Q:

How did the Enlightenment influence society?

A:

The Enlightenment influenced society in the areas of politics, philosophy, religion and the arts. Both the American and French Revolutions were based on Enlightenment ideals.

The Age of Enlightenment, which lasted throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries, was an intellectual movement which resulted in overturning many old ideas. Leading European thinkers advocated for personal freedoms and free thought. The Enlightenment is sometimes called the Age of Reason because of its emphasis on rationality. Enlightenment thinkers did not trust the established authorities, such as monarchies of the church. They believed individuals could find truth for themselves and improve society by looking to science, reasoning, and dialogue.

This mistrust of authority and faith in the rational abilities of the common man resulted in profound political change, not only in Europe, but across the world. The leaders of the American Revolution were acting on Enlightenment principles when they overthrew the British government and demanded independence. The French Revolution was also an attempt to overcome absolute authority and usher in a new age.

The effects of the Enlightenment are still felt today. The founding fathers established the United States according to Enlightenment ideals. For example, the separation of the government into three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, and the system of checks and balances was originally developed by French Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu. The system holds the authorities accountable to the people, and is an implementation of the Enlightenment theory that governments should exist only by the will of the governed.


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