Teaching Venice in Schools, pp. 3 of 7

There is no denying that new membership to the nobility became increasingly difficult if not impossible (Lane, 1973, pp. 252, 430-31). If the Venetian nobility failed, it was not for want of trying. Near to two dozen plagues took place from the 14th to 16th centuries with breakouts stretching into the 17th (1630-31; Lane, 1973, p. 430). The Venetian nobility did try to incorporate new entrants, from within the city (merchant families) and from the terra firma, into its ranks although the result of the endeavor was not enough to stem the declining trend of demography. Perhaps the Venetian leadership should have embarked on a path of mass immigration into its ranks and wider community in order to succeed; for here, even Machiavelli (a contemporary of the early modern Italy) advocated a “more easy access to citizenship by foreigners as a way to expand and renew the population” (Machiavelli, 2003). A more balanced perspective should therefore be given to the cause of plagues, pandemic occurrences and nature’s input in the rhythm of human and state existence.

The phenomenon of corruption in the early modern period needs to be seen and contextualized against the norms and practices of the historical period. This will have an impact on whether corruption should be seen as a key factor in Venice’s decline. Lane’s Venice: Maritime Republic (1973) invokes Machiavelli and traditional definition of the term in context of the Medici family (in Florence) which “put in power men who rendered particular services to the private interests of their supporters” (Lane, 1973, p. 258). Research of the term “corruption” has since advanced and the latest studies highlight issues that are not easily reconciled by more orthodox definitions. In the textbook, the affliction of the political-administrative system with a shrinking and incapable leadership and the associated corruption contributed to the decline of Venice. Laslett (2005), in writing about early modern England, stated that linkage to lineage and inherited privileges (as well as wealth) might be a better guarantee to power than being literate. One should be careful to assert that power being restricted to a few equates to corruption. The early modern world is one where the patronage system permeated the network of human relations. Gifts-giving, for instance, is likely to be part of the cultural norms in certain time periods or certain geographical regions (even in modern day contexts) (Guo, 2001; Scott, 1972). Cross referring the discussion on republicanism and related systems suggests that rival factions were likely to sponsor their own candidates to office positions within the framework of the political system (even if these were not of the best caliber) rather than recommend a candidate from the opposing faction. The successful appointment of a sympathizer office holder represented an extension of the patronage network and influence of the faction in question.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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