"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Renaissance Und Kulturkampf
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
As perhaps a counterpoint to one of my recent essays, I thought I might try to escalate the level of optimism by comparing and contrasting the modern Voluntaryist movement with some observable historical parallels.
During the High Renaissance in the late 15th Century, the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote the following:
“You, constrained by no limits in accordance with your own free will, shall ordain for yourself the limits of your nature. We have set you at the world’s center that you may from there more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made you neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of yourself, you may fashion yourself in whatever shape you shall prefer.”
These were heady words for such times, and were roughly coincident chronologically with Étienne de La Boétie’s The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. A new age had arisen out of the bubonic plague-stricken, decimated landscape of Middle Ages Europe. An era of secularism, individuality, scientific research, and the printing press. Increasing self-determination clashed sharply with the older authoritarianism of both Church and State. The Renaissance set a trajectory upon which we still travel today, here, in the 21st Century.
And with respect to philosophy, nowhere perhaps is this more true than among voluntaryists.
It is instructive to note that, in Mirandola’s and Boétie’s time, perhaps 85% of the European population were almost entirely unaffected by the changes and innovations of the Renaissance. Peasants and other common laborers struggled under the yoke of poverty, ignorance, and servitude to the well-monied political classes much as had been the case during the Dark Ages. But Renaissance culture brought into existence an estate of artisans, tradesmen, and courtiers unknown in prior eras. In effect, the first kind of middle class arose, and with them, the spread of ideas that ensured the undeniable impact that such a culture war ultimately carried forward.
Could we voluntaryists, now over two decades from the advent of the Internet Revolution, be standing at a similar crossroads? One wherein our relatively insignificant numbers prove small issue to the impact of our ideas – carried forward not only by our own persons, but with the assistance of modern-day communications and informational systems?
It’s a tantalizing contemplation. The Shakespearean sea-change that characterized the Renaissance as it spread across the Old World from the 14th through the 17th Centuries was variously subtle, and not so subtle. Both pervasive, and sublime. Today’s push for Voluntarism – unlike that of the mid-19th Century – is turbo-assisted not only by technology, but by the vastly more intrusive nature of the State. Of course, in its invasiveness, the 21st Century State also offers more baubles and trinkets of perks, handouts, and dependencies. The greater advantage of the former, must now also labor that much harder against the latter for hearts and minds.
But as with the Renaissance, our cause is another culture war – a direct challenge to the coercive statist paradigm, now more than 80 centuries old, in favor of voluntary, freed market associations. Remember, it took more than 300 years from what is generally recognized as the end of the Renaissance period – at which time the entire concept of the human being as an individual had just barely managed to take flight – to get to abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock’s statement, “I am Nature.” Three centuries from independent entity to tantamount godshead. Throughout this process, however, the State Concept never disappeared. And remains still.
As with my slightly more bleak aforementioned recent assessment, I offer here no predictions, or specific solutions – only possibilities. The Renaissance took centuries, and was still not a 100% revolution in human belief systems. Yet, it was an evolutionary stage we are the inheritors of. And I believe we are currently in another multi-faceted one. The question will be how many are to participate and/or be affected by it in the coming decades?
This is one of the great questions of our time, the great culture war of our age.
Let us all play our parts in it to the very maximum impact – on both ourselves, and others.