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 individualismthe 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...
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