Political Effects of the Renaissance


History has shown us how civilizations evolve over time. Broadly 
interpreted, the age of Diocletian marked a decisive stage in the 
transition from the classical, the Greco-Roman, civilization of the 
ancient Roman Empire to the Christian-Germanic civilization of the 
early Middle Ages. Similarly interpreted, "the age of the Renaissance 
marked the transition from the civilization of the Middle Ages to the 
modern world"(Ferguson 1). Therefore, the Renaissance is the beginning 
of the modern world and modern government. 

 In law the tendency was to challenge the abstract dialectical 
method of the medieval jurists with a philological and historical
interpretation of the sources of Roman Law. As for political thought, 
the medieval proposition that the preservation of liberty, law, and 
justice constitutes the central aim of political life was challenged 
but not overthrown by Renaissance theorists. They contended that the 
central task of government was to maintain security and peace. 
Machiavelli maintained that the creative force (virtj) of the ruler 
was the key to the preservation of both his own position and the 
well-being of his subjects, an idea consonant with contemporary 

 Italian city-states were transformed during the Renaissance from 
communes to territorial states, each of which sought to expand at the 
expense of the others. Territorial unification also took place in 
Spain, France, and England. The process was aided by modern diplomacy, 
which took its place beside the new warfare when the Italian 
city-states established resident embassies at foreign courts. By the 
16th century, the institution of permanent embassies spread northward 
to France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire. 

 Renaissance churchmen, particularly in the higher echelons, 
patterned their behavior after the mores and ethics of lay society.
The activities of popes, cardinals, and bishops were scarcely 
distinguishable from those of secular merchants and political figures. 
At the same time, Christianity remained a vital and essential element 
of Renaissance culture. Preachers, such as San Bernardino of Siena, 
and theologians and prelates, such as Sant'Antonino of Florence, 
attracted large audiences and were revered. Moreover, many humanists 
were concerned with theological questions and applied the new 
philological and historical scholarship to the study and 
interpretation of the early church fathers. The humanist approach to 
theology and scripture may be traced from the Italian scholar Petrarch 
to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus; it made a powerful impact on 
Roman Catholics and Protestants. 

 Some medievalists contend that the inflated eloquence and dull 
neoclassicism of much humanist writing undermine the claim that the 
Renaissance was a turning point in Western civilization. Although 
these contentions are valid to some degree, the Renaissance clearly 
was a time in which long-standing beliefs were tested; it was a period 
of intellectual ferment, preparing the ground for the thinkers and 
scientists of the 17th century, who were far more original than the 
Renaissance humanists. The Renaissance idea that humankind rules 
nature is akin to Sir Francis Bacon's concept of human dominance over 
nature's elements, which initiated the development of modern science 
and technology. Medieval notions of republicanism and liberty, 
preserved and defended with classical precedents by Renaissance 
thinkers, had an indelible impact on the course of English
constitutional theory and may have been a source for the conception of 
government espoused by the Founding Fathers of American 
constitutionalism. Above all, however, "the age of the Renaissance 
marked a decisive stage in the transition from Middle Ages to the 
modern world"(Ferguson 1). 

Works Cited

Morgan, Michael. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. 
Indianapolisis: Hacket Publishing Company, 1992. 417-419.

Ferguson, Wallace. The Renaisance. New York: Harper & Row Publishing 
Inc., 1963. 1-29


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