Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolution in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425.Samuel K. Cohn. Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolution in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. It was established on January 13, 1913. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. , 2006. x + 376 pp. index. bibl. $49.95. ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m : 0-674-02162-2.
Samuel Cohn has long had an enviable talent for setting the terms of discussion in the field of social history. He has posed penetrating questions, offered original answers, and championed a comparative methodology against more standard approaches that derive conclusions from the evidence of single cities and states. Cohn's new book, Lust for Liberty, follows the same tradition. It examines popular revolt in three places--Italy, France, and Flanders--over a 225-year period and challenges the most basic assumptions. The book is magisterial mag·is·te·ri·al
a. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a master or teacher; authoritative: a magisterial account of the history of the English language.
b. in scope, highly original, well-argued, and sure to set the terms of future discourse on the subject. Its effectiveness is enhanced by the author's lucid writing style and ability to stay on point despite changes of geographic setting and historiographical tradition. Cohn deserves especial es·pe·cial
1. Of special importance or significance; exceptional: an occasion of especial joy.
2. credit for integrating analysis with narrative, such that, in addition to his challenging interpretations, the reader is left with indelible images of the revolts themselves. Who can forget the uprising spurred by the cardinal's pretty dog or the revolt of the people without underpants?
Cohn carefully lays out his argument, beginning with a thorough discussion of methodology and the sources, as well as a rigorous definition of popular revolt. The latter is particularly necessary given, as Cohn notes, the surprising absence of explicit definitions in most scholarly discussions. Cohn culls culls
the animals extracted from a herd or flock by culling. together a sample of 1,112 revolts, using chronicles (with caution) and archival materials. The number is in itself noteworthy, since some scholars view premodern pre·mod·ern
Existing or coming before a modern period or time: the feudal system of premodern Japan. revolts as infrequent, owing to owing to
Because of; on account of: I couldn't attend, owing to illness.
owing to prep → debido a, por causa de the limited coercive power of the lower classes and brutal repressions from above. Cohn shows that revolts were, however, common, and rather than always leading to violent oppression, they were often brought to negotiated settlement. The rebellions themselves were often not violent: Cohn includes in his sample peace movements and nonviolent protest.
Cohn devotes considerable space to establishing the typologies and ideologies of the revolts. He sees collective action as basic to all of them and opposes this to the activities of single individuals and families. He stresses the difficulty in gaining precision, given the shifting meaning of such terms as popolo minuto and menu peuple, as well as the multifaceted mul·ti·fac·et·ed
Having many facets or aspects. See Synonyms at versatile.
Adj. 1. multifaceted - having many aspects; "a many-sided subject"; "a multifaceted undertaking"; "multifarious interests"; "the multifarious aspect of the insurgencies, which at once often had political, social, and economic dimensions to them. But Cohn's sample offers fascinating insights and brings forth striking conclusions. Cohn fundamentally revises the well-known views of modernist scholars such as Hobsbawm, Thompson, Rude, and Tilly regarding the nature of preindustrial pre·in·dus·tri·al
Of, relating to, or being a society or an economic system that is not or has not yet become industrialized.
of a time before the mechanization of industry crowds and their discontents. Cohn shows, contra Rude, that there were few bread riots and little involvement of women. He demonstrates, contra Tilly, that there was significant coordination of revolts, broad coalitions, and leadership from within. Rather than women, Cohn finds significant participation of young people, university students, and even small children. The revolts were predominantly urban and rarely pitted one social group against another. They were often aimed at government authority and, in this sense, were primarily political in nature.
The validity of Cohn's political interpretation will likely draw considerable scholarly debate. My own economic bent engenders a reflexive (theory) reflexive - A relation R is reflexive if, for all x, x R x.
Equivalence relations, pre-orders, partial orders and total orders are all reflexive. skepticism. But Cohn defends his position well, and offers a strong and compelling argument. He follows with a fascinating comparison of revolts north and south of the Alps. In chapter 8, Cohn finds in Italy a greater use of symbols, most notably flags. In the north, words and oratory oratory, the art of swaying an audience by eloquent speech. In ancient Greece and Rome oratory was included under the term rhetoric, which meant the art of composing as well as delivering a speech. played a larger role, a distinction that, as Cohn notes, appears odd given the importance of emblems to the aristocracy and king (189). Cohn speculates that the differences may reflect divergences in Northern and Southern religious processional life.
In the last two chapters, Cohn focuses primarily on the Black Death, the long-held point of departure among medievalists for the study of revolts. Here he offers his final corrective and, perhaps, most provocative conclusion. Departing from the analyses of Pirenne, Wolff, Mollat, and Hilton, Cohn does not see a shift in the nature of revolts from ones of "craft and occupation" (3) in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries to those concerning the economic misery of the nascent proletarians after the plague. Instead, he argues that plague helped align patterns of social conflict in the north and south along similar trajectories, bringing about a new era in communication and a "hidden sense of unity" (227). Revolts increased greatly after the plague, nearly threefold from 1348 to 1425. But rather than stress the spontaneous outbreak of protests or a cluster of insurgencies from 1378 to 1382 (Wolff, Mollatt), Cohn views the 1350s as the point of departure and the years from 1354 to 1383 as the high water mark of revolt, with nearly ten per annum Per annum
Yearly. . This allows Cohn to contextualize con·tex·tu·al·ize
tr.v. con·tex·tu·al·ized, con·tex·tu·al·iz·ing, con·tex·tu·al·iz·es
To place (a word or idea, for example) in a particular context. famous uprisings such as the Florentine Ciompi and English Peasants Revolt and show how they were part of a broader tradition. The tradition was one of increasing secular revolt, focused on political and social issues. Cohn sees a "new spirit for societal change," which involved a desire among the lower classes for "liberty," now expressly stated as a goal (236). The post-plague insurgents--peasants, artisans and workers, and petty shopkeepers--gained a new self- and class-consciousness, and with it the belief that they could fundamentally alter their social and political circumstances. They coopted the language of liberty from their social betters, who had used it to defend their corporate privileges.
The call for liberty by the lower class is a theme first developed by Cohn in his Creating the Florentine State. It will resonate especially with Italianists, given the central place of the term in the longstanding debate over politics and republicanism, arising from the work of Hans Baron Hans Baron (1900-1988) was an acclaimed German historian of political thought and literature in the Italian Renaissance. His main contribution to the historiography of the period was to introduce in 1928 the term civic humanism (denoting most if not all of the content of and others. Cohn's conclusions are worthy of this exceedingly rich book, which offers no less than a basic reinterpretation re·in·ter·pret
tr.v. re·in·ter·pret·ed, re·in·ter·pret·ing, re·in·ter·prets
To interpret again or anew.
re of the social world of late medieval Europe.
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