The characteristics of the Age of Enlightenment based on the emergence of scientific thought, philosophy, esthetic, theology as well the political science which had changed the 18 century France, Germany, and England. To speak of the Enlightenment, then, is to speak at once of the historical fact and ideal reconstruction. It was a group of elites and intellectuals that had inspired us to seek for using critical reason today to free minds from prejudices and unexamined authority, moreover, the awakening of nature rights as well the rights to exercise it allow us to live in high self esteem.
Today the Enlightenment is often viewed as a historical anomaly, a brief moment when a number of thinkers infatuated with reason vainly supposed that the perfect society could be built on common sense and tolerance, a fantasy which collapsed amid the thunderstorm of the French Revolution. Marxists denounce it for promoting the ideals and power of the bourgeoisie at the expense of the working classes, postcolonial critics reject its idealization of specifically European notions as universal truths, and post-structuralists reject its entire concept of rational thought.
Yet in many ways, the Enlightenment has never been more animate. The proclaim of human rights, liberty, equality, and it development of legal system that still powerfully attractive to oppressed peoples everywhere, who appeal to the same notion of natural law that so inspired Voltaire and Jefferson. Wherever religious conflicts erupt, mutual religious tolerance is counseled as a solution. Rousseau's notions of self-rule are ideals so universal that the worst tyrant has to disguise his tyrannies by claiming to be acting on their behalf. The contribution of the Enlightenment for today’s Western world cannot be obliterated. And in fact, without the Enlightenment, there will be no today’s progress of Western world. While, for the world outside the West, could learn what were the impact and the implication that relevant to our own future. Apparently, the spirit of enlightenment yet in many ways should be carry on, in the modern world that full of conflict.
Meanwhile, to view the Western civilization as a whole, we must admit that there are primes as well the reverse side of a culture or civilization. We should know how to develop what is useful or healthy and discard what is not. Why is the eighteenth century referred to as the Age of Enlightenment? What is the significance of the ideas of Enlightenment for our time? The age of Enlightenment was its commitment to understanding itself as having overcome history, as having achieved a definitive distance from all constraints inherited from the past. For the great philosophers like Descartes and Kant, the Enlightenment was not the expression of anything at all – but was the necessary result of reason’s self-authorizing acts (Cascardi 1999:25). Kant in his essay title “What is Enlightenment?” claimed that the basis of Enlightenment – its prerequisite – is the freedom of rational self-assertion; so to say, the Enlightenment was an affirmation of the rational will and not just of reason.
This transition of ideas and attitudes had enlightened the 17th and 18th century European. These ideas and attitudes are anyway not harmonious, simple and unified, or totally new, but they do share a determination to break from dogmatic religion, feudal social relationships, and political absolutism. Intellectually, this movement was influenced by the new science associated with Galileo and Newton; culturally, by a turn from religion to interest in nature, especially human nature; politically, by the development of liberal thought associated with the followed bourgeois revolution that changed the outlook of European; and socio-economically, by the growing importance of the commercial middle class and entrepreneurial capitalism.
The inspirations of the spirit of Enlightenment should lead us to view our contemporary society. What has been trampled and subverted, and what should be upholding, that is a question.
The Transition of Medieval View to the New Era
To speak of Enlightenment, I afraid have to chase back to the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution movement that contributed the invaluable spiritual treasure to the age of Enlightenment. The movement toward modernity initiated by the Renaissance was advanced by the Scientific Revolution and the Revolution had destroyed the medieval worldview as well to shake the foundation of the medieval philosophy. The hurricane shock is not less than what Nietzsche had done in later century.
In the 14th and 15th century there emerged in Italy and France a group of thinkers known as the "humanists." The term did not then have the anti-religious associations it has in contemporary political debate. Almost all of them were practicing Catholics. They argued that the proper worship of God involved admiration of his creation, and in particular of that crown of creation: humanity. By celebrating the human race and its capacities they argued they were worshipping God more appropriately than gloomy priests and monks who harped on original sin and continuously called upon people to confess and humble themselves before the Almighty. Indeed, some of them claimed that humans were like God, created not only in his image, but also with a share of his creative power. The painter, the architect, the musician, and the scholar, by exercising their intellectual powers, were fulfilling divine purposes.
Increasingly, a secular outlook came to dominate Renaissance society. Followed with rise of individualism and humanism pursue, the urban elite sought to assert their own personalities, demonstrate their talents, and gain their recognition for their accomplishment. Especially the humanism movement which discussing the humanity in secular orientation set a turning point from the religious orientation of the Middle Ages to the modern Age. In fact, Renaissance had paved the way for Scientific Revolution which drastically proclaimed the bankruptcy of Medieval’ s view of universe that dominant for centuries.
The Medieval view of the Universe had dominated over centuries. And its philosophy roots was derived from two ancient Greeks, Aristotle and Ptolemy of Alexandira. ‘The the medieval mind, the cosmos was a giant ladder, a qualitative order, ascending toward heaven. God was at the summit of this hierarchical universe and the earth, base and vile, was at the bottom just above hell’ (Perry 1997:276). In the medieval view, the earth’s central location meant that the universe centered on human being. And this view of universe found its farfetched interpretation from Bible while the style of Scripture is rather variety, on the other hand, or rather to say, those medieval thinkers in fact had inherited the Aristotle’s view of a qualitative universe. ‘The earthly objects were believed composed of earth water, air, and fire, whereas celestial objects, belonging to a higher world, were composed of ether – an element too pure and perfect to be found on earth, which consisted of base matter’ (Perry 199:277). And these opposite elements symbolize the two facets of physical world – the corruptible earth and the incorruptible heaven.
As long as this coherent picture of the universe remained harmony and satisfy, scholastic philosophers delight in hormanized the Aristotelian science with Christian theology, and this inevitable to bring the falsehood teaching to the field of religion which should in fact to deliver the truth.
In 1543, the publication of Copernicus’s “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” marks the beginning of modern astronomy. But before that, the Renaissance revival of ancient or classical ideas such as Platonic and Phthagorean, which stressed mathematics as the key to comprehending reality, had contributes to the Scientific Revolution. Copernicus (1473-1543), a mathematician at the same time a church canon, proclaimed that earth is a planet that orbits a centrally located sun together with the other planes. This heliocentric theory outlined a picture that contrast with the medieval view of universe. The Corpernican theory frightened the clerical authorities, which controlled the universities as well as the pulpits, for it seemed to conflict with the Scripture, in fact, it rather seemed threatened the authority of cleric to the interpretation of Scripture.
With the modern invention of instruments, the myths of universe had been discovered. The discovery of the moon by his own built telescope, Galileo (1564-1642) broke the Aristotelian notion of earth and heaven. Insisting that physical truth is arrived at through observation, experimentation, and reason, Galileo strongly denounced reliance on authority. Galileo also attacked the Roman Catholic authorities for they attempting to suppress the Copernican theory. As a result, ruthlessly attacks against Galileo from the authority, and the inquisition upon him revealed the cruelty, ignorant and stubbornness of the concern authority.
But this did not stop the progress of enlightening the future of European, the modern machinery has changed the world more than all the battles that ever been. Galileo’s method found its acceptance in England. There the struggle against theological authoritarianism and pseudoscience continued and could be carry on in favorable circumstances. However, the path of scientific investigator has not without any thorns. The churchmen and the professors in the universities were wedded to the conception to the world which the medieval theologians and philosophers had worked out, mainly from the Bible and Aristotle. They looked with grave suspicion on many of the scientific discoveries of the day. Nevertheless, the scientific activities were intense and productive during this period. The greatest name was Isaac Newton, whose theory of universal gravitation (Principia Mathematica, 1687) was to have a vast impact on the eighteenth century.[i]
Newton had demonstrated that the universe is a machine which operates on the basis of a single law, a rational law that can be easily formulated and understood. Newtonian physics ended the medieval division of the cosmos into higher and lower worlds with different laws operating, but proclaimed that the universe is an integrated, harmonious mechanical system held together by the force of gravity. This ideas of natural law has been extended by the Enlightenment thinkers to the social and political problems, ‘for nature and human nature, they reasoned, must be equally uniform and subject to law.’ (Grocker 1969:13). Those scientists like Newton himself are in fact a piety religious man, but their revolutionary views had somehow put the Almighty God away from the dominant of the temporal world.
Deny not that the radical transformation of the conception of the physical universe produced by those enlighten pioneers of Scientific Revolution had been ultimately transformed the understanding of the individual, society, and the purpose of life. Certain Scholastic thinkers began to urge that man was by nature good; ‘that he should freely use his own God-given reason; that he was capable of becoming increasingly wise by a study of nature’s law, and that he could indefinitely better his own condition and that of his fellows if he would but free himself from the shackles of error and tradition.’ (Robison 19XX: 465)
The new outlook generated by the Scientific Revolution served as the foundation of the Enlightenment. And thinkers started to have confidence in the power of the mind, which had discovered nature’s law, at the same time, this had been reinforced by the Renaissance humanist. The power of knowledge without a doubt changed the European’s outlook in terms of physically as well mentality.
Reason: As a Spirit of Reform
In many ways, as I have mentioned, the Enlightenment grew directly out of the Scientific Revolution. The philosophers sought to expand knowledge of nature and to apply the scientific method to the human world in order to uncover society’s defects and to achieve appropriate reforms. By adopting Descartes’s method of systematic doubt[ii], they questioned all inherited opinions and traditions.
But in what way that can be achieved appropriately? Diderot said, “We think that the greatest service to be done to men, is to teach them to use their reason, only to hold for truth what they have verify and proved.” (Manuel 1952:28) the philosophers believed that through the power of reason, humanity was at last liberating itself from the fetters of ignorance, superstition, and despotism with which tyrants and priests had bound it in the past.
The Roman Catholic, as the target that criticize by the Renaissance Humanist, the Deism Scientist as well the Enlightenment philosophes[iii] remained powerful in eighteen century. The clergy, especially in Catholic countries, still possessed privileges which set them off from the nation at large. Even though, the Church did tried to change since the Middle age, it still retained its unchallengeable authority in influences over the lives of men, its still remained intolerance of those who ventured to differ from the conceptions of Christianity which it held. Meanwhile, the Church could fine and imprison those who convicted of blasphemy, contempt of religion, or heresy. The clergy were ready to punish or persecute those who refused to conform to the State religion, whatever it might be, or ventured to speak or write against its doctrines.
Books and pamphlets were carefully examined in order to check whether those intellectuals trying to attack upon the orthodox Catholic beliefs or might in any way to undermine the established authority of the Church and King. Another words, the Church was like to determine what the public should know and learn in order to consolidate their status.
However, the growing spirit of skepticism was strengthened by scientific opposition to the miraculous and by scholarly criticism of religious texts. There was a weakening of religious orthodoxy even inside the Churches. With the spirit of scientific and critical thinking, the Enlightenment thinkers challenged Christianity’s claim that it possessed infallible truths, and they ridiculed theologians for wrangling over pointless issues and for compelling obedience to doctrines that defied reason.
Moreover, the Church was accused for using its unchallengeable power of interpretation of doctrines to frightened and confused people, in order to strengthened their authority. To establish an enlightened society, this religious absolutism must be repudiated; and the clerical power should be broken, at least to be examed or challenge scrupulously. Christianity was not totally rejected but rather its doubtful authority and traditions that seemed already incompatible with the progress in that period
Meanwhile, it must not be supposed that the Protestant Churches were necessarily more tolerant or freedom than the Catholic Church. However, the rise of criticism against Churches has been initialed not only by the Enlightenment’s outstanding figures, but also the liberal believers such like John Smith, Henry More, Ralph Cudworth who revolt against the extremes of Calvinist dogma. “They condemned the ‘black doctrine’ of predestination, were lukewarm on Original Sin and shaky on the Fall.”(Cobban 1960:55) rationalism was now infiltrating into the very citadel of religion.
Freedom: As a Victory of Humanity
John Locke’s ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration’, published in Latin in 1689, was then rapidly translated into Dutch, French and English. The statement had sum up what we call the ‘enlightened’ thought of the seventeen century on toleration, it is significant that Locke’s opening appeal should be to the spirit of humanity, his positive argument begin with the assertion that religion is a matter of the conscience, which can not be forced:
‘First, Because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other man. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another, as to compel to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people. (Gay 1973:76)
He believes that faith cannot impose by law, the civil magistrate can only deal with matter affected by outward force, and ‘he has no authority over souls.’ Locke’s argument of toleration differentiated the function of Church and the secular commonwealth serve his insistent proclaim on individual liberty:
“The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.” (Gay 1973:75)
“A church then I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God, in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls. (Gay 1973:78)
Locke’s argument was advanced; it further the struggle for religious toleration that later established the principle of freedom of conscience, which is easily translated into freedom of opinion and expression in all matters.
Locke asserted that human beings are born with natural rights to life, liberty, and property, and they establish the state to protect these rights, meanwhile, he adds, however, that the magistrate ought to be ‘very careful’ not to use his authority to oppress any religion on the pretext of ‘public good’. For the ‘public good’ was always abused by the Church authority as well the later secular authority, the exercise of freedom come together with Reason become importance than ever. St the same time, the concept of natural right, should also share its new light in our modern society, for the authority not to forget that they has no rights to deprive individuals of their natural rights.
Eighteenth century political thought in this sense, could be characterized by a thoroughgoing secularism; an indictment of despotism, the dive right of kings, and the special privileges of the aristocracy and the clergy; a respect for English constitutionalism because it enshrined the rule of law; and an affirmation of John Locke’s theory that government had an obligation to protect the natural rights of its citizens.
Liberty, as a victory over despotism, has emancipated individuals from oppression to the practice of their natural rights and to live without interfere of soul as used to be. As Diderot described about their age ‘Every age has its dominant idea, that of our age seems to be liberty’ (Hazard 1954:174)
The Rise of Political Liberalism and the Spirit of Law
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688[iv], the last English Revolution had set limits on the power of the English monarchy. At the same time, John Locke’s natural rights philosophy declared that the individuals was by nature entitled to freedom, and it justified revolutions against rulers who deprived citizens of their lives, liberty, or property.
Moreover, the decline of orthodox religious thought, as well as provoking speculation on the nature of morals, necessitated a rethinking of the bases of government. Given the decline of the religious sanction of government and the abandonment of ideas of divine rights, Locke began to give his definition of political power on his ‘Second Treatise on Civil Government’:
‘Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of community in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good. ( John Locke)’ (Cobban1960:92)
This argument embodied Locke’s basic assumptions about government, he was unlike Thomas Hobbes, Locke viewed people as essentially good and humane and developed a conception of the state fundamentally different from Hobbes’s. For Hobbes, he had a pessimistic view of human nature. Believing that people are innately selfish and grasping, without a stringent authority to make and enforce law, life would be miserable, he said, a war of every man against every man, therefore, a state with unlimited power since only in this way could people be protected from each other and civilized life preserved. Whereas, Locke maintained that the human beings are born with natural rights to life, liberty and they establish the state for the purpose to protect their rights. Consequently, Locke’s thought then explicitly, necessitates to high-rise the constitutional government, in which the power to govern derives from the consent of the governed and the state’s authority is limited by agreement. Moreover, Locke’s State of Nature, is one of freedom, equality and obligation to mutual love; it is not a state of license and it is ruled by the Law of Nature, which is Reason. In additional, no contract can bind posterity, nor does it abrogate the rights of nature, embodied in the Law of Nature, Locke claimed.
To safeguard of these rights, after the establishment, by contract, of the political society, the setting up of legislature is equated to the constitution of a trust. Though, Locke treated the legislature as the supreme power, but its supremacy is anyway within strictly defined limits: “all power given with trust for attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited.” (Cobban 1960:94). Rulers hold their authority under the law, when they act outside the law, they forfeit their right to govern. Thus, if government fails to fulfill the end for which it was established – the preservation of the individual’s right to life, liberty, and property – the people have a right to dissolve that government.
These arguments had a profound effect on the Enlightenment and the liberal revolutions of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. The value that Locke gave to reason and freedom and his theories of natural rights and the right of rebellion against unjust authority truly contributed to not only the Enlightenment period of European but also today’s modern society.
Another outstanding philosophes, Montesquieu helped shape the modernity mentality. Montesquieu published his Spirit of the Laws in 1748. He expressed here real hatred of despotism, clericalism and slavery. In Montesquieu’s epigrams which significant on despotism, “ The principle of despotic government unceasingly corrupts itself, because it is corrupted by it nature.’(Montesquieu: Internet Modern History Sourcebook), serve his attitude toward the separations of power that developed by himself as a principle intended to guard against despotic government. Being a member of the petit noblesse, he called for an "intermediary corps" and fundamental laws to temper the monarchy. His former colleague magistrates called it restitution of the ancient constitution. So, he influenced both the aristocratic reactionaries who wanted to revitalize feudal estates and liberals, who devoted the theory of the separation of power and of checks and balance.
Montesquieu declared himself an empiricist, he advocated the examination of a variety of constitutional forms to discover the republic and its inner law. His sociology of law based on the combination of rationalism and empiricism that was the popular trend that runs through the Enlightenment explicitly in his greatest work:
“Law, in general, is the human reason, in so far as it governs all the people of the earth; and the political and civil laws of each nation ought to only particular cases of the application of this human reason…they should be in relation to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil, to its situation and extent…( Montesquieu)” (Crocker 1969:186)
To this end, Montesquieu accumulated and classified a wide diversity of facts, from which he tried to draw general rules governing society. He concluded that different climactic and geographic conditions and different national customs, habits, religions, and institution give each nation a particular character; each society required constitution forms and laws that pay heed to the character of its people. Montesquieu’s effort to explain social and political behaviour empirically was in fact to found a science of society base on the model of natural science as well the awakening of individuality liberty, thus, worth him a forerunner of modern sociology. However, his theory was not without flaw when come to the certain social or tribe conditions that not suit to general morality, but this is irrelevant here.
However, what really makes Montesquieu well known was his assertion of principle of three separation of powers. In order to avoid the power to be abused, power shall be check by power. Therefore, separation of power is necessary. Political liberty in not without any superintend or supervision, for experience shows that every man who once gain power is apt to abuse it “To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power. ( Montesquieu)” (Crocker 1969: 196). From his observation of English example, he derives his theory of the division of power to three organic mechanisms – legislative, executive and judicial. Such a separation, guarantees the individual liberty, by ensuring that each power can be curtailed by the others. It also ensures cohesion, through the internal relations between the powers, which make it impossible that any one of them should be exercised without the elaborate co-operation of the other two. When one person or one body exercises all three powers – if the same body both prosecutes and judges, liberty cannot be preserved. Where sovereignty I monopolized by one person or body, power is abused and political liberty is denied. In a good government, one power balances and checks another power. Montesquieu argument brought discussion and dispute to present day and in fact it had impressed the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
If we say the Liberal-democratic tradition in today’s England and American derived from Locke’s political science, Europe continent political tradition mainly derived from Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). One of the most radical and controversial figures of the Enlightenment philosophers, he asserted that a government should combines liberty and equality.
Rousseau was a prolific writer, composer, and theorist on education. His Social Contract had a tremendous influence on the later French Revolution (1789-95). His upbringing in Protestant small town Geneva where direct political participation was the norm colored his views on politics and government.
His ideal: direct participatory politics like in his home town Geneva. His assumption of society was also very much based on his Geneva experience. He believed that there were fundamental common interests in society, and every individual should submit themselves to this common interest, which is called the “general will” of the people. For those who do not voluntarily submit to this general will, they will be forced to do so.
His scientific zeal came from his presumption of what government should obtain for people: freedom, which Rousseau claimed existed in the state of nature. To him, the only way to maintain freedom in society was equality. A good government, to him, was as neat as arithmetic: “to achieve freedom and equality in society, each individual must surrender their individual rights and pool all their rights with the rest of society, generating a "general will" of the people from this common pool of all individual rights, after chopping off the too obvious deviations from the mean. Obeying the general will, for each, was obeying himself. In that sense, each individual was free, and equal with others.” (Rousseau: The European Enlightenment)
The power of Rousseau's state based on the "general will" or sovereignty of the people
Only when people work for the common interest can they achieve real freedom from autocracy. For those who do not want to submit to the general will or common interest of the people, they will be “forced to be free.” The government that represents the general will cannot be questioned, because the general will cannot be wrong.[v] This conclusion would have a tremendous impact in the French Revolution (1789-1795).
The Enlightenment and its Consequence
When the writers, philosophers and scientists of the eighteenth century referred to their activities as the "Enlightenment," they meant that they were breaking from the past and replacing the obscurity, darkness, and ignorance of European thought with the "light" of truth. The philosophes of the Enlightenment had articulated core principles of the modern outlook. Asserting that human beings are capable of thinking independently of authority, they insisted on a thoroughgoing rational and secular interpretation of nature as well the society. They critically scrutinized authority and tradition and valued science and technology as a means for promoting human betterment. Above all, they sought to emancipate the mind from the bonds of ignorance and superstition and to rescue people from intolerance, cruelty, and oppression. Because of their efforts, torture (which states and Christian churches had endorsed and practiced) was eventually abolished in Western lands, and religious toleration and freedom of speech and of press became the accepted norms.
The thought of the Enlightenment and the liberal political influent also contributed to the Americans’s aswarness of liberty. The ideas of those philosophes traversed to the Atlantic and influenced educated Americans, among them like: Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Like the philosophes, Americans thinkers expressed a growing confidence in reason, value freedom of religion and of thought, and championed the principle of natural rights. By rejecting both monarchy and hereditary aristocracy, the Constitution of the United States created a republic in which power derived from the consent of people. A system of separation of powers and checks and balances set safeguards against the abuse of power, and the Bill of Rights provided for protection of individual rights. By adopting Locke’s theory of natural rights, the Declaration of Independence, written mainly by Thomas Jefferson, led Americans to a brand new world. To be sure, the ideas of Enlightenment were not extended to all level of people since it remained stirring among educated European, but the example of American victory, showed that Americans were fulfilling the promise of the Enlightenment; they were creating a freer and better society.
Even though Enlightenment social and political theory introduced radically new ideas such as checks and balances, the social contract and individual liberty, most of the philosophes believed in monarchical government. The seventeenth century had seen an elaborate theorizing on the nature of monarchy and the justification for absolute monarchy, that is, the idea that the monarch is ultimately the sole ruler of the country and is accountable only to God. Despite of the limitation or perhaps compromising, the philosophes used the term enlightened despotism or enlightened absolutism to refer to an ideal shared by many of them: rule by s strong monarch who would implement rational reforms and remove obstacles to freedom. Some committed monarchs, for instance, Frederick the Great in Prussia, Charles III in Spain, Joseph II in Austria, did institute educational, commercial, and religious reforms.
In France in particular, theories of absolute monarchy were applied in their full during the reign of Louis XIV. While Louis XIV justified his absolute authority by appealing to the divine right of kings, the enlightened absolutists justified their absolute authority by proclaiming themselves servants of the state or the people. The enlightened served the state by pushing for reform in the government in order to stamp out unequal treatment before the law and preserve rights and property. The first monarch to actively put these ideas into practice was Frederick II of Prussia, called the Great (1740-1785). He abolished the serf system which tied tenant farmers to certain properties for life and replaced the powers accruing to the nobility with a greatly expanded bureaucracy composed of educated civil servants. His father, Frederick William I (1713-1740), was dedicated to the military expansion of Prussia; to do this, he built a bureaucracy of civil service entirely based on merit. Frederick II, however, saw the need to include the nobility and actively recruited them into the civil service. “For Frederick was above all a pragmatic enlightened monarch who saw the need to placate all aspects of society.” (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/WORLD.HTM, 4-8-2003)
Another enlightened monarch, Joseph II, the son of Maria Theresa, Emperor of Austria, sought to bring the Catholic church under his control. First, he made it illegal for any clergy to communicate directly to the pope or the Vatican. He shut down over six hundred monasteries and convents and claimed monastic lands for himself. He also shut down all the seminaries and replaced them with his own; in these new seminaries, prospective priests would be taught to obey him rather than the pope. These policies effectively ended any influence that the Catholic Church had over Austrian peoples. Partly in line with his efforts to reduce the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and partly in line with new Enlightenment ideas, Joseph passed some of the most sweeping reforms of religious intolerance in the eighteenth century. In 1781, he declared the Toleration Patent, which declared that all Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, and Calvinist churches could freely worship without official harassment. These separate denominations were also allowed to found their own churches, schools, and hospitals, and could serve in the official bureaucracy.
Behind the reforms of enlightened monarch lay the realization that the struggle for power in Europe called for efficient government administration and ample funds. Enlightened monarchs appointed capable officials to oversee the administration of their kingdoms, “eliminate costly corruption, and collect taxes properly. Rulers strengthened the economy by encouraging the expansion of commerce through reduced taxes on goods and through agricultural reforms.”(Perry 1997:305) In some way, enlightened despotism had been contributed to the expansion of European empire as well the expansion of capitalism. In central and Eastern Europe, some rulers moved toward abolishing serfdom or at least improving conditions for serfs. (In Western Europe, serfdom had virtually died out.) Provisions were made to care for windows, orphans, and invalids. Censorship was eased, greater religious freedom was granted to minorities,
The philosophes broke with the traditional Christian view of human nature and the purpose of life. In that view, men and women were born in sin; suffering and misery were their lot, and relief could come only from God; and for many, eternal damnation was a deserved final consequence. In contrast, the philosophes expressed confidence in human’s ability to attain happiness and enjoyment by improving the conditions of their earthly existence and articulated a theory of human progress that did not require divine assistance.
To be sure, the promise of the Enlightenment has not been achieved. As Peter Gay observed:
“ The world has not turned out the way the philosophes wished and half expected that it would. Old fanaticisms have been more intractable, irrational forces more invention than the philosophes were ready to conjecture in their darkest moments. Problems of race, of class, of nationalism of boredom and despair in the midst of plenty have emerged almost in defiance of the philosophes’ philosophy. We have known horrors, and may know horrors, that the men of the Enlightenment did not see in their nightmares.” (Gay 1966:567)
But, yet it cannot be denied that the contribution of the Enlightenment has been enriched the world civilization. Their historical insight became part of our today liberal-democratic tradition. History is a continuum; and if we cannot understand the Enlightenment and how it came to be, neither can we understand fully the modern Western secularization cultural without taking into account the legacy of the Enlightenment.
There are two distinct developments in Enlightenment thought: the scientific revolution which resulted in new systems of understanding the physical world, and the redeployment of the human sciences that apply scientific thinking to what were normally interpretive sciences. In the first, the two great innovations were the development of empirical thought and the mechanistic worldview. Empiricism is based on the notion that human observation is a reliable indicator of the nature of phenomena; repeated human observation can produce reasonable expectations about future natural events. In the second, the universe is regarded as a machine. It functions by natural and predictable rules; although God created the universe, he does not interfere into day to day runnings. Once the world is understood as a machine, then the universe can be understood as fundamentally rational, that is, it can be understood through the use of reason alone.
These ideas were steadily exported to the human sciences. In theories of personality, human development, and social’s law of natural, seventeenth century thinkers moved away from religious and moral explanations of human behavior and interactions and towards an empirical analysis and mechanistic explanation of the laws of human behavior.
Undoubtedly, these ideas formed the drastically transformation of ideal reconstruction. Since the heliocentric theory brought the light of reason that eventually broke down the unquestioning authorities which had dominance over centuries, the European enter to a era that full of new conflicting ideas that changed the Europe physically and mentality.
It was the Enlightenment that opened the consciousness of modern man. From the Enlightenment we derived our faith in the conquest of nature and the rational ordering of society, as well as in political and civil rights and the rights of the individual to self-realization. However, the Enlightenment also discovered the tangle of realities, disorder or despotic of mankind and envisaged the means of controlling him and socializing him. The spirit of Enlightenment should not died out for it will always remain indispensable to all those who cherish the traditions of reason and freedom, which have been keeping shape and reshaping our modern mentality.
[i] The philosophes of mid-eighteenth century France developed this mechanistic view of the universe into a radically revised version of Christianity they called deism . Drawing on Newton's description of the universe as a great clock built by the Creator and then set in motion, the deists among the philosophes argued that everything—physical motion, human physiology, politics, society, economics—had its own set of rational principles established by God which could be understood by human beings solely by means of their reason. This meant that the workings of the human and physical worlds could be understood without having to bring religion, mysticism, or divinity into the explanation
[ii] Descartes found one truth to be certain and unshakable: that it was he who was doing doubting and thinking, and this was his starting point of knowledge, to doubt and discuss about this starting point is a complicated philosophy problem, we will not going to analysis here, Descartes’s contribution was then the call for the individual to question and if necessary to overthrow all traditional beliefs, and proclaimed the mind’s inviolable autonomy and importance, its ability and right to understand truth.
[iii] The thinkers of the Enlightenment called philosophes.
[iv] The English Revolution that created a new political and constitutional reality. And this made the British system became a model for other forms of representative government, adopted in France and in the former British colonies, beginning with the United State.
[v] Since this “general will” arose many dispute, the philosophical point of view is the assertion that the “general will” is not to be thought of as the sum of individual wills. As Rousseau puts it, there is a distinction between the ‘general will’ and the ‘wills of all’.