Where did the idea of individualism come from?

This is answered by Larry Siedentop in his book “The History of the Individual”. It is a brilliant book, but is too detailed to be covered in its entirety. instead, I will present a key paragraph on the papal reforms between 1000-1300, who argues “it laid the foundation for a new society…the invention of the individual”

Then there was Gregory VII of 1073, who succeeded a variety of popes who had spearheaded the immensely successful Cluniac reforms. Between 1050 and 1300, there was an immense struggle between the papacy and the german empire over jurisdiction.

German emperors where starting to infringe of the spiritual power of the papacy and see them as subordinate to the “temporal power”. In response to this, the papacy started to create its own legislation with “canon law” that clearly demarked areas for their control. It was based in the bible and partially in roman law, though it rejected many key ideas of the romans.

The popes began to assert their legal supremacy. In “dictatus papae”, Gregory began to assert  a unity system and set of rights of the pope due to their responsibility of the care of the souls.

The core unit of this system was the individual, who was to be blamed and praised for actions he caused. This had great implications for natural law and rights. Gregory wanted “individual morality and self-discipline, rather than … brute force and mere deference” in respect to the way in which people approached their behaviour and beliefs.

Innocent III painted himself as the final and highest court of justice in Europe. Cannon law became an increasingly important work in the 12the century and canon law began to become greatly studied and the minutia of legislation came under heavy scrutiny. The pope insisted on “equal subjugation” was crucial.

Although the canon lawyers failed to create a constitution for Europe, the ideas that had implanted meant feudalism was doomed and they layed the foundation for modern Europe.

The pope increasingly became the place where monasteries sought legitimacy from, and from where issues of justice could be carried for resolution.

Secular leaders saw the efficacy of this system and themselves wanted to replicate the efficiency and power that the pope wielded. They saw that by asserting “sovereignty” they could take control and overtake feudal pretensions of power.

This in part, he argues, formed the modern state as we know it and the emphasis we put on the individual up until this day.

What do you think about this? Feel free to add you comments in the comment section and join the group discussion.

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