Critiquing Society through In Praise of Folly Essay

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Critiquing Society through In Praise of Folly

It may seem strange to praise Folly, but there is one certain advantage to foolishness: the freedom to speak the truth. In Praise of Folly, Erasmus put this freedom to good use in reminding his readers, a society greatly corrupted by worldly concerns, that one cannot serve both God and Mammon. He smoothed over his satire by assuring us that "there is merit in being attacked by Folly" (7), and finished with the reminder that "it's Folly and a woman who's been speaking" (134), a disclaimer that allowed him to be as harsh as he needed to be in his criticism. He certainly found need for harshness, for the values he saw at the heart of Christianity, the compassion and sacrifice of the
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"Spiritual goods" such as godly wisdom, however, are not good business sense: "How much money," Folly asks, "can he make in business if he lets wisdom be his guide, if he recoils from perjury, blushes if he's caught telling a lie, and takes the slightest notice of those niggling scruples wise men have about thieving and usury?" (114) Instead, the merchants exhibited a worldly wisdom to suit their greed.

Erasmus also criticized the hierarchical nature of his society, particularly attacking the corruption of kings and their courts and the emptiness of aristocratic titles. He scolded those who took pride in "an empty title of nobility" (67), suggesting they might be called "low-born and bastard" because they were "so far removed from virtue, which is the sole source of nobility" (45). He lamented that truth is far from royal courts, princes "having no one to tell them the truth, and being obliged to have flatterers for friends" (56). His notion of what a ruler should be is clear: he "has to devote himself to public instead of his personal affairs, and must think only of the well-being of his people" (104). But the reality was far different, as Erasmus painted the picture of the prince, whose vices make mockery of the regal symbols of what he should be:

"a man ignorant of the law, well nigh an enemy

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