Friday, May 05, 2017

Modernity in European history


  Nasir Khan, May 5, 2017

“The point of modernity is to live a life without illusions while not becoming disillusioned.”

― Italian Marxist thinker and politician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

Modernity means many things to different people. But in learned discourse, it refers to the collective body of particular socio-cultural norms and attitudes that emerged when the medieval period in European history gave way to new thinking. Prior to modernity, scholasticism of the middle ages covered all aspects of socio-political life. Religion was the pivotal force that controlled the social and political thinking of the people as well as moulded political structures and power relations.

The Church hierarchy interpreted and enforced socio-cultural norms. Even monarchs, barons and landed aristocrats had to accept the directives of the Church in matters that seemed to have little or nothing to do with religion. In simple words, the Church was at the apex of the societal pyramid.

Then the scene started to change. At grave risks, some thinkers and public-spirited people started to question matters relating to the principles of absolutism, divine rights of kings, the power of the Church, even the old sacrosanct doctrines and dogmas that were once only under the domain of the clerics. Now people began to question the rationale of age-old norms and customs. This was something that was strictly forbidden in the middle ages.

We should keep in mind that the process of change was gradual but it had pointed to a new direction in social and political thinking and practice. The powers of omnipotent deity were questioned and some thinkers rejected all notions of any supernatural beings. Such ideas have made meaningful inroads in Europe. More people are rejecting old traditional modes of thought and dogmas.

The roles of many philosophers from the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries onwards have been instrumental in exploring new ideas to meet the needs of the times.
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