Sunday, March 6, 2011

Essay on the Enlightenment

Short Essay on the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a period of much intellectual and social growth. The way people looked at the world changed. During the Enlightenment, people started to believe that all men were free people. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen states "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights." This was a new concept at the time. People had previously not thought of every person as being equal. Everyone was equal and free to do as they wished, within certain guidelines. This allowed people to search the world around them and create new ideas and inventions. Now, people began to believe that ones actions should be made to help the common good. The people of the time were able to explore their new world as long as they were not hurting the common good of their country.



The concept of all people being equal was one that was new to the people of the age of Enlightenment. Equality would grant all men a say in their government and let them explore the world around them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau demonstrates how the ideals of society were changing when he states "I shall be asked if I am a prince or legislator, to write on politics. I answer that I am neither, and that is why I do so." The first part of his statements shows how politics had been viewed before the Enlightenment. Only the nobles or other high officials were allowed to participate in politics. His reply to that answer shows that the Enlightenment thinkers believed they had the same rights as anyone else to participate in politics and government. The Enlightenment thinkers wanted everyone to have the same political rights. The views of the Enlightenment thinkers had the common good, or what was good for all people, as one of their priorities.

The common good is what is best for a society as a whole, not just for a few people or the individual or group that is acting. The common good is built upon equality. It is meant to ensure the welfare of all people regardless of social class. Abbe Sieyes says "Inequalities of wealth or ability are like the inequalities of age, sex, size, etc. In no way do they detract from the equality of citizenship." The thinkers of the Enlightenment believed that all people's welfares were as important as anyone else–Ęs. However, at the time of the Enlightenment, most things that a nation did only benefited the few people in the upper classes. This probably drove the Enlightenment thinkers to feel contempt for those people in power.

The Enlightenment thinkers knew that they should have an equal say in the government. But only the upper classes ruled, and they were unfair to the lower classes of people. This system did not make sense, because the lower classes were the majority of the people and did most of the work. The system that was in place created a hostility towards the upper classes. Sieyes says of the upper classes, "It is impossible to say what place the two privileged orders ought to occupy in the social order: this is the equivalent of asking what place one wishes to assign to a malignant tumor" The desire of the people to have their own rule in a representational form of government led to the unrest that caused the American Revolution, French Revolution and the Glorious Revolution. The new governments that arose from these revolutions were more in touch with the needs of the people than their monarchial predecessors had been. The revolutionaries had so much bitterness towards those people with the power, that they went over the edge and treated those in power the same way they had been treated. These changes, however, allowed the common people much more freedom to do as they pleased, gave the common people more of a say in politics and also broke down some of the walls that separated the classes.

Voltaire agreed that the upper classes and had too much power. He depicts those people from the upper two classes as being cruel and unjust. In Candide, Voltaire describes what happens to Candide when he is found kissing the daughter of a Baron when he says "The Baron of Thunder-ten-tronck came around the partition and, seeing this cause and effect, drove Candide out of the castle with great kicks in the behind." The treatment Candide received was unfair. The Baron did not think that Candide deserved to be with his daughter because he was of a lower class. Voltaire thought that the barriers between classes were unfair. This was part of the reason the thinkers of the Enlightenment wanted to break down social barriers and grant more freedom to all people.

They freedom that the people of the Enlightenment wanted, allowed them to pursue new fields of learning and broaden their knowledge. This led to many new advancements in the sciences. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is able to pursue the studies he wants, depending on what he feels like getting involved in at the time. He says "In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics, and the branches of study appertaining to that science, as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration."He is able to study whatever field he wants, when he wants to study it. The fields of science were rapidly advancing, because of the new freedom that was part of the cause of the Enlightenment thinkers. But, along with the new rights and freedoms people were to be acquiring, there would be new duties that they would also have.

With the new privileges the people would have, they would have more responsibilities. If there are to be elected officials, for instance, then the people have to be informed and vote. To some people, having this responsibility is a heavy burden. That is why it is hard to get people today to go out and vote. Also, for the common good of everyone, people would sometimes have to sacrifice things that they want or need. Giuseppe Mazzini says "Your first duties- first, at least in importance- are, as I have told you, to Humanity. You are men before you are citizens or fathers." The most important thing was humanity, followed by state and then family. Along with all the new things that people would be able to do, they would also have responsibilities they would struggle with when they encountered them.

The Enlightenment was an exciting period of time. The great thinkers of the time period brought some very radical changes into the world. They based all of their ideals on the principle that are men are equal. As a result of the freedoms they wanted, people would be able to do as they pleased and further the sciences, as long as it did not hurt the common good. They led the world into several revolutions that brought about great change. The people of the Enlightenment wanted to break down the barriers that separated the classes and shift the balance of power to the people. They had to make sacrifices as a result of the new privileges they gained, but it was at a price that everyone was willing to pay. They were willing to sacrifice for the common good, because it would benefit the majority. The ideals and ideas the Enlightenment sparked helped to shape the American society of today.

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