The Current

Are we living in the age of the 2nd Renaissance? | Part 2

Age of Discovery author Chris Kutarna is back. Yesterday, he argued we through a second Renaissance. Today, he finds similarities in the populist politics of the 1400s and the words of a certain presidential candidate across the border.
Author Chris Kutarna argues we're in a second Renaissance period because we live in an age of disruption, from healthcare to technology to politics, and there are many parallels to the previous Renaissance.

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Chris Kutarna's Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of our New Renaissance takes a look at some of the massive forces disrupting our current age, and puts these turbulent times into historical context.

Author Chris Kutarna argues we're living in a second Renaissance age

The Current

5 years ago
Author Chris Kutarna argues we're living in a second Renaissance age 1:03

Tuesday on The Current, Anna Maria Tremonti spoke to Kutarna who argues even through all the doom and gloom in today's world, we're living in the best time in history.

What the Renaissance can teach us about our disruptive age | Part 1

Undeniably, we're living in an age of disruption. From breakneck advances in technology; to staggering wealth inequality, and global terrorism. Author Chris Kutarna says it's the best time in history to be alive in what he calls a new Renaissance. 24:41

The scope of Kutarna's book is vast and he joined Tremonti again to hear more about some of the parallels he sees between the world today, and the world of the first Renaissance.

Here is an excerpt from our continued discussion of the second Renaissance with Chris Kutarna.

The comparison has been made between the printing press and the internet and all the information — which has had the greater impact?

The right answer was that so far it's probably been the Gutenberg printing press but that in the long run it's going to be the internet and digitization. The comparison is really remarkable. You know one of the things that both these two information revolutions share is their speed.

If you think back to a world when you know we had to go to a public library to look up the capital of a country we didn't know, unless you were lucky to have the Encyclopedia Britannica at home. That seems so long ago but that was at least within my lifetime. So the internet, like the printing press before it, has so rapidly changed the information environment that we live in, and our expectations for information.

But long term, I have to believe it's going to have a much bigger impact than the printing press which you know so many scholars and historians looking back on the last millennium identified as the most important invention of humanity's second millennium.

Chris Kutarna draws comparisons of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Girolamo Savonarola. He says Hillary Clinton is a closest match to Niccolò Machiavelli. (Mike Segar, Brian Snyder/Reuters)

You identify a disruptive politician and you see parallels. What's the story of your Girolamo Savonarola?

Savonarola is probably a name that not many people these days recognize, but most people would probably recognize what he's famous for which is the Bonfire of the Vanities. Savonarola was a Dominican friar who came to Florence as a political outsider,  had an apocalyptic message, was deeply charismatic. He was very clever to use new media, the new medium of print, and what he figured out is that printing books can take a long time but printing pamphlets is a very quick and inexpensive way  to get out his message onto the streets and to shape sort of a media cycle.

And you know as I was reading [Savonarola's story] and looking at the U.S. presidential election it's impossible not to draw strong parallels to Donald Trump. In fact in some cases the parallel is downright scary. I mean, there Savonarola would stand up and you know give his stirring sermons to 10,000 people in the central cathedral in Florence telling people look, "I know you are going to be richer, more powerful, greater than you were ever been. You're going to be so rich that you're going to say to us we don't want anything more. But if you don't follow me it's not going to happen."

If Trump is Savonarola, who is Hillary Clinton?

If we look at the history books, I think that the best pairing is Niccolò Machiavelli.

Machiavelli famously wrote that the first rule of politics is to trust no one. And I think, maybe Clinton has you know in some of her behavior suggests that that's maybe a rule that she holds onto as well.  But Machiavelli and Savonarola are really two sides of the same story of what was going on in Florence.

Machiavelli, in some of his writings, he clearly indicated that he kind of detested this prophet, Savonarola. At one time [he] wrote that "Savonarola, he colors his lies to suit the times," suggesting that here's a man who's just saying whatever the crowd needs to hear but really doesn't have underlying convictions that remain constant as the events around him change.

And what Machiavelli was — if Savonarola was the prophet — Machiavelli was the bureaucrat. And so in some ways,  Savonarola's legacy was to whip up the tensions of the time. Machiavelli's legacy was to deal with all of that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli.