Unit 4 - Scientific, Philosophical, and Political Developments
This chapter focuses on the bigger picture of the 18th century- what was occurring in Europe around the Enlightenment? The 1700's may have been a century of groundbreaking new philosophies, but how much did change really occur? And when it did occur, whom did it benefit? Overall, European states remained monarchies with divine right justification, but many European monarchs began to embrace Enlightenment ideals, even if they did not always "practice what they preached". Some notable enlightened despots included Frederick the Great of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria, and Catherine the Great of Russia. This development began to open the gates for major changes that would occur at the end of the 18th century in the form of revolutions and lay the groundwork for the mother of all revolutions- the French Revolution of 1789. The 1700's was also a century known for some of the very first "modern" international trade wars, in particular the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War. These conflicts were largely the result of 17th century mentalities of mercantilism and absolutism, but would have consequences that would usher in new regimes all over the world. And finally, while major changes seemed to be occurring in the upper classes, for the rest of European society, change came slowly. While there were some changes in the European economy and agriculture, most of society remained relatively unchanged. The aristocracy dominated social and economic life, and the peasants remained poor for the most part. Europe maintained its system of estates, the ancient regime, alive and well, and would not begin to crumble until the French Revolution
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual "awakening" that took place in the 18th century. It was the product of new ways of thinking, inspired first by the Scientific Revolution and the changing world of the industrial age. Intellectuals once again, as they had in the Renaissance and the Age of Science, began to question what was known to be true- this time about government, politics, religion, and humanity itself. Most prominent among these ideas was that the "human condition" cold be improved through science, education, philosophy, economic growth, and political reform. These changing attitudes will inspire revolutionary ideas that will change the world and usher in the modern age. Indeed, the age of revolutions, including North America, France, Latin America, and the whole of Europe, will catch the revolutionary fever that is the product of intellectual enlightenment.