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Amid Hymns of Hate
The Renaissance by Will Durant
© 2013 James LaFond
The Story of Civilization Part 5:
The Renaissance
A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D.
By Will Durant
1953, Simon and Schuster, NY, 776 pages
Will Durant is the man responsible for my general education. My Uncle Herb owned the complete collection written by Will and his wife Ariel. I read these whenever I visited, sought the same set out in my high school library and read the first half of the set before I dropped out; and later, when I signed the pile of fictitious debt articles that suggested I was a homeowner, purchased my own set to place over the non-existent mantel of my ghetto digs.
I have recently reread the majority of this, the fifth book in the set; being like the rest, an epic history in its own right, superbly illustrated, annotated and footnoted, by one of our greatest historians. Durant was primarily concerned with the life of the human mind and eschewed the historian’s normal record of the ascent of man as one war after another. I do not go to him for military history. In Durant’s view military activity merely sets the stage on which the dramas of the human mind are played out, and otherwise occupy the realm of shadows and undercurrents. He would not write human history as a litany of wars any more than he would write it as a record of natural disasters.
The thesis of this book would be rejected by many today, “…how the Renaissance, by recalling classical culture [pre-Christian thought] ended the thousand-year rule of the Oriental mind in Europe.”
Durant believed in philosophy, science, culture and art, not monolithic belief systems. He was an investigator who distrusted the rigid; an early debunker of monotheistic mythology, which in his day was still taught as the key to Western Civilization. He is one of the few modern thinkers with a mainstream pedigree who dared to link Judaism, and by extension Christianity, with their Oriental roots, exposing these proto-Islamic faiths as mind control constructs used to impose a stifling fatalism on Europe. This is not a popular view. Here is Durant’s view of the Reformation [the century of religious wars that followed the Renaissance] “…men fought through a bloody century for the freedom to believe and worship as they pleased, or as pleased their kings; and the voice of reason seemed stilled by the clash of militant faiths…”
I don’t know about you, but that line brought an unwelcome chill in my back. I wonder what Durant would think about the current struggle between Islam and monopolistic capitalism prosecuted on both sides at the expense of reason?
Mainstream scholars no longer write with such a radical edge. With nearly 10,000 pages of Will and Ariel Durant on my shelves I don’t feel slighted.
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