The political thought in Renaissance Italy


The Renaissance period undoubtedly represents one of the most interesting historical periods as regards the history of political thought. It is no coincidence that it was precisely in the Italian geographical and geopolitical context that the political debate was particularly heated. The geopolitical reality of the Italian peninsula made the latter particularly important. Not only because the country was actually divided into different geopolitical realities in constant conflict with each other. But also because, at a certain point, this geopolitical weakness was exploited by the great powers to impose their domination on the beautiful country and subjugate, more or less completely, its various states. The geopolitical importance of Italy at the time was truly exceptional. Not only for its geographical position (at the center of the Mediterranean and its commercial traffic) but also for its powerful economic development (the Italian geographical context was, at the time, the most economically developed area in Europe together with of the Netherlands). If the main Italian states of the time had known how to unite in a federation (or if one of them had been able to militarily prevail over the others by incorporating them) the Italian geopolitical reality would certainly have been the most powerful and influential on the European continent since not even the three of the most powerful European states of the time (England, France and Spain) could boast an economic development comparable to that which materialized in central-northern Italy. It was in this part of the world, in fact, that modern financial capitalism and the credit system as we know it today came to life. In particular, Florence was the economic heart of the Italian peninsula. Here, in fact, a highly developed social fabric (in Florence the city bourgeoisie had been able to merge with the local nobility without too many problems) allowed a powerful commercial and industrial development that was almost revolutionary for the time. The Florentine bankers became so rich that they were able to give credit even to the English and French sovereigns. The development of the arts, literature and political thought were none other than the logical consequence of this prodigious economic development. Which had no equal in the world except in small Flanders, which was also the protagonist of a true economic miracle in that same period. The Italian economic, social and artistic renaissance, very famous throughout the world, was not, however, accompanied by a true geopolitical renaissance of the Italian peninsula. On the contrary. Fate would have it that, when economic and artistic development reached its peak, Italy was plunged into the nightmare of foreign occupation. Which ultimately destroyed, along with independence, the wealth and artistic splendor of the beautiful country. Unfortunately, unlike what the Greek city-states did in the face of the Persian invasion, the Italian states were unable to unite in the face of the arrival of foreign armies. With obvious consequences on the geopolitical structure and independence of the peninsula. The “Italian question”, which began with the descent of the Lombards during the 6th century AD, did not find a solution until the second half of the 19th century, with the historical implications that we know well. Yet the economic, political and social development that found expression in the rebirth of cities and commerce after the year 1000 could have given a different imprint to the historical development of the beautiful country. But particularism was never completely overcome. And the geopolitical interests of the various Italian states were never fully convergent. Rome (the state of the Church) was involved in an exhausting struggle against the Holy Roman Empire (and its emperors from the death of Charlemagne until the end of the 13th century) to affirm the superiority of spiritual power over temporal power (exposing all the peninsula to the raids of the imperial armies). Venice and Genoa were only interested in their own commercial traffic (and to a much lesser extent in territorial conquests beyond their borders) which resumed in grand style towards the end of the 10th century (when the danger represented by Muslim piracy in the Mediterranean). Milan and Florence were interested more than anything else in their specific regional context. Southern Italy, for its wealth and economic development (this part of the Italian peninsula was largely subjected, until the 10th century, to the control of the Byzantine Empire which maintained an imperial administrative system and economic model and therefore not strictly feudal which made it a “unicum” in the political and geopolitical panorama of the time) was, already during the 10th century, the object of foreign aims. First the Normans settled there, then the Germans (the Hohenstaufen), later the Angevins (linked to the French crown) and then the Aragonese (linked to the Spanish crown). Such a geopolitical framework made the reality of the various Italian states precarious and conflictual. Who were unable, despite the economic development they produced, to react to the foreign invasion when it occurred’


It is easy to imagine how such a geopolitical framework made it necessary to examine the Italian geopolitical situation and its intrinsic fragility. But it was not only the dramatic and objective circumstances of the geopolitical situation of the beautiful country that gave impetus to the Italian political debate of the 16th century (even if for the latter’s realist current it was an essential starting point and premise). In this particular historical phase, the influence of the classical world and its philosophical systems also entered into conceptual speculation, political and otherwise. Let us not forget that the Italian Renaissance (which above all represents the rediscovery of life and the creative possibilities of man after the confessional self-sacrifice of the Middle Ages) was profoundly influenced by the classical world and its culture (slowly rediscovered thanks to the discovery of literary works by Greek and Roman authors preserved in monasteries and ecclesiastical libraries) seen as an exemplary model to inspire for that return “to this side” of human life after centuries in which the latter was conceived only as a function of beyond and of universal judgement. The rediscovery of life occurred first with the rediscovery of the past and the classical world (with the profound interest in the studi humanitatis and the literary, artistic and philosophical heritage of the classical world) and then with the exaltation of man’s own faculties capable of creating his own future and his own place in the world (the conception of homo suaefortunae faber). This vision, entirely bourgeois, reflected the profound social changes that had led to a true “Kopernican revolution” in thought and in the conception of existence in the most dynamic geopolitical and economic realities of the time. This revolution was precisely a direct consequence of the political and social rise of the bourgeoisie within the social fabric and institutions of the great Italian lords. And of the economic development that made men more independent with respect to dogmatic conceptions which, suitable for a poor and economically static society like the medieval one, were no longer adhering to a dynamic economic context like the one that developed in central-northern Italy already ‘from the end of the 14th century. The influence of classical thought, especially that of Plato and Aristotle, on the political thought of the first phase of the Italian Renaissance (also defined as “humanism” and predominant during the 15th century) was very strong. And it fueled the current of political idealism (which contrasted with that of political realism, prevalent during the 16th century). This current draws its inspiration from Plato’s Republic and proposes models of political and social organization that are not found anywhere in the world (from the term Utopia or, precisely, “nowhere”). Such political conceptions represent the triumph of “ought to be” over being. Of the idea over reality. They envisage the communion of goods and a just society led by philosophers. The only ones who have the necessary skills to manage the state machine justly. The two main authors of this current were Tommaso Moro and Tommaso Campanella. The first is the author of “Utopia”. The second of the “City of the Sun”. Both of these works had a wide impact on political thought and Renaissance culture. The other current, very flourishing in Italy during the 16th century, is that of political realism. This current of thought bases its analysis (as well as its conclusions) on the specific political and geopolitical reality of the time. And also on a profound anthropological analysis. How can we define the nature of politics and the state if we do not first consider the true nature of man, with all his social implications? The nature of the state and politics must be intimately connected to human nature. A fundamentally evil and deeply selfish nature. Not inclined to work for the common good spontaneously. The human being naturally pursues his specific interest and not that of the community as such. Which, in fact, seems almost completely alien to him.It turns out that without the state, whose purpose is precisely to repress and limit the selfish impulses of each individual, human beings would live in a state of perpetual conflict, without rules and without common action. The state is precisely the instrument through which nature and human action are coercively brought back to the collective good, to the interest of society as a whole. This vision of the state is present in the great authors of the realist current of Renaissance political thought. In particular in Machiavelli and Guicciardini, the two main representatives of this current of thought. Far from being the fruit of a philosophical system or an abstract idea of ​​any morality, the nature of the state and politics have their raison d’être in the specificities of human nature and in the barbaric and ruthless dynamics of relationships and competition between the nations of the planet (the study of this dynamic is the true object of the geopolitical discipline). Each having, as its own specific interest, the maintenance and expansion of itself. Which, obviously, is the true cause of conflicts and wars between the various nations of the planet. Machiavelli and Guicciardini draw these conclusions from their real experiences as statesmen of the Florentine republic. And not from personal philosophical or religious beliefs. From lived political experience and from the observation (and analysis) of contemporary political and geopolitical dynamics. This is the true value of their work (as well as that of other authors, regular visitors to the famous orticellari gardens in Florence). Having brought the philosophical speculation of the Renaissance back to reality. In the awareness that the idea is one thing and reality in all its disenchantment is another.


The political thought of the Renaissance can therefore be defined as the fruit of the philosophical speculation of the time (following the rediscovery of the classical world and its philosophical and political systems) and of the analysis of the Italian political and geopolitical dynamics of the 15th and 16th centuries as well as human nature and its specificities. The profoundly different outcomes that the various authors arrived at represent the fruit of different conceptual visions, completely natural in a historical period in which man, after almost a thousand years of economic and conceptual darkness, rediscovers his intrinsic creative abilities. . Renaissance man is ultimately the man who returns to life, after an obscurantist historical phase, in which the vision of man, nature and the world could not ignore the transcendent dimension of universal judgement. Medieval man lived only as a function of divine judgment and post-mortem life. Renaissance man lives to fulfill himself in this world. To enjoy life in this world. And he analyzes the latter to dominate it and put it at his service. With an active and no longer exclusively passive attitude. It is completely normal that, upon returning to life, he faces political reality in a very heterogeneous way and based on the cultural fabric prevalent in that specific historical framework which is the Renaissance period. In which man rediscovers life by looking at the past. To that classical world that he saw as an exemplary world. A sort of spring in the history of humanity before the “medieval autumn”. It is therefore unthinkable that Plato’s work did not have an impact on the political and philosophical speculation of the time. Producing masterpieces of political thought such as Utopia and the City of the Sun. And it is unthinkable, at the same time, that the political situation (with the end of the municipal reality and the advent of the lordships in the main Italian cities) and geopolitics (with the perennial conflicts between the main states of the Italian peninsula and finally the foreign invasion of the beautiful country) of the time did not produce a political reflection of a realist nature. He aims to delve deeper into the causes and consequences of these developments. As well as proposing solutions to solve the very serious existing problems.


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