Principles of the Enlightenment

Margarita Arnold HIS 112-100M Critical Essay #1 The three fundamental principles of the Enlightenment listed in the text of Traditions and Encounters are popular sovereignty, individual freedom, and political and legal equality. According to Gombrich, the author of the A Little History of the World, the three fundamental principles of the Enlightenment are tolerance, reason, and humanity. Traditions and Encounters describes popular sovereignty as a “contract between the rulers and the ruled” (623).

The king or monarch is a representative of the people who has political rights, but the people hold their personal rights to life, liberty, and property. Individual freedom principle ties in to the personal right of liberty as a freedom of speech with no censorship. Political and legal equality states that everyone should be regarded as equals not matter what their profession is. Individuals should participate in creating laws and policy. If there is no general representative elected, then the people would act as representatives.

This is a laissez faire thought- leave us be or let us do, although not mentioned in Traditions and Encounters as one of the fundamental principles. Laissez faire thought, meaning about the state of French commerce, did come after the Enlightenment, a little before the French revolution. Laissez faire encompasses the three fundamental principles in one thought: leave the people be. A Little History of the World states that tolerance, or common sense could unite all men and all beliefs “should be respected and tolerated” (214).

Reason explained nature and paranormal things such as witchcraft. Gombrich proclaims that reason “is given in equal measure to all mankind the world over” (215). Human dignity prohibits a person to be publically humiliated. This meant that people could not be marked as criminals by branding or cutting of limbs. From Traditions and Encounters and A Little History of the World individual freedom and tolerance could be compared as the same principle on the basis of tolerance could be regarded as the right to free speech and common sense that all people deserve.

Gombrich pairs reason and tolerance in the same category, whereas they are quite different by reason meaning that things in nature could be explained by trial and error. Gombrich credits Frederick the Great as the bravest king to embrace the Enlightenment ideas because he wanted to make Prussia “a model state” (217). Gombrich’s assessment of Frederick the Great in A Little History of the World is accurately stated, because Frederick the Great did support the Enlightenment and made things easier for his people.

He was still a king of course, and any tried to do what any king would: “to make Prussia the mightiest of all the German states” (217) The correlation between the Enlightenment and the revolutions are the ideas that the general population could have these rights of freedom, equality, popular sovereignty, and tolerance. Revolution comes after people realize that human rights are not administrated properly with great merits to John Locke, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who were courageous enough to speak out in those turbulent times. The Enlightenment did not single handedly cause the French or American revolutions.

The French revolution occurred because of unrests in the middle and lower classes, lack of funds due to Seven Years War and the overindulgent spending of the monarchs. The American leaders were also influenced by the Enlightenment, and fought against their oppressor- England. Equality, freedom of speech and of the press, and religious tolerance are all Enlightenment ideas that were assimilated into the core and the laws of America. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote about the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

These ideas resonate John Locke’s argument in where individuals are the governors and that “the governments derive their power and authority from ‘the consent of the governed’” as stated in Traditions and Encounters, 625. These Enlightenment beliefs led unswervingly to the American Revolution, in which the colonists gained control over their own futures and the future of America. The American Revolution was especially productive, because it led to the establishment of a government by the people and for the people.

The French and American Revolutions proved to the world that monarchs and overlords could be dethroned and that the common man, through reason, could attain his freedom. Without these revolutions, Europe would be stuck in an archaic system of monarchs and the Catholic Church ruling through fear and oppression. The differences between the American and French revolutions are that the colonies were revolting against an overseas king, while the lower class French were revolting against their king. The American Revolution revolted against England, while the French Revolution revolted gainst France, Prussia, Austria, Spain, Britain, and the Netherlands as stated in Traditions and Encounters, 629. The French Revolution and American Revolution were fought in different parts of the world, as well as continents. The French Revolution was by far bloodier with the use of the guillotine, but lacked self-government as described in Traditions and Encounters. Gombrich’s description of the French Revolution in and A Little History of the World is a very violent revolution, which started with a very amusing characterization of the royalty.

The kings of France “were incompetent, and content merely to imitate their great predecessor’s outward show of power” through “pomp and magnificence” (220). The kings of France were the only ones that did not live in a reality of the Enlightenment. Through the National Assembly, “terror [was] spread among the enemies of Reason” (225) and executions of the royalty such as King Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette prevailed. During the French Revolution, a new violent party emerged named the Jacobins.

According to A Little History of the World, the Jacobins were “not only against the aristocrats: they were against anybody who disagreed with them, and anyone who crossed them lost his head” (224). One of the leaders of the Jacobins was Robespierre, a “stiff, sober and dry lawyer” (225) who always spoke about virtue. Robespierre was an insuppressible human being with a love for condemning people’s heads to the guillotine. Robespierre at first announced Christianity was an ancient superstition, then accepted God and declared himself as the priest of the Supreme Being.

Traditions and Encounters compared to A Little History of the World Does not describe Robespierre the same way as Gombrich does. Robespierre is portrayed in Traditions and Encounters as a “popular radical” (629) who tried to eliminate Christianity and establish a cult of reason in place of Christianity with new calendar days and year. The Jacobins allowed some rights for women such as property rights, and divorce. It was not mentioned in A Little History of the World that Robespierre died by his favorite execution method: the guillotine.

Robespierre was one of the leaders of the Jacobins, and he advanced the ideas of the Enlightenment through the Revolution. Robespierre advanced the Enlightenment through the reign of the Jacobins, and the use of the guillotine, sending people to their deaths who still believed in monarchy. After the French really saw what he had done, his reign of terror has gone too far, Robespierre was sent to guillotine by his own people that he liberated.

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