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A peep into man's histority (Contd. II)


Western History


Let us turn to Western history. The stranglehold of the Papacy saw an insurgency that was characterized by the Italian Renaissance Movement. The first effect of emancipation from the Church was not to make men think rationally, but to open their minds to every sort of antique nonsense (Russell, 1985; 489). Most "retained such superstitious beliefs as had found support in antiquity. Magic and witchcraft might be wicked, but were not thought impossible. Innocent VIII, in 1484, issued a bull against witchcraft, which led to an appalling persecution of witches in Germany and elsewhere. Astro­logy was prized especially by free thinkers..." (Russell 1985; 489). The Renaissance was not a popular movement but a movement of a small number of artists, scholars and freethinkers, encouraged by patrons. Their attitude to the Church continued to be ambivalent. Though freethinkers, they "usually received the extreme unction, making peace with the Church when they felt death approaching. Most of them were impressed by the wickedness of contemporary popes, but were nevertheless glad to be employed by them"

 (Russell 1985; 488). As the temporal powers of the Popes increased greatly during the Renaissance, the methods utilized to achieve it robbed the papacy of spiritual authority: "the war like policy and immoral life of some of the popes could not be defended from any point of view except that of naked power politics. Alexander VI (1492-1503) devoted his life as Pope to the aggrandizement of himself and his family. He had two sons, the Duke of Gandia and Caesar Borgia, of whom he greatly preferred the former. The Duke, however, was murdered, probably by his brother; the Pope's dynastic ambitions therefore had to be concentrated on Caesar. Together they con­quered the Romagna and Ancona, which were intended to form a principa­lity for Caesar.... The wickedness of these two men soon became legendary, and it is difficult to disentangle truth from falsehood as regards the innumer­able murders of which they are accused. There can be no doubt, however, that they carried the arts of perfidy further than they had ever been carried before" (Russell 1985; 486).
The moral and political anarchy of Fifteenth Century Italy was appalling and gave rise to the doctrines of Machiavelli. Rejection of the authority of the Church led to the growth of individualism, even to the point of anarchy. Freedom from mental subjugation that dogma involved led to an astonishing display of genius in art and literature, amongst them those of the masters. Leonardo and Michelangelo. For though granted that a stable system is necessary, one cannot but also grant that "every stable system hitherto de­vised has hampered the development of exceptional artistic or intellectual merit" (Russell 1985; 490). Therefore, that the earliest of those who seek to challenge authority are individuals of such exceptional calibre is unexception­able. What is exceptionable is what is inevitably involved in swinging to the other extreme. In rejection of the evil influences of a past or one's present, it is often times seen that the ability to sift the legitimate from the illegitimate is either lacking or deliberately unexercised. The pendulum therefore swings inexorably from the nefarious influence of authority to the greed and male­volence of free thought. What is the key to the whole dilemma is temperance and the retention of perspectives; this is often the first, and certainly the most prized, of victims that such messianism seeks for its own propitiation.
The Renaissance man, then, was typified as one who had a versatile intelligence, extraordinary energy, boundless ambition, but was also com­pletely unscrupulous (Potter 1981; 78: he describes Don Rodrigo de Borgia thus; elected Pope in 1492 as Alexander VI, father of Caesar Borgia who was made famous by that other great Renaissance man, Machiavelli, in The Prince). As Russell (1985; 489) says, "I cannot think of any crime except the destruction of ancient manuscripts, of which (the men of the Renaissance were not frequently guilty". A society encouraging such values could not be stable and thus the Italian Renaissance was brought to an end by the Refor­mation and Counter-Reformation combined with the subjection of Italy to Spain.



But if the eclipse of the papacy was the negative characteristic of the modern age, there was an important positive one in the increasing authority of Science. Although the former preceded it, and the Italian Renaissance per se was not greatly influenced by it, the cause of scientific advance was speeded up in its aftermath. Scientific authority meant recognition of certain principles quite at variance to those of both the Church and the Renaissance. While the authority of the Church was of dogma and to that extent govern­mental, that of Science was intellectual, requiring co-operation of a large number of individuals believing in objective verification and the experimental method. While Renaissance stressed individualism and encouraged personal flight of fantasy, Science stressed the working of a large number of individuals organized in a single direction. Its tendency was hence against anarchism and also against individualism, since it demanded a well-knit social structure for its propagation. Of course science has not failed to create its own problems since its value system is essentially neutral. Though it puts the power to per­form wonders in the hands of man, it does not guide him to adjudicate between them. Thus the man who controls scientific organization is in a position to use its power in whatever way best suits his thinking predilections. This is the reason that philosophies based on its technique, not its essence, have been power-philosophies and tend to regard everything that is not human as mere raw material for human usage and consumption. Here "ends are no longer considered; only the skilfulness of the process is valued. This also is a form of madness. It is, in our day, the most dangerous form, and the one against which a sane philosophy should provide an antidote" (Russell 1985; 482).


Consider also the Romantic Movement which started in the later 18th century and continues probably to the present day. Rousseau can be arguably considered its founder.


Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats in England, to a lesser extent Victor Hugo in France, and Melville, Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne in America are the other important figures. In its essence, it again was a revolt, this time against established ethical and aesthetic standards. But its historical develop­ment can be regarded as almost prophetically conveyed by the 'Frankenstein' of Mary Shelley, a literary product of this same age. This Frankenstein's monster was no ordinary monster. He was a gentle being, wanting love and affection, who became horrified by his ugliness. As he surreptitiously helped a poor but virtuous family, he decided to be known and loved by them. But he feared the thought that they would turn from him with disdain and horror at his ugliness. Since this is exactly what happened, he approached Frankenstein to create a female like himself who would love him. On being refused, he set about murdering all those whom Frankenstein loved, till he murdered Frankenstein himself. Even as he saw his mentor's dead body his sentiments remained noble, for he lamented: "Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon




me? ... When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins I cannot believe I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil" (as quoted in Russell 1985; 656).


Rousseau, for example, was for long periods of his life a vagabond, living on the kindness of others. He repaid their kindness by action of the blackest ingratitude; but in emotion his response was all that the most ardent devotee of sensibility could have wished. Having the tastes of a tramp, he found the restraints of Parisian society irksome. From him the romantics learnt a contempt for the trammels of convention—first in dress and manners, in the minuet and the heroic couplet, then in art and love, and at last over the whole sphere of traditional morals (Russell 1985; 652),


Following the religious wars and the civil wars in England and German), the people became conscious of the danger of chaos and the anarchic predi­lection of indulgence in strong passions. They stressed safety and prudence and the sacrifices necessary for them. Polished manners were practised, intellect valued as a means to subvert fanaticism, restraint of passion became the chief aim of education and the mark of gentlemanly conduct. Newton's orderly cosmos, as though, became the guiding spirit for good governance, for the individual as well as society. But, by the time of Rousseau, people grew tired of safety and desired excitement. The French Revolution and Napoleon gave them this in full measure. The aftermath of this was on the one hand the revolt of industrialism represented by philosophical radicals, the free-trade movement, and Marxism. On the other it resulted in the Romantic's revolt, in part reactionary, in part revolutionary. "The romantics did not aim at peace and quiet, but at vigorous and passionate individual life. They had no sym­pathy with industrialism because it was ugly, because money-grubbing seemed to them unworthy of an immortal soul, and because the growth of modern economic organizations interfered with individual liberty," (Russell 1985; 653). Thus the Romantics liked what was strange, the bizarre, the weird. This preoccupied their imagination. If Darwin praised the industrious earthworm, Blake praised the ferocious tiger. Rousseau's disciples described in detail, "wild torrents, fearful precipices, pathless forests, thunderstorms, tempests at sea, and generally what is useless, destructive and violent.... The temper of the romantics is best studied in fiction. They liked what was strange: ghosts, ancient decayed castles, the last melancholy descendants of once-great fami­lies, practitioners of mesmerism and the occult sciences, falling tyrants and levantine pirates ... they felt inspired by what was grand, remote, and terri­fying.... Although romantics tended towards Catholicism, there was some­thing incredibly Protestant in the individualism of their outlook, and their permanent successes in moulding customs, opinions, and institutions were almost wholly confined to Protestant countries" (Russell 1985; 654).











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