The noble savage

While Hobbes was perhaps a bit of a dark view of human nature, or rather man in a state of nature. I have little truck with Rousseau and all his noble savage ruminating. The simple facts are that civilized people live longer, materially better and certainly more intellectually enlightened lives than primitive tribes’ people.

Women’s rights, just for example, is the direct result of modern industrial and post industrial civilization. Women are now freed from the tyranny of being nothing more than a homemaker, the fear of unwanted pregnancy and the real threat of dying in child birth.   Civilization has freed at least parts of mankind from the threat of being at the mercy of merciless nature.

To put it bluntly as one of my philosophy professors put it: “The noble savage is an interesting idea, but otherwise total Bull crap. There nothing noble about being hungry, poor and living a short life.”

Assessment of Napoleon and his era

Konstam’s assessment of Napoleon seems to me to be honest and truthful, if a bit unctuous. Napoleon was indeed a very great general; a military genius. His genius was not limited to the military; the law code he oversaw is still used in France today to name one example. He was also a skilled politician.  But on the other hand, Napoleon’s ambition was megalomaniacal in its scope, and he thought nothing of plunging into wars where thousands died to support that ambition.  Napoleon was indeed the Colossus that stood astride his times and much of the history of that time was either caused by him or a reaction to his actions.

The Napoleonic Era was both an extension and culmination of the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason”. Certainly Napoleon felt he was a son of the Enlightenment, having read many of the great Enlightenment philosophes, such as Rousseau and Voltaire.[1]   Napoleon certainly applied the enlightenment ideals of logic and reason to many of his great projects, not the least of which was rationalizing the government of many of the territories France conquered, like the Rhineland and Westphalia.[2] Although others have argued that the Enlightenment ended in the blood and death of the French Revolution, regardless of the fact that Napoleonic France tried to continue the Enlightenment ideals and even impose them on other countries.[3]

It is fair to say that all of Napoleon’s other successes in life were built on his success in the military realm. So any kind of assessment of the Emperor’s life and career has to focus on his military acumen.   However, he never let military requirements get in the way of his ambition, after all he abandoned defeated or cut off armies twice in his life to feed his own political aspirations; one in Egypt after the Battle of the Nile in 1799 and another again after Moscow in 1812.[4]

Without a doubt, Napoleon was a military genius. Building on the innovation for the French Revolutionary Army, his largest contribution to the operational art of war was twofold, he eliminated the huge and slow baggage trains that bogged down rapid maneuver and he formed his armies into combined arms Corps with a strong central reserve under his personal command. The Napoleonic Corps would have infantry, artillery and cavalry arms under one commander and these different branches would cooperate closely with each other within the Corps structure. These formations were so powerful they could and often did fight battles by themselves, or at least engage the enemy on terms that would allow other Corps to arrive in support. [5] This basic operational structure is still used by most armies in the world today. Further, the Emperor’s real genius was that he could get inside his opponents decision cycle so that even if his subordinates or he made a mistake, chances are that he could quickly recover and still win the war.[6]

During the time of relative peace between 1802 and 1804, Napoleon turned his considerable powers to the law code and education. He managed to attend 57 out of 109 meetings that wrote the Code Civil, also called the Code Napoleon. The Code Civil in its two thousand articles replaced and rationalized the 360 different law codes in effect in France. But the First Consul couldn’t escape his Corsican roots and the Code was a step backward for women’s property rights. Despite that, it was still a great achievement and in exile Napoleon thought it his greatest.[7]

In the area of education reform, the Napoleon applied the same rational, centralized and equalitarian ideals to the school system as he did the army. Taking away education from the Church, he created the high school, or Lycee system, he centralized control such that it was said that the same subject was taught at exactly the same time in every Lycee throughout France. He imposed a military order on the schools, so that students were actually called to class with drum rolls. But these high schools were only for the most promising students. In Post secondary education in 1802 he took the Ecole Polytechnique and turned it into a military academy for engineers and artillerists.[8]

It should never be forgotten that despite all the social good that the Napoleonic reforms did, they were not imposed to merely do that social good, but rather they were done to strengthen the state and the state apparatus of control.[9] Napoleon, as First Consul and later Emperor, certainly took to heart the famous observation of Charles Tilly: “War made the state and the state made war.” [10] Napoleon made a more powerful state to make a more powerful military machine so he could win his interminable wars.

In summation, the assessment of Napoleon is ultimately much like that of another famous historical figure. A figure that followed a very similar career path to one the Emperor did. That is to say, he born in relatively humble circumstances, rose to supreme power in a time of violence and tumult by dint of his superior military skills and ability to seize political opportunities. This figure is of course the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. That is to say, as Earl of Clarendon called Cromwell, “a great bad man”, So Napoleon could also be called “a great bad man.” [11]

[1] Frederick C. Schneid, “Napoleon’s conquest of Europe: the War of the Third Coalition”, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2005), 6.

[2] “The Rhineland under the French” at http://www.wir-rheinlaender.lvr.de/engl_version/ rhineland_french/ (accessed 7 October 2010)

[3] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966), 17; William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, New York, 2002), 210.

[4] Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James R. Jacob, Margaret C. Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Harcourt Publishing Co., 2009), 483.

[5] Claus Telp, “The Evolution of Operational Art, 1740-1813: from Frederick the Great to Napoleon”, (Oxon, UK: Frank Cass Publishing, 2005), 77-80.

[6] Phil Grabsky, “The Great Commanders – Napoleon Bonaparte – The Battle of Austerlitz”, The History Channel DVD, July 1 1993.

[7] Alistair Horne, “The Age of Napoleon” (New York: The Modern Library, 2004), 37-39.

[8] Ibid., 40-42

[9] Grabsky, “Battle of Austerlitz”.

[10] Charles Tilly, “Reflections on the History European State Making” in The Formation of national States in Western Europe, ed. Charles Tilly (Princetone, NJ: Pricneton University Press, 1975), 42.

[11] Grabsky, “Battle of Austerlitz”.

The Primary Ideals of the Enlightenment in Terms of Politics and Constitutionalism

The Enlighten writers known as the philosophes called for a “political order that would be secular, reasonable, humane, pacific, open and free.” (1 ) Further, this political order would have “freedom in its many forms; freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade . . . freedom in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world.”(2)  Of course, none of these ideas sprang, Athena-like, from the heads of the Enlightenment philosophers but were rather developed over time, from the mid-17th Century to the late 18th Century.

It can be said that the Enlightenment’s ideal of politics and government started with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.(3) Having seen firsthand the destruction that civil war can cause Hobbes was trying to come to a scientifically political (4) conclusion to avoid a state “where every man is enemy to every man” and avoid a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”(5) Even though the later philosophes, at least tacitly, rejected Hobbes’ absolutism (6) in favor of representative republic as the best form of government, (7) but it is acknowledged Hobbes essential was the first to articulate the classic idea of the social contract.(8)

In the social contract for Hobbes, the citizen or subject surrenders, or alienates, all his rights to the sovereign in exchange for peace and security.(9)  The next great political thinker of the Enlightenment, John Locke, responded that all men had inalienable rights. These rights are the ones that no government may take en masse.(10)  These inalienable rights are, of course, life, liberty and property.(11)

Based on these natural rights and the view that all humans are rational, Locke argued for a constitutional state. For Locke, the constitutional state was not an unlimited democracy, but rather was a limited state characterized by the rule of law, separation of powers, legislative control of taxes, and an independent judiciary.(12)  It is to this type of constitutional state that the reasonable person gives their tacit consent and thereby joins in the social contract.(13)  It is with Locke that the Enlightenment saw the transition, still using the social contact, from an absolutist state theory to a constitutional-republican state theory.  Montesquieu also supported a limited state with separate powers between the three branches as the best state for the expression of personal liberty. (14) Rousseau thought that the social contract was best expressed in the “general will” of the citizen body and that the best political state to express this “general will” was a small republic similar to the ancient Greek city-states or his adopted city of Geneva. (15)   Of course, the social contract theory had its criticism; most well-known is Hume’s Of The Original Contract, which attacked it on historical grounds. (16)

Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were very hardheaded than when it came to a practical political program.  Just as Hobbes was deeply affected by the English Civil Wars of the mid 17th Century, so Locke was affected by the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  Indeed Locke’s writings supported the Revolution Settlement of 1688 between Parliament and William of Orange, crowned King William III of England and the subsequent Bill of Rights of 1698, which paved the way for a true constitutional monarchy. (17)

It is perhaps one of the ironies of history that the ideas of Locke and the Bill of Rights of 1698, lead to significant loss of power and prestige to the country that nurtured them.  Because it was to secure these rights as Englishmen that the American Revolution was started.  It was only later that the Second Constitutional Congress declared independence and asserted that the war was for the establishment of a new country that would secure American citizens their natural rights. (18) Jefferson’s devotion to the Locke is clear in the famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence here he paraphrased “life, liberty and property” into “life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  This seemingly minor change actually expanded natural rights from the mere owning of “estate” into the mental realm of potential happiness. (19)

In the area of politics and constitutionalism the Enlightenment reached its apotheosis with the American Constitution.  Not only was it written, at least in part, by a genuine philosophe; Benjamin Franklin, but it embodied in a way never done before, the dreamed of Enlightened political order.  The American Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, enshrined in a difficult to change, written document, the natural rights of human beings.  It created, at least in part, a mobile and dynamic society that was political stable but was also, as listed above, “secular, reasonable, and humane.   .  . open and free.”  However, the American Constitution was by no means “pacific,” in fact; it has been called a “fighting document”. (20) But otherwise the American Republic fit the bill nicely for that long sought after enlightened political order where freedom reigned.

In conclusion, even though it seems that the Enlightenment ideals of political freedom, democracy and republicanism nearly disappeared in the blood and death of the French Revolution’s Terror and the tyranny of Napoleon.  The opposite can said to have actually happened, because of the Enlightenment all of these political ideals have been placed “irrevocably on the Western agenda.”(21)

1 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969), 397.

2 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966), 3.

3 James R. Jacob, The Scientific Revolution: Aspirations and Achievements, 1500-1700 (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1999), 97.

4Ibid.

5Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter XIII (1651)  http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/ texts/ hobbes/leviathan-c.html (accessed 28 June, 2010).

6Jacob, The Scientific Revolution, 99.

7Robert B. Louden, The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of the Enlightenment still Elude Us. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 87-88.

8Jacob, The Scientific Revolution, 99.

9David Gauthier, “Hobbes Social Contract,” in The Social Contract Theorists: Critical Essays on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, ed. Christopher W. Morris (Lanham, MD: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999), 68-69.

10 A. John Simmons, “Locke’s State of Nature,” in The Social Contract Theorists: Critical Essays on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, ed. Christopher W. Morris (Lanham, MD: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999), 106.

11 John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government , sec. 87, (1696)  http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/locke/loc-207.htm (accessed 28 June, 2010).

12 Joshua Cohen, “Structure, Choice and Legitimacy: Locke’s theory of the State,”  in The Social Contract Theorists: Critical Essays on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, ed. Christopher W. Morris (Lanham, MD: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1999), 143-144.

13 E. Jonathan Lowe,  Locke. (New York: Routledge, 2005), 173.

14 Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, trans. Thomas Nugent. (1752) Book 11, Section 6 at http://www.constitution.org/cm/sol_11.htm#006 (accessed 18 July 2010)

15 Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James R. Jacob, Margaret C. Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Harcourt Publishing Co., 2009), 430-431.

16 David Hume, Of The Original Contract. (1748), www.constitution.org/dh/ origcont.htm  (accessed 28 June, 2010).

17 Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Since 1500, 7th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2009), 473-474.

18 Charles Howard McIlwain, The American Revolution: a Constitutional Interpretation. (Clark, NJ: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2005), 19-22.

19 George M. Stephens, Locke, Jefferson, and the Justices: Foundations and Failures of the US Government. (New York: Algora Publishing, 2002), 13.

20 Geoffrey Perret, A Country Made by War: from the Revolution to Vietnam: the Story of America’s Rise to Power. (New York: Random House, 1989), 79.

21 Margaret C. Jacob, The Enlightenment: a Brief History with Documents. (New York: Bedford-St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 68.

17th Century Scientific Revolution in the Unfolding of the Age of Enlightenment

The Scientific Revolution inspired and “jumpstarted” the Enlightenment.  It could be argued that the Scientific Revolution itself started far earlier than the 17th Century.  Perhaps it started with Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus written in 1267, but not published for mass consumption until 1733, in which the good friar describes the scientific method of experimentation (1 )or perhaps it started with William of Ockham in the 14th Century, in that he helped “blaze a path . . . of logic and natural philosophy uninhibited by faith.”(2)  Regardless of when it started, the primary influence of the Scientific Revolution on the Enlightenment was: “. . . not a fixed set of beliefs but a way of thinking, a critical approach . . . for constructive thought and action.”(3)

Trailblazers of the Scientific Revolution were consumed not just with discovering the workings of nature through observation and experimentation but also with explaining them through describing general natural laws.  Take, for example, the science of astronomy that with the observations and discoveries of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler finally managed to escape the dead hand of Aristotle and Ptolemy.  Kepler took Brahe’s observations and using careful mathematical calculations discovered and published his “Laws of Planetary Motion”.(4)

The ultimate expression of humanity discovering and then expressing newly found laws of nature during the Scientific Revolution was Sir Isaac Newton’s “Laws of Motion.”  Newton, it can be fairly said, created the science of Physics with the publication of his Principia Mathe-matica in 1687.(5)   He also made seminal contributions to the science of optics, including inventing the reflecting telescope and he, along with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, invented Calculus.(6)

Some philosophers, seeing these and earlier discoveries, attempted to apply these kinds of natural and immutable laws to human behavior and human institutions.(7)  Perhaps the first of these was Thomas Hobbes.  Even though he died eight years before the publication of the Principia Mathematica, Hobbes believed that politics and government were subject to laws as clear, true and demonstrable as those of motion.  Hobbes laid out this concept in his great work; Leviathan published in 1651.(8)

Advancing from the ideas of Hobbes and Newton, as Peter Gay puts it; “the philosophes celebrated the Scientific Revolution, accepted its findings, and imitated its methods.” (9) The imitation of method consisted of applying, as Hobbes did, the paradigm that there were natural and uncontestable laws that were applicable to humans and their works.  That is to say that the social sciences such as political science, economics and history were subject to laws, just as the natural sciences, like physics and astronomy, were subject to such laws.  In short, the Enlightenment thinkers believed the scientific method could be used to “understand all life.” (10)

In the area of government and politics, John Locke followed Hobbes in an attempt to apply natural laws to those institutions. Locke’s primary idea is laid out in his An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government, which is that all human are born with the natural rights to life, liberty and property.(11) Both Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau reached a social contract theory of government by extrapolating from these laws.  Of course, Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes each reached different conclusions regarding the natural rights of men and the social contract.(12)  Further, and perhaps most telling on the scientific veracity of the social contract theory was the vigorous historical criticism of the theory by David Hume.(13)

Adam Smith’s great work on economics, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was not “self-consciously scientific”.  But still, The Wealth of Nations was Smith’s attempt to observe and theorize about economics as never before and to place economic activity in a context of fixed principles and to extrapolate economic laws from those principles.  In short, Smith’s work represented the “dawn of a science”, not its climax.  After all, it wasn’t until 1803 that the term “the science of political economy” was used in the English language, even though the term “economics” had entered French some ten years before Smith published his master work.(14)

History, as a philosophical and literary endeavor was also “becoming one of the sciences of man, less precise than the physical sciences, perhaps, but no less scientific for all that.”(15)  History, as a field of study, certainly was important to many of the philosophes.  For example, Hume was better known in his own day as a historian than as a philosopher(16) and his historical writings certainly paid better than his philosophical ones.(17)  Voltaire was a historian as well.(18) History was largely made into a science by the Enlightenment writers through their insistence on seeking accuracy, finding and using authentic sources and seeking “cause and effect” in history.(19)  This is just as the natural scientist seeks “cause and effect” in the natural world.  The best and most well known example of this is Gibbon’s masterwork, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which represents a very real attempt to rationalize historical inquiry and, as a true classic, escapes the bounds of its own time and is still read and cited today.(20)

Using Hume’s famous passages: “It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men. . .” and that “the same motives always produce the same actions”(21) as a starting point, it may be fairly said that the philosphes created the science of psychology.(22) While not giving it the name, the Enlightenment writers invented the science of sociology as well, with Montesquieu as its first and greatest Enlightenment practitioner.  In these new social sciences the philosphes were trying to move from “statement of facts to general laws” and “imposes quantitative methods on qualitative experience”, all in an attempt to exchange “rational theory for guessing”.(23)

In conclusion, the primary issue that the Enlightenment, as a movement, had in the goal of finding and applying some kinds of immutable laws to human nature is demonstrated by the fact that the philosphes reached many different conclusions regarding government, history and the other social sciences.  If there were a set of absolute laws of human nature, as there are a set of absolute laws of the physical world, then no different conclusions could be possibly.  There would be one clear and correct answer.  However, these disagreements did not stop the Enlightenment philosophers from trying.  Perhaps the last word on how Scientific Revolution inspired the Enlightenment may be left to David Hume: “Even, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since the lie under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and faculties.”(24)

1 Robert Belle Burke, Introduction to The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, Volume 1 by Roger Bacon, (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2002), xiii.

2 Judith M Bennett and C Warren Hollister Medieval Europe: A Short History 10th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill co., 2006), 380.

3 Thomas Hankins, Science and the Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 2.

4 James R. Jacob, The Scientific Revolution: Aspirations and Achievements, 1500-1700 (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1999), 41-45.

5 J. G. Crowther, The Social Relations of Science, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941), 433.

6 Jacob, The Scientific Revolution, 127.

7 Abraham S. Luchins and Edith H. Luchins, Revisiting Wertheimer’s Seminars, Volume 1: Values, Social Influence and Power, (Canbury, NJ: Associated University Press, Inc., 1978), 33-34.

8 Jacob, The Scientific Revolution, 97.

9 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969), 126.

10 Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Since 1500, 7th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2009), 510.

11 John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government , sec. 87 (1696),  http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/locke/loc-207.htm (accessed 24 June, 2010)

12 Christopher W. Morris, Introduction to The Social Contract Theorists: Critical Essays on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, (Lanham, MD: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1999), ix-x.

13 David Hume, Of The Original Contract, (1748), www.constitution.org/dh/ origcont.htm  (accessed 24 June, 2010)

14 Jacob H. Hollander, “Adam Smith, 1776-1926”, The Journal of Political Economy, vol. 35(2) (April 1927): 61-62, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1823420 (accessed 24 June, 2010)

15 Gay, The Enlightenment, 378.

16 John A. Taylor, British Monarchy, English Church Establishment and Civil Liberty, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 48.

17 Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge: from Gutenberg to Diderot, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2002), 166.

18 Gay, The Enlightenment, 374.

19 Ibid., 375 – 386

20 Ibid., 317

21 David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section VIII,  (1740)  http://faculty.uml.edu/whitley_kaufman/Introduction%20to%20Philosophy/hume.freewill.htm (accessed 24 June, 2010)

22 Gay, The Enlightenment, 167.

23 Ibid., 323.

24 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Introduction, (1740) http://www.gutenberg. org/files/4705/4705-h/4705-h.htm#2H_INTR (accessed 24 June, 2010)

Enlightenment Ideals that most Influenced the French Revolution

It is one of the ironies of history that the Enlightenment writers who called for a   “political order that would be secular, reasonable, humane, pacific, open and free”1 saw their epoch start and end in two armed and violent revolutions.(1) It is another of the ironies of history that the nation most affected by Enlightenment ideal, and the one that represented the best of those ideals, at its creation was also born out of conflict and war. But ultimate America came to political settlement that, in short, embodied “the central aspirations of the Enlightenment.”(2)

There is no doubt that the American Revolution inspired, indeed it can be argued directly caused the French.(3) Also it can be said that the same ideals that inspired the American Revolution also inspired the French Revolution.  At the start of the Revolution the primary Enlightenment ideal that activated both revolutions came from Montesquieu and his 1748 work: The Spirit of Laws.(4)  In this work Montesquieu describes what he see as the three kinds of governments; republics, monarchies and despotisms, and their various features. He also described what he considered their basis of government; the republic depended on virtue, the monarchy on honor and the despotisms on fear.   A great admirer of the British system Montesquieu went on to delineate how and why the three powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial can and should be separated.  He thought that the separation of powers was best for preserving the liberties of the citizens.(5)

In the later Revolutionary period, the more violent one, it was the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau that took the lead.  Certainly, Robespierre thought of himself as a follower of Rousseau.(6)

Rousseau’s most insidious works; The Discourse on Inequity (1753), in which he decries private property as the root of many evils and The Social Contract (1762) in which he describes his ideas of “the general will” and used the phrase that a individual may be “forced to be free” and this could rightly been seen has having inspired the Reign of Terror.(7)

In conclusion, while the philosophes wanted a “political order that would be secular, reasonable, humane, pacific, open and free,” with the French Revolution what they got was blood, terror and tyranny.

Notes

1 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969), 397;  Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966), 17.

2 Robert A. Ferguson, The American Enlightenment, 1750-1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 150.

3 Esmond Wright, Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966) 298

4Sylvia Neely, A Concise History of the French Revolution (Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008), 22.

5 Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, trans. Thomas Nugent. (1752) Book III, at http://www.constitution.org/cm/sol_11.htm#006 (accessed 18 September 2010); Ibid,. Book XI, section 6. .

6 William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. New York, 2002), 278.

7 Neely, A Concise History, 23-24; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Trans. by G. D. H. Cole  (1762) Book I, at  http://www.constitution.org/jjr/socon_01.htm (accessed 18 September 2010).

Contributions of the Enlightenment to Western Civilization

In short, just about every aspect of Western civilization was created or influenced in some manner by the Enlightenment.  For good or ill, the Enlightenment brought to the front those factors of human life that are most associated with Western Europe and its cultural offshoots in other parts of the world. Those aspects are individual or human rights, secularism, capitalism, rationality, technical and societal innovation.  These factors gave rise to technical superiority, military prowess and the modern centralized bureaucracy state structure.

As Gay puts it the Enlightenment was about the “recovery of nerve” (Gay, Science, 3). About humanity taking chances and seeking new and innovated ways of doing things.  Also the Enlightenment was about “criticism and power”, the ability to examine nature with a calm and rational outlook and having the power to make the world change as required for improving the human condition (Gay, Paganism, xi).

In the arena of politics, moderns still discuss and argue about Locke and Hobbes. Through there writings the Enlightenment ideals of political freedom, democracy and republicanism have been placed “irrevocably on the Western agenda.” (Jacob, The Enlightenment, 168). Even absolute tyrannies such as the Soviet Union, Fascist Germany and Theocratic Iran pay or paid lip service to the “will of the people” and had and have the forms of free Western democratic republics, if not the functions of them.   Also as much as moderns may rail against overweening and oppressive centralized bureaucracy state structure, it is clear that the bureaucracy represents the best and most rational organization for the precise and effective administration of large populations and vast resources (Gerth and Mills, 50).

Adam Smith’s opus: “The Wealth of Nations”, published in 1776, was Smith’s attempt to observe and theorize about economics and represented the “dawn of a science”; the science of economics also became the bible for modern capitalist thought and philosophy   (Hollander, “Adam Smith”, 61).  Despite the best attempts of Marxists, the capitalist system is still the best way to foster economic growth and distribute goods and services within an economy.

Western military prowess is a direct result of “Western ideals of freedom . . . (the) concept of consensual government and an open economy. . .” (Hanson, 54).  Not that that prowess was always used in good and noble causes, because it most certainly was not.  But it does go to prove that the only way non-Western armies could defeat Western armies was to adopt and imitate Western ideals.

In conclusion, one would be hard pressed to find any part of Western culture and civilization that was not touched by Enlightenment ideals.

Soureces:

Gay, Peter. “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism”. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966.

Gay, Peter. “The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom”. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969.

Gerth, Hans Heinrich and Charles Wright Mills, “Introduction to From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology”. (Oxford, Routledge, 1991).

Hanson, Victor Davis. Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. New York: Anchor Books, 2001.

Hollander, Jacob H. “Adam Smith 1776-1926.” The Journal of Political Economy, Volume 35(2). (April 1927): 153-197. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1823420 (accessed 9 Sept, 2010)

Late Enlightenment Influences on Romanticism

The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment overlapped in time: with the Scientific Revolution being roughly 1400 to 1800, while the Enlightenment was from 1698 to 1798.(1)  The Scientific Revolution inspired and influenced the Enlightenment throughout.   The primary influence of the Scientific Revolution on the Enlightenment was: “. . . not a fixed set of beliefs but a way of thinking, a critical approach . . . for constructive thought and action.”(2)

The ideals of the Enlightenment are best represented by the writing of the Philosophes. The Philososphes:  “celebrated the Scientific Revolution, accepted its findings, and imitated its methods.”  Further, throughout the Enlightenment many of the Philosophes followed a career pattern, if you will, of establishing a reputation as a scientist, or natural philosopher, to use the Enlightenment term, then would turn their minds and thoughts to social and political issues.  Lichtenberg, Kant, Cordorcet and Franklin, to name just four certainly, followed this pattern, as did others. (3) Other Philosophes, such as Voltaire and Diderot, to name just two, while not scientists themselves, spent much effort in popularizing science and associated with scientists on an equal and regular basis.(4)

Certainly scientific advancement and discoveries did not stop once the Enlightenment came to the front. For example, William Herschel identified Uranus as a planet in 1781.  Also, new sciences were developed by Philosophes, such as Adam Smith, who in 1776 virtually invented economics as a science with his work, The Wealth of Nations.(5)

However, as the 18th Century advanced some philosophes began to see science: “not a servant or ally but an embarrassment.”(6)  Jonathon Swift struck first in 1735. Using his typical dry satire, Swift skewers the vain and esoteric experiments of the Royal Society of his day in Gulliver’s Travels.  In his description of the Laputan scientist spending eight years trying to extract sunlight from cucumbers, Swift was hammering away at science that is sterile, useless and devoid of humanity.(7) Even at this early date, men of letters were becoming disenchanted with men of science.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau struck even harder at science when in 1750, in his Discourse Concerning the Arts and Sciences, he declared science had failed to make men happier and indeed had corrupted them and pulled them away from nature.  In this he prefigured many of the later Romantics thoughts on scientific advancement.(8)

In conclusion, it is fair to say that the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment were inexorably intertwined as both ran their courses; both in positive interaction through positive feedback and negative reaction through disenchantment and rejection.

Footnotes:

1 Steve Fuller, New Frontiers in Science and Technology, (Maldon, MA: Polity Press, 2007), 14; Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966),xi.

2 Thomas Hankins, Science and the Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 2.

3 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969), 126.

4 Ibid., 128.

5 Jacob H. Hollander, “Adam Smith, 1776-1926”, The Journal of Political Economy, vol. 35(2) (April 1927): 61-62, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1823420 (accessed  12 September, 2010)

6 Gay, The Enlightenment, 128.

7 Peter Stanlis, “Jonathon Swift: Satirist as Philosopher.”  In the Ignatius Critical Edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift, (London, 1735) , ed. Dutton Kearney (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010) , 429;

8 Jonathon Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (London, 1735) (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 199.