As you can see in my book list, I have recently read the "Erasmus" of Stefan Zweig, the biography of the arguably most famous Rotterdamer. Thanks to M-So for lending me the book (and yes, I'll give it back to you asap if my cat does not eat it before).
It is a very interesting book, I'd say and particularly fitting our troubling times. It has also the enormous advantage of being short and extremely well written. Stefan Zweig was a highly cultivated person and a incredible writer, if sometimes a bit excessive in expressing his feelings, in my humble opinion. But of course, it was the 30's, not a time known for its lack of excesses.
This said, I'd like to point out the extraordinary similarities between Erasmus time and ours (not to mention Stefan Zweig time). And by this to demonstrate the importance of what we can still learn from the greatest and the first of the Humanists. Erasmus of Rotterdam was what was called at that time a "Renaissance man" (in French "un honnête homme"). There is obviously no way anymore to have a holistic knowledge of all sciences and arts like him. But his analysis, his way can still be of great use. Indeed, isn't it obvious that our XXIst century is beginning just like the Renaissance, in some way? The massive Huntingtonian opposition between the Western world and the Muslim world today is extremely similar to the Religious Wars of the time of Martin Luther and Leon X. Without saying who is right and who is not (and frankly it does not matter), there are obvious parallelism between the extreme violence of an Al Qaeda, for instance and the cruelty showed by the Reformed against the peasants of Münzer, for instance, or during the Rome plundering. This last event had exactly the same effect than 9/11 on the Papacy. Leon X authorized the monk Cafara (the later Pope Paul IV) to create the Inquisition.
We know what followed and which permanent division of the Christian World and of Europe in general was born through these events. Nationalism was a direct product of the Religious Wars in Europe and I dare say that there is a nearly uninterrupted chain of events (the French Revolution apart) which leads from these Wars to the two World Wars. And isn't it also true that we can compare the reaction of the Republican US administration to the one of the Catholic lands at that time. The justification of torture to "help terrorists to confess"? The use of extra judicial jails and ad hoc procedures? The use of preventive war, in the name of God or Democracy? Of course, not everything is the same. Each epoch has its own problems and singularities. But it should be obvious that we need a new Erasmus.
Someone wise enough to be respected by everyone. Someone, I would say, even better than Erasmus. Because, Zweig points it very clearly in this biography, Erasmus had a terribly weak point. He was not brave. He was physically a coward (according to his own words). He was terrified by Luther and just as terrified by the reaction of the Catholic authorities. For this reason, he twice refused the invitation to attend the Diete (at Worms and later Augsburg) where probably only him could have made a difference and avoid the definitive condemnations issued at these events. Preaching peace and writing about Europeanism is a great thing. It is worthy of our admiration, and I will always follow Erasmus ideas... Because, as he said, "heel de aarde is je Vaderland". But acting is just as important, be it only by the strength of words. Because failing to act right can be just as irresponsible than acting wrong.