On the Genius and Relevance of Erasmus
by David Swanson
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, who lived from October 27, 1466, to July 12, 1536, faced censorship in his day, and has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. But at a distance of half a millennium, we ought to be able to judge work on its merit — and we ought to have regular celebrations of Erasmus around the world. Some of his ideas are catching on. His name is familiar in Europe as that of the EU’s student exchange program, named in his honor. We ought perhaps to wonder what oddball ideas these days might catch on in the 2500s — if humanity is around then.
In 1517, Erasmus wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer “the source of all human blessings” and to be scorned by people who “go in quest of evils infinite in number.”
The Complaint is not a contemporary twenty-first century piece of thinking; its outdatedness in any number of areas is immediately obvious. But that’s to be expected in an essay written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots. (more…)