Western Literature – Enlightenment Era & After

            The enlightenment era refers to the period of intellectual movement and liberation experienced in Europe that began in the 17th century, which aimed to challenge superstition and bias to put human betterment above the supernatural. The enlightenment era, which was greatly experienced between the 17th to the 18th century, is often referred to the “age of reason” (Wu, 2006). This is because it was an intellectual movement, which led to the merging of ideas concerning man, reason, nature and God into with the worldviews. Enlightenment called for the use of human reason, critical and constructive thinking to challenge ancient superstition, bias and injustice. It promoted the views of universal human rights, civilized tolerance and scientific inquiry, which affected all spheres of man’s life.

The enlightenment era led to changes in society as it called for the rejection of customs, religions, laws and governments that were found wanting after examination. For instance, in religion, the use of human reason led to the development of skepticism, atheism and materialism. It led to the development of laws, freedoms and governments that were based on rationality. It also led to the growth and development of science as it freed it from religious restrictions and controls. The merging of ideas concerning man led to radical developments and changes in art, philosophy and politics. However, despite the great impacts enlightenment had on society, various scholars and theories were against it arguing that it was limited in a number of ways and that a number of critical issues and views were left out by the enlightenment views. They therefore put up some theories that would remedy the limitations.

One of the theories that were created in response to enlightenment was romanticism. Romanticism involved literary, artistic and philosophical views developed from the 18th century. The views focused on individual consciousness. The views presented by the theory of romanticism opposed enlightenment in a number of ways. For instance, Romanticism emphasized irrationality in the society, which was a response or opposition to the rationality view promoted by enlightenment. Romanticism placed emphasis on the individual while enlightenment placed emphasis on the society as a whole (Wu, 2006). The principles of enlightenment advocated for objectivity while romanticism advocated for subjectivity when analyzing and evaluating the different issues in society. The theorists and scholars that created romanticism aimed to provide a theory that better society.

Another sphere of opposition between romanticism and enlightenment was experienced in the use of rationality. Enlightenment has its basis on rationality. However, romanticism called for the appreciation of beauty and exaltation of emotion over reason and intellect. There are other many principles of romanticism that opposed the views put by enlightenment. Romanticism put emphasis on the personal, imaginative, spontaneous and emotional parts of human beings, which countered the views put forward by enlightenment. Enlightenment promoted the idea that human nature was universal. In other words, the significant and useful aspects of people were found in everybody. Romanticism opposed this stating that universalism of human traits was not possible. This is because everybody has his own unique and creative traits, which differs from one person to another. Romanticism differed from enlightenment, which emphasized collectivity as it gave more weight to the self, spontaneity and originality. Scholars arguing based on romanticism-opposed enlightenment because is it was mechanical, impersonal and artificial. The arguments put by romanticism against enlightenment help illustrate some of the limitations it had.

Since its start in the 17th century, enlightenment has faced condemnation and opposition from a number of scholars and theories. The scholars opposing it gave different reasons for their opposition such as that it was limited and offered new problems to society. Friedrich Nietzsche and persons in conservative and religious circles were the earliest to offer their opposition. Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was a great critique of arts, sciences, luxury and refinement, self-interests and cosmopolitanism also gave a number of views that opposed enlightenment. A number of reasons were given for the opposition towards enlightenment. The main reason given was that enlightenment was limited in a number of ways. The scholars also stated that it failed to address some key aspects of human nature.

Other than romanticism, Marxism was also used to oppose the views and principles that enlightenment put forward. Marxism was a theory developed by early the scholars and writers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Class struggle played a critical part in the theory as it helped illustrate the transformation that would occur in society. The transformation would be from capitalism, in which bourgeois oppression was rampant to a socialist society and ultimately classless society (Marx, Engles & Jones, 2002). The theory stated that everybody in society should enjoy the products of his work. Enlightenment advocated for the application of reason in religion. The application of reason often led to the development of materialism belief in society. Materialism promoted the view that the physical well being and possession of property provided the best and highest value in life. Therefore, the more the property one has, the greater the amount of happiness one has.

Marxism opposed enlightenment because it resulted to materialism. Materialism promotes immense regard for worldly possession and concerns, which are the foundations of capitalism. Therefore, enlightenment and materialism would eventually result to the rise of capitalism and classes in society. It would result to the abuse and condensation of human rights, freedoms and liberties, which Marxism aimed to promote. Marxism advocated for the view that one should reap what one sows. However, materialism and the resulting classes would lead to oppression and exploitation in society as people aimed to gain more worldly possessions. The views that were promoted by Marxism heavily opposed enlightenment. Marxism opposed enlightenment specifically because it would eventually result to a class system. Marxism opposed the social and economic classes as it regarded them to be the major source of evil in society. The classes led to the abuse of human rights, exploitation and oppression. In Marxism, the society would have no classes. All people would be free and equal. However, in the occurrence of enlightenment, classes would be inevitable. In the attempt to gain more property and worldly possessions, tyranny and abuse would result.

A number of scholars have given their opposition to enlightenment. One of the greatest persons to oppose and criticize enlightenment was jean Jacque Rousseau. He gave his oppositions in the “The Social Contract” He stated that’ “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains” (Rousseau & Cranston, 1968). Rousseau stated that in the happiest state of human kind results from a merger of completely wild and completely civilized. The mid-point produces the happiest point. This opposed the view in enlightenment that stated that the more worldly possessions one had, the happier on was. Rousseau opposed enlightenment stating that the government or the authority was made up of a relationship between the ruled and the ruler. He stated that the relationship and contract between the ruled and the rulers had to be mutual. He was of the view that in the contract, the ruled agreed to be ruled by the authorities in the agreement that the rulers would protect their property, rights and happiness. This meant that once the rulers failed to defend the ruled, the social contract was broken resulting to the ruled having to choose a new ruler. He used the concept of liberty to oppose enlightenment where individuals are forced to give up their liberties. He stated that the application of rational limited most of the rights, freedoms and liberties one is naturally born with.

Rousseau also gave his opposition to modern enlightenment, as it promotes the use of science to help man in production and calls for a mechanical and mathematical approach and view of nature. Based on romanticism, enlightenment would result to the use of objectivity instead on subjectivity in the analysis of issues as it made use of science. It also promotes skepticism concerning miracles and calls for the replacement of theocracy with secular rule. Rousseau opposed this based on that it limited the emotional, personal and imaginative part and aspects on human beings. Modern enlightenment endorses a government limited by the rule of law with its main aim been to guard the rights of the people especially their property rights. It promoted liberty and equality to be the main basis of a just and good society. It aims to free the individual from religious and moral constraints. Its main objective is to promoter peace in society by leading to a peaceful and prosperous society. Rousseau starts by opposing the views that enlightenment has on politics. He discards universal enlightenment stating that it is morally corrupting. He is of the view that reason and religion can dwell in each other rejecting the enlightenment position that the two cannot co-exist.

Another great scholar who opposed enlightenment was Friedrich Nietzsche. He gave his opposing views in his writings in the year 1887. Friedrich Nietzsche stated that everything that concerned people was human-made or fabricated. He stated that, “We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge–and with good reason. We have never sought ourselves–how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves? . . . So we are necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not comprehend ourselves, we have to misunderstand ourselves, for us the law “Each is furthest from himself “applies to all eternity–we are not “men of knowledge” with respect to ourselves” (Nietzsche & Smith, 1999). This writings in his book “Genealogy of Morals”, meant to show that what human nature posses results from what it has made. Therefore, the morals and property in society were created by people. Enlightenment failed to address the issue of morals in society leading to his opposition.

He heavily attacks the views enlightenment put across on religion, rationality and morality. Nietzsche opposed enlightenment stating that the values it presented and introduced into society were a reversal of the truth. He stated that values in the society, which seemed to display goodness, were actually bad or causing problems in the society. He illustrated this using the concept of good and evil verses Good and bad. He stated the cultural and moral systems were actually created by the people in society. He stated that there were two categories of morality. These were the slave morality and the master morality. The master morality was shown by the nobles in society. The nobles felt that they were a rank higher than their slaves were. The nobles who defined the meaning of words stated that good meant noble, aristocratic, privileged, truthful and master. They described bad as common, plain referring to their slaves. The concept of good and bad defines morality in society. The nobles had a high sense of self-affirmation. This allowed them to claim freedom and express themselves without constraints been put on them by the slaves.

In conclusion, the enlightenment era occurred in between the 17th to 18th century (Wu, 2006). It had a number of benefits in society such as the replacement of traditional bias and superstitions with rationality in the analysis of different life issues. It also allowed the formation of better laws and regulations, customs and governments in society. However, despite the high number of benefits, it still received a reasonable amount of opposition from different theories and scholars. The most conspicuous theory was romanticism and Friedrich Nietzsche. Some of the reasons given for the opposition were that enlightenment was limited and failed to address a number of critical in society.

Works Cited

Rousseau, J. J., & Cranston, M. The social contract. Penguin Classics, 1968

Marx, K., & Engles, F., & Jones, G. G. The Communist manifesto Penguin Classics, 2002

Nietzsche, W. F., & Smith, D. On the genealogy of morals: a polemic : by way of clarification and supplement to my last book, Beyond good and evil. Oxford University Press, 1999

Wu, D. Romanticism: an anthology Blackwell Pub, 2006

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