FLORENTINE CIVIC HUMANISM AND THE EMERGENCE OF MODERN IDEOLOGY

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ABSTRACT

This article revisits the question of the modernity of the Renaissance by examining the political language of Florentine civic humanism and by critically analyzing the debate over Hans Baron's interpretation of the movement. It engages two debates that are usually conducted separately: one concerning the originality of civic humanism in comparison to medieval thought, and the other concerning the political and social function of the civic humanists' political republicanism in fifteenth-century Florence. The article's main contention is that humanist political discourse rejected the perception of social and political reality as being part of, or reflecting, a metaphysical and divine order or things, and thus undermined the traditional justifications for political hierarchies and power relations. This created the conditions of possibility for the distinctively modern aspiration for a social and political order based on liberty and equality. It also resulted in the birth of a distinctively modern form of ideology, one that legitimizes the social order by disguising its inequalities and structures of domination. Humanism, like modern political thought generally, thus simultaneously constructs and reflects the dialectic of emancipation and domination so central to modernity itself.

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