ON JACOB BURCKHARDT'S
THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE
IN ITALY (1862)1
TRANSLATED BY RAMON J. BETANZOS
When Ranke, basing himself on Italian diplomatic reports and historians, began to characterize these historians of Italy, the involvement of Italian states in sixteenth-century European politics, and finally the popes, then the political acumen of the [Italian] nation— its clear eye for the life of the individual and for the true driving forces behind political action—took on an entirely new light. With his marvelous artistry Ranke gave new life to these reports that had long been lying buried and unused in the archives. It was he who first fully understood papal politics and the incisively intelligent assessments of the envoys. Meanwhile, his interest was essentially focused on the rise of Spanish-Habsburg power; hence he traces the inner history of Italy exhaustively beginning only with the CounterReformation, with which it is linked. The golden age of Italian culture still seemed to be only a flowering of a universal cultural development. At that time no one was able yet to view it as the expression of national character or as a preparation for political independence. In fact, it seemed that one had to regard Italy as a pensioner, so to speak, in the European state economy.
Even the historian's horizon is limited and determined by the standpoint that current history gives him. Hence recent events were bound to shed a completely different light on the Italy of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at least for those who—like most of our historians—live in the hope that Italy will be able to achieve unification and someday also freedom from French influence. Burckhardt shares this hope. According to him, the period from Dante to the Counter-Reformation was the foundation of Italian national literature and politics; the subsequent period of Spanish influence, though it also had its brilliant figures and influential elements, was a violent interruption of this development; the movement since the stormy intervention of Napoleonic politics at the close of the previous century and the renewal of Italian poetry and science that went hand in hand with it merely took up that broken thread again.