Cohn, Erasmus and Machiavelli Political Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2317 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

The same profound need of purity which drove him to the sources of sacred science should capture a leader's character and produce in him a character, a fundamental perspective that shapes every aspect of the person's philosophy that drives and directs his personal and political decisions. Erasmus' writings described his belief that purity in the material and the moral sense is what affected the abilities of the leader. "If he continually chastens his language and style, or exculpates himself from mistakes, it is the same impulse which prompts his passionate desire for cleanliness and brightness, of the home and of the body." (Huizinga, 1957)

As one schooled in the Catholic Church, Erasmus could not help but hold this perspective. The roman church had developed an all encompassing paradigm to personal and political life. As a cleric, Erasmus' believed that his personal life directed and directly affected his public life. The individual decisions which the person made were controlled by his character, and character was a matter of moral and ethical beliefs.

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Norman Cohn, however, did not write with the advantage of a religious framework, nor did he have a political connectedness to the success of Rome as the most successful example of a political system. Writing in the middle 20th century, Cohn's work holds the skeptical perspective which typifies his period. As he surveyed the political and religious landscape of the European middle ages, Norman Cohn focus's his attention on how prejudices and hatreds among the poor (especially against the Jews, the clergy, and the wealthy) were used by religious leaders in conjunction with the cultural apocalyptic expectations in order to give rise to mass movements which resulted in much mayhem and bloodshed.

Term Paper on Cohn, Erasmus and Machiavelli Political Assignment

For example, the Peoples and Shepherds Crusades in the middle Ages were movements of extreme religious zealotry which ended in mass slaughter. In the name of religious beliefs, men and women were slaughtered. At times, entire villages, including men, women and children were executed, and those perpetrating the crimes baptized their actions under the stream "We will send them all to God, and let God sort them out." (Foxe, 1926) Cohn examines various sects that developed out of these apocalyptic movements, and around such figures as the Emperor Frederick, Joachim of Fiore, and comes to the conclusion that their actions sought to mobilize the masses of poor as fodder in order to pursue their own political agenda, rather than leaders who wanted to build social order for the benefit of their followers.

At the heart of the struggle across Europe was class struggle between rich and poor, between land owners and farmers who worked the land, or between poor and clergy. These ongoing struggles developed frequently into all out wars. Cohn follows the misapplied beliefs of the church, but fails to move beyond the tragic examples of those who would lead in the name of religion for their own purposed, to build a philosophy regarding how religious ethic can, and should form the mind of man in order to teach him how to lead for the benefit of others. Cohn does an excellent job of describing this process in detail and deals with much of the mysticism and religious beliefs surrounding it.

In conclusion, these men all looked at the same events, and like blind men trying to describe an encounter with an elephant, each comes away with their own interpretation. Machiavelli attempted to curry favor with his political contemporaries, so he toned his writing in the direction of supporting current leaders amoral and dictatorial tendencies, while insisting that moral-based changed would better suit the leader, and the followers. Erasmus stated with absolute certainty that 'as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he' and his actions will flow from this beliefs, and values. Cohn identified correctly that when men verbally espouse one belief system, and live for another, the results can only be moral and political chaos. Like the blind men and the elephant, one who touched a leg, and describes the beast as a tree trunk, another who touched the trunk and is convinced the beast is a giant serpent, and a third who feels the side, and thinks of the beast as a house, these philosophers cite their own perspectives on the events of the middle ages, but do not come away with a complete and accurate image of the necessary merging of religious and political ethics in order to create a just, and prosperous society.


Foxe, John. Fox's Book of Martyrs. William B. Forbush, ed. Chicago: John Winston Co. 1926

Huizinga, J. Erasmus and the age of Reforation. New York: Harper. 1957.

Schaub, D. Machiavelli's realism. The National Interest, No. 53, Fall 1998.

Walters, C. Machiavelli's immortal look… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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