Essay. The Enlightenment On Politics And Gender Relations Of Western Society

The Enlightenment defined as “an 18th-century movement that focused on the ideals of good sense, benevolence, and a belief in liberty, justice, and equality as the natural rights of man,”1 caused great changes in the Western world. The thoughts of the Enlightenment era influenced all aspects of Western life, including politics, government, culture, economics, gender relations, public views and religious beliefs as well. The effect is still taking place as many of the ideas of that age are naturally developing into the new theories and receive the grounds for new experiments and adoptions.

Help With Essay On The Enlightenment On Politics And Gender Relations Of Western Society
Help With Essay On The Enlightenment On Politics And Gender Relations Of Western Society

The Enlightenment came after Renaissance and is considered to be greatly influenced by the Scientific Revolution. The apologists of the Scientific Revolution changed the concepts of the Earth and Science, creating new theories and breaking old postulates. The ideas of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton argued that the world’s system was different from what it had been previously thought and what is more, they could prove their findings and theories.

One of the most famous concepts of rational thinking of the early Enlightenment, on which all the Enlightenment works and philosophies are based, undoubtedly was born by the scientific discoveries and thoughts. Three corner-stones of the Enlightenment philosophy were reason, scientific method and progress. The reasoning of the philoshophes and authors of the Enlightenment, however, can be often regarded as conflicting and contradictory, but nevertheless many of their thoughts in this or that area were later developed into the common accepted philosophy of belief or action.

In politics and government, the most obvious influence of Enlightenment is observed on such events as French Revolution and American Revolution. Of course, not only ideas of the philosophes of the time did produce those changes in the society, it is obvious enough that the circumstances and the course of events as well as other conditions had their certain effect. At the same time, slogans and ideas behind the named events let one conclude on the effect of the thoughts developing in those times. Thus, the French Revolution was inspired by radical version of the Enlightenment characterized by such concepts as the free speech, civil rights, anticlericalism and toleration. Voltaire especially in his Candide urged people to think rather than taking anything for granted, the same principle was stated by Rene Decartes in his Discourse. Thus, both of them fought against withstanding rituals and traditions, “The less we have of dogma, the less dispute”2.

The American Revolution also supported such concepts as liberty, equality, tolerance, human rights, but didn’t adopt the opposition to church, on the contrary, all the concepts were closely linked to belief in God and His will. At the same time, French emphasized reasoning whereas in Britain and America virtue was above all.

One of the influences on the revolution was started by the writing of Thomas Hobbes where he stated the natural law, which meant that God made up the laws of how the nature on earth was operating rather than continuous ruling. This led to the condition that if there were natural laws, then there were natural rights, human rights that were naturally given to humans by God whereas then restricted by the laws and customs of the society, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”3 Different authors established those rights and interpreted them in their own way, but most of them agreed upon that the human being has the right for their free will and for leading the kind of life they want to live as long as it does not harm others (according to the later harm principle brought forth by John Stuart Mill). In its turn, this meant a need for a new state order which could be more reasonable and comprehensible. Many of the possible state orders were discussed and later these ideas were used, such as democracy, communism, fascism, republic, despotism. But the idea behind all of them was still that “authority is given by the subjects themselves.”4

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is regarded to have produced the highest influence on the course of events during the French Revolution. He stepped forward against poverty and for everything good that can be in humans. He argued that people have to accept the laws themselves and only then they have true liberty. His first influence was on the Jacobins and Robespierre, then his works inspired politicians of the US and Britain, and finally one of his theorizing works General Will served for the totalitarian states as there was an idea stated that people may be unconscious of their own will. This idea was pretty common for that time and Voltaire along with Diderot shared it partly, as they asserted the stupidity of the masses that had to have the authority rule and the limitations of freedom as they had deserved those because they lacked reason. This in its turn gave grounds to the so-called Enlightened Despotism put into practice by Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great, and others.

Nevertheless, the Enlightenment thinkers believed in human nature and progress. They supposed that people could think rationally and when they did they could become happy, the oracle was that those humans should have been free from common limitations. Thus, it is not surprising that the earlier spokesmen for the idea were religious refugees, like Bayle, Spinoza and one of the first feminist Mary Astel.

Women took a great part in spreading the views of the time. At first, in France through salons where they promoted the ideas either themselves or by inviting famous philosophes to the meetings to let them explain and speak out their points of view. One of the most prominent and characteristic figures of the time was Mary Wollstonecraft. She is often described as a reflection of French Revolution itself. She was also the mother of Shelly, the author of famous Frankenstein. In her The Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Wollstonecraft points out the same very principles of education, liberty, human rights, etc., but unlike most of the male authors, she proves that women also have the same rights and the same nature which meant that they should have equal opportunities of those with men. Perhaps her ideas were too radical for the time but nevertheless the role of women in the society was gradually becoming less limited. The concept of gender was also born at the time of Enlightenment, which meant that there already was an understanding that males and females were not as different as roles imposed on them by the society. However, only in the 20th century most of those ideas were put into practice in the Western world.

Finally, the concept of ration and reason clearly interpreted by Rene Decartes in his Discourse on Method as “I think, therefore I am”5 on one side and the later emotional emphasis opposed to this materialistic views, both led to changes in the culture of the Western world, resulting in the aspiration for liberty. The understanding and thinking over the concept of liberty brought along political and governmental changes which could provide fairer human rights and opportunities. French and American Revolutions both were based on the principles of the liberty from the old state of affairs and introduced new life-styles. Thus, the US of America emerged as independent government from Britain, in Britain itself the slavery was abolished, and in France the absolute monarchy came to an end. All those events still produce an effect on the current Western world.

Works Cited List
1.    Enlightenment. 3 October 2006, <usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/gloss.htm> (3 October 2006).
2.    Ira O. Wade, Studies on Voltaire (New York: Russell & Russell, 1967).
3.    Irving M. Zeitlin, Ideology and the Development of Sociological Thought (fourth edition, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice Hall, 1990. HM19 Z4).
4.    R.A. Sydie, Natural Women Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory (Toronto, Methuen, 1987. HM51 S97 1987).
5.    Project Gutenberg, Discourse on the Method 3 October 2006 <http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/59> (3 October 2006).

Bibliography
1.    Wade, Ira O., Studies on Voltaire. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967.
2.    Sydie, R. A., Natural Women Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory, Toronto, Methuen, 1987. HM51 S97 1987.
3.    Zeitlin, Irving M., Ideology and the Development of Sociological Thought, fourth edition, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice Hall, 1990. HM19 Z4
4.    Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Vintage, 1997.

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