Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Venetian Republic

Commander Kelly and friend in Venice

Commander Kelly's Conservative tour continues with a Venetian interlude.

The Venetian Republic endured as the most democratic experiment in Europe from its founding around 1000 AD until it was compelled to surrender to Napoleon and the French in 1797.  It was a maritime Republic founded by boatmen, sailors, merchants and traders.  It had a powerful navy which dominated the Eastern Mediterranean for many years.  It eschewed the rule of hereditary monarchs in favor of the election of Doges by an aristocratic Council.  Venice preferred to be governed by elderly Doges such as Enrico Dandolo who was in his eighties when he led the Venetian contingent of the Fourth Crusade that sacked Byzantium in 1204.  This was a form of built-in term limits.

Why should a Conservative in particular celebrate Venice?  The Venetian Republic was the world's first and longest lasting model of a free society with limited government and an exuberant capitalist spirit--the Venetian Republic was Conservative! Frederic Lane opens his Venice: a Maritime Republic (Frederic C. Lane, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, (http:/www.amzn.com/080181460X) by telling us that "Venice stands out as a symbol of beauty, of wise government, and of communally controlled capitalism.  The distinctiveness of the environment in which the Venetians built gave an obviously unique quality to their city's charm.  Its watery setting contributed to an aristocratic tradition of liberty...After 1000 AD. they became a seagoing nation, sailing trading, and fighting in many parts of the Mediterranean and the rivers of souther Russia to the English Channel.  Finally, Venice became a city of craftsmen, functionaries, and a few aristocrats, a city renowned for its skills in handiwork, finance and government."

Windows on Venice
"Venice had no single written document like the Constitution of the United States embodying a basic law with whcih all other laws had to conform.  The nearset to it in early times was the doge's oath, the Promissione...We may speak of a Venetian Constitution, however, in the same way that we refer to the British constittuion, although it is embodied in no single document but is found in scattered statutes and partly in customs long adhered to...The central organs of government formed a pyramid with the general assembly at its base and the doge at tis apex.  In between them were the Great Council, the forty and the Senate, and the Ducal Council.  Distrust of individual power made the Venetians depend on committees and councils.  Even in their judicial system, sentences were not imposed by an individual judge but by several judges acting together."

Venice relied upon her naval power to quell piracy and to protect the flow of commerce.  Venice ruled the seas of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Venice also colonised outposts such as Crete and Rhodes.   The Arsenal in Venice was their naval storehouse and arms center.  The Amerigo Vespucci (photo below)  is a reminder of Venice's naval power and continues to be a training vessel for the cadets of today's Italian navy.

Amerigo Vespucci in Venice
Venetian-led naval forces defeated a large Turkish fleet on October 7, 1571 at the battle of Lepanto.  This decisive victory saved the Venetian holdings such as Crete and the Ionian islands and prevented the raiding of the Italian coast that would otherwise have followed.  This check on the expansion of Ottoman power has been widely acclaimed as one of the decisive battles of world history.

Frederic Lane writes, "the histories of the United States and of Venice are remarkably similar in one respect.  In the early history of both republics, the sea was a source of wealth contributing to the expansion of the rest of the economy...Venice, having used its ships and seamen to gain the lordship of the gulf, a colonial empire, and a leading place among centres of international trade, found later opportunities for growth in industry and finance."

Typical Venetian homes included a showroom on the main floor for display of a merchant's wares.  There was no distinction between commercial and residential.

Venetian Palazzo
The Bellini Cocktail.  No trip to Venice is complete with the enjoyment of a Bellini or two.  These were inevented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry's Bar in the 1930's and named after the famous Venetian painter (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2001/nov/11/foodanddrink.restaurants).  Here is how you make a Bellini cocktail.  Peel fresh white peaches and puree in blender.  Use a champagne flute.  Fill flute with about 2oz of peach puree.  Add 4 oz of chilled Prosecco.  Stir and you've got it!  Salute!

Special Thanks to Jeff Brummette and Donna Lancia for the wonderful Venetian memories!

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