After Civic Humanism: Learning and Politics in Renaissance Italy

By Kallendorf, Craig | Seventeenth-Century News, Fall-Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

After Civic Humanism: Learning and Politics in Renaissance Italy


Kallendorf, Craig, Seventeenth-Century News


* After Civic Humanism: Learning and Politics in Renaissance Italy. Edited by Nicholas Scott Baker and Brian Jeffrey Maxson. Publications of the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, Essays and Studies, 35. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015. 297 pp. $34.95. It is not often that a direct line can be traced between a series of Neo-Latin texts and an idea that has endured through to modern times, affecting profoundly the broader development of western culture, but that is what has happened with the concept of civic humanism. The term has its origins in the work of Hans Baron, an emigre German scholar whose The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton, 1955, revised edition 1966) is regularly cited as one of the most influential books in its field from the twentieth century. In this book Baron argued that the crisis caused by the invasion of Giangaleazzo Visconti caused the disparate elements of Florentine intellectual life to fuse into a civic activism that was rooted in the reception of republican texts from ancient Greece and Rome. In the half century since its appearance, The Crisis has been challenged on a number of fronts, especially for the dating of key Neo-Latin texts by Leonardo Bruni and others on which the details of its argument rest, but the ideal of a commitment to the active political life under the influence of classical models has endured into the writings of the so-called 'Cambridge school,' in which historians like John G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner have posited an 'Atlantic Republican Tradition' that flowed through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England into the American revolution.

After Civic Humanism collects a number of essays that begin with Baron's concept and examine where scholarship has gone since the fifties. After an introduction by the editors that lays out the issues, Oren Margolis argues that Jacob Burckhardt's classic The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy offers a roadmap for a renewed focus on the practical political nature of many humanist texts, and Christopher Celenza ties humanist discussions about the mutability of language to the intellectual chain forged by Pocock and Skinner. Two essays by Alexander Lee and Lorenza Tromboni on the fourteenth century push from Baron's focus on Latin texts that deal with republicanism to suggest that Albertino Mussato's defense of Paduan liberty unfolded within an imperial paradigm and that the vernacular translation of Marsilio of Padua's Defensor pacis had a greater influence on Florentine intellectual life than has previously been recognized. …

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