The Enlightenment Period marked the beginning of a widespread European trend towards progressive liberalism and an embrace of intellectualism. This sample paper explores the impact of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution.
Progress of the Enlightenment Period and French Revolution
The mind is the only device humans have to overcome the many challenges that inevitably confront us, and thus developing a society of people with strong minds enhances our ability to solve problems, overcome challenges, make good decisions and come up with great ideas. However, knowledge and thought are the only available resources that we can use to strengthen the powers of the mind, and so societies that value knowledge and thought tend to develop powerful minds and flourish, while societies that remain ignorant tend to be unable to solve complicated problems, develop great ideas or make significant progress.
For instance, the dark ages of the medieval era did not appreciate or have much access to knowledge, and thus the European cultures of the dark ages were unable to make substantial progress. However, the Enlightenment period and French Revolution encouraged European societies to value and appreciate knowledge and thought, and these values enabled many European societies to develop powerful thinking skills and to make significant social, economic and political progress.
During the enlightenment period
The increased value of knowledge and thought during the enlightenment period and French Revolution spawned many great contributions and achievements in the fields of art, science and philosophy. Many artists produced exceptional work during the 18th century, including writers such as Alexander Pope, Jonathon Swift and Samuel Johnson; musicians such as Vivaldi and Bach; and painters such as Jacques Louis David and Jean-Honore Fragonard. Many great scientists also made important discoveries and innovative inventions during the Enlightenment era, including John Canton and Isaac Newton.
Additionally, great philosophers such as Voltaire, Hume and Rousseau also made significant contributions to the Enlightenment period. The appreciation of art, philosophy and science had a beneficial impact for the European societies, for these educational fields strengthened the minds, improved the imaginations and enhanced the reasoning skills of the people. As a result, the Enlightenment period stimulated dramatic intellectual progress in which many great thinkers produced excellent ideas to help increase the peoples’ understanding of the world and to help improve the quality of life for the societies.1
The intellectual progress was also facilitated by the Humanist shift of focus from religion and God to mankind and knowledge. Many 17th century wars that erupted in England and in France were caused or motivated by religion and by disagreements between religious factions, similar to the Muslim/Jewish conflicts today. In the 18th century, the excessive violence and destruction caused by religion led an increasing number of people to change their attitudes regarding religion and to question the value of religious thought.
The intellectual progress that was achieved during the Enlightenment period and French Revolution also encouraged European societies to further challenge religious authority, for scientific discoveries were continually demonstrating that many claims of religious organizations and of the bible were not supported by any facts and that all available evidence contradicted several of those claims. Thus, scientific inquiries and discoveries caused many people to abandon the perception of the bible as a book of facts written by God and to instead view the bible as a fictional and perhaps artistic book that might be symbolic but that is not literally or factually accurate
After the enlightenment period
The shift of focus from religion and God to knowledge and mankind led to the critical realization that God does not intervene in our human affairs and that the conditions of humanity or of a society were not permanently established by a divine authority, but were instead determined only by mankind. Whereas the belief that God ordained the social structure of society was conducive for a hopeless attitude with no chance of change, the notion that mankind determines the conditions of society was incredibly empowering in that it emphasized how the people and the members of a society have the ability to control and change the structure and values of a society. Thus, people began to value a need for taking action to generate change, which led to many forms of social progress.
For example, the French Revolution entailed a dramatic and violent destruction of the traditional social structure, including the French monarchy, the outrageous privileges of the French nobility and the authority of the Catholic Church. The French then replaced the old attitudes and the old system with a new set of governmental values that focused on social equality among all citizens and on the importance of freedom. Likewise, in 1646 England also executed King Charles I due to grievances over excessive and destructive royal authority. As a result, the strict European social class system that was based only on ancestry, wealth and inherited nobility became diminished during the Enlightenment period and French revolution
Social progress was also made regarding the European attitude towards the poor. The old religious view that God controls everything and therefore rewards certain people with success and punishes other people with poverty led to a lack of sympathy and a lack of effort to help poor and impoverished families. However, the Enlightenment period initiated the new concept that humans control the conditions of society and that many people became poor not because of God’s punishment but because of unfortunate situations or a lack of resources. This new humanitarian perception facilitated compassion and sympathy for the poor and encouraged those who are most fortunate to help and assist the poor.
Progress was also made regarding the freedom of women during the Enlightenment era. Although women were still not granted an equal amount of political power or cultural influence as men, significant advancements were made that enabled women to enjoy more freedom and to obtain more opportunities. For instance, the Enlightenment period allowed women to receive an education, attend universities, perform a wider variety of occupations, and write and publish literature.
Education was a significant social progress that was achieved during the Enlightenment period and French Revolution. The main difference between the French and American revolutions was, knowledge and education had been exclusively accessible to only wealthy families or aristocratic nobility. The printing press and other technological advancements enabled common people to also gain access to books and knowledge. In the 18th century a diverse range of books and magazines were spread throughout the culture and could be universally read by everybody.
This advantage allowed more common people to strengthen their minds, become knowledgeable about various subjects and contribute to society. Thus, the social developments of the Enlightenment Period and the French Revolution resulted in progress because the developments increased the amount of freedom enjoyed by the people, improved the ability of people of all classes to become educated, diminished the traditional social structures of society and enhanced the conditions of life for the people.