The Enlightenment: 1700-1789
European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the "long 18th century" as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, in France and throughout Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were directly inspired by Enlightenment ideals and respectively marked the peak of its influence and the beginning of its decline.
In this chapter, we will examine the forces that set the stage for the French Revolution of 1789, one of the most significant events in European history. By the end of the eighteenth century, Western Europe had broken with much of its past, and was leading the Continent into a period of tumultuous social, political, and economic changes that were instrumental in the development of the modern age.
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
* Describe the main tenets of key Enlightenment philosophies and explain how they have shaped Western thought * Assess the impact of modern Western thought on economic and political developments in the West during the eighteenth century * Demonstrate an understanding of key developments in attitudes towards religion and religious observance during the eighteenth century * Assess the influence of key individuals and groups whose ideas during the Enlightenment helped to shape Western attitudes
What is meant by the term ‘Enlightenment’?
* Period in history (eighteenth century) characterized by an increase in ideas aimed at reshaping society and promoting progress * Ideas included the importance of reason over emotion, free-market economics, rejection of unquestioned obedience to church and state, rejection of superstition, recognition of human rights (public education, freedom of thought, speech, press, abolition of slavery and more humane treatment of criminals) * Revolutionary thinking often led to radical changes in society, laid foundations for the ideals underpinning social structure and organization today
What were some factors that contributed to the changes during the eighteenth century?
* Steady rise in population due to fewer deaths as a result of fewer wars and epidemics, improved hygiene * This led to increased demand for food, goods and services * Difficult to meet demand so there were more socially disadvantaged people * Agriculture imporved on larger scale, e.g. dikes, drainage canals, steel ploughs, applying fertiliziers, crop rotation * Radical changes in land distribution: landlords consolidating land (called “enclosure”) often led to riots by displaced peasants: some farmers moved to cities to seek work in manufacturing * Inventions increased productivity
What were the organizing principles of the old regime?
* Ancient regimes were based on status and divided into three main order, or estates first clergy second nobility – the rest society * Division ordained
* Society based on privileges that were enforceable by law * Some privileges were honorific, while other provided for a reduced and in some cases exemption from some taxes * These privileges also included land ownership for the church and nobility that could not be taken away * At the top of the hierarchy was an absolute monarch who ruled by divine right * His power was divinely ordained and subject to only god and reason
How did literacy challenge the rule of the ancient regime?
* Increasing number on educated people, thinking about solving society’s problems * Books translated/read in all European languages...