, Research Paper
The Enlightenment and Era of Revolutions
The Enlightenment Era marked the beginning of significant scientific advance-
ments and of philosophers’ contributions whose discoveries and revolutionary theories
changed the traditional views of the world. It brought upon many changes to the social
and political order which predominated its society at the time. Strongly influenced by
the rise of modern science, and by the aftermath of the long religious conflicts that
followed the reformation, the thinkers of the Enlightenment were committed to secular
views based on reason and human understanding. They had hoped that it would provide
a basis for a positive reform which would affect every area of life and thought.
Due to these changes, people were looking at different aspects of their world and lives
under a new light. The mystery behind things was unfolding, becoming increasingly
demandant of scientific explanation rather then by church officials’ unclear reasoning.
The ideas of the great intellectuals of the Enlightenment era made people think about
their freedom and equality, which gave them a reason to revolt and fight for the better
One of the famous philosophers during the Enlightenment era was John Locke.
He wrote “The Second Treatise of Government” and in this document, Locke wrote
about the natural rights of man: the right to life, to liberty and to property. Everyone is
born free and is by nature free; equal and independent. According to Locke, people
joined the community to preserve their properties, lives, liberty and their estates, and no
one should have the authority to take away from them these basics rights. However,
should the governor use his office power toward personal gain, he could be deprived of
his governmental authority. The people had the right to revolt against him. Locke states,
“And whosever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law(…), may be
opposed.” Basically, the sovereignty did not reside in the state but instead with the
people; the state is then supreme, but only if it is bounded within the limits of its power
and within the civil and the natural law.
The idea of liberty and equality can also be found in the “Discourse on the
Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Man.” In this document, Rousseau
addresses the inequality found among rich and poor people. The resolution to this
problem according to Rousseau, is in the following passage: “…instead of turning our
forces against ourselves, let us gather them into one supreme power which governs us
according to wise laws, protects and defends all the members of the association,
repulses common enemies, and maintains us in an eternal concord.” Rousseau is
attempting to point out that they should not fight but instead form a working government,
set its common laws and regulations that would help to change the life of the nation.
Evidently, it goes to prove that the Enlightenment’s effects spread throughout.
Its ideas, principles and the overall emphasis it has placed on humanity had been
accepted by many people. Our own “Declaration of Independence” of July 4th, 1776
is a reflection of that. “Man received certain unalienable rights, that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When The Declaration of Independence was
put to congress, it restated what Locke had previously wrote over eight decades before,
“all man are created equal.” Should the government become destructive, the
Declaration says that it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and may have
the power to institute a new government. It also showed that the King of Britain
had committed many usurpations on the Thirteen States of America. A declaration
itself was an example of rebel against tyranny.
Another document, written in the time of American Revolution, and supporting
the ideas of the Enlightenment, was Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” Paine, as other
thinkers of the Enlightenment era wrote that people are “originally equal in order of
creation.” He criticized one of the most powerful institutions of Early Modern
Europe – monarchy. Paine stated that in a real republic there is no place for the king:
“The nearer any government approaches to a republic the last business there is for the
king.” He writes about the New World as an asylum for all free people.
The writings of the philosophers, such as Locke or Rousseau, were critical
to government. This sparked the peasants’ notion of wanting change. Under the Old
Regime in France the King was the absolute monarchy, and was believed to gain his
power from the God. Society was divided into three classes, whereas the first two
estates enjoyed extensive rights and privileges. The members of the third estate,
consisting of commoners, were heavily taxed and didn’t have the rights of the first two
estates. These social divisions caused a lot of conflicts. In the era of Enlightenment,
where Ancient Regime and the old social order was being questioned, people started
thinking about gaining their rights and revolt against despoty. An effect of such a process
was the French Revolution of 1789 and of “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and
of the Citizen.” This French document, followed the enlightenment ideas of “Liberty,
Equality and Fraternity” – which become the slogan of the French Revolution. It states
that “Liberty consists in being able to do everything which does not harm another” and
that democratic principles, would be the basis for French government.
This period of reason, thanks to its rational and scientific approach, enabled
the society to rid themselves of superstitions and old habits. These new ideas allowed
people to explore the meanings behind the things that only supernatural explanations
would explain. The popular ideas of Enlightenment, “liberty, equality and fraternity,”
inspired people from different countries to make an effort towards improving their
situations and to fight for their freedom and their rights.