The Enlightenment - Origins and Impact

  1. What is the Enlightenment?

    1. Origins

      1. rationalistic approach to human society

      2. Primarily a movement of European intellectuals, centered in France, 17th and 18th century

      3. These thinkers, sometimes called philosophes, were influenced by other cultures, notably China

    2. Main ideas

      1. Rationalism

        1. reason and science are the best sources for knowledge about nature an humanity

        2. In many respects, sought to apply ideas and techniques of scientific revolution to humans and human society

        3. sought to find universal laws or human behavior and society

      2. Reformist

        1. believed society should be organized on rationalistic grounds

        2. critical of traditional or spiritual justification for social hierarchy and government

          1. thus tended to be anti-clerical - opposed to church officials playing a dominant role in society

          2. some were also anti-monarchy and anti-aristocracy

          3. favored social equality, though inconsistent on this point

          4. promoted constitutional forms of government, based on John Locke's (Britain, 1632-1794) idea of a social contract

            1. in a state of nature, before government, people are free and independent, but have no way to resolve conflict

            2. therefore they form governments, giving up some liberties, to resolve conflict and protect their remaining liberties

            3. also argues that government should have divided powers (checks and balances) to prevent tyranny

      3. Strong belief in the inevitability and desirability of progress

        1. science and technical progress would give people understanding of and power over nature

        2. rationalistic reform of society would bring greater levels, of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity

        3. humans could be perfected, or achieve greater levels of improvement

    3. Enlightenment economic theory

      1. criticized the "gold theory of wealth" which dominated European economic thinking of the day

        1. gold theory argues that there is only so much wealth in the world, represented by valuable materials like gold

        2. thus countries must tightly control trade and the flow of wealth to keep as much wealth at home as possible - mercantilism

      2. Instead promoted a belief in the importance of free trade

      3. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations  (1776)

        1. promoted the Enlightenment belief in a "laissez-faire" economics, in which government limited its role in the economy

        2. based on a "labor theory of wealth" - that wealth was created when labor was applied to resources

        3. thus the economy should liberalized to spur development

        4. value would determined by the "invisible hand" of the market (essentially the law of supply and demand)

        5. wealth would be created as people responded to this invisible hand and pursued their own enlightened self-interest

      4. These economic ideas based on a belief in natural laws that governed the economy, and challenged hierarchical control of the economy

      5. becomes the basis for modern ideas about free-trade capitalism

  2. The Enlightenment in an international context

    1. European enlightenment thinkers inspired in part by China

      1. for some, such as Voltaire (France, 1694-1778), the importance and power of the Confucian scholar bureaucrats was a model to follow

      2. others, such as the Baron de Montesquieu (France, 1689-1785) argued that the despotic power of the Chinese emperor made China weak

    2. Indian's example of the elevated position of the educated Brahman caste also considered inspiring by some, including Voltaire

    3. Influence of the Ottoman Empire

      1. for some, a model of a well organized bureaucracy and toleration for religious minorities

      2. for others, a model of despotism to be avoided

    4. The European Enlightenment's impact on the world

      1. In general, European science and technology impresses some in the 17th and 18th century, but influence is still limited

      2. China

        1. some adaptation of European ideas in areas of traditional Chinese strength, such as astronomy and cartography

        2. also eager to gain access to European improvements in military technology

        3. this influence generally limited to emperor's court and some elements of the bureaucracy

      3. In Japan, European science appealed to some intellectuals, but isolation kept them poorly informed

      4. In Korea, nationalistic revulsion to Chinese dominance helped spur interest in European science

  3. Response to the Enlightenment in Europe

    1. Church hierarchy tended to respond badly to criticisms of the philosophes, though some individuals swayed

    2. Romanticism

      1.  largely an artistic movement, rejects rationalistic emphasis of Enlightenment

      2. sees it as cold, too formal, and against nature

      3. promotes instead new directions

        1. individualized personal freedom and the ability to follow inner direction

        2. the high importance of emotion

        3. a strong identification with nature, with an emphasis on its beauty and glories

    3. The General Will

      1. promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, 1712-1778)

        1. argued that rationalistic approach to humanity was flawed

        2. believed in the supremacy of the General Will

          1. society not a contract between individuals, but a fraternity

          2. bound together like some kind of organism

          3. thus a general will could be identified - an should be obeyed

    4. In time, both Romanticism and Rousseau's ideas contribute to the rise of nationalism and totalitarianism

  4. The Enlightenment in Practice - Napoleon and the French Revolution

    1. Financial crisis in France (brought on in part by American Revolution) forces King Louis XVI to call a meeting of the Estates General (1789)

    2. Crisis of power in the Estates General

      1. First Estate represented the clergy; Second Estate represented the nobility; Third Estate represented everyone else

      2. Representatives of the Third Estate claim they should have the most votes, as they represent the majority of the people

      3. First and Second refuse to go along, Third Estate walks out and declares itself to be the National Assembly (20 June, 1789)

    3. National Assembly asserts power as political crisis in France grown

      1. Strongly influenced by the rationalism of the Enlightenment, sought to prepare a constitution for France

      2. but also influenced by Rousseau - saw their power as coming from the General Will

      3. clerical and noble privileges abolished

      4. passes Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (26 August, 1789)

    4. Radicalization

      1. continuing political crisis, internal and external opposition, lead to execution of the king and his family (1793)

      2. Committee of Public Safety forms, ushering in the Reign of Terror (1793-94)

        1. led by Maximelien Robespierre

        2. executes 17,000 to 40,000 people for counterrevolutionary activities (in effect, for violating the General Will)

    5. Napoleon

      1. Revulsion of the CPS leads to its overthrow and the installation of a more conservative government

      2. Corruption, inability to end political crisis paves way for seizure of power in 1799 by the general Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

      3. Conquered large parts of Europe until his final defeat in 1815

      4. Combined element of rationalistic enlightenment with romantic nationalism

        1. imposed a single law code for all of his empire based on rationalistic enlightenment principles

        2. this law code continues to be root of law codes for much of Europe, Latin America, and Africa

        3. weakened the church and promoted development of a powerful bureaucracy

        4. much of the European aristocracy destroyed or weakened by his imperial adventures

        5. but also energized his troops with French nationalism and portrayed himself as a new Roman emperor

  5. Long-term Impact of the Enlightenment

    1. The United States builds a government based on Enlightenment principles

      1. government based on the sovereignty of the people, not the state

      2. constitutional government with checks and balances, limited powers

      3. officially secular (no state church) and no official aristocracy

    2. Belief in progress continues in Europe (and the United States), despite excess of French Revolution and Napoleon

      1. would contribute to and be reinforced by the expanding Industrial Revolution

      2. would also contribute to the slow democratization of parts of Europe

    3. Western imperial and economic power would begin to spread Enlightenment ideas around the world