The Enlightenment – The Great ‘Age of Reason’

Considered as a profound turning point in the intellectual history of the West, the era of Enlightenment was both a movement and a state of mind to those who sought logic and reason to contradict the then ever-present traditional beliefs.

The principal targets of these thinkers were religion (the Catholic Church in France) and the hereditary aristocracy’s hegemony of society. During the early years of the 18th century, a movement parallel to scientific advancement, for political revolution erupted in France. Denis Diderot, for example, linked reason to the conservation of virtue and its ability to check potentially harmful human passions in his writings. Similarly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s profoundly influential works argued that man was born free and intelligent, but was imprisoned by the limits imposed on society by governments. True political sovereignty, he believed, remained in the hands of the people as long as the rule of law was properly maintained by a democratically endorsed government: a radical political theory that came to influence the United States later. 

The Enlightenment encouraged people to criticize the monarchy (then King Louis XVI) and corrupt nobles. Philosophers accused Rococo art of being immoral and vulgar because Rococo artists and architects adopted a more humorous, floral and elegant approach to the Baroque style. It was an art form with deep-rooted playful and witty themes, just like a theme borrowed from a classic love story. This motivated the “enlightened” philosophers to promote a new kind of art, which was moral rather than immoral and taught people right from wrong.

This new art form called “neoclassicism” attempts to present classical ideals and themes in a style derived from classical Greek and Roman origin. The neoclassical painting reflects the frozen shape of ancient relief sculpture, compact composition, and shallow space. Artists and intellectuals inspired by classical history made contributions to early neoclassicism, which was not only a way of looking at the world but was also a visual style. As we know, the two main targets under critical appraisal during the Enlightenment were the government and religious authorities. Many Enlightenment thinkers waged fierce campaigns against restrictions on freedom (such as censorship, discrimination, etc.) and religious interference in public affairs (such as law, education, government). These called for reforms, and they were put forth by some of the most eloquent writers in history, which is why the Enlightenment is also known as the golden age of satire. 

The two main well-renown writers in Enlightenment satire were Voltaire (French) and Swift (English). Voltaire fought against various forms of injustice, including religious and political discrimination, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture. He is mainly known for his many philosophical and satirical works, including novels, short stories and prose. Voltaire was also an accomplished poet, tragedian and historian. The Irish-English writer Jonathon Swift (Jonathon Swift) is perhaps the most famous satirist in history. He wrote many satirical essays covering many topics. His main personal complaint is the abuse of the Irish by the British. Swift’s masterpiece is the novel “Gulliver’s Travels”, which takes a series of wonderful adventures as the background to conduct a comprehensive investigation of morality, politics and society.

In conclusion, the era of enlightenment was the pinnacle of the evolution of modernity and contemporary societal ideals, thus it was an extremely rewarding effort for me to learn more about this intriguing and fascinating time.

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