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Iago the Meritocrat: Conflicting Interpretations of Individualism in the Early Modern Period
Unformatted Document Text:  between the late Renaissance and early modern periods. Any challenge to the prevailing order required a reaffirmation of the relevance and significance of traditional frameworks, institutions, and the values that they reflect. During the Holy Roman Empire of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, the growing political dominance of the state (especially within the development of a sense of national identity) would be constrained by a profound respect for that tradition, especially in response to new practices, principles, and sources of actual authority. 25 During England of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a shift in economic power might well have been met with a similar appeal to traditional loyalties and values. 26 Classic conservative norms have emphasized a respect for tradition and traditional institutions (including appointment to office upon the basis of previous rank or station), respect for, and loyalty to, legitimate sovereign authority, a particular devotion to collective social order and political stability above individual goals and ambitions, and a deference to honest and transparent public interactions and relationships. Therefore, despite the tendency to associate conservatism within the context of a particular historical movement (especially reactions toward the French Revolution and its democratic claims), its roots can be traced to an extended transitional period between medieval and modern norms. 27 Samuel Huntington has offered a compelling summary of those origins. First, the aristocratic theory defines conservatism as the ideology of a specific and unique historical movement: the reaction of the feudal- aristocratic-agrarian classes to the French Revolution, liberalism, and the rise of the bourgeoisie at the end of the eighteenth century and during the first half of the nineteenth century. . . . Conservatism thus becomes indissolubly associated with feudalism, status, the ancien régime, landed interests, medievalism, and nobility; it thus becomes irreconcilably 11

Authors: McHugh, James.
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between the late Renaissance and early modern periods. Any challenge to the prevailing
order required a reaffirmation of the relevance and significance of traditional
frameworks, institutions, and the values that they reflect. During the Holy Roman
Empire of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, the growing political
dominance of the state (especially within the development of a sense of national identity)
would be constrained by a profound respect for that tradition, especially in response to
new practices, principles, and sources of actual authority.
During England of the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a shift in economic power might well have
been met with a similar appeal to traditional loyalties and values.
Classic conservative norms have emphasized a respect for tradition and traditional
institutions (including appointment to office upon the basis of previous rank or station),
respect for, and loyalty to, legitimate sovereign authority, a particular devotion to
collective social order and political stability above individual goals and ambitions, and a
deference to honest and transparent public interactions and relationships. Therefore,
despite the tendency to associate conservatism within the context of a particular historical
movement (especially reactions toward the French Revolution and its democratic claims),
its roots can be traced to an extended transitional period between medieval and modern
norms.
Samuel Huntington has offered a compelling summary of those origins.
First, the aristocratic theory defines conservatism as the ideology
of a specific and unique historical movement: the reaction of the feudal-
aristocratic-agrarian classes to the French Revolution, liberalism, and the
rise of the bourgeoisie at the end of the eighteenth century and during the
first half of the nineteenth century. . . . Conservatism thus becomes
indissolubly associated with feudalism, status, the ancien régime, landed
interests, medievalism, and nobility; it thus becomes irreconcilably
11


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