Subjects to Citizens: Locke, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution

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The idea of people as citizens rather than as subjects originates in 16th century Europe, during the Early Modern Period. During this period, European social order was in a state of flux as the rule of kings was confronted with a persistent and determined challenges defined by social forces that were pushing for more secular and democratic governments. There were both individuals and events that today may be seen as powerful drivers of those forces, and among them are John Locke, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. As such a force, the Enlightenment, which began during the mid-17th century and remained a major political and philosophical phenomenon until approximately 1800, had tremendous impact in the rise and triumph of democracy over monarchy. The Enlightenment was catalyzed by the persistent discourse of a number of philosophers and historians, one of the foremost of which was John Locke. The magnitude of change introduced by the Enlightenment is rendered more clearly when viewing that period in context of the preceding era—the Medieval Period, during which the rule of kings prevailed, sustained by an embedded religious institutions that qualified the lineages of kings for ruler ship through divine ordainment. The Church enjoyed considerable reciprocity from the crowns by doing so, because rulers recognized the equity that religion held in the minds of their “subjects”, and found value in making mutually beneficial agreements with the church to preserve this closed loop cycle of maintaining and preserving a rigid social order. The losers of course were the “subjects” of those kingdoms, who ultimately had little say in who ruled them, and who were indoctrinated into a life of mute slavery and poverty, deprived of both education as well as the right to imagine upward social mobility, much less the access to opportunities to actually pursue such improved quality of life. It was the endpoint of these social dynamics, and the progressive...
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