Renaissance and Reformation Civic Humanism
by
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0234

Introduction

Civic humanism is one of the more interesting and important concepts in Renaissance studies, in part because of its unusually long afterlife, and in part because almost everything pertaining to it is controversial. There is general agreement that it involves a commitment to the active political life under the influence of classical models, but from that point on, scholarship divides. Are its origins in the political life of Florence at the turn of the 15th century or in the political thought of the 14th century? Does civic humanism predicate a commitment to the republic as we understand the term today, or only to active political engagement in general? When did it end: In Italy, in the 16th century? In England, in the 17th century? In the ideological debates of the American revolution? Or later? Since large blocks of postwar scholarship on the Italian Renaissance are a reaction to civic humanism, either directly or indirectly, any selection from among this much material becomes at least somewhat arbitrary, but the bibliography that follows should provide a basic orientation to the major issues involved, with an emphasis on how ideas about civic humanism have evolved rather than on restatements of earlier positions.

The Concept

Drawing on Aristotelian ideas about government, Roman Stoicism, and the political life of the Italian communes in the late Middle Ages, civic humanism is a form of classical republicanism that involves the fusion of participatory political engagement with classical learning as revived in the Renaissance. Moulakis 2011 offers a lucid, easily accessible definition of the concept, followed by a survey of its lengthy afterlife. Connell 2000 and Hankins 2000 can serve as introductions to the idea and scholarship about it, while Nederman 2000 provides a good warning about how complicated the issues connected to civic humanism really are.

  • Connell, William J. “The Republican Idea.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 14–29. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting overview of some fifty years of scholarship on republicanism, offering an extensive bibliography supporting the idea that greater attention needs to be paid to historicizing the republican tradition and the changes that have taken place in it.

  • Hankins, James. “Introduction.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 1–13. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An excellent starting point for assessing the definition and impact of civic humanism, offering a balanced assessment of how the ideas posited in Baron 1966 (cited under Hans Baron) have affected scholarship on periods from the Middle Ages to the present, and on how these ideas have been modified in response to later scholarship.

  • Moulakis, Athanasios. “Civic Humanism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2011.

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    A broad overview, with a succinct treatment of Hans Baron placed into the context of German intellectual history and the reception of civic humanism in later European and American history, followed by an interesting coda on present challenges to the concept. The best rapid introduction to the subject.

  • Nederman, Cary C. “Rhetoric, Reason, and Republic: Republicanisms—Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.” In Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Edited by James Hankins, 247–269. Ideas in Context 57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    An interesting essay arguing that while there is a continuity in republicanism from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, republicanism in each period was heterogeneous, producing “a diversity of approaches coexisting within an uneasy tension” (p. 248).

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