Front Page Titles (by Subject) 31.: On the Evaluation of the Later Middle Ages - Judgments on History and Historians
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31.: On the Evaluation of the Later Middle Ages - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the Evaluation of the Later Middle Ages
With some moderns this period has a bad reputation as a time of dissolution, universal wickedness, and egoism. But any epoch in which new forces make way for themselves against earlier constraint must give this impression.
These forces can never appear otherwise than in the guise of individual interests, therefore as selfishness and wickedness, since the old elements never give way willingly.
In the series of developments which have been the task of the Occident, this, too, has a quite necessary place. It is idle to ask whether one thing or another could have been done with more moderation. Only because people were as they were did they accomplish what they did.
Our moral criticism of past ages can easily be mistaken. It has a hard time detaching itself from the conflicts of our own day and transfers present-day desiderata to the past. Furthermore, it emanates from people who live quietly under the protection of an order guaranteed from the outside, necessary to the prevailing industrialism, and who have no conception of a violently agitated and hazardous life.
Finally, it views personalities too deliberately and according to set principles, and makes too little allowance for the pressure of the moment and daily self-protection.
This period is judged as one in which the ideals of the Middle Ages, church and chivalry, had gone to pieces or, rather, had been broken through on all sides. But it is a characteristic of ideals that they do not live forever (for their perpetuation they have poetry at their disposal), especially if they have such a meager life as did church and chivalry.
From beneath their ruins there already emerge the genuine new forces, even though still in confused form. The movement of life does not always take place through diametrical, great antitheses, but also breaks through disintegration. Life itself always remains visible.
The degree of embarrassment over issues into which narrow fanatics of the past and the present and philosophical construers of history get themselves is their business and affects us little.
History from 1450 to 1598