The Age of Enlightenment saw many great changes in Western Europe. The Age of Enlightenment or simple “the Enlightenment” was an intellectual movement during the 18th century. Its purpose was to reform society and to advance knowledge using reason and the scientific knowledge. It supported scientific thought and opposed superstition with its favorite target being the Catholic Church. The phrase was frequently used by writers of the period itself, implying that they were emerging from centuries of darkness and ignorance into an enlightenment period fueled by reason and science.
The ones who sparked the enlightenment can be traced to the 17th century. They include the two political philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588 and he was best known for his work on political philosophy. His book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy. In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundations of states and legitimate governments. Much of the book demonstrates the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid chaos and disorder.
Hobbes hypothesizes what life would be like with no government, a state which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right to everything in the world. However, he argues that it would lead to a “war against all” because he believed that all people were evil and selfish. In order to avoid this state, people establish a civil society and conceive a social contract. According to Hobbes, society is a population under a supreme authority. Thomas Hobbes is a supporter of absolutism but he also developed some of the fundamentals of liberal thoughts such as the rights of an individual and equality for all.
He was also one of the founders of modern political science as well. His understanding on humans as being matter and following the same concepts and laws as other matter remains extremely influential. John Locke was born on August 29, 1632 and he was one of the most influential English philosophers during the enlightenment period. Locke’s theory of mind is referred to as the origin of conceptions of “self” and “identities”. He theorized that the mind is a blank slate and that we were born with only instinctive ideas and that knowledge is only derived from experience.
The founding fathers of the United States used many of his political ideas as the bases for the declaration of independence. Locke believed in a democratic rule and that everyone is entitled to their own rights and liberty. He thought that nobody should have absolute power so he came up with the idea of “separation of powers” meaning that the church and judicial system operate independent of the ruling class so theoretically no one can commit a crime and get away with it.
Even though Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were both influential social contract theorists and great political philosophers, their ideas completely contradict each other. While Locke believed that humans were born with a clean slate and only gain knowledge through experience and experiment, Hobbes theorized that all humans were born with an evil and selfish nature which cannot be contained without a supreme authority to rule.
In terms of political power, Locke believed in democratic rule while Hobbes believed in an absolute power to rule over the evil and selfish humans for if there is no absolute power, our savage instincts will take over and we will do whatever it takes to satisfy our greedy nature. As for rights, Locke believed all men are equal rights but Hobbes concluded that we should give up our rights to the government in exchange for protection. The Enlightenment was a great step in humanity to make strides in science and let reason explain our lives.
Enlightenment ideas and works have been especially influential in politics. Many of the world’s democracies are built on the ideas of Locke and other political philosophers in the enlightenment period. Democratic nations, such as the United States are founded upon enlightenment ideas such as individual rights and liberty, the rights of citizens, and people’s rights to participate in the government. However, different political philosophers have different ideas about what’s best for their government.
For instance, Thomas Hobbes believed in absolute monarchs, an idea which is still used today in places like Canada, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdoms. The Enlightenment completely revolutionized the way people have thought about religion, politics, and science. It was one of the greatest events in history because it gave people the idea to challenge what they’ve always been taught to be right. It gave people a mind of their own and not fall to one supreme ruler. The legacy of the enlightenment shall never be forgotten.