Enlightenment and Political Transformations in Europe

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Political System Transformation in European and Euro-American Societies

The Enlightenment is well known to be an important cultural and intellectual movement that revolutionized the lifestyle of several European and Euro-American people during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It brought changes on the scientific, economic, and religious field. However, the field that resulted mainly affected by the Enlightenment was the political realm. Many important European philosophers like Thomas Paine started to dispute monarchical power arguing that laying total authority over the hands of a king was “an imposition to posterity” (Document 41, page 187). Moreover, philosophers like Marquis de Condorcet emphasized the fact that everyone regardless of their social standing deserved to be treated equally before law (Document 35, page 163). These new political ideals of Enlightenment were spread through treatises, poems, hymns and even republican dramas that also reached and impacted Euro-American people. As a result of these flows of political ideas, European and Euro-American societies started to develop new concepts on their understanding of sovereignty that was based on the notion that authority does not rely only on kings and that their authority derives from the consent of the common people. Before enlightenment took place, Europeans believed that their own political salvation lay in centralized monarchy, but, this positive notion on monarchy and absolutism gradually changed. At first Europeans defended absolutism through the publication of treatises that addressed the authority and duties of a king. For example, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, who was a famous French churchman, he wrote the treatise called Politics Derived from the Words of Holy Scripture in which he stated that “God established kings as his ministers, and reigns through them over the peoples” (Document 30, page 147). Jacques defends absolutism by making a strong emphasis on the fact that the authority that kings held comes from heaven. Additionally, Jacques also stresses the reality that “men must obey princes as they obey justice itself, without which there can be no order or purpose in things” (Document 30, page 148). Jacques and Europeans believed that without absolutism order and justice were not possible. This form of absolutism deprived people to differ from the decisions taken by monarchs. The best example to reflect this statement is with Peter the Great and how he imposed in Russian society the adherence to western customs. For example, in the document called “Edicts and Decrees” Peter the Great establishes new changes in the way Russians needed to adopt western dressing style. Peter stated that “the upper class needed to be of French or Saxon cut, and the lower dress needed to be of the German type (Document 31, page 152). This example reflects one of the ways in which Absolutism was used and it also exemplifies how people’s rights of free-decision making were not respected. However, monarchical and absolutist power started to be gradually challenged by European philosophers. One of the ways on how new challenges were raised against monarchical power was trough important philosophers like Thomas Paine. Paine brought in the idea of developing an America that was newer, freer, and with a more open society as an independent nation. In his pamphlet called Common Sense, Paine expresses his disagreement with monarchical power by stating “to the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of rights, is an insult and imposition on posterity” (Document 41, page 187). It is clear that Thomas believed that monarchical power represented an irremediable backwardness in the development and betterment not only of America but of any society. Additionally, The English Bill of Rights Act stated that “exercising power and the suspending and the...
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