Friday, October 1, 2021

The Renaissance and the Birth of Western Imperialism

We are told that the Renaissance led to the recovery of art, philosophy, and literature of antiquity (Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome). What we are not told is that the Renaissance also led to the recovery of antiquity’s merciless political method of enslaving and plundering other communities. The Renaissance intellectuals glorified the bloody gladiator spectacles. They glorified the massacre of the barbarians by the Greeks and the Romans. They depicted slavery as a normal feature of ancient life. 

Between the sixth and fourteenth centuries AD, slavery in Europe was in decline. Slavery could have disappeared if a new kind of thinking had not taken hold of Europe during the Renaissance. The Europeans became acquainted with political and moral arguments for slavery and plunder, and they developed an imperialist mindset. The Renaissance can be seen as the precursor to the Age of Imperialism.

Aristotle was the favorite philosopher of the imperialists. His writing on slavery was used to defend the institution of slavery. In Politics, Aristotle has said that humans are of two types: slaves and non-slaves. What he is suggesting is that the Greeks are the masters and the non-Greeks are the barbarians, who can be plundered, enslaved, and killed. “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

Aristotle accepted the institution of slavery. “A slave is property with a soul.” He saw no difference between dogs, cattle, and slaves. “And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.” He believed that the slave existed to serve his master. “The slave is a part of the master, a living but separated part of his bodily frame.”

The ideas of Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and other philosophers were also deployed by the Renaissance intellectuals. Like Aristotle, Plato has made a case for slavery. In his dialogue, Gorgias, he wrote: “..nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior.” 

The Roman philosophers Cicero and Seneca found slavery and massacres acceptable. There is no record of any Roman philosopher opposing the gladiator games.

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