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Enlightenment Essay

1238 words - 5 pages

The Enlightenment was an era of major social and political change in 18th century Europe. The Enlightenment was centered in France, which at the time was a dominant force in Europe ruled by an oppressive government. During this era, many intellectuals began to question some of the norms and customs of European society, such as monarchy and religious discrimination. These intellectuals helped spread new ideas about human rights and democracy, which helped inspire the revolutions that followed.
As stated by Immanuel Kant in his essay, What is Enlightenment?, enlightenment is the realization of people to think for themselves. He believed that most people were too afraid and too lazy to ...view middle of the document...

Those who did not oblige faced the danger of harsh punishment, including imprisonment, exile, and even execution. Kant’s opposition to these traditional customs helped influence many of the freedoms given by the modern Democratic-Republican governments that prevail in much of the Western World.
Another Enlightenment thinker, Abbé Raynal believed that slavery was oppressive and needed to be abolished throughout Europe. He believed that people are born free, and making people into slaves robbed them of even their most basic freedoms. As Raynal states in his essay, Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies, “But, it is alleged, that in all religions, and in all ages, slavery hath been more or less established”. Essentially, slavery had been around all throughout history, in virtually all societies, and all religions supported it. Raynal argues that in ancient times, people were more barbaric, and he believes society should have grown up and abandoned slavery since then.
Raynal also believed that all people are in title to three different types of liberties: natural liberty, civil liberty, and political liberty. Natural liberty is the right people have to live their lives as they please. Civil liberty is the right to do anything that is not illegal without punishment. Political liberty is the right for all people to have a voice in the government. These liberties helped establish the basis for the democratic societies that would emerge in France and the United States.
Raynal’s beliefs were highly controversial at the time, as the American colonies, as well as the African slaves that worked on the plantations there, played a major role in the prosperity of the European economy. The “Atlantic System”, which involved the purchase of African slaves who would then work on colonial American plantations, would allow Europe to purchase cheap crops from the colonies. This made it possible for more people in Europe to afford food. (Hunt, et al., The Making of the West, p.553-556). Slavery continued to be an issue in the Western world for many years, and is arguably still somewhat of an issue today.
Cesare Beccaria challenged the traditional European justice system’s use of torture and capital punishment. He believed that these punishments contradicted their purpose, which was to prevent violence in society. He argued that criminals should be sent to prison rather that being brutally tortured or executed, as that punishment conveys just as powerful of a warning against future crime.
Beccaria also believed that people should be treated as if they were innocent until there is significant proof that they are guilty of the crimes they had been charged with. If suspected criminals are immediately deemed as guilty of...

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