I believe in renaissance. The Renaissance is the model I believe in, much as I believe in God. The analyses and histories detailing the facts of the Renaissance provide a view into what transpired in those few hundred years; but that is not the core of my belief. My belief is the idea of the renaissance.
I recall my first reading of Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. I believed every word; internalized every image; crafted a reading list supporting my belief. These ideas fueled my youthful optimism. This optimism ultimately led to the answer to ‘…what I could do for my country.’ Later, after Viet Nam and the seemingly endless blame levied on the war’s veterans, my belief in a renaissance was the only spark left to me.
Completing my degree in European History almost snuffed out that light. I learned ‘reasons’ for this or that aspect of the epoch. I learned of the various ways I could quantify when the renaissance started, by whom and in reaction to what. I learned that moveable type was the facilitating technology in the explosion of books and the critical reading of texts. I studied how craftsmen became artists and artists the pioneers seeing things and expressing things in new ways. I also learned that Burckhardt’s work was not correct in detail.
I shifted my focus from European History to Computer Science. I began my career. I focused on management and my professional certifications. I spent the next decades trying to better the practice of software systems development and management. Yet, there remained the belief that there was a renewal just in front of me; a new renaissance.
After September 11 the visage of a dark age just over the horizon filled me with feelings that the Europeans of the Renaissance must have felt. Over their shoulder were Medieval thought, practice and inquisitions. To the east were the same fundamentalist dogmas we face now. Additionally, the people of the Renaissance had to deal with theological differences raging between people and budding nations. Yet this all gave way to critical reading, a general widening of knowledge and the setting of the prerequisites for the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason and the United States. If not true, so what – this is my belief.
Four months ago I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Statistically, there seems little chance of avoiding the inevitable. It seems that the hope of reaching a new understanding of things has a definite end for me. But my belief in the renaissance; my re-reading of Burckhardt, Petrarch, Vasari, even Machiavelli fill me with wonder and excitement. The idea, the belief that we are still in a renaissance is our shared human story.
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