Ancient history


Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emerged in Europe, in the 18th century, and caused profound changes in that continent.

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emerged in Europe, in the 18th century, and defended the valorization of reason as a way to guarantee the progress of humanity. He questioned the values ​​and authorities of his time, such as faith and absolutism. He was also opposed to mercantilism and advocated new economic models.

Among the main Enlightenment thinkers were Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire. The works of these and other Enlightenment thinkers pointed to the limitation of real power, equality and freedom of men, among other values. Enlightenment ideals inspired transformations in Europe and America, including Brazil.

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Enlightenment Summary

  • The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emerged in Europe in the 18th century.
  • Its adherents were critical of absolutism and advocated limiting royal power.
  • Among his prominent names were Rousseau, Adam Smith and Montesquieu.
  • They were critical of mercantilism and government interference in the economy, as they believed in the free market.
  • The ideals of the movement catalyzed change in many parts of the world.

Video Lesson on the Enlightenment

What was the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emerged in Europe in the 18th century , responsible for a major transformation in European culture. Also known as the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment made the 18th century known as the “Century of Enlightenment”, such was the influence of these ideals on Europe during this period.

The Enlightenment proposed profound changes in several areas, such as politics, economy, society, culture, religion, among other fields. It is important to mention that, before the 18th century, there was an intellectual movement that had names like Francis Bacon and René Descartes and was understood by some as part of the Enlightenment. Other historians, however, do not include them as Enlightenment thinkers.

The Enlightenment claimed that they would enlighten the minds of the people of their century. This gave the movement its name, which is directly associated with the word “light”. Enlightenment ideas propagated a great valuation of human reason and that it should have more importance than faith, besides being the guide of humanity in the direction of progress.

They rejected traditions and beliefs that had no scientific basis and sought to use reason to explain the phenomena of nature. They also questioned the Church's control over society in which they lived and criticized religious intolerance.

The Enlightenment's belief in human progress caused them to be seen as optimists, because they believed that rationalism and scientific development would allow for the full development of humanity and a just society (within their parameters of fairness).

Also, the Enlightenment criticized absolutism , questioned the economic principles of their time, asserted that all men should be considered equal and, therefore, opposed the privileges of their society. They defended the separation of State and Church, and encouraged the spread of human knowledge.

Enlightenment Thinkers

Among the great Enlightenment thinkers, stood out:

  • Rousseau;
  • Voltaire;
  • Montesquieu;
  • Adam Smith.

Main ideas of the Enlightenment

  • Questions from the Enlightenment to absolutism

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement openly critical of absolutism , the predominant form of government in 18th century Europe. In this system, power was concentrated in the hands of the monarch, who ruled with an iron fist. The absolutist society was also unequal, formed by status social classes and by privileges for some classes.

The Enlightenment was primarily influential in France, the very country that had the best-known absolutist monarchs. French kings ruled their kingdom with unlimited powers and there was no room for questioning their decisions. The Illuminists went against this characteristic of French society and defended ways to limit royal power .

They proposed that this limitation occur through a Congress, which would be elected by the people and responsible for drafting a Constitution, a document that would serve as the basis of a nation, bringing the rights and duties of everyone within the State.

The Enlightenment also questioned the absence of freedom within his society, because, as mentioned, there was no room for contesting the monarch's will. Thus, they were defenders of freedom of expression and the right of citizens to criticize authorities when appropriate.

They defended the right to freedom of assembly so they could debate their ideas without fear of reprisal, and they defended religious freedom because they did not agree with the persecutions that took place because of differences between religions. These ideals had strong support from the bourgeoisie, the group that identified that they could be beneficial in their social and economic ascension.

  • Enlightenment proposals for the economy

The Enlightenment also proposed changes to the economy and were critical of the practices of the mercantilism and the constant interference of the State on the economy. These criticisms were in the interest of the bourgeoisie, involved with commerce, which would like to see free from the regulations imposed by the State.

The Enlightenment advocated that in economics the state should not interfere and that the market should regulate itself. According to them, state interference only hindered free enterprise and they impeded the development of commerce and the enrichment of the people. They encouraged free enterprise and championed free trade and free competition.

These ideas became known as economic liberalism , and its main formulator was the economist Adam Smith. There was also space for other proposals to be formulated for the economy. The French economist François Quesnay, for example, defended the idea that agriculture would be the great generator of wealth for a nation.

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Repercussions of the Enlightenment

Absolutist ideals resonated greatly in Europe and spread elsewhere , arriving in America, for example. Great transformations took place through them and great events were inspired by them. Our contemporary world was built on Enlightenment ideas.

The economic proposals formulated by Adam Smith, by example, contributed to the formation of capitalism , and economic liberalism was very influential in the world economy until the Great Depression.

The Enlightenment proposals for religion, for example, were important for the popularization of the idea of ​​a secular State , that is, that it does not interfere in religious affairs and guarantees religious freedom for its population.

In politics, the Enlightenment helped to implode absolutism, leading to the emergence of new forms of government in which there was a limitation of the ruler's power. Many European nations adopted constitutional monarchies as an alternative. In this model, the monarch's power is limited by a Constitution.

Also, events marking were directly influenced by these ideals. Among them, the following stand out:

  • American Revolution;
  • French Revolution;
  • Haitian Revolution;
  • independence of the countries of Spanish America.

→ Enlightenment in Brazil

In Brazil, the Enlightenment took place through the questioning of the colonial pact established by the Portuguese. The movement penetrated the country mainly through the Brazilian economic elites who sent their children to study in places like the University of Coimbra.

There, they came into contact with Enlightenment ideals and brought them to Brazil. The Enlightenment ideas here made their supporters defend the end of colonialism, aiming at the equalization of the status of Portugal and Brazil, but many began to defend separatism, with the formation of a republic that reproduced the Enlightenment values ​​in the country.

The Brazilian Enlightenment still fomented a series of revolts against colonial rule , of which the Inconfidência Mineira and the Conjuração Baiana stand out.

Image credits

[1] Naci Yavuz and Shutterstock

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