Further Understanding of the Enlightenment

Further Understanding of the Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment:
The Age of Enlightenment was driven by advancements in western
philosophy, scientific and academic understanding. After nearly constant
warfare in the preceding centuries, Europeans (now more educated in
general) began to question motivations and actions of state and church.
They began to imagine a better way of life built on pragmatism,
reasoning, fairness, individual rights (humanism), as opposed to the
years of oppression, superstition, religious fanaticism, absolutism,
tyranny, etc. As opposed to the traditional mode of thought, where the
public was thought to be destined to serve authority (Kings, Priests,
etc.), people began to reason that the state should exist to serve the
individual, in order to ensure the greatest amount of good for the
greatest number of people. This was in opposition to the
traditionally-held view of striving for the greatest amount of glory,
power and wealth for the select few. This philosophy would contribute to
the wave of revolutions throughout the Americas and Europe toward the
end of the 18th century and into the 19th century. Monarchist
governments that did survive the revolutions of the 1800s would
generally be forced to share power with a democratically-elected
parliaments.

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The Enlightenment Leads to Capitalism: As Europe was transformed
by a shift from monarchist to democratic governments, the average person
became more enfranchised in the affairs of their respective governments.
This enfranchisement of the individual also spread to the economic
realm, resulting in systems that gave the individual a greater
opportunity to share in the wealth. Under new Enlightenment ideals, it
was no longer acceptable to force the general public to buy goods at
inflated prices from government-protected monopolies, established among
and between the elite. Fair competition was seen as a much more
equitable approach, where anyone conceivably had the opportunity to
compete for business, which also gave consumers a choice, rewarding fair
pricing, sufficient quality and efficiency. Thus, Mercantilism
(protectionism, monopolistic, market manipulating, win-lose mentality)
gave way to Capitalism (free competition, free markets, win-win
mentality). It was argued that free markets would result in the greatest
degree of efficiency, as the individual pursuit of self-interest would
result in the collective good of the society. The labor class could also
benefit, by essentially selling their services, and accepting the most
attractive offer, which in turn could benefit the merchant (contrary to
previous belief) by gaining a more skilled and productive work force (as
workers had more motivation to improve themselves and work
productively). Great Britain led the way in operating as a capitalistic
economy by ending protectionism (monopolies, excessive tariffs, etc.), a
trend that spread to other western European nations. Eastern Europe
would remain behind Western Europe, as they were not able to compete in
free markets on a level playing field. Therefore, Eastern Europe
remained feudalistic. The U.S. also subscribed to the Free Market
Economy, adding another significant trade partner for Great Britain and
other Western European nations. However, it was not applied in all
participating nations equally. France was a more elitist society than
Great Britain, with a much less-educated middle/lower class. Elitist
policies bred inefficiencies, contributing to economic collapse that
helped bring about the French Revolution. Also, Great Britain did not
always extend its capitalistic ideals to its colonies. Forcing American
colonies to buy from government-backed monopolies helped cause the
American Revolutionary War.

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Industrial Revolution: Capitalism coincided with the rise of the
Industrial Revolution as production became much more efficient, a
natural development in a capitalistic system. The Industrial Revolution
began in Great Britain in the late 1700s, and spread throughout the rest
of Europe, U.S. and Japan from there. Great Britain had a well-educated
middle/low class, access to generous coal deposits, and a dense
population without room to expand (forcing innovation to sustain).
Furthermore, Britain was less ravaged by the wars that severely
inflicted continental Europe. It also had (by far) the most powerful
navy and adept commercial fleet, enabling a competitive advantage in
international trade, further fueling the Industrial Revolution. France
would lag behind, since it had a top-caliber upper class, but an
uneducated lower-class, and would be ravaged by war in its near abroad
and on it own soil, as was also the case with much of the rest of
continental Europe. France also lacked sufficient coal deposits. Germany
would not experience the industrial revolution until late in the 1800s,
as it was still fragmented, and tariffs existed between principalities,
resulting in a more backward economy which was not conducive to
sophisticated advancements. Italy would not be involved either, as it
was still a divided, foreign-ruled nation. Up until this time, the
Netherlands was the wealthiest nation, but upon being militarily
devastated by both Great Britain and France, and not being able to keep
up during the Industrial Revolution (lack of coal deposits), it fell
behind.

Fervent Nationalism: Major powers
developed insatiable appetites for expansion, gaining resources, wealth,
military build up, and power. The mercantilistic mind set dictated that
nations cannot exist harmoniously with one another in the same
proximity. One must completely triumph over the other. Therefore, it was
critical to gain at the expense of rivals, leading to conflict on the
continent and abroad, which fed uninhibited colonial expansion. In the
pre-capitalist, pre-democratic era, wealth was used to create war
machines instead of promoting the greatest amount of good for the
greatest amount of people, such as humanistic/social causes or economic
development. Great Britain-French conflicts were a prime example. With
vast amounts of land in America, they still fought each other (along
with the natives) as though it were a zero-sum game (fight until
somebody wins everything), rather than coexisting, with everyone
prospering due to the vast amount of land and resources available for
all. This culminated into first “global war” (French & Indian War which
dovetailed into the War of the Grand Alliance). In this case, Great
Brtain rose to become the world’s greatest super power, while France was
devastated, leading to the French Revolution at the end of the
1700s.

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