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Iago the Meritocrat: Conflicting Interpretations of Individualism in the Early Modern Period
Unformatted Document Text:  overthrow their world and produce chaos. As a result, many people sought a sort of compromise, in which these changes could be accommodated within the familiar frame of traditional institutions and mores. 22 This desire provided a basis for the development of the first modern ideological tradition, classic conservatism. This philosophical tradition would not begin to achieve its most meaningful expression until the eighteenth century. It can be a difficult tradition to describe as it does not correspond to consistent ideological parameters. Instead, it represents beliefs that address the reconciliation of tradition with changing beliefs and values, such as liberalism and the liberal marketplace posed to medieval and Renaissance institutions and worldviews. 23 The writings of Marsilius of Padua provide an arguable example of a critical link within this tradition. His position on the concept of sovereignty and his defense, within that context, of the Gelasian theory of the “two swords” (reflecting two distinct sources of secular and ecclesiastical authority) may appear, for some scholars, to have challenged certain medieval norms regarding the supremacy of religious authority as a moral basis for all authority and, even more radically, promoted an early argument for a popular foundation for sovereign power. However, it also reaffirmed the jurisdictional framework of a perpetual political order. That argument later would be employed in support of principles of royal supremacy, especially by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of England’s King Henry VIII and his Tudor successors, including Shakespeare’s future patron, Queen Elizabeth I. 24 Although not conventionally associated with modern conservatism, this approach could be regarded as a precursor to the conservative values that bridged the transition 10

Authors: McHugh, James.
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overthrow their world and produce chaos. As a result, many people sought a sort of
compromise, in which these changes could be accommodated within the familiar frame
of traditional institutions and mores.
This desire provided a basis for the development of the first modern ideological
tradition, classic conservatism. This philosophical tradition would not begin to achieve
its most meaningful expression until the eighteenth century. It can be a difficult tradition
to describe as it does not correspond to consistent ideological parameters. Instead, it
represents beliefs that address the reconciliation of tradition with changing beliefs and
values, such as liberalism and the liberal marketplace posed to medieval and Renaissance
institutions and worldviews.
The writings of Marsilius of Padua provide an arguable example of a critical link
within this tradition. His position on the concept of sovereignty and his defense, within
that context, of the Gelasian theory of the “two swords” (reflecting two distinct sources
of secular and ecclesiastical authority) may appear, for some scholars, to have challenged
certain medieval norms regarding the supremacy of religious authority as a moral basis
for all authority and, even more radically, promoted an early argument for a popular
foundation for sovereign power. However, it also reaffirmed the jurisdictional
framework of a perpetual political order. That argument later would be employed in
support of principles of royal supremacy, especially by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of
England’s King Henry VIII and his Tudor successors, including Shakespeare’s future
patron, Queen Elizabeth I.
Although not conventionally associated with modern conservatism, this approach
could be regarded as a precursor to the conservative values that bridged the transition
10


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