Type: History
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The Age of Enlightenment is also known as the Age of Reason. In the 18th century, both in Europe and in America, the intellectuals stirred up a movement with the social question being uppermost in their minds. They wanted to change society by bringing about advancement in knowledge. Science was promoted and deprecation of superstition interchange in thoughts and ideas was encouraged. Starting from around the late 17th century and running through the 18th century, this movement included the names of Spinoza, Locke, Bayle, Newton, and Voltaire – coming from different streams of learning but having the common aim. The invention of the printing press facilitated the rapid spread of these ideas that led to the precipitation of this Age of Enlightenment. It dominated the scenario from 1790 to 1800 after which romanticism took hold replacing Enlightenment.

Fieldhouse (1961) noted that it took hold in different countries in different ways. In France, the salons became the centers of intellectualism with Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu holding forth. These forces rippled through the urban cities in Europe – England, states of Germany, Scotland, Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Italy, and Spain. Then, it crossed the ocean to invade America where personalities like Jefferson and Franklin came to be greatly influenced. It also had a hand in shaping the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the USA, in France the Rights of Man and Constitution in Poland-Lithunia. In France, during this period, the movement was against the government and the church; in Germany, the middle class was deeply influenced, and it took a spiritual cum nationalistic tone, but, in Britain, the leaders except for Newton were ignored. The period saw the emergence of enlightened despots – Prussia’s Fredrick the Great, Russia’s Catherine the Great, and Austria’s Joseph II.

The term of Enlightenment particularly referred to thoughts emanating from European philosophers Dubos, Kant and others. Kant referring to Enlightenment, quoted by Porter (2001), said that it was “Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error” (p.1). Historians do not agree about the specific time space this age covered – either the beginning or the middle of the 18th century. It had its roots in Discourse on Method (1637) of Descartes or maybe the Glorious Revolution of Britain (1688) with the coming out of Principia Mathematica of Newton in 1687. Historian Jonathan Israel (2001) argues that the main architect of this age was Spinoza as he was “the chief challenger of the fundamentals of revealed religion, received ideas, tradition, morality and what was everywhere regarded, in absolutist and non-absolutist states alike, as divinely constituted political authority” (p.159).

According to Fieldhouse (1961), s the roots of the Age of Enlightenment went back many years, and it also spread its branches into the future. One of the leading figures was David Ricardo (1772-1823) from England – a political economist. He has been credited with making economics systematic. Together with Malthus, Smith, and Mill he is ranked among the classical economists. Ricardo was also a financier, speculator, and entrepreneur that led him to become a very rich man. His made a contribution to the principle of comparative-advantage. It is a basic argument favoring free trade among nations; he was also in favor of individuals specializing. He said that countries mutually benefited from trade even if one had greater resources in the form of natural wealth and or skilled workers, so long as the focus was on the points of advantage.

According to Fieldhouse (1961), another titan and product of this age was Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) from Prussia. Apart from being a revolutionary socialist, Marx was an economist, historian, journalist, sociologist, and philosopher. His most notable work was the The Communist Manifesto (1848) as well as Capital (1867-1894). Friedrich Engels is linked with his name and fame. Collectively, his theory is dubbed Marxism. It states that societies can progress only through class struggle. The clash is basically between those who control production and those who produce – the labor. He was harshly critical of the prevailing socio-economic order of capitalism. 

The Rerun Novarum as a Product of the New Age of Thinking

The Rerun Novarum or On the New Things was also a product of the new age of thinking. Pope Leo XII issued this encyclical in May 1891 in the form of a letter that was open to all the bishops of the Catholic fraternity. It focused on the plight of the workers as a class. The title of this, according to Fieldhouse (1961), was “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor” (p.199). Two other persons Willhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler together with Cardinal Henry Edward Manning lend a hand in composing it. It elaborated on the relationships as well as interlinked duties connected with labor and capital, government as well as the people. The point was addressing, according to researchers Sidney Ehler and John Morrall (1967), “The misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” (p.325). This was the response of the Catholic Church following the emergence of industrialization and the debut of socialism. 

According to Zeender (1992), the German word Kulturkampf is often used to allude to the policies Germany undertook relating to secularism and the hold of the Catholic Church. Bismarck of Prussia undertook these policies (1871-1878). It did not roll over to other states like Bavaria. The Kulturkampf was a series of laws attacking the church that made the Catholics, in a minority, feel persecuted. Bismarck appealed to the liberals and to the protestants by clipping the socio-political wings of the Roman-Catholic Church. The Age of Enlightenment gave way to Imperialism – basically expanding mercantile polices of nation states. In the 19th and 20th century, the world was dominated by western forces. Japan later came to be included in its ambit. Broadly, it is the forceful imposition of the rule by the strong over the weak in all walks of life – politics, economics, culture, and society. The Age of Imperialism started in 1870. Europe spread its tentacles to make huge gains from its newly found colonies.

However, inside Europe, there was another repression going on that led to huge numbers of Poles and Irish migrating to the USA in the hope or greener pastures. Known as the Polish Diaspora, Erdmans (1995) noted that there were approximately 20 million Poles residing outside their native land; most of them are Polish Jews. In Ireland, according to Erdmans (1995), the internal contradictions led to migratory waves. In 1700, the bulk of the land was owned by absentee English landlords; the local Irish did not own even 5% of the land. The land was so poor that only potato could be cultivated. When that crop failed, famine set in. Combined with hunger and immigration, the Irish population dropped to 5 million in 1880 from 10 million in 1840. Immigration as a solution is nothing new from time immemorial. It leads to death but also to new dawns as new generations rise to the occasions reshaping history.

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