The Age of Enlightenment Critical Thinking Essay Example

The Age of Enlightenment

Perhaps, every historical event has an ideological basis that became an inspiration for social and economical changes. The age of Enlightenment became a turning point in further development of European and American countries. The entire set of values underwent significant reforms from 1685 to 1815, which mark the beginning and the end of the Enlightenment period.

It was also called the Age of Reason, which emphasized the priority logic and reason gained comparing to the dominant religious thought of the previous centuries. In fact, it was the return to the classical Antique view upon the surrounding reality, the Renaissance. The approach that was actively applied by the ideologists of the 18th century reformed the society in many aspects. It is possible to state that these changes soon led to the series of revolutions in Europe (the French revolution) and in America (Zinn 45-47).

The concepts introduced during the Enlightenment period challenged the authority and doubted whether someone had a natural right to rule the others. After that the notion of equality became an essential part in the political discourse of the time. In addition, the idea of pre-destination, that everything had already been planned by God, was replaced with the idea that a human being had all possibilities to make his/her life better. Everything was considered to be in the hands of people, who could achieve the heights that were previously impossible even to imagine. The progress depends mainly on the development of reason and education that has to be available for people from all levels of society.

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In my opinion, the progress was inevitable. It is impossible to live for many centuries under the pressure of religion. No matter how positive the moral religious lessons are, religion hampers scientific progress and makes the society even more traditional and opposed even to minor changes. It is really strange nowadays to think about the times when people had to fight for equal education for all people and it was not a fact that all people were born with the same rights. It required much time and effort to understand these issues. Some countries went through the difficult period of changes without bloodshed revolutions, in other countries people had to die for liberty, equality, and fraternity, like the French revolutionaries.

In fact, not only the philosophical thought developed actively during the Enlightenment period. It changed the human world view in the way that industry started to rise. Manual work was partly automatized and the overall productivity increased greatly. People had hope that soon everything would change for the better, and their future generations would live in a new industrialized era. The science would be the guide that would show people where to go, and this direction would be better than the way of religion.

A peculiar thing is that even though the humankind followed the route that was shown by the science, it did not found absolute happiness. Progress created electricity available for everyone, but it also created nuclear weapons that can destroy the entire planet. Christians do not start military campaigns against Muslims like the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Though, nowadays Muslims do the same against the traditionally Christian world. In fact we are living in the 21st century, when the reason, introduced by the philosophers of Enlightenment, is an absolute. Though I fear to think about negative achievements of the centuries of reason. There are now numerous ways to kill people and the world seems to be very cruel. History makes me think whether this negative side is an indispensable part of progress and whether it is possible to predict the way humans develop.

The American Revolution

America was a comparatively liberal and free country, comparing to the states of old Europe. The taxes were definitely lower than in other countries and there were more possibilities to find employment. Though, the major businessmen of America were not content with the fact that they had to send something to Great Britain and to ask the Parliament that is thousand of miles away from them, how they should live and trade. In fact, the Revolution started from the boycotts of import to Great Britain and from defying taxes.

There might have not been precedents in the world history that the entire nation would participate in mass slaughter to guard economical interests of serious businessmen. That is why “the legend”, the ideologically right background, was created and popularized via mass media of that time. People started to fight for the equality of rights, for sovereign state, that might definitely be more just and give them the possibility for self-determination (Headrick 65-71).

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When I read about it, I thought about the importance of the press in the war campaign. It has definitely enormous power and those who control the mass media control the minds of the entire population. It is impossible to imagine that people will participate in the war when no one tries to ruin their own house. The abstract ideas about liberty, equality or a free sovereign state are too abstract for a person who lives in comparatively normal conditions. The press has to show them that the notion of a sovereign state is something that is extremely important for every person. Usually the mass media copes with this task professionally and still continues to improve its skills.

Every time I read or watch news, I think about my total disorientation in the informational chaos. Nowadays there are too many sources of information, and I assume that nearly 90 percent of it is false. It is the white noise that gives me too many ads and gives nothing in reality, because free press is nothing but a means of giving the right information controlled by the most influential groups of people. Such ideas make me feel paranoid and the lessons from the past, like the example of how the press made the Americans think that they had to kill other people for abstract ideas, make me shudder.

It is necessary to mention that not all people were fighting for the ghost of abstraction during the American Revolution. Certain groups of people were really searching for freedom, because they were not even treated like humans. The African Americans are the most well-known example of such fight. It is ideologically right and quite banal to mention that the African slaves fought for their rights and freedom during the American Revolution, and after that the United States became the realm of democracy and equal rights. Though, every time when someone mentions the results of the abolitionist movement, I recall that approximately 50 years ago the black Americans were not treated as equal humans. In theory, they were claimed to be free and had the right to live just like the white Americans. In reality the social segregation and the decreased life opportunities made their lives only slightly better than those of slaves. It was only several decades ago, and people who remember these days are still alive.

Such issues make me doubt positive results of the American Revolution and its effect on building the liberal state. In addition, the causes and the effects of the American Revolution provoke many questions when the details are mentioned.

Communism, Marxism and New Economical Order

In 1846 Marx and Engels published their work Communist Manifesto and it changed economical and political course of European countries for the next century. After the beginning of the industrialization era that started during the Enlightenment period the conditions of work did not undergo significant changes. Working people were as poor as they were when they were servants, and the ruling elite became even richer. The aristocracy was still the dominant social class and the workers were exploited in nonhuman conditions (Judge and Langdon 80).

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According to Marxist structuralism, society is divided into classes and the economic development has the crucial impact on the present state of things throughout history. According to Marxism, each epoch creates the dominant economic class that rules the other layers of the society. The liberal and the realist ideas were created by ruling elite to justify and explain why other people were poor and unequal. That is why all international organizations were established by the wealthiest people in the world to control the natural resources, the money and the power.

Marx and Engels proclaimed the idea of never ending revolution that could change the ruling elite every time it forgets that all the wealth is produced by workers. The working class, in its turn, had nothing to lose but the chains (Zinn 75).

These ideas can be easily applied to modern politics and situation on the international arena. According to Marxist theory, the countries of the “third world” were not always that poor. They had had the wealth before capitalists came and took everything away from them. This idea sounds quite strange, because it gives people a false explanation of who is to blame for their problems. It often leads to aggression towards the countries that are wealthier and can be an explanation of the terroristic phenomenon. The level of welfare in the countries of the Middle East is generally not very high. Many countries are poor and destroyed by civil wars. The external enemy can become the reason for pessimistic economic situation in their native state and it might cause aggression, for example, an outburst of terrorism.

Marxist approach is oriented towards globalization and creation of one powerful international system. The ideological component that needs to be used to attract people to Marxism is supposed to be very important. The idea that everybody will be equal, and there will be no rich and poor people in the world is quite attractive for the majority of people who are far from being wealthy.

Thus, the ideas taken from the Communist Manifesto led to a series of communist revolutions. In some countries, for example the Soviet Union, communism became the dominant ideology. In European countries it led to the appearance of the middle class and to the improvement of working conditions. In fact, the Communist Manifesto set the new economic and social order in the world.

Social Darwinism

The ideas of Darwinism and Social Darwinism became a scientific and philosophical basis for labor exploitation of black Americans by rising industrialists in the United States after the Civil War. It became a convenient explanation of the racist ideas that were popular in the second half of the 19th century and it seems to be really horrible to me.

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According to Darwinist ideas, natural selection is the main issue that determines evolution. That means that only the strongest has the right to survive. Darwinism does not consider a human being to be a creation of God and does not take into account the inner desire of a person to grow. Social Darwinism takes the ideas of Darwinism about humans and animals in the wild nature, and applies them to the specific social context. According to it, white Americans had a hereditary superiority over former black slaves, and that is why they had the right to rule in the United States. In addition, the theory of Social Darwinist supposed that if there were too many people in the world and there were not enough food for them, the poor would have to die, because they were worse than the rich. The capitalistic reality that was actively developing in the late 19th century became a bright example that supported the idea that people were living in the tough wild world.

After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, approximately 6 million of black Americans started moving from the South of the country to the North. The Northern states were more urbanized, comparing to the rural Southern part of the US, and the attitude to colored minorities was better there in the beginning of the Great Migration.

However, with the time the situation became more difficult in the industrialized North. The economical rise attracted not only the blacks, but also the immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland. This led to the severe rivalry between the ethnic groups and the “native” white Americans who preferred to give a work place to white immigrants rather that to African Americans. The black people were not allowed to participate in the working unions that guaranteed the legal side of their employment. That is why they could be fired without any explanations.

The African Americans were not educated, because they had been living in the rural South and working on plantations all their lives. This issue decreased their humble possibilities for employment and as the result many of the blacks became servants and household personnel. Their children had no possibility for growth in the city. They were placed in all-black schools, where they were taught to read, write and work with their hands. The educational schedule of white children was not for their black peers. African Americans were considered unable to learn a foreign language, literature or mathematics (Judge and Langdon 146-153).

These issues were extremely humiliating. They all emphasize the racist ideas that the black color of skin is automatically connected with low intellect and inability to study. They were not considered to be the same human beings as the whites were, and that is why it was normal to pay them less, not to allow their children to study and to make the whole ethnic group live in a reservation. The prejudice was easily explained by popular scientific ideas of Darwinism and Social Darwinism. From one point of view, it was a new word in science, but from another it was the way to preserve racist tradition.

Rise of Modern Medicine

The past of the humankind is full of wars and deaths. People risked dying mostly from everything. Giving birth was risky, everyone died from pneumonia and the overall anti hygiene conditions of living condemned people to fall morbidly ill. The 19th century became a turning point in contemporary medicine. Practical medicine underwent significant influence from the side of the actively developing science. Anesthesia was introduced and since that time surgery became less painful and the fatal results became less rare, because patients did not die from shock. Until the middle of the 19th century hygiene was considered to be unnecessary during surgery. As the result the patients often lost wounded parts of their bodies because of gangrene or even died from it. The miasma in the air caused the disease.

Microbiology also developed in that period of time. Louis Pasteur found that the products could be spoiled because of the microbes that lived there. To prevent them from spoiling and to kill microbes he proposed to boil food. The method of pasteurizing was applied not only to products, but also to the instruments in surgery, which made them sterile (Judge and Langdon 210-213).

All these things seem to be usual nowadays and it is difficult to imagine that slightly more than a century ago it was the revolution in the medicine. The insight into the details of history gives me an opportunity to understand the context of the historical events and their causes and effects better. The reaction with which the revolutions in thinking were or were not accepted is also crucial to understanding, because it gives an insight into deep levels of human nature, that try to oppose changes in general.

This history course helped me to improve my critical thinking skills. I tried to question the reasons and the possible effects of the historical events that I read about. In addition, I made an attempt to evaluate them from the moral point of view and to apply them to our contemporary reality. As the result, I understood that it was impossible to give the only answer whether something was positive or negative. Every event and detail in history had both advantages and disadvantages. This subjective factor is crucial to remember in order to avoid biased estimates.