Enlightenment in Prussia and Germany

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The Small Enlightenment in Prussia and German States

The Enlightenment was an expansive intellectual, philosophical, cultural, and social movement that spread throughout much of Europe during the 1700s. The Enlightenment was largely made possible by the Scientific Revolution which began in the 1500s and represented the biggest departure from The Middle Ages. After millenniums of obedience to the Church people started to break away from a long spell of ignorance and began to question ideas relating to society and nature. A period also known as ‘The Age of Reason’ saw the emergence of intellectuals advancing knowledge unlike ever before. What resulted were pivotal discoveries in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, physics, politics, economics, philosophy, music, and medicine that shaped the Western world for decades and centuries to come.

While The Enlightenment didn’t help produce a revolutionary outcome such as in France, Prussia and German states still experienced a fair share of intellectual development during this time. Since Germany was divided into a multitude of smaller states, with different languages and influences, The Enlightenment didn’t have a full blown effect. Moreover, the combination of popular discontent with the Church and a fury of dissatisfaction among the nobility and middle class such as in France wasn’t entirely present in Prussia.

Nonetheless, Frederick II the Great, the King of Prussia, borrowed ideas from other parts of Europe in an attempt to modernize his country unaware of the changes already occurring within. During this time period intellectuals such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottfried von Herder, and Friedrich Schiller were at the heart of the cultural and literary movement called Weimar Classicalism. Works by Herder and company helped to promote and legitimize a German language and culture that would one day develop into German nationalism. German music came of age under composers Johann Sebastian Bach,...
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