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Dante, Marsilius, and Petrarch

Dante on One Government

"It is in the quietude or tranquillity of peace
that mankind finds the best conditions,
for fulfilling its proper task."

"The human race is at its best when most free."

Efforts to establish peace throughout Europe began in the tenth century as the French Church organized a peace movement in various places and persuaded nobles to renounce and outlaw private war and violence in order to protect pilgrims and travelers. In 989 a council at Charroux, France, declared the Pax Dei (Peace of God) which prohibited men from forcing their way into churches to plunder them and from usurping the property of peasants. Anyone using violence on noncombatants in war was to be excommunicated. In 1023 in a conference at Mouzon, Robert the Pious of France and Emperor Henry II discussed the idea of a universal peace pact for France and Germany and eventually for all Christendom. Starting in 1027 the Truce of God was proclaimed, and in the twelfth century it became part of civil and canon law. Armistices were used to stop feuding parties; bishops got people to take pledges for peace; and private wars were suspended during Lent,, harvest season, and from Wednesday evening to Monday morning of each week. The German Henry III, son of Henry II, cooperated with the Truce of God, and at Constance in 1043 he pardoned all those who had injured him and encouraged his subjects to renounce vengeance and hatred. The decision to launch the Crusades by Pope Urban 11 in 1095 may have been partially prompted by a desire to remove the warlike elements from Europe by bringing the Christians together and sending them off to fight the Moslems.

Gerohus of Regensburg made a proposal to abolish war during the Third Crusade in 1190. He suggested that the Pope forbid all war and that any conflicts between princes be decided by arbitration in Rome. Any ruler refusing to submit to the result of the arbitrating decision was to be excommunicated and deposed. The kings of the time were not ready to accept this policy, and as private wars lessened they became more involved in national wars; in the thirteenth century even the popes used war to serve their political purposes. Pierre Dubois offered a plan for a league of nations in his book The Recovery of the Holy Land (1306). Dubois had studied at Paris under Thomas Aquinas and Siger de Brabant. He became a lawyer and was a member of the Estates General assembly. He was a chauvinist patriot who believed in a strong French military, and he wanted the French king to rule the West and East including Palestine and the Greek Empire. He suggested the education of both boys and girls for service in the East. He proposed that disputes between sovereign princes be settled by means of arbitration by a council of appointed clerics and laymen from each nation. He exhorted all Christian believers to join in peace and refrain from war, and he suggested as a penalty for violation the loss of property and exile to the Holy Land. Dubois wrote, "If it seems fitting to establish a league of universal peace in the manner prescribed, there should be a unanimous decision by the council of prelates and princes that all prelates of whatever rank, as well as secular knights owing service, shall solemnly swear to uphold with all their power this league of peace and its penalties, and in every possible way see that it is observed." Unfortunately his scheme was too biased in favor of the French.

Dante Alighieri was born at Florence under the sign of Gemini in 1265. He went to the Franciscan school of Santa Croce. As a young man he wrote romantic poetry (New Life 1292), and in 1295 he entered politics and served on the council. In 1300 he was elected as one of the six priors who ruled Florence. At the time Florence was rife with civic strife between two groups called the Whites and the Blacks. In his History of Florence Machiavelli mentions how Dante tried to make peace.

Both parties being in arms, the Signory, one of whom at that time was the poet Dante, took courage, and from his advice and prudence, caused the people to rise for the preservation of order, and being joined by many from the country, they compelled the leaders of both parties to lay aside their arms, and banished Corso, with many of the Neri (Blacks).

Corso Donati was a relative of Dante's wife, and he had also agreed to banish his best friend, the poet Guido Cavalcanti, in his effort to be fair. Dante as a White opposed the interference of the Pope, but Pope Boniface VIII sent Charles of Valois to intervene. Charles helped the Blacks to power and exiled over six hundred Whites including Dante who was charged with corruption in office. While in exile Dante supported reconciliation and refused to take up arms against his native city of Florence even though he "formed a party by himself." In 1306 he was sent by Marchese Franceschino Malaspina as an ambassador to Sarzana where he concluded a peace with the Bishop of Luni. In 1310 when Henry VII set off for Rome with the Pope's approval to restore peace in Italy, Dante wrote a letter to the princes and people of Italy asking them to welcome Henry as a peace-bringer. During this time Dante wrote his political treatise Monarchy in which he urged that everyone accept the Emperor as the temporal sovereign authority who could unite the world under one rule of law. Dante's masterpiece Divina Commedia was composed in exile and was completed shortly before he died in 1321 of a fever he caught while on a diplomatic mission.

Dante begins the treatise on one government with the idea that human beings with a divine nature who love truth ought to work for the benefit of future generations. Dante reasons that the function of mankind is to use the intellect both theoretically and practically in order to become fully actualized. He points out that the best conditions for fulfilling this purpose are tranquillity and peace. "Hence it is clear that universal peace is the most excellent means of securing our happiness. This is why the message from on high to the shepherds announced neither wealth, nor pleasure, nor honor, nor long life, nor health, nor strength, nor beauty, but peace." Dante reasons that unity is best for humanity and assumes that unity would be achieved by having one ruler. This monarch would be the one to solve all disputes between princes. Thus justice and order would be maintained. Dante shows how justice is lost because of personal desires, and again he assumes that the monarch will be least susceptible to these desires. However, Dante failed to realize the difficulties of having one person try to decide everything or delegate his authority. Dante states that mankind is best when it is most free, but he neglected the danger of tyranny from a single ruler. Nevertheless he did point the way to the unification of humanity under one rule of law and unanimous cooperation. He lamented the suffering of human strife and held out an idealistic vision of unity.

O humanity, in how many storms must you be tossed,
how many shipwrecks must you endure,
so long as you turn yourself into a many-headed beast
lusting after a multiplicity of things!
You are ailing in both your intellectual powers, as well as in heart:
you pay no heed to the unshakable principles of your higher intellect,
nor illumine your lower intellect with experience,
nor tune your heart to the sweetness of divine counse
when it is breathed into you through the trumpet of the Holy Spirit:
'Behold how good and pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity.'

Chinese Sages: Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mo Tzu, and Mencius
Indian Mystics: Mahavira and the Buddha
Greek Conscience: Pythagoras, Socrates, and Aristophanes
Jesus and the Early Christians
Francis of Assisi
The Magna Charta
Dante on One Government
Chaucer on Counseling Peace
Erasmus and Humanism
Crucé's Peace Plan
Grotius on International Law
George Fox, William Penn and Friends
Rousseau's Social Contract
Federalist Peace Plans of Bentham and Kant
Emerson's Transcendentalism
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience
Religion for World Peace: Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l Bahá
Leo Tolstoy on the Law of Love
Mahatma Gandhi's Nonviolent Revolution
Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations
Franklin Roosevelt and the United Nations
Einstein on Peace in the Atomic Age
Schweitzer on Civilization and Ethics
The Pacifism of Bertrand Russell
Protests of A. J. Muste
Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
Lessons of Vietnam
The Clark-Sohn Proposal for World Law and Disarmament
Women and Peace
The Anti-Nuclear Movement

BECK index