The Unintentional Press: Public Opinion and Renaissance Men

Why did medieval men even begin to think?

The face of the marble statue of David, located in Micheal Angelo Park in Florence, Italy.

The Renaissance and the Reformation and subsequent Counter-Reformation were all movements that converged at one point in time to significantly change the direction of western civilization. More importantly, these events set the stage for conditions that would promote independent thinking and humanist thought.

Not to digress, but….

One common saying is the state of a civilization’s economy, or wealth, is expressed through the proliferation of its arts. In other words, when a civilization flourishes, this wealth is conveyed through the patronage of the arts. This saying was also applicable to pre-Renaissance Europe, more specifically Florence, Italy.

Funny thing was the Renaissance did not begin because of some major historical event, but as medieval guilds were formed and then became prosperous corporations, the wealthy of this era took an interests in the arts, even becoming patrons to many artists.

The rise of guilds gave rise to a merchant class who became educated, literate patrons of the arts, patrons to arts that were a part of a civilization that existed several centuries earlier.

This renaissance, or rebirth, was a movement that looked to past Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations for artistic inspiration. Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Donatello, to name a few, were commissioned artists whose works all reflected this revival of Greek and Roman art.

Greek and Roman artistic themes were not the only subjects revisited, though….

  • Philosophical, scientific and mathematical principles became a part of the public discourse, as thinkers of the time revisited Aristotelian and Platonic principles.
  • Thinkers revisited ideas of government and governing that built the democratic and republican governments of ancient Greece and Rome.
  • More importantly, this rebirth of Greek and Roman philosophies encouraged men to really think about authority, more specifically, to challenge authority when it is more than obvious that the ruling government is a corrupt one.

All of these disciplines and philosophies that became a part of a collective discussion in and around Europe during the Renaissance culminated in….

Humanism

Humanism, simply, is a philosophy that values the human being, both individually and as a part of a collective body. This philosophy always supports rational thought and reasoning as opposed to acceptance of dogma or superstition.

Before and during the Renaissance, this movement took place as a direct result of the imposing authority of the religious government that ruled Europe up until the Reformation. Pre-Reformation Europe was marked by a church that had immense political power and authority over the people, an unquestioning authority!

This unquestioning authority left the people with a religious government that:

  • Took money from its citizens in exchange for absolution of their sins.
  • Had as the head of government a papal (pope) authority whose power was unchecked.
  • Was extremely secretive and bureaucratic.

And these are just a few of the major complaints!

Church authority was not the only topic up for discourse, as major mathematical and scientific theories of the past were held up to scrutiny as well.

'The Prince' by Niccolo Machiavelli

While painters and sculptors revisited the styles of ancient Greece and Rome, writers and thinkers, studying the great Hellenistic and Classical philosophers, developed their own philosophies regarding the world they inhabited. Some of the most celebrated writers of today were Renaissance men who conveyed their own ideas through their literary works.

Dante’s Divine Comedy directly addressed religious themes and authority. While Sir Thomas Moore wrote about utopian societies, Machiavelli’s The Prince supported the idea of rule by any means necessary, but more significantly, he conveyed this whole idea of a public voice (publica voce), or public opinion.

Okay, we’re almost there…. The true significance of humanism is that its legacy is one that formed the basis of public opinion. As humanism shaped public opinion, everyone questioned pretty much anything and everything in society. As opinions related to humanity evolved so did the governing bodies that ruled over men, and women.

In essence, Renaissance men were partially responsible for leading society out of the Dark Ages and changing the course of history.

And what about public relations?

Renaissance men, by establishing a platform on which public thought could be voiced, laid the foundation for one part of engaging in PR and relating to the public—knowing and understanding the public’s opinion.


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