Medieval marriage patterns, Leonardo, the Renaissance, individualism and utopia

The ramifications of marriage strategy in history are so complex that macro-theorizing on the subject has proved less satisfactory than empirical local studies. The theory which divided the whole of Europe into two simple zones of a late-marrying ‘European [sic] Marriage Pattern’ and an early-marrying ‘East European Marriage Pattern’ 3 carries much less conviction than the micro-analysis of matrimony in medieval Florence4 or Renaissance Ragusa.

Davies, Norman (2010-09-30). Europe: A History (Kindle Locations 11736-11740). Random House. Kindle Edition.


After Leonardo’s death, an experiment was made to replicate his genius. His half-brother , Bartolomeo, sought out a girl from the same village as Leonardo’s mother, fathered a son by her, and raised the boy in one of Florence’s finest studios. Pierino da Vinci (1530– 53) showed great talent: his youthful paintings were good enough to be misattributed to Michelangelo. But he died before his genius matured.

Davies, Norman (2010-09-30). Europe: A History (Kindle Locations 12400-12403). Random House. Kindle Edition.


The causes of the Renaissance were as deep as they were broad. They can be related to the growth of cities and of late medieval trade, to the rise of rich and powerful capitalist patrons, to technical progress which affected both economic and artistic life. But the source of spiritual developments must be sought above all in the spiritual sphere. Here, the malaise of the Church, and the despondency surrounding the Church’s traditional teaching, becomes the major factor. It is no accident that the roots of Renaissance and Reformation alike are found in the realm of ideas.

Davies, Norman (2010-09-30). Europe: A History (Kindle Locations 12404-12408). Random House. Kindle Edition.


INDIVIDUALISM IS WIDELY billed as one of the inherent qualities of ‘Western civilization’, and Michel de Montaigne could claim to be one of the pioneer individualists: ‘The greatest thing on earth is to know how to belong to oneself. Everyone looks in front of them. But I look inside myself. I have no concerns but my own. I constantly reflect on myself; I control myself; I taste myself . . . We owe some things in part to society, but the greater part to ourselves. It is necessary to lend oneself to others, but to give oneself only to oneself.’ 1

The roots of individualism have been identified in Platonism, in Christian theology of the soul, in the nominalism of medieval philosophy. 2 But the main surge came with the Renaissance, which Burckhardt characterized by its brilliant individuals. The cultural interest in human beings, the religious interest in private conscience, and the economic interest in capitalist enterprise all put the individual centre stage. Starting with Locke and Spinoza, the Enlightenment elaborated the theme until the ‘liberty of the individual’ and ‘human rights’ joined the common stock of European discourse. In the nineteenth century individualist theory developed along several divergent tracks. Kant had remarked that the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest was immoral; and it was left to John Stuart Mill On Liberty (1850) to reconcile the conflicting interests of individuals and of society. In Socialisme et liberté (1898) Jean Jaurès undertook a similar exercise in socialist terms. Yet there were always people ready to pursue the extremes. In The Individual and His Property (1844) Max Stirner condemned all forms of collective, whether ‘nation’, ‘state’, or ‘society’. In The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891) Oscar Wilde defended the absolute rights of the creative artist: ‘Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.’ In the twentieth century, both communism and fascism treated the individual with contempt. Even in democratic states, bloated government bureaucracies often oppressed those whom they were created to serve. The neo-liberal response gathered pace in the ‘Vienna School’ of the 1920s. Its leaders— Karl Popper (b. 1902), Ludwig von Mises (1881– 1973), and Friedrich von Hayek (b. 1899)— all emigrated. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom (1944) and Individualism and the Economic Order (1949) educated the post-war neo-conservatives.

Davies, Norman (2010-09-30). Europe: A History (Kindle Locations 12567-12574). Random House. Kindle Edition.


UTOPIA, MEANING ‘NO Place’, was the name coined in 1516 by Sir Thomas More for his book describing his search for an ideal form of government. Translated into English in 1551, after the author’s martyrdom, as A Frutefull, pleasant and wittie worke of the beste state of a publique weale, and of the new yle called Utopia, and also into French, German, Spanish, and Italian, it became a bestseller. In it More described a land where property was held in common, both men and women benefited from universal education, and all religions were tolerated. 1 Utopian thinking supplies a deep human need for an ideal vision of a better world. The genre has attracted many practitioners, from Plato’s Republic to Bacon’s New Atlantis and Harrington’s Oceana.

Similar effects may be gained by imagining the horrors of Dystopia or ‘Bad Place’. Such was the intent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) or of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In the twentieth century, utopianism has generally been associated with left-wing thinking. Soviet Russia was widely thought by its admirers to have been a modern utopia, free of the evils of capitalist democracy. ‘I have seen the future,’ said an American visitor in 1919, ‘and it works.’ Such opinions have since been disgraced by knowledge of the mass murders committed in the name of ‘socialism’ and ‘progress’. Modern liberals have moved on to the more humdrum task of bettering the lot of individuals. 2 [HARVEST] [VORKUTA] What is not so readily accepted is that Fascism too had its utopias. After the initial phase of brutal conquest, many Nazis, like many Communists, dreamed of a beautiful, harmonious future. The French writer ‘Vercors’, for example, recounts the musings of a German officer in occupied France, who looks forward to the glorious future of Franco-German union. ‘It will be a replay of Beauty and the Beast’. 3 After the war, in Eastern Europe’s Communist prisons, many democrats imprisoned for opposition to Communism had to listen to the broken dreams of their convicted Nazi cell-mates. 4 The Fascist utopia, like that of the Communists, was false, and generated immense suffering. But there were those who dreamed it sincerely. [LETTLAND]

Davies, Norman (2010-09-30). Europe: A History (Kindle Locations 12775-12780). Random House. Kindle Edition.

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