The Enlightenment History Essay Example

The Enlightenment (the Age of Enlightenment/Age of Reason) was purely a cultural movement of intellectuals in the mid 17th and 18th centuries. This began first in Europe and later found its way into the American colonies. Its main purpose was to alter the way of thinking using reason and challenge ideas in tradition and faith. It also played the role of advancing knowledge using scientific methods. It promoted scientific way of thinking, intellectual interchange and skepticism. The Enlightenment opposed all forms of intolerance, superstition and some abuses of power by the state and the church.

The provenance of the age of reason lies in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. This unique, revolutionary way of living had the backing of many philosophers. Most these philosophers included Baruch Spinoza, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire. Most ruling princes often supported and made attempts of applying the ideologies in the Enlightenment revolution in their own governments. This had the identity of Enlightened Despotism.

To a large extent, the Scientific Revolution has very close ties with the Enlightenment. Its discoveries did overturn various traditional concepts and brought different perspectives on man’s place and nature within it. The Enlightenment blossomed until about 1790–1800.  After this period, the emphasis on reason led to the Romanticism’s emphasis on emotion. In this manner, Counter-Enlightenment garnered further support (“The Enlightenment” n.d.).


Among the new political philosophies of the Enlightenment was that of the Englishman, John Locke. He expressed the contract theory of governance. Locke said that there was a contract between the government and the people; that the people were sovereign and had fashioned government in so as to meet certain political needs. As long as the government served those needs, it was worthy of the support of the citizens. However, when the government failed to fulfill its promise, the people had no obligation of supporting it. The people should replace that government with another. This Englishman expressed his ideas following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The philosophy appears to be a justification for those political actions.

Similarly, the political circumstances in France gave motivation to Montesquieu to write the “Spirit of the Laws”. In his writing, he advocated   for separation of powers as a way of preventing power abuse. This man was an aristocrat who viewed the power exercised of regional parliaments as a superb way of controlling the power monarchical powers.

In a unique way, Voltaire provided one of the most outstanding representations of the Enlightenment. His political philosophy offered much support to absolute monarchy. He, however, wrote in favor of an “enlightened” style of absolutism. Voltaire is also famous for his advocacy of dissident ideas and tolerance for different people. He supported strongly the idea of freedom of expression and religious freedom.

After years of flourishing and significant, there came a time when the Enlightenment elicited sharp reactions from different philosophical minds. They challenged the ideologies in the context of the Enlightenment way of thinking. Many people, including David Hume, questioned the Enlightenment faith in reason as the sole means to progress. He suggested that the driving force for people to exercise had its firm anchor within their desires and needs. In another skeptical analysis of the Enlightenment, Jean Jacques Rousseau blankly departs from this perspective, suggesting that civilization is largely corrupting to the minds of the people. This diminishes any optimism in the Enlightenment faith and brings a serious challenge to the fundamental pillars of the movement. There is a perception that the Enlightenment undermined the general will of the people. Although, it started well, the end was a concoction of bitter skepticism and diverse opinion about the movement (“The Enlightenment” n.d.).

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon was a French, political and military leader who soared to prominence in the final stages of the famous French Revolution. As Napoleon I, he reined from the year 1804 to the year 1815. People fondly remember this legendary ruler of France for his spirited fight against different coalitions that waged wars against France during his time. The wars had the prominent recognition of Napoleonic wars.

To a large extent, Napoleon is a child of the French Revolution. He set up hegemony over most of the continental Europe and purposed to advocate for the embracing of the ideals and ideology of the French Revolution. When he took the leadership mantle of the nation of France, Napoleon did commendably well by keeping some of the revolutionary reforms. They included the upholding of the people’s right to keep the land that had been grabbed from the Church, for instance.  He also fostered the idea of “career open to talents” and people’s equality before the laws of the land (Schom 1998).

Napoleon’s legal reform, the famous Napoleonic Code, has always been a major influence on many civil law jurisdictions universally. However, many people around the world give napoleon the sole credit for his successful, courageous fight against his foes in a series of fierce wars. As a result of his immense success in those wars, often against numerically superior adversaries, people generally regard Napoleon as one of the leading military commanders of all time. His campaigns have found adoration in many military academies not only in Europe but also the entire world.

At the same time, he made tremendous efforts of consolidating an imperial monarchy that rebuilt aspects of the ousted ancient regime, or simply, the pre-revolutionary era. He reintroduced the unbearably strict censorship and the nasty imprisonment without trial. During napoleon’s tenure as France’s top leader, the elected, legislative bodies existed for that virtue of existing. However, he withdrew all the powers of such bodies and amassed all of it to himself. His upheld the imperial rule which made him more or less the same as the pre-revolutionary leaders of France. He conferred full authority to the male individuals as heads of their families. He withdrew the women’s rights that the Revolution secured for them. He did this in totality, leaving female members of the society under the mercy of the male counterparts. This tarnishes his image as a man who had lost track of the intention and of his course to nurture and safeguard the ideals of the French revolution.

Napoleon’s Goals

Napoleon fought relentlessly against the enemies of France, and ruled his country almost totally, by imperial decree. He ensured he had a firm grip on the affairs in his own backyard while trying to spread the influence of the French Empire in the continental Europe. He had the powers in his hands, and made sure there was little or no anti-Napoleon force that could derail his international missions of conquest. Therefore, what were his goals?

Napoleon did not fight blindly. He had goals in mind. Generally, he wanted to build France in the same manner as the Roman Empire. He desired to have an empire full of greatness, national pride, many colonies and a massive territory. He also had the noble goal of living to the expectations and ideals of the French Revolution (Harvey 2006).

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