Roots Of Individualism In Euro

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Roots of Individualism in Europe During the Middle Ages, independent thought was viewed disdainfully. Almost any idea deviating from the status quo, largely determined by the Roman Catholic Church, was condemned as heresy. One convicted of such a grievous offense was often excommunicated or killed, either by means of a proper execution or by a hostile mob. However, with the decline of the Middle Ages, the conditions arose for the birth of individualism—the development of which can be traced through the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of capitalism. Individualism was a radical ideological revolution that forever altered the face of Europe and the rest of the world. The beginning of individualism’s gradual evolution was first manifested in the Renaissance Era. The Renaissance was a ripe time ready for change. The weakening role of the Catholic Church led to an increase in power for the masses. Corruption plagued Church officials and many sought theological respite elsewhere. The reemphasis of ancient Greek and Roman texts proffered alternatives for many to satisfy their religious needs. This helped contribute to the abolishment of the Church’s imposition of its absolute truth and its claim to ultimate authority. As the church lost power, so did the political units. The bonds between church and state began to erode. Feudalism declined, hence giving rise to new political opportunity. The noble class no longer held a monopoly on the valued positions in society. Rather, one was able to pursue wealth and fame through various endeavors ranging from artist to soldier. The most empowering change of this era was the dominance of a secular attitude and the decline of church absolutism. This secular viewpoint altered man’s reason for existence from an otherworldly quest to an intimate, immediate appreciation for that which exists on earth. Humanism is a primary source of individualism. Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” captures the essence of the humanist movement. He writes that God gave man the ability to make of himself what he wills. Although man is capable of depraved acts, he also possesses the profundity to distinguish him as a holy being. Pico praises the goodness of mankind when he writes, “man is rightly called and judged a great miracle ... ... middle of paper ... ...the birth of capitalism liberated the goals and means of work. Capitalism allowed individuals to own and manage their own business and reflected the secular mind frame derived from the Renaissance Era. The individual is the unit on which capitalism is based. Bonds between merchants was based on free competition rather that the need to trade. This liberating system of economy allows rise for the individual to direct his own business. Individualism developed with the gradual transfer of power from large establishments to the individual and his rights and opportunities as a member of society. The importance and power of the individual was not fully realized until ideas were transformed through the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of capitalism. These movements helped Europe realize the latent potential within an individual. Until such progressive movements occurred, the individual was neglected. Today, one man can cause the downfall of a hundred because of his individual power—this is directly related to many of the changes that begun in the fourteenth century. In fact without such transformations, the world would not stand as we know it today.

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