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Paine reserved particular criticism for the hereditary privileges of ruling elites, whose power over the people, he believed, was only ever supported through simple historical tradition and the passive acceptance of the social order among the common people. The Rights of Man was in part a defence of the French Revolution, and was thus perceived as an attack on the monarchy in Britain.

Though grounded in a sense of outrage at social and economic injustice, the political revolutions of both America to and France to can thus be fairly judged to have been driven by enlightened political dogma, which criticised despotic monarchies as acutely incompatible with the ideals of democracy, equality under the rule of law and the rights to property ownership.

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Usage terms Public Domain However, for other observers particularly in Britain the violent extremes of the French Revolution proved incompatible with enlightened thought. Usage terms Public Domain Political philosopher David Hume also warned of the dangers he perceived in the headlong pursuit of liberty for all.


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An ill-educated and ignorant crowd, argued Hume, was in danger of running into violence and anarchy if a stable framework of government was not maintained through the consent of the people and strong rule of law. David Hume was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, known for his empiricism and scepticism. He was a major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.

Usage terms Public Domain The end of the Enlightenment? The outcomes of the Enlightenment were thus far-reaching and, indeed, revolutionary.

Secular science and invention, fertilised by a spirit of enquiry and discovery, also became the hallmark of modern society, which in turn propelled the pace of 18th-century industrialisation and economic growth. Individualism — the personal freedoms celebrated by Locke, Hume, Adam Smith , Voltaire and Kant — became part of the web of modern society that trickled down into 19th-century notions of independence, self-help and liberalism.


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Representative government on behalf of the people was enshrined in new constitutional arrangements, characterised by the slow march towards universal suffrage in the s. Evidence of the Enlightenment thus remains with us today: in our notions of free speech, our secular yet religiously tolerant societies, in science, the arts and literature: all legacies of a profound movement for change that transformed the nature of society forever.

Dr Matthew White is Research Fellow in History at the University of Hertfordshire where he specialises in the social history of London during the 18th and 19th centuries. His most recently published work has looked at changing modes of public justice in the 18th and 19th centuries with particular reference to the part played by crowds at executions and other judicial punishments.

by P., Gooch G

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License. The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day. The Bill of Rights The Bill of Rights, signed by William and Mary in February , stated that it was illegal for the Crown to suspend or dispense with the law, to levy money without parliamentary assent, or to raise an army in peacetime, and insisted on due process in criminal trials.

Usage terms Public Domain. Concurrent movements for political change also emerged in France during the early years of the 18th century. Scientific revolution These new enlightened views of the world were also encapsulated in the explosion of scientific endeavour that occurred during the 18th century. Copernicus' celestial spheres First edition of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres , in which Copernicus argued that the positions of the stars and planetary orbits could be better explained by the sun being at the centre of the universe with the planets rotating around it in a circular motion, as shown in this iconic diagram.

Galileo's sunspot letters These letters record astronomical observations made by the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei in At the forefront of the scientific revolution stood Sir Isaac Newton, whose achievements in mathematics and physics revolutionised the contemporary view of the natural world.

The discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton were complemented by those of a host of equally dazzling mathematicians, astronomers, chemists and physicists Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle, for example , many of whom were members of the Royal Society founded in , and active today. The pursuit of rational scientific knowledge was never the preserve of an educated elite.

The Initial Situation

Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia , Encyclopaedias, grammars and dictionaries became something of a craze in this period, helping to demystify the world in empirical terms. Secularisation and the impact on religion Religion and personal faith were also subject to the tides of reason evident during the 18th century.

An enquiry into the nature of the human soul The author, Andrew Baxter argues that all matter is inherently inactive, and that the soul and an omnipotent divine spirit are the animating principles of all life. These new views on religion led to increasing fears among the clergy that the Enlightenment was ungodly and thus harmful to the moral well-being of an increasingly secular society.

Newspaper report of the Gordon riots, The Gordon Riots of June were in response to legislation passed permitting Catholics greater freedom in society such as being allowed to join the Army. However, for other observers particularly in Britain the violent extremes of the French Revolution proved incompatible with enlightened thought. Political philosopher David Hume also warned of the dangers he perceived in the headlong pursuit of liberty for all. Four Dissertations by Enlightenment philosopher David Hume David Hume was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, known for his empiricism and scepticism.

The end of the Enlightenment? Share this page. And as for the Calvinists, who had managed to survive without too much harassment under James I , many now openly broke away from the Church of England. In spite of opposition from the clergy and Church members he continued to impose his will. This led to armed rebellion. In order to put it down, the king had to call Parliament, which had not met for eleven years. In the House of Commons those who opposed the king held sway and the country was plunged into civil war. At first the civil war was a conflict between the king and Parliament.

However, this soon took on a religious aspect when the Scottish Presbyterians and rebels against Laud decided to support Parliament. In the first Act of Parliament, Laud was dismissed, later imprisoned and finally executed in Since Parliament and the population of London were in open rebellion against the king, he decided to leave London for Nottingham, where he raised an army. His officers often led the prayers or preached at church services. Cromwell led this army to a resounding victory against the royalists in Charles 1 st fled to Scotland but the Scots handed him over to Parliament in The latter wanted to reduce the power of the king but not necessarily abolish the monarchy.

However the army seized power and when Charles I tried to escape, Cromwell took the opportunity to crush Parliament. The new Parliament, consisting only of extremist puritans, sentenced the king to death and he was executed in In England became a Republic, although only a minority of the population were actually republicans.

Oliver Cromwell was appointed lord-protector in and his position resembled more and more that of an absolute ruler. Parliament had already abolished the episcopacy and the Prayer Book since the beginning of the civil war in favour of a Presbyterian system which was in fact only applied in London and Lancashire.

This religious tendency gave rise to many new communities and its most eminent member was the great English poet John Milton.

The great age of monarchy, 1648–1789

They objected to priestly robes as they wanted to purify the Church of anything ornamental. They wanted a simpler kind of liturgy and refused strict obedience to the Prayer Book.


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At the beginning of the 17th century, the puritans welcomed James 1st favourably. When he converted to Anglicanism some began to emigrate to America, but most of them remained members of the Church of England, who did not reject them. However, the puritans as we know them, renowned for their austerity, strict respect for morality and the Sabbath, did not actually form a united group. On the contrary, there were various different tendencies:.