By: Kate Cyr Renaissance Florence was known for its paradoxical promiscuity, religion and its genius. While courtesans and priests blurred the line of Catholic morality and the values of the streets, the intellectual triumphs of those like Machiavelli, Botticelli, Boccaccio, and the de Medici family flourished. Sure, Florence had its faults, and what those faults were vary by opinion. But Florence’s major flaw, at least to those of the day, was the city’s so-called “paganism.” Today, that very paganism is applauded for all of the wonderful art, poetry, and thought it inspired during the Renaissance.
Enter friar Girolamo Savonarola, the religious reformer who tried to purge the city of all of its “vices”—prostitution, sodomy, independent women, and any signs of intellectual expression. Savonarola and his followers made condemning speeches, burned paintings and books, and tortured dissenters. Florence was no longer a gem of learning and beauty, and it stayed that way until Savonarola was overthrown years later.
Luckily for Florence, Savonarola’s puppet republic was destroyed. The Renaissance, and its intellectual progress, carried on.
Most people can agree creativity and growth happen when freedom from old, close-minded tradition is allowed, and is curbed when strict, intolerant rulers come to power. This little history lesson is just an example to prove it.
The danger is that in today’s world, science, individualism, and discovery are being trampled for the same motives possessed by Savonarola and his followers. Today, the biggest cases of Savonarola-esque rule come from China and many countries of the Middle East, especially those targeted in the Arab Spring uprisings. In China, Chen Guangcheng had to flee persecution for his outspoken support for human rights. In Libya and Syria, governments turned on their own people because they called for democracy. More examples of this vicious cycle of paranoid, tradition-fueled authoritarianism are splattered throughout the pages of world history.
I’m particularly worried about one: the rise of the socially extreme right in the United States. Nationally accepted candidates such as Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum trumpet policies that enforce a Christianity-based state with little room for other religions. Or, for that matter, opposing thoughts. They think women’s rights should be curbed. Science can be an enemy. Homosexuality is wrong.
Look at the world today! The entire globe is connected through the Internet, new life-saving technology is being invented every day, and more and more women are able to pursue lives as free individuals. Why stop this progress? Some deep religious conviction that new frontiers are morally wrong? A fear of the subjectively immoral acts that accompany a freer society? Or just plain fear?
Whatever prompted Savonarola or may prompt the modern world’s loudly traditional politicians varies. The fact is Savonarola is only a more famous and more extreme example of bigoted behavior. His intolerance of progress and of those who had differing viewpoints almost brought the Renaissance, one of the West’s finest intellectual periods, to a collapse.
I doubt the more right-wing members of the Republican Party would be able to pull off a total stop of scientific and intellectual development, even if they truly wanted to. Even the most authoritarian leaders in the Middle East can’t stop the flow of knowledge completely. Despite this, the Savonarola-esque behavior demonstrated by the Republican Party leadership and authoritarian leaders throughout the world legitimately threatens most of the ideals that we, as students, strive towards. Almost every student stands for spreading knowledge, having the freedom to make individual choices, and tolerating opposing viewpoints. We go to college for those reasons! It is necessary for everyone to be aware of and on guard for the next sweep of Savonarola-ist movements, no matter if it comes from right, left, up, or down, from pulpit, television, Internet, or popular demand.
A cause that limits the freedom of others is unacceptable no matter what form it takes. Opinions are opinions, and meeting them with violence or intolerance is deplorable. You may not agree with me; you may not agree with individual freedom or intellectualism or my religion. That’s fine, that’s your opinion. But don’t try to force it on the rest of us and don’t persecute me for believing differently. You may just end up being the next Savonarola.
Kate is a sophomore in the college and hails from the small town of Washington, D.C. She loves all things international, especially Model UN, and she is SO excited to be the Secretary-General of MUNE I this year. She also enjoys rockclimbing, tour guiding, making inappropriate jokes, and getting excited about people sending her postcards. She is extremely interested in global health and the economy, as well as the secret recipe for Wild Berry Pop Tarts and The Social Network. She would like to conclude by saying she loves EJIA like the pet unicorn she never had.
"Believer in American Exceptionalism." Rick Santorum for President. Rick Santorum For President. Web. 04 June 2012. http://www.ricksantorum.com/believer-american-exceptionalism.
Kreis, Steven. "Girolamo Savonarola, 1452-1498." Girolamo Savonarola, 1452-1498. The History Guide, 13 May 2004. Web. 04 June 2012. http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/savonarola.html.
"Issues." Governor Rick Perry. Texans for Rick Perry. Web. 04 June 2012. http://www.rickperry.org/page/issues.
"Solutions." Newt Gingrich 2012. Newt 2012. Web. 04 June 2012. http://www.newt.org/solutions/protecting-life-and-religious-liberty/.
"We Hold These Truths." Rick Santorum for President. Rick Santorum For President. Web. 04 June 2012. http://www.ricksantorum.com/we-hold-these-truths.
"Girolamo Savonarola". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 04 Jun. 2012. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/525815/Girolamo-Savonarola.