The Development of Individuality in the Modern World:
Burckhardt’s View on the Renaissance in Italy
Individuality and Cultural History
In Reflections on History Jacob Burckhardt describes that “culture may be defined as the sum total of those mental developments which take place spontaneously and lay no claim to universal or compulsive authority” (55) and claims that culture is developed as a process of human mental activities, "The spearhead of all Culture is a miracle of mind – speech, whose spring, independently of the individual people and its individual language, is in the soul, otherwise no deaf-mute could be taught to speak and to understand speech. Such teaching is only explicable if there is in the soul an intimate and responsive urge to clothe thought in words" (56).
He continues to discuss that culture can highly be developed as the movement of renaissance showed. As he explains that the Italian and European movement of renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Renaissance was a special pure renaissance and “its specific characteristics were its spontaneity, the evidential vitality through which it triumphed, its extension, to a greater or less degree, to every possible domain of life, e.g. the idea of the State, and finally, its European character, (ibid.: 63-64) Burckhardt attempts to argue that the Renaissance was the crux that enabled the development of individuality.
David Riesman in Individualism Reconsidered explains the situation of the movement of individualism, "Men of the emerging middle classes, after the Renaissance, were turned loose in an economic order freed from the supervision of mercantilism, in a political order freed from the supervision of an hereditary aristocracy, in a religious order freed from the supervision of ecclesiastical hierarchy" (26). He also points out that individualism had appeared not only in business and colonization, but also in many reform movements for several hundred years (27-28). Therefore, the Renaissance played an important role in the development of human history and made a great impact on the development of individuality. But what is the connection between individuality and cultural history? James Lull in Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach interprets the meaning of culture. As he depicts that, “culture is a complex and dynamic ecology of people, things world views, activities, and settings that fundamentally endures but is also changed in routine communication and social interaction. Culture is context,” (66) to human, culture is the non-finished interactive social phenomenon and every individual is responsible of this interaction. That means, in modern culture, individuality is the necessary ingredient in the process of development of culture and civilization. As Lull mentions, “Cultural power reflects how, in the situated realms of everyday life, individuals and groups construct and declare their cultural identities and activities and how those expressions and behaviors influence others,” (72) cultural power is getting more and more powerful in the modern world and the individuals are responsible of carefully managing this power. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the development of individuality in modern culture.
As in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Burckhardt describes the change of human consciousness between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Italy, "In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness...lay dreaming or half awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, illusion and childish prepossession, through which the world and history were seen clad in strange hues. Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family or corporation... In Italy this veil first melted into air; an objective treatment and consideration of the state and of all the things of this world became possible. The subjective side at the same time asserted itself with...
References: Burckhardt, Jacob. (1990) The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Trans. S.G.C. Middlemore. London: Penguin.
Burckhardt, Jacob. (1943) Reflections on History. Trans. M.D.H. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Gilbert, Felix. (1990) History: Politics or Culture? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lull, James. (1995) Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Riesman, David. (1954) Individualism Reconsidered. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.
Weintraub, Karl J. (1966) Visions of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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