The age of enlightenment took place in the 18th century and was thought by many of the period to be long overdue. Spurred by writers wishing to “awaken” the public from their stupor, it was an age of change. Enlightenment writers tackled subjects from inconsistencies in religion to the oppression of women in society. Utilized during the time were many aspects of writing. Inducing a feeling of fear or guilt within a reader and the use of satire was often combined to leave an impression on a reader. Most definitely though the age caused a heightened level of consciousness and awareness amongst the common folk of Europe and the developing Americas.
Heading the age of enlightenment were a group of writers and intellectual thinkers called the philosophes. “Most of the philosophes believed that western civilization was on the verge of enlightenment, that reasoning and education could quickly dispel the darkness of the past that had kept people in a state of immaturity.1” Writers of this period were cunning and courageous. Many were persecuted or even exiled for their works. Most however didn’t directly encourage rebellion but rather reform from the ruler’s influence by their ideas.
A British writer of the time named Mary Wollstonecraft had an impact mammoth in proportion. She aggressively, and intelligently argued against the oppression of women in society. Education was the foothold of this argument. She stated that without properly educated women they couldn’t be morally sound. Since women are responsible for instilling morals into our youth they would be raising continuous generations stuck withing the ignorance of the preceding age.
“Many enlightenment thinkers were strongly opposed to traditional religious institutions and ideas. Yet only a few went so far as to profess atheism.2” The majority of the philosophes believed in a god and creation but didn’t personify its existence to the same extent of Christianity. They supported
the belief that God set the gears in motion then stepped back and will not interfere. It was also stated by Thomas Paine “I hope for happiness beyond this life.2” This statement leads me to believe that the philosophes believed in a heaven. They also felt that religion at the time was a means to control the population and that monarchs and religious leaders were unjustly exploiting their power. They brought about a truly revolutionary
thought in that your mind is your church.
One of the most famous early enlightenment writers was Voltaire. The most well known of his works was a satire entitled Candide. This novel had a strong effect on the writers to come as well as the commonfolk. In fact it had such a profound effect on the people it led to Voltaire’s being exiled. Described in the book was his ideal society which he named ElDorado, he also attacked the social institutions as well as the optimistic philosophy. Voltaire inspired future writers and was the first to enter the thought of revolution into the people’s minds.
Even music in the time period took an awesome leap. The most well recognized musician of the time was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A child prodigy “He began to play idly on a clavier when only three. When five he composed simple pieces.3” By eight he “Was composing prolifically in many forms.3” He was pushed by his father who you could say was living vicariously through his son. Mozart inspired and impacted many musicians to this day, his ability to create such complexity was revolutionary in itself.
With all of these influences the people of this time began to desire what we call rights. They wished to own land, to think freely and to express their thoughts. Slowly overtime the people simply were awakened from the utterly ignorant daze in which they had existed for so long. In France the governing bodies themselves couldn’t establish common ground thus revolution occurred. Undoubtedly, almost a direct result of the events that previously had taken place. Even to this day the seeds this era planted can be seen in society. I believe it is time for yet another enlightenment.
1 Kant, Immanuel. The Enlightenment New York: 1949 In class hand out further information not provided
2 Paine, Thomas. “The Age of Reason: Deism.” The Enlightenment New York: (1896) 21-23
3 Encyclopedia. In class handout further information not provided