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The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Individuality

J.W.N. Watkins illustrates how the great individualist thinkers of the 17th century had a profound effect upon the development of modern Europe.

 The explosive idea of individuality entered seventeenth-century Europe from the South and from the North. From Italy, from the drawings of Leonardo and the pages of Machiavelli, came the unmistakable picture of Renaissance man, passionate, strong and cunning. From Germany, from the turmoil of Luther’s emotional theology, came the idea of the supreme authority of inward conviction: the old outward authority of the visible church was to melt beneath the glare of the inner light which purifies the heart and illumines the mind of a member of the invisible church of true believers. And then, combining with the intoxicating aesthetic and religious individualism of the Renaissance and the Reformation, came from both Italy and Germany, from Galileo and Kepler, the new individualism of independent scientific enquiry. Here, a new power of the human mind was brilliantly manifested, the power of dissolving the commonsense, surface-view of the world, and of ordering and relating a mass of far-flung phenomena by detecting the simple and universal principles which silently govern them.

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