, were it saved just for Spaniards. It’s location on an island in a lake was noteworthy not just for making the place ‘very beautiful’…but because it could allow the conquistadors to create a segregated urban environment—with Spaniards living ‘separate from the natives, because a stretch of water comes between us.’”

Even before the invasion of the New World by the European Powers, the belief that gold and brute force gives those who control both the right to do whatever they want, with no regard for anyone but themselves — that notion was well established among the ruling classes. In fact the “right” to “buy” or seize whatever one has the MEANS to take, including land, labor power and resources — that doctrine, the so-called “right” to private property, REMAINS the fundamental basis of nearly every constitution, court, political and economic system in the world, including ours.