The governments and societies of England, France, Germany and Russia began undergoing radical transformations in 1650. Emphasis was suddenly placed on granting more freedom to the common people, as well as replacing theocracy and aristocracy with reason, liberty and individual rights. At the core of these developments was the critical questioning of traditional beliefs, norms and institutions. Establishments and phenomena such as the present-day model of governance, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution eventually ensued.
In England, philosopher Thomas Hobbes generated immense controversy with the release of his provocative treatise Leviathan (1651). He argued that human beings were self-serving by nature – their primary goal was to gather as many resources as they could. A single intimidating ruler, therefore, was necessary to ensure order in society. A half-century later, philosopher John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690) identified this leader as a representative government (SparkNotes n. pag. ).
Locke’s aforementioned message proved to be closer to the hearts and minds of the English people. In 1688, the English protestants deposed the Catholic king Charles II and brought the Protestant monarchs William and Mary into power. Shortly afterwards, the English government created a new Bill of Rights that accorded the English people with more personal freedoms. The Bill of Rights likewise required the monarchy to seek the consent of the citizenry through the Parliament (SparkNotes n. pag. ). By the mid-1700s, social unrest was already brewing in France.
The country’s monarchy supported various wars and lived in opulence while the rest of the population starved. This situation proved to be conducive to the emergence of rebellion. French intellectuals such as the Baron de Montesquieu started calling for the separation of power through divisions in government. Writers like Voltaire, meanwhile, criticized the injustices that the nobility committed against the ordinary citizens (SparkNotes n. pag. ). Popular discontent over the French monarchy culminated in the French Revolution.
Many nobles, including King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, were executed by beheading. In addition, the government was transformed from a monarchy into a body that was composed of orderly representative assemblies. The French Revolution, however, eventually became an orgy of chaos and violence as factions within the National Assembly started to turn against one another (SparkNotes n. pag. ). In the 17th century, Germany was composed of a number of smaller states that was each ruled by despots who suppressed intellectual development.
But after King Frederick the Great of Prussia introduced Enlightenment ideas from other parts of Europe, some thinkers began to question the one-sidedness of German thought during the aforementioned period. Attributing this status quo to the divided nature of Germany, they called for the country’s cultural unification. The political unification of Germany soon followed – laws and districts were consolidated, more freedom was granted to the press and judicial treatment became more humane. By 1871, Germany was already a unified nation (SparkNotes n.
pag. ). The year 1650 marked the beginning of the expansion of the Russian Empire. Peter the Great was so impressed with Western military technologies that he studied and applied them to the Russian military. As a result, the Russian military won several impressive victories that turned the Russian into the largest state in the world by the early 18th century. Peter’s successors, such as Catherine the Great, increased Russia’s relations with the West, bringing much change to Russian society, education, science, literature and art.
Foremost among these developments was Russia’s transition from a feudal to capitalist society – this change paved the way for other key innovations in the country (SLU. edu n. pag. ). Indeed, the only thing constant in this world is change. Unsatisfied with an oppressive status quo, the people of England, Germany, France and Russia worked towards building a society that was governed by reason, liberty and individual rights. Traditional norms, beliefs and values were questioned and criticized. As a result, the rise of present-day society and governance was set into motion.
Works Cited “Russia in the Age of Enlightenment: An Overview of 18th Century Russian Life. ” n. d. Saint Lawrence University (SLU). 7 June 2009 <http://it. stlawu. edu/~rkreuzer/indv3/home. htm>. “The Enlightenment (1650-1800): Summary of Events. ” 2009. SparkNotes. 6 June 2009 <http://www. sparknotes. com/history/european/enlightenment/summary. html>. “The Enlightenment (1650-1800): The German Enlightenment. ” 2009. SparkNotes. 7 June 2009 <http://www. sparknotes. com/history/european/enlightenment/section5. rhtml>.