The term Enlightenment refers to new knowledge that emerged in Europe in the 17th century. It reflected a new world view and a new approach to tackle the sufferings of mankind. Enlightenment was an ideological cultural movement it begins in countries like Holland and Britain. By the 18th century, it engulfed almost the whole of Europe. Its effect was felt in us as well. And in the future, the whole world was affected by the ideas and enlightenment.
The term Enlightenment was used for the first time by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 1804) in his pamphlet title “What is Enlightenment”. Soon this term begins to be used for new ideas, while we’re giving prominence in Europe.
Why did Enlightenment Emerged?
Enlightenment was the outcome of a reaction against the Catholic counter-reformation. Till the 16th century, the institution of the church was enjoying complete dominance in Europe. It was controlling not only religion but political-administrative and social life as well. The Holy Roman Empire had Degenerated but still, the authority of the Pope was unquestioned entire.
By the 16th century, a number of Evils had entered the institution of the church. It was no longer a sacred institution. It had degenerated in every way. The class of clergymen was in enjoying the luxuries of Life instead of performing their duties, honestly. No freedom of any kind was available to citizens to question the wrongdoings of the church. The instructional church was presented as the message of God.
When this state of degeneration started affecting the life of the masses in an extreme manner. Intellectuals like Martin Luther (1483 to 1546) and John Calvin (1509 to 1564) started raising their voice.
Martin Luther (1483 to 1546) was a German priest. He challenged the unquestioned power of the church by raising his voice against prevailing evils. In 1517, Martin Luther put forward his famous 95 Thesis (questions) and posted this list on the main gate of the church. These Questions were extremely provoking and started attracting the attention of the masses.
John Calvin (1509 to 1564) was a German priest. He also questioned the wrongdoings prevailing in church. The voice raised by these reforms gave birth to a movement known as Reformation in Europe. The supporters of the reformation came to be known as Protestant.
The growing popularity of reformation compelled the church to resort to repressive activities known as counter-reformation. These counter-reformation moves divided Europe into two groups known as the supporters and opponents of Counter-Reformation
These 2 groups of European fought for 30 years War (1618 to 1648). This war came to an end with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It is considered to be the most important treaty in European history because it empowered the Kings to decide their religious policy.
As a result of the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia. The dominance of the church got reduced to a large extent, highly space was provided to intellectuals to think freely as a result of these new ideas started emerging in Europe in the 17th century. These ideas came to be known as Enlightenment in European history.
Salient Features, Nature, and Characters
- Belief in the supremacy of nature was the most fundamental feature of Enlightenment. The Philosopher’s of Enlightenment was convinced that the Universe was created by nature and is a perfect entity. They emphasize that there is no need for any divine intervention for the universe to sustain. In this way, the Enlightenment question the relevance of religion & the efficacy of God.
- Belief in the efficacy of natural laws was another important feature of Enlightenment. These intellectuals believe that the Universe was being governed by certain fundamental natural laws and understanding these laws and voluntary compliance to them will make life easier and better.
- Liberalism was also an important idea associated with Enlightenment. John Locke is known as the father of liberalism. Liberalism is a philosophy that believes in the liberty of mankind from all forms and sufferings and restrictions. It is based on the Latin word liber, which means Liberty. It emphasized expanding the scope of Liberty of citizens in private as well as public life.
- Individualism was another prominent idea associated with Enlightenment. Most of the Philosophers were in the favor of putting the individual at the center of attention. This philosophy believes that the Institutions like churches, State of society exist for individual votes vice versa.
- Constitutionalism was emphasized upon Enlightenment. The philosopher demanded that the authority of the King shall be limited. Through the provisions of the Constitution, they question the idea of the divine right of the King.
- Enlightenment emphasized democracy and rule of law. It was strong against despotism.
- Egalitarian Outlook was dominant in the ideas of the Enlightenment. The idea that all men are born equal was propagated by the philosopher of Enlightenment. This movement was against discrimination. It condemned discriminatory practices like slavery.
- Scientific, logical, and rational Outlook was propagated by the Philosophers of Enlightenment. It emphasized that every practice must be put to the test of Reason. Only those ideas shall be followed which pass this test of reason.
- Critical thinking was emphasized upon by the Philosophers of the Enlightenment.
- The application of wisdom was encouraged to solve the existing challenges faced by Humanity. It was believed that only wisdom can be a guiding light for a better life.
- Enlightenment was Progressive in characters. It was Guided by the vision of a better and brighter future.
- Humanism was a principle of the philosophy of Enlightenment. This philosophy believes that every human being is good by nature and the circumstances make a being bad. This philosophy emphasized that human progress shall be the ultimate objective of every activity of the institution.
- Empiricism (knowledge comes from experience) was also a prominent philosophy associated with enlightenment. It believes that only those things should be accepted that can be experienced
- Enlightenment emphasizes tolerance. So that multiple views can co-exist.
- Enlightenment was reformative in character. It did not demand the abandonment of all existing institutions and practices. It was looking to purge them of their evils.
- The philosopher’s enlightenment belief in the idea of popular sovereignty that is the people are the source of authority of the state.
- Enlightenment symbolizes the intellectual maturity of mankind. It’s reflected the emancipation of human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.
Limitations of Enlightenment
- Gender equality was absent from the idea of Enlightenment. None of the philosophers explained the equality of men and women. Their emphasis is on the rights of men. Women were not given the right to vote.
- Enlightenment emphasis excessively rationality. It was a mechanical approach. The feelings and emotions were absent in ideas of Enlightenment. The reaction against this rigid approach gave birth to a new movement in the future known as Romanticism.
- Enlightenment appealed to the educated sections of society that form a very small percentage of the population the focus of the philosopher was not spreading awakening among the common masses.
The spread of ideas of Enlightenment
The ideas of Enlightenment emerged in countries like Holland and Britain initially. Gradually these ideas moved across the whole of Europe and in North America as well as other parts of the world. The countries of Asia and Africa also come under the influence of Enlightenment with the passage of time. The spread of ideas of Enlightenment was brought about by a number of instruments and agents.
The writings and speeches of philosophers played the most important role in the spread of ideas of Enlightenment. Spirit of laws of Montesquieu, Social contract of Rousseau, and the Encyclopedia of Denis Diderot was popular in the hole of the educated World (European and America).
The saloons also contributed to the spread of ideas of Enlightenment. These were the Gatherings of intellectuals in European cities. During these gatherings, the thinkers used to share their views.
Newspapers and journals also contributed to the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Though the circulations of newspapers and generous were quite limited, these were Important agents in the spread of new ideas.
The merchants and Traders traveling across the countries and continents also carried the ideas of Enlightenment with them.
The European colonizers also contributed to the spread of the idea of Enlightenment. They introduced modern Administration judicial legal system and education etc. in colonies for the effective exploitations of colonial resources. These reforming measures gradually resulted in the spread of Awakening among the natives.
Reform initiated by benevolent rulers like Frederick the Great of Prussia, Joseph 2nd of Austria & Catherine The Great of Russia also helped in the spread of ideas of the enlightenment.
Scope and impact of Enlightenment
The spread of the ideas of enlightenment Marked the beginning of new age in the history of mankind. Enlightenment inspired changes in political, social, religious, as well as cultural life. No sphere of human activity was left untouched.
The liberal and Progressive ideas of Enlightenment resulted in the growth of awakening among the masses. Initially, this awakening was limited to the educated middle-class but gradually the knowledge percolated downwards to affect every section of the population.
The ideas of the Enlightenment inspired the people to raise their voices against evil prevailing in the church. The pressure generated by popular demands forced the existing institutions to reform themselves in many ways.
The ideas of Enlightenment gave birth to new institutions such as constitutional monarchy and elected Parliament. The secular polity also emerged as a result of the impact of Enlightenment.
The ideas of Enlightenment doomed the faith of Medievalism in Europe and marked the beginning of the Modern Age. The medieval institutions like feudalism and the unchallenged authority of the church became Non-sustainable as a result of the spread of enlightenment.
The ideas of Enlightenment inspired many rulers of Europe to initiate necessary reforms for the benefits of the common masses. These reforms converted the existing absolute monarchies into benevolent despotic States.
The rulers like Frederick the great of Prussia (1740/1786) Joseph II of Austria (1765 to 1790) and Catherine the Great of Russia (1762 to 1796 ) were at the Forefront of these liberal reforms.
Fredrick the Great declared himself as the first servant of a state. He reduced the censorship of the press. Steps were taken for the spread of Education. Religious Freedom was granted to all citizens.
Joseph II of Austria was the most radical reformer. He abolished serfdom (agricultural slavery) guaranteed religious freedom to all included Jews and ethicists. The officers were ordered by him not to implement the instructions of the pope without his permission.
Catherine the Great of Russia, encourage the spread of new ideas. She reviewed the judicial legal system. The inhuman practices like torturing the criminals were stopped. The property of the church was confiscated to set up schools and colleges.
The ideas of Enlightenment were also responsible for a number of revolt and revolutions. Where the ruling authorities failed to appreciate the demand for reforms the popular discontent busted out in open in the form of revolutions. For example:
- American Revolution in 1776 French.
- Revolution of 1789.
- The European revolution of 1830 and 1848.
The ideas of Enlightenment were responsible for the birth of nationalism. The Nationalist Consciousness was triggered by the awakening generated by the ideas of Enlightenment.
The emergence of nationalism inspired the struggle for independence from Colonial rules. The American was of Independence against The American war of independence against the British colonial rule was its such example. Gradually this quest for Independence spread in Asia as well as in Africa.
Enlightenment was also responsible for the growth of new literature. The Works of philosophers like Montesquieu and Rousseau were widely popular.
The scientific and rational Outlook encouraged by enlightenment helped in the development of new machines and Innovations of new technologies. The application of these machines and technology paved the way for the commencement of the Industrial Revolution. This revolution started in Britain first during 1760 and gradually it is spread to other countries.