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Enlightenment Influence on Citizens’ Rights Report

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Updated: Oct 4th, 2021

The enlightenment thinkers came up with arguments in support of political liberty subjecting into reasoning the earlier positions on religion and its role in society. In the pre-enlightenment era, it was believed that leadership was divine and that man was not supposed to come against the leadership. Some of the ancient philosophers argued that by having a political establishment people agree to surrender some of their rights and freedoms allowing one of them to exercise leadership and that whatever the leadership comes up with was right for society. Political philosophers like Montesquieu argued for a separation of powers in government which would lead to a wider space of criticism in case the government does not go by the wishes of the majority and goes ahead to misuse powers granted.

Enlightenment thinkers promoted change and progress in society making the enlightenment age a time of complete reflection on the prejudices initially prevalent in society. There was an emphasis on reason, toleration, natural law, and a consideration of the modern man as an innovative being together with his achievements.

The age of enlightenment or as some would term it modernity marked the age where the European cultural and political hegemony was brought to an end. It was a time where political ideas were shared (Kagan 1998)

The enlightenment age (1650-1850) steered the people away from long-held beliefs based on religion to consider a secular life. This is the time that nationalism crept in with feelings of nationalism, individualism, and humanism getting into society and expressed openly. It was the age of reason as opposed to the age of dogmatic beliefs before it. It effectively marked the end of the Renaissance.

The progress started with the study and wonder of the universe, the macrocosm. Then it befell some thinkers that man is the greatest miracle and therefore should be studied narrowing the study from macrocosm i.e. the universe, to the microcosm. The renaissance was characterized by the unique focus on humanity. Enlightenment then brought about the pure study of man and how he functions. It delved into the mind, the body, the reasoning, and so on. With it, therefore, followed empirical investigations by the use of the reasoning power in the close focus on humanity.

Different concepts crept in, the talk of democracy and human rights. Religion was considered as an impediment to the practice of free thought- a situation that necessitated the scientific revolution and industrialization. Science reduced the significance of religion as it explained what was otherwise not explainable.

On the debate on civil rights, the more society was secularized the more it respected the right of fellow men in society. The explanation, in this case, points to the fact that being indifferent to religious groups was not an issue. A person was respected because he is a person. The Jews in Europe were, therefore, safer in a secularized society. Nationality was more of an issue than was religious affiliation.

Enlightenment also promoted individualism with the society respecting individual rights.

The Jewish community in Europe attained relative freedom and recognition as they were now being considered human beings. They were tolerated even though they did not share the same religious culture as the rest of Europe. They were allowed some basic freedoms as was the case in the French National Assembly in 1791.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, an Enlightenment thinker argued in his book “Social Contract” that all human beings are equal. This book elicited debates on the issue with democratic tenets coming to the fore. These philosophical ideas later gained footing in society thus contributing to the discussions on human rights.

Again the arguments of John Locke boosted the civil rights movements as its theory on equality of all was adopted in the preamble of the United States Constitution. It states that human beings were created equal and that they were endowed with inalienable rights including the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (US Constitution).

The fact that most of the philosophers were staunch advocates of tolerance, social welfare, the rule of law, and secularism, it, therefore, follows that this was the time that civil rights were given a head start. It is the time that people realized they could go for what they wanted, in unity. This led to the French Revolution (1792-1794) which cost so many lives but also was an impetus to civil rights advocates all over Europe and the world to go for what they believe in. it is during this reign of Enlightenment that the view of the state as a leviathan was dropped. Instead, the state became an instrument through which individual liberties and rights are well guarded and that leaders are not that divine but just trustees. They have to operate within the legal confines.

The enlightenment brought in the idea of scientific knowledge. Marquis de Condorcet argued that the main purpose of knowledge is to guarantee the basic rights of people both men and women (Condorcet). To him, the rights include personal security, freedom to own property, equality before the law and representative government. America is credited for having been the first to institute these ideas (Encarta Encyclopedia 2008).

Works Cited

Condorcet, M. Sketch of the Intellectual Progress of Mankind.

Kagan, D. et al The Western Heritage, Vol II: Since 1648, (65th edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Microsoft Encyclopedia. Age of Enlightenment. Encarta Microsoft Encyclopedia 2008. Web.

Spiro, K.R. Jewish History

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