Skip to comments.Legacy of the 18th-Century Enlightenment Movement for Today's Problems
Posted on 01/02/2007 11:48:57 AM PST by G. Stolyarov II
The 18th-century Enlightenment was the single most important intellectual development in human history; it made possible the comfortable, prosperous, stable, and relatively free Western civilization that we enjoy today.
Enlightenment thinkers believed in a single, knowable, absolute reality guided by rational natural laws. Individualssaid Enlightenment thinkershad the faculty of reason, which enabled them to accurately understand the absolute reality. Using reason, individuals could understand not only the factual data of reality but a rational moral system which would instruct them on how they ought to behave.
The Enlightenment cultivated the rights of every human being to his life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. Enlightenment thinkers insisted that no oneneither private criminals nor the governmentought to violate these rights. These rights are derived from nature, not from other peoplehence the name natural rights. Natural rights cannot be taken away; they can only be violated, and their violation is the ultimate immorality.
The Enlightenment advanced mans liberty to speak his mind and publish his thoughts using his own property; it decried government censorship and the use force against free expression of ideas. The Enlightenment rebelled against religious bigotry and intolerance; it advocated every individuals freedom to pursue whatever non-coercive religion he saw fitor to refrain from religious pursuits altogether. The State should not control religion or morality; both should be left to the private domain.
Enlightenment thinkers advocated freedom of individual association and full-fledged property rights. This implied a conviction that individuals should be allowed to trade freely with one another and voluntarily produce goods, services, and ideas on a free market. The State should not regulate commerce or dictate its objectives; rather, laissez-faire capitalism is the only economic system consistent with individual natural rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. Laissez-faire capitalismthrough Adam Smiths famous invisible hand of the marketplacewould produce far superior results to a government-managed economy.
The Enlightenment led to an era of shrinking government, expanding liberty, increased toleration, and immensely amplified commercial freedom. Creative entrepreneurs and thinkers benefited from the Enlightenment; they used their new liberties to invent new technologies and ideasthereby initiating the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries is largely responsible for the unprecedented prosperity, peace, and opportunity we enjoy today.
Unfortunatelywhile the Enlightenments material legacies remain with us todaytodays mainstream culture has largely rejected the ideas which motivated the Enlightenment. If we wish to continue to progress and enjoy lives proper to man, we need to save and revive the Enlightenments principles.
G. Stolyarov II,
Thank you for the article. We could learn some things from those great minds.
One of my favorites, Ralph Waldo Emerson, from "Self Reliance"
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.--"Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood."--Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. . . ."
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