By David Hawkes
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THE DAWN OF MODERNITY: LUTHER AND MACHIAVELLI As the term implies, the postmodern ideas we discussed in the Introduction emerged as a reaction against the characteristic assumptions of the ‘modern’ age. The modern period begins with the sixteenth century and stretches until the middle of the twentieth. It is the era of productionbased capitalism, as opposed to the exchange-oriented, postmodern economy. Unlike postmodernity, the philosophy of the modern period is deeply interested in the identification and refutation of false consciousness.
The chaos inflicted on Italy in 1494 by the invasion of Charles VIII of France, for instance, produced extremely sudden and dramatic political changes, which called forth new theories of secular power. Following the flight of Florence’s hereditary ruler, Piero de’ Medici, the affairs of the city-state were briefly directed by a fanatically puritanical monk named Girolamo Savonarola. In accordance with scholastic tradition, Savonarola justified his seizure of power in Aristotelian terms: Habit, indeed, is second nature, and as the rock’s nature is to fall and it cannot alter this and cannot be raised except by force, so habit too becomes nature, and it is very difficult if not impossible to change men, especially whole peoples, even if their habits are bad, for their habits spring out of their character.
The antidote to such error would be to point out that all ideas are determined by material phenomena, and are therefore contingent upon external circumstances. Hobbes thus advocates a sceptical materialism calculated to demolish any impious claim to transcendent truth. The fact that religion makes just such a claim led Hobbes conclusively to distinguish theology from philosophy. ‘The Scripture’, he declares, ‘was written to shew unto men the kingdome of God . . leaving the world, and the Philosophy thereof, to the disputation of men, for the exercising of their naturall Reason’ (145).