After reading this article you will learn about Renaissance:- 1. Definition of Renaissance 2. Rise of Renaissance 3. Development 4. Political Theory.
Definition of Renaissance:
To define Renaissance in a brief and meaningful way is not an easy task and in spite of the problem we shall make an attempt to define it. Literally the term means the revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th to 16th centuries.
In these centuries there was great and unprecedented revival in various fields of art, literature and other intellectual fields. This overall or combined revival can be called Renaissance.
In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries several countries of Europe witnessed the recovery of intelligence. But the renowned historian H. G. Wells thinks the Renaissance actually emerged in the twelfth century and “there were many signs that the European intelligence was recovering courage and leisure”.
Wells further maintains that the Middle Ages are generally called Dark Ages because during this period there was practically no progress in numerous fields of art, literature and science. The last progress in such fields was found in ancient Greece.
The Renaissance may be also called revival and rediscovery of rational, this worldly secular and scientific spirit and mentality. The Renaissance was thus a general revival in all fields of knowledge and enquiry.
Rise of Renaissance:
We say that Renaissance is the general revival in various fields but Ebenstein says that Renaissance took place not only in the intellectual fields but also in all the fields of social life and looking at it from that perspective, Ebenstein says that Renaissance is not the consequence of any single work of art or any one genius— it was the discovery of man. “Renaissance is not confined to any particular intellectual field, but in all fields of human knowledge and enquiry. So Renaissance can properly be called an overall revival that man’s intelligence can imagine.”
In a beautiful way Ebenstein says Renaissance goes beyond the moral selfhood of Stoicism, the spiritual uniqueness of Christianity, the aesthetic individuality of the ancient Greeks and views man in his totality, in his flesh and blood as well as in his mind and spirit—man in relation to himself, to society, the world. Displacing God, man becomes the centre of the universe.
Numerous fields of human enquiry and intelligence met at a single point and we may call it the confluence of man’s multifarious enquiries.
There were many tributaries and streams of human knowledge and they maintained their identity. But few people took interest for their development because the mentality of developing them did not activate the mind of the people.
It is the Renaissance that inspired people to go through the numerous fields of human knowledge. Renaissance is, therefore, a revival of man’s urge to know. Its only message is rise and wake and go forward.
It wants to emphasize that there is unlimited latent capacity in man and that must be discovered or revived.
In the Middle Ages common people were preoccupied with the feelings of religious thought and the church plays the most vital role in this field. But they were never told that man’s preoccupation with religion was doing maximum harm to the progress of intelligence.
In fact, man was extremely intoxicated with religion. Finally there emerged a new feeling—the feeling to rise above the present mentality. It is undesirable to be confined within the polis. Man must start his journey to the cosmologies. It is the spirit of Renaissance.
The message of Renaissance is that man has immense potentialities in himself. That is not all. Those potentialities must be revived. In the Middle Ages the religion and the Pope of the church in various ways suppressed the feelings and urge of man.
The restlessness of man could not find avenues to come out. It is the Renaissance that performed the job. Ebenstein, that is why, says; the Renaissance was itself the effect of man’s growing restlessness as well as of changing social and technological conditions Man’s indomitable urge to know the unknown, to cross the sea and to land on an unknown land worked effectively for the cause of Renaissance. H. G. Wells says Trade was reviving, cities were recovering ease and safety, the standard of education was rising in the church and spreading among laymen. All these helped, in a considerable way, the revival and development of Renaissance.
There was a very close relationship between Renaissance and enlightenment in the fields of thoughts and ideas. Man was led by the urge to know the unknown, to sail in an uncharted sea and in this way he started his journey to conquer the world. This feeling of man was practically unknown in the dark atmosphere of the Middle Ages.
The bad and unscientific outlook of the church dominated religion blocked all sorts of progress. Man’s urge to know the unknown ultimately obliterated all sorts of geographical barriers and social, cultural, and political differences.
The differences remained as before but all these did not stand on the way of free mixing and unhindered progress of ideas and thought. The narrowness of mind and outlook that was the characteristic feature of the Middle Ages and the advent of Renaissance feeling destroyed that obnoxious situation. Renaissance helped man to march forward.
Development of Renaissance:
It has reasonably been asserted that there is a close relationship between Renaissance and the development of capitalism and this requires explanation.
The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century caused the enormous production of commodities and along with it there emerged a flood of commodities.
The producers and merchants started to export the excess commodities to several parts of the globe. The relations between different parts developed unprecedentedly. The export and import of commodities brought about a radical change in foreign trade and along with it the academic and intellectual world underwent change which was unimaginable before the advent of Industrial Revolution and merchant capital which grew along with the growth of capitalism.
Both Marxist and non-Marxist thinkers say that if Industrial Revolution and international trade did not take place Renaissance could not get the opportunity to emerge. This does not mean that Industrial Revolution is the solitary reason of the rise of Renaissance.
The fact is that Industrial Revolution is an important reason of Renaissance. The chief objective of the capitalists was to earn profit by selling their commodities in different countries and their activities gave birth to a new era—an era of relationship among various nations.
It is to be maintained that the capitalists started their business not for the progress of Renaissance but for their economic gains. But Renaissance was indirectly benefited. Marx and Engels have said in their Manifesto of the Communist Party; Bourgeoisie creates a new world after its own images. In this way capitalism helped the Renaissance to progress. Due to the tremendous impact of capitalism all the underdeveloped regions of the world came closer.
The merchants and capitalists not only exported their goods and commodities but also their ideas and outlook. The cultures of Asia and Africa came in touch with the culture of the developed nations. This added new wings to the body of Renaissance.
Political Theory of Renaissance:
It would be highly misleading to say that Renaissance was the originator of unprecedented expansion of worldwide communication network and spread of scientific knowledge and education.
In the field of political concepts its contribution is not to be ignored. In an indirect way Renaissance gave birth to the idea of nation- state. Throughout the Middle Ages the church and the Pope fully controlled the political affairs of the state. Kings and rulers had no freedom to decide anything related to politics.
The Renaissance successfully diverted the mind of the people from orthodox religion and numerous superstitions. People began to think about religion with a free mind and they discovered that church and the Pope had misguided them for centuries.
This change in mind and outlook diverted their attention from religion and simultaneously they changed their loyalty from church to the political authority, especially king. There appeared radical political changes in the sphere of politics.
The geographical boundaries of many political units were redrawn or re-determined. This gave birth to a new system which may be called the nation-state. A particular nation or a group of people having a separate identity claimed a separate political entity and this came to be called the nation-state.
In 1648 a famous treaty was ratified—the Peace Treaty of Westphalia. From this Treaty the concept of nation-state received maximum encouragement. Many people of Western political thought believe that the rise of the nation-state is a factor of new international relations. In other words, the nation-state was the beginning of international politics.
Renaissance may rightly be called a cause of separation between politics and religion. Many people propagated that, the things that are Caesar’s unto Caesar, the things that are Gods unto God. That is, the domain of God and Caesar are separated from each other.
The simple implication is there is a clear separation between politics and religion. Church has nothing to do with politics and politics cannot interfere with the religious affairs of the church.
The Renaissance indirectly ensured secularism in politics which received its final status and form in the hands of Machiavelli.
Renaissance, to a considerable extent, enlightened the mind of the people and this made them conscious of their rights and obligations. In the new socio-economic political atmosphere people thought of getting more rights and opportunities from the state. Not only this, they began to think about the protection of their rights.
They believed that it was the primary duty of the political authority to protect rights. In the Middle Ages the church demanded more and more money and property from common people.
People were also made to believe that donation of wealth or property to the church would enable them to get blessings of God and this would save them to be free from sins. Renaissance removed superstition and kindled the idea of rights.
People demanded more rights and, simultaneously, their protection. This, we believe, a great contribution of Renaissance.
Quentine Skinner in his extensive research work (The foundations of modern political thought, in two volumes) has drawn our attention to another aspect of Renaissance. In Volume I he says that Renaissance, to a considerable extent, gave rise to republicanism.
Skinner chiefly refers to the importance of Renaissance in Italy. Rise of consciousness is the primary reason of republicanism. In many parts of Italy and in other places of Europe the rulers were not elected.
They were nominated. But in the second half of the twelfth century the system of elective government was introduced which means the members of the government were to be elected by the people. This is republicanism.
Skinner says “During the second half of the 12th century a further development took place. The rules of consuls came to be superseded by a stables form of elective government centred on an official known as the podesta. He was invested with supreme power or potestas over the city.”
The podesta was generally a citizen of another. Naturally he had no local obligation or feeling. Podesta was popularly elected and was accountable to people who elected him. This constitutes the central idea of republican form of government.
The Podesta enjoyed enormous powers. He was supposed to be the supreme administrative and judicial authority. But the comprehensive power did not make him a dictator.
Skinner further observes that though the republican type of government was originally set up in selected areas of Italy and other parts gradually this type of government was adopted universally by the leading cities.
A new meaning of liberty was brought about by the Renaissance. It taught people in general that every nation or state had the right to be free from foreign rule and that must be recognized by all nations. Before Renaissance very few nations enjoyed freedom. But this taught nations that the yoke of foreign rule and servitude must be thrown off.
We call it national liberty or the liberty of the nation. Skinner says “By liberty they meant first of all their independence from Emperor. …By liberty they also meant their right to maintain their existing forms of government”.
The mere implication is every nation has right to live in its own way. The simple fact is that two forms of liberty were emphasized—one personal liberty, and the other liberty of the nation. Skinner is of opinion that Italians thought of the two forms of liberty.
Italy and several parts of Europe were plagued by conflicts and internecine war. This stalled the progress and hindered the attainment of peace. Many people seriously thought of restoring peace and Dante (1265-1321) was the foremost of them. Dante’s fundamental plea was for restoration and tranquility.
His firm opinion was that the Emperor was the most suitable person for this crucial task. Dante thought that only an Emperor could achieve this mission.
Skinner writes “Dante’s tract on monarchy asks for total trust to be placed in the figure of Emperor as the only unifying force capable of overcoming the factions of Italy and bringing peace.”
In other words, Dante’s idea of monarchical form of government was circumscribed by a particular thought. Since he wanted unity and progress of Italy he favoured a powerful monarchy or emperor. We think that Dante’s is purely a political view and he emphasized it mainly in the background of contemporary circumstances.
He thought that the conflicts and chaos in his time were creating numerous problems and hindering progress. All these stood on the way of the attainment of justice. So, in order to maximise justice, over lordship of an emperor was badly needed.
Again, by arresting the sources or causes of internal conflicts and chaos, the king would be able to create a peaceful atmosphere in which peace and tranquility could thrive. This would in turn maximize liberty.
Skinner is of opinion that all these concepts of politics were brought about by the Renaissance. We, today, seriously think about republicanism, freedom, justice, unity, peace etc. But several centuries ago it introduced them.
The contribution of Renaissance also relates to other great aspects of political thought and these are individualism and liberalism. Renaissance enabled man to know what he is. Self-consciousness was brought about by Renaissance. Under the great influence of Renaissance man discovered himself and this was the root of his self-consciousness.
Everywhere rise of consciousness plays important and constructive role and political sphere is no exception. Once Ernest Barker said; Political consciousness postulates liberty, liberty involves rights, rights demand the state The development of self-consciousness led people to demand liberty and rights Along with it they demanded the protection of rights and liberty. In this field the state must play the key role.
We know the expansion of rights and liberties also means the limitation of the power of the state. In the Middle Ages the state had very little opportunity to play crucial role in the fields of guarantying and protecting rights and liberties of individuals Renaissance changed this situation. In real terms the role of the state increased. But at the same time men’s consciousness did not allow it to cross limit.
In this way individualism became a key-word in society and political discussion. Liberalism also came to be regarded as a product of Renaissance. People became highly conscious of the protection of rights.
In earlier epochs church controlled the political and related affairs of state which created inconvenience in the political sphere. After Renaissance, conscious people started to assert themselves everywhere.
This led to limit the sphere and role of the state. In this way the concept of liberalism began to appear slowly but steadily. Renaissance enabled man to think about religion with an open mind. This outlook was also a cause of liberal thought and attitude. To sum up, the emergence of Renaissance is the prime factor of rise of self-consciousness and this ultimately created a series of political issues.
The Renaissance also created some opposite concepts which are political in nature. Under the influence of Renaissance, there was an unprecedented growth in the fields of international trade, transport and communication.
Some people took up trade as a profession and began to export commodities to foreign countries. Simultaneously they imported articles from foreign lands to home. Before Renaissance there was international trade in limited scale.
The Renaissance enhanced it considerably. Scholars are of opinion that foreign trade enabled people to earn huge profit which was practically unthinkable before the rise of Renaissance. But it is to be remembered that only a microscopic section of people got the opportunity to earn huge profit from trade.
The larger section remained in the darkness of poverty. The society in this way was divided into two broad classes—rich and poor. This division brought along with the inevitable consequence—the class struggle. Though class struggle was the inevitable consequence of Industrial Revolution but in a remote sense it arose after Renaissance.
It has been argued by Skinner that scholasticism is the product of Renaissance . What is scholasticism? It is a system of theology and philosophy taught in medieval European Universities, based on Aristotelian logic and the writings of the early Christian Fathers and having a strong emphasis on tradition and dogma. Before the emergence of Renaissance people in general and scholars in particular had little inclination to philosophical knowledge and scholastic ideas.
But the discovery of man led people to think about everything philosophically as well as seriously. This was the source of scholasticism. Skinner maintains – The foundations of scholasticism were first laid with the gradual rediscovery of the main corpus of Aristotle’s philosophical works.
Aristotle’s philosophical work practically remained untouched in Europe. Some scholars of Arab began to translate them for their use.
In the twelfth century they were smuggled into European states. The scholars began to study Aristotle’s works and started their research on the philosophy of Aristotle. In the thirteenth century Aristotle’s philosophy and works were popularized by non-Greek scholars and his political works were translated into various European languages.
Aristotle’s political works, particularly his Politics, was popularized by European scholars. Skinner maintains that the impact of Renaissance was quite prominent in many parts of Europe, but it was more prominent in Italy.
Concepts and methods of Aristotelian political theory were incorporated in various branches of knowledge. Particularly the Roman scholars did this job. In the universities of Italy and Paris Aristotle’s political and other concepts as well as theories were taught.
The origin of state polis individual’s role, revolution, nature of politics, classification of government etc. were the main aspects of Aristotle’s political theories.
The scholars and students of European Universities began to study these enthusiastically. From Greek philosophers the scholars of Italy and France borrowed the concept of justice and they began to think to apply it in their political system.
It is a fact that Renaissance could not give or provide any origin of new political ideas or views, but it is undeniable that old ideas were seriously discussed and attempts were made in some cases to remodel politics and institutions in the light of Greek political ideas.
It can indirectly be called the political concept of Renaissance. Many people of Italy and France after studying Aristotle’s Politics, started to think about direct democracy or various forms of government.
We finally observe that though Renaissance did not create any new political theory the old theories were viewed in new light.