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Essay: The Enlightenment Era: Impact on Politics, Religion, and Society

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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The Enlightenment Era began in Europe at around 1685-1815 after a period of new ideas and discoveries came about. The Enlightenment period or otherwise known as the Age of Reason, pushed people of its time to question what they learn. The ideas from the Age of Reason led to a drastic change in science, religion, and most importantly politics.

The French Revolution was a consequence of ideas that changed government and society. The war caused France to go into extreme debt which negatively impacted taxes. In May 1789, protest of the noblemen caused a split within the Estates Generals forming the National Assembly and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Effects like these had an influence in American Government as shown in the Bill of Rights as well as the need to separate church from state which gave way to the freedom of religion. The resolution of the American Revolution was just like that of the French Revolution.  These revolutions not only had an impact on politics but religion as well.

In Europe, the clergy became corrupted, and also brought along ideas of deism. Deism is the thought that God does not intervene in the physical world, allowing everything to happen through naturally. In America, Christians were mostly protestants, as opposed to the Roman Catholics in Europe.

Rousseu had a big influence on early Romantic movement. He was passionately committed to individual freedom but attacked rationalism and civilization as destroying, rather than liberating, the individual. The basic goodness of the individual was tainted and corrupted by society. His most influential work ”The Social Contract”, put forward two fundamental concepts: the general will and popular sovereignty. Despite his otherwise radical beliefs, he urged a very traditional and conservative role for women, excluding them from political life and assigning them to the domestic sphere. His influence was strong on the ends of society, religion and politics. John Locke, an English philosopher said that humans learn through experience. He disagreed with the divine right of kings believing that people gave their consent to be governed government is supposed to protect people's natural rights as shown in Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke was highly influential in societal, political, and religious aspects. Montesquieu believed that power should be equal on each end of 3 branches of government Separation of powers
 Europe went through an era called the Renaissance, a period of creativity and intellect capturing the essence of Ancient Greeks and Romans. From the Grecians, came Aristotle’s Logic, which captured the aspect of logic using “categories”, in which to “separate individual things”, he also showed men how to argue their points. From the Romans, came Thomas Aquinas and his views on faith and reason. He strove for one’s to look for evidence and truth in their beliefs in order to strengthen their faith. This evidence should be backed by experience and/ or a valid “argument, that such argument begins from premises that are self-evident”.

Enlightenment thinkers used Ancient methods like ones aforementioned to create better societies and better people by discarding outmoded traditions and embracing rationalism. They created a scientific revolution to examine and understand all aspects of life using rationalism which produced the scientific method which was capable of discovering the laws of human society as well as those of nature. Isaac Newton was a great influencer on the Scientific Revolution, advancing mathematics and sciences like physics to gain a better understanding of our physical world. His observations led to his most influential work, Principae Mathematica, otherwise known as the Laws of Motion. Newton’s laws of gravity and motion “described the world in terms of natural laws beyond any spiritual force.”

The scientific revolution led to a drastic change in religion that encouraged ones to challenge what they think they know about their faith and beliefs. Voltaire switched views on God when he said that God was like a “watchmaker”, The watchmaker sets the watch, and watches it. This brought along the idea of Deism which basically states that God does not intervene into human problems, God made the universe and watches everything how everything will play out. Voltaire was an influential thinker that spoke out against religious intolerance and superstition in the church.

In regards to the government, Enlightenment philosophers Locke, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all developed theories in which some or even all the people would govern.

Various sources present overlapping data as to when The Enlightenment Era ended and when The Ages of Revolutions (1789-1848) began because of the close influence from one to another. Nonetheless, once humans began to question how they learned they became more educated which lead to them revolting against those of a higher power. Arguably, The Age of Revolution included the American Revolution, and French Revolutions. Others include The Irish Rebellion, The Haitian Revolution, The Revolution of Latin America, The First Italian War of Independence and more.

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