|Brown in jail|
Weinstein notes how Savonarola represents the medieval period but transitioned to the Renaissance, and was both “embraced and exalted” by the latter. He observed that in the span of his studies, he gradually “arrived at a new understanding of Fra Girolamo and his reception. "In so doing I had to discard the conventional labels that distort him and also to reject the practice of freezing history into such hard and fast designations as ‘Middle Ages’ and ‘Renaissance.’” After studying Savonarola for forty years, Weinstein concluded that the monk had been limited by “historical labels” and “the limitation of moral judgments—such as ‘saint,’ ‘fanatic,’ ‘charlatan,’ and ‘demagogue’—in explaining the behavior and ideas of charismatic figures.” He also came to appreciate “the complex psychological, social, political and ideological reasons behind peoples’ belief in and rejection of their heroes and leaders."*
|Execution of Savonarola by|
Stefano Ussi (late 19th C.)
|Execution of John Brown|
With exceptions here and there, many writers on the John Brown them traditionally privileged the same old sources and anecdotes without exploring (to borrow from Weinstein’s model) how Brown represents the colonial and post-colonial era, and yet has been both “embraced and exalted” by the modern era—not to mention, scorned and attacked too. And, if Savonarola has been victimized by “historical labels,” John Brown has more so been saddled with everything from “saint” and “fanatic” to “mad man” and “terrorist.” None of these labels can accurately Brown’s life and actions, especially those that demean his sanity and criminalize him. Certainly, too, an extended and reflective study of John Brown necessarily entails coming to terms with “the complex psychological, social, political and ideological reasons” underlying people’s often strong response to Brown, either for him or against him.--LD
*See “Donald Weinstein—On his book, Savonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet. Cover Interview of February 29, 2012,” Rorotoko (New York). Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2q4ThZd.