The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment

1. Introduction to the Enlightenment

Why is context important? Much of the literature of the Enlightenment is polemical, in the way that it is directly a critique of another point of view or establishment. This is due to the fact that the authors of such literature were often challenging the existing state or church, and were therefore implicit in its criticism. Understanding the contempt felt by certain figures of the Enlightenment (especially in France) for police, ecclesiastical and royal institutions requires an understanding of the institutional power involved and a recognition that to criticize or undermine these institutions meant to risk a lot. Voltaire for example, was imprisoned (at the request of the church) in the Bastille for his publications challenging the church and its doctrines. Any enlightenment texts published in countries under the influence of church and state therefore had a subversive and often dangerous nature.

The historical context in which the Enlightenment developed is essential to understand its character. In seventeenth century England (as elsewhere in Europe), the state and the church were closely connected; the king was head of the church. Religion dominated society and politics – the vast majority of the population believed in God, Heaven and Hell with an intensity incomprehensible today. The church had its own courts and the power to enforce judicial decisions. It was heavily involved in the censorship of printed materials and had the power to ban books. Many of these books were banned (and their authors fined or jailed) and philosophical writings were often published in the form of allegories to avoid political censorship. At best, the sentence for heresy was imprisonment and torture; at worst it was execution.

2. Key Thinkers of the Enlightenment

The philosophes came from a variety of different backgrounds and professions. They were typically urban, well off and well educated, coming from the nobility or the upper bourgeois. Although they came from different backgrounds, they all shared the same ideals and tried to find solutions for the problems of society using reason.

The work of the philosophes led to a complete transformation of the old order. The new ideas were spread at salons, gatherings in which people would come together to discuss the new ideas. Women played a vital role in these salons, providing many of the ideas that would be put into practice later on.

During the Enlightenment, a new intellectual elite was formed. Enlightened thought provided a new framework for analyzing the human condition. People were no longer prepared to accept unsatisfactory answers given by the church as it had been the final word.

3. Ideas and Philosophies of the Enlightenment

Another intellectual trend that grew during the Enlightenment was the theory of progress. It was believed that through the application of the scientific method to political and social problems, there could be a constant advancement in the human condition. This is also the belief in the perfectibility of man. This was shown by the natural rights reform, which sought to dismantle old forms of hierarchy and replace them with a more just system. The wholehearted belief in these reforms can only be shown if man has no fixed nature and societies’ institutions at the time were effects of the learning throughout the ages. This would eventually lead to efforts to improve the conditions of the poor and the oppressed through legislation. This often dull and piecemeal reform would take many centuries, but the belief in a better future for mankind would sustain the efforts of social reformers to the present day.

Religious toleration was another main output of the Enlightenment. Although it was not as successful as some of the other attempted reforms, it set the tone for future religious attitudes. Before, an individual’s life was largely determined by their time. People felt that there is no objective knowledge about the natural world. The first goal of the skeptics was to increase knowledge discovered through solid reasoning that would be truly objective, based on unchanging principles. This is in contrast to the leadership of the Paris Academy, which used to be to find truth only if it served the purpose of the present monarchy. (source?) Unfortunately, the skepticism from the poor success of Louis XIV. A true tolerance which would unite all faiths into one good understanding was never called because of the many failures on the part of Louis’ ordinances and edicts to effectively tolerate the church.

A large number of leaders during the Enlightenment were greatly influenced by the new skeptical attitudes towards government, religion, and humanity. Actually, skepticism was a hallmark of the Enlightenment. An intellectual trend that greatly encouraged the growth of skepticism was the Scientific Revolution. This movement into the 17th Century rekindled skepticism in the people by challenging what was then believed to be fact. Unfortunately, prior to the Scientific Revolution, it was believed that the true nature of the universe was beyond the comprehension of man. Because all intellectual pursuits at the time were based on theological doctrine, it was also believed that questioning established beliefs would only lead to heresy. The Scientific Revolution blazed a new path for skepticism by proving that through theoretical reasoning and the rigorous scientific method, many secrets of the universe could be revealed.

The Enlightenment was a period of history between the early seventeenth century and the mid-eighteenth century. The events that happened can be equated to the Neolithic Revolution, which is when society made the transition from the primitive lifestyle to a more sophisticated and advanced lifestyle. Some would even say that the Enlightenment was the beginning of modern intellectual culture. The ultimate goal for the Enlightenment was advanced understanding, which in turn produced a number of new intellectual developments.

4. Impact of the Enlightenment

Historically, the impact of Enlightenment ideas on the different nations varied considerably. The philosopher kings of nations such as France tended to be more receptive to enlightened ideas and more ready to integrate them into their governing of the nation. In these countries, new enlightened buildings and units will replace their older equivalents. For example, the French philosopher king gets the enlightened depot (replacing the arsenal), giving an increased supply wagon bounty and can train an extra unique unit, the French musketeer, on this building. This contrasts with the progress of enlightened ideas in Russia, where Catherine the Great said of the ideas of the French philosophes, “I have read that the French have produced a philosophy which it is fashionable to follow. If it is good, then it will be profitable to make my people and myself participate in it. But first, I would like to see what it is, and then I will examine whether it is suitable for my empire.” This attitude led to the ideas never really penetrating Russian society, and as such, the enlightened upgrades will not be available for Russia.

The Enlightenment is one of over 60 national collections on the themes of innovations and exhibitions and trade. It spans two overarching themes: the impact of the new philosophies and ways of thinking on each of the nations, and the rise of a more secular and enlightened attitude to some of the existing international and domestic problems. Players can research a wide range of new technologies, unlocking new units and buildings. Each nation will also have the possibility of triggering ‘Enlightened’ cultural and scientific events that will further enhance the new philosophies.

5. Legacy of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was crucial in determining almost every aspect of colonial America, most notably in terms of politics, government, and religion. It may also be said that it acted as the main ‘trigger’ for the American Revolution which began in 1775, consequently leading to independence for the thirteen colonies. At the time, England’s hold on the colonies was unwavering. The Enlightenment was the root of many of the ideas of the American Revolution. It was a movement of intellectual thinkers in the 17th and 18th centuries who were dissatisfied with contemporary ideas and the way countries were being governed. They aimed to change these ideas to a more logical way of thinking and to separate government. During the Enlightenment, there was a great emphasis upon the ‘rights of kings’. This is the belief that because a king was appointed by God, he could do no wrong while in reign and his word was absolute. John Locke, one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, based many of his ideas around the concept of ‘rights of kings’. He claimed it to be ridiculous that subjects would accept the ideas of a king who was impractical and denied his subjects the rights of life, liberty, and property. If a king denied these rights, Locke claimed that the people had the right to form a new government. This was precisely the case in England and America during the period of the Enlightenment. King George III imposed taxes upon the colonies to enhance England’s national debt and to bring more revenue to the crown. The colonies felt that they were being deprived of their money and were receiving nothing in return. At this time, the people would have been asking for an accountable king. The idea of a revolution was very appealing. Rousseau, another influential Enlightenment thinker, also sparked revolutionary ideas in his notion, ‘The Social Contract’. This was essentially the agreement between the people and the government – a government must be for the common good, and if it fails to achieve this purpose, the people have the right to change to a government that serves them to this end. This idea was quite significant in the revolution. The American Revolution was based upon this same concept, the people wished to overthrow the British government because they felt they were being mistreated and that the UK’s actions were not in the best interests of the colonies. Finally, the revolutionaries had attained their goal. The ideas of the Enlightenment had spread to the majority and the public opinion was that action must be taken. The French Revolution, another great example of revolution inspired by Enlightenment ideas, was close to its outbreak at the time of the American Revolution and many in the colonies saw this as an opportunity to successfully implement their ideas for a new government. The revolution did have an unfathomable impact upon American society, bringing it ever closer to the principles it strived so hard to achieve. The new republican and federal ideas which were brought forth in the Revolution were based upon the concepts of the Enlightenment. The separation of powers and a written constitution are examples of the Enlightenment’s influence upon the revolution.

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