How Did the Enlightenment Impact Society?
Enlightenment impacted society by introducing the idea that mankind could use reason to discover the laws of the world and the rights of mankind. These ideals affected all factions of society, from politics to religion.
A Break With the Past During the Enlightenment, philosophers challenged the previously held beliefs in superstition, God and the absolute authority to a monarch. For example, the ancient Greeks believed that stars and planets roamed the sky as they followed the gods. Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated that another, natural force kept the planets in orbit. Even Cotton Mather, the Puritan minister who advocated for the execution of witches in New England promoted the smallpox vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease after he studied the available scientific material describing the benefits of inoculation.
A New Authority Before the Enlightenment, people believed that God placed certain people in authority, and they did not question the king’s or emperor’s rule. John Locke introduced the concept that people had the power to change the government if it did not fulfill its duties to the people. Rousseau also asserted that government should make decisions based on what the people wanted. Baron de Montesquieu argued that no single person should have all the authority, and governments instead should divide into different branches. These ideas appealed to people who started to doubt the existence of God and question why a being so powerful placed inept and corrupt people in power.
The Changing Map of the World A group of men in the British colonies in North America followed the theories introduced during the Enlightenment, drawing upon the ideas of Locke and Rousseau to gain support for independence from Great Britain. In fact, the Declaration of Independence clearly uses some of the trending ideas of the era as it argues that the British government no longer meets the needs of the colonists and posits that humans have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It also turned de Montesquieu’s ideas about government when developing the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the United States government.
One result of the American Revolution was the dissolution of monarchies across Europe. Ten years later, war broke out in France. The people, encouraged by the success of the Americans got rid of the monarchy and established a government based on the ideas of liberty and equality. A similar revolt happened in the French-controlled island of Haiti, leading to the first successful revolution in the Caribbean. Similar transitions took place in Ireland, Italy and Germany as the countries established their own independent governments designed to reflect the will of the people.
A New Economy The Enlightenment introduced to the world the concept of laissez-faire economics and the benefits of limited government intervention in the economy. Scholars argued that people because wealthy by making use of available resources and letting the laws of supply and demand assign a value to goods and services. As demand increases, people buy more of a product or service. When supply drops, manufacturers command more money for their products. If supply increases, prices drop as there is less demand for the abundant goods and services.