Early Modern Europe Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1581 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Government

¶ … 1500 to 1800 was perhaps the most tumultuous and critical period in world history. It saw the end of the dark ages and the civilization of past eras and evolved into the modern Europe that now dominates the world stage. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were an especially difficult time for European nation-states. The Reformation produced implications that affected all areas of life outside of religion. The emphasis of the Reformation ideology surrounding individual liberty began to infect citizenry in all nations across Europe, causing widespread political, social and religious dissension. It is as a result of the free-flow of ideas and the movement towards individual liberty that fueled the events of these three centuries. Four distinct events were the catalysts for major change during this period; the movement towards absolutism, the movement for constitutionalism, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment. Despite the differing genres in which these four events preoccupied, they are in fact all interconnected. Each occurred as a result of the Reformation's movement towards greater individual liberty and breakdown of traditional religious, social and political ideology.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Early Modern Europe Assignment

The concept of Absolutism took on two forms during this period; it began as a form of absolute monarchy, and ended in the concept of "enlightened absolutism." As individuals began to interpret themselves in the context of personal liberty in the wake of the Reformation. They began to question the concept of monarchy and dynastic rule that was the standard during the Dark Ages. Political philosophers therefore attempted to define a methodology by which Kings could justify their particular brand of monarchy, this inevitably developed into the philosophy of Absolutism in the years to come. They created the doctrine of the "Divine Right of Kings." This system of thought came about through medieval theories of kings, in which kings governed through sovereignty derived from God. Absolutism therefore was a reaction by the autocracies around Europe to stench the flow of individualism that was threatening to redefine the established order. Thus Absolutism could be defined as a counter measure to the ideology of the Reformation that moved the world towards greater civil disobedience. Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was not strong enough in either convincing political theorists of its legitimacy or maintaining absolute control of the populace. In the end, monarchies had to change and adapt their style of absolutism to mold around the growing era of reform and individual liberty. More of this theme will be explored later in this analysis.

As a result of the growing discontent with monarchies, as well as the flimsy logic behind the Divine Right of Kings, many political philosophers and citizenry were turning towards the ideology of Constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is the concept that the power of the government is limited by laws. It creates an internal balance between the power of government and individual liberties. This political theory and action developed because citizens within European nations became frustrated with the rule of nobility. Following Reformation thinking on the equality of all individuals under God, peasants and the working class no longer believed in the tenets of Divine rule. They wanted greater equality and protection for their liberties. Therefore Constitutionalism became a popular method for ensuring their liberties against the abuses of government power. Constitutionalism was instituted in many different countries, from such documents as the Magna Carta in England to the eventual edicts of France, the spread of Constitutionalism was a universal movement within Europe. Therefore Constitutionalism was the result of two forces; it was a continuation of the spirit of the Reformation movement, which convinced individuals that they were equal under God. It was also a countermeasure to the policy and political theory of Absolutism that sprang about because of the Reformation. It is through the combination of these two events that Constitutionalism the spirit of individual liberty became a mainstay within European politics.

The developments of the Scientific Revolution, which can be dated to roughly around the mid 1500s, were also the extension of the Reformation movement. Martin Luther and Calvin's challenge to the religious establishment broke for the first time a firm and complacent belief in the Catholic Church's guiding compass. Not only theologians, but scientists as well began to challenge the established doctrines of the Christian world. The Scientific Revolution was a period of dramatic scientific discovery that redefined our world through empirical evidence and deduction rather than religious doctrine. There was a fundamental change to the scientific ideas surrounding physics, astronomy and biology. Nicolas Copernicus and his Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was perhaps the first indication of the Scientific Revolution. In giving definitive proof that the Sun rather than Earth was the center of our solar system, he shook the foundations of Christian thinking in Europe. During this historical movement, ideas that were traditionally accepted through the past millennium were thrown aside. Among them was the Aristotelian theory that matter was in fact continuous and made up of the natural elements of earth, water, air, fire, and aether. This scientific movement is connected to the political movements that occurred parallel to it through several different factors. First, it was spurred on by the same transformative effects of the Reformation movement in religion, which opened up the possibility that the church was fallible and there are alternative interpretations of the world. Second, the scientific revolution fueled a more empirical methodology and approach to thinking, which affected the political theorists of Europe to develop a rejection of Absolutism on the basis of rhetorical logic. The Scientific Revolution changed the way people around Europe saw the world, and by reducing it to a more physical and empirical basis, it forced individuals to think of their current situations instead of relying upon religion and government to provide them answers on how to live. Thus the Scientific Revolution, as an extension of the Reformation, can be viewed as a catalyst that caused Europe to reject many of the tenants of Absolutism in favor of individual liberty.

All of these factors of empirical analysis, Reformation thinking, and ultimately the belief of greater individual liberty in political doctrine led to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment can be shallowly viewed as an extension of the Scientific Revolution to theories of aesthetics, ethics, government and logic. The goal of the Enlightenment was to allow human beings to obtain an objective standard of truth about the universe and world order. The Enlightenment became a movement towards developing better systems by which individuals should live and judge their lives and how governments should cater to these developing values.

The results of the Scientific Revolution emboldened Enlightenment thinkers to believe that the same system of thinking that derived Newtonian physics could be applied to all forms of human activity. The Enlightenment was a move away from the shaky traditionalism of the past era that relied on superstition, tyranny, and irrational thinking. It established the frameworks of the American and French Revolutionary movements as well as numerous political upheavals throughout the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment led to a redefinition of not only politics and social reform, but also led to innovations in music and launched a new period of artistic endeavors. The key effect of the Enlightenment was to create a new ruling class that changed the way governments treated individuals within its borders. Traditional absolutism granted complete control to the autocrat, which then had the ability to perform all irrational actions and whims. The Enlightenment created the concept of tangible liberties and rights that each individual are due by warrant of being born. This fundamentally changed what autocrats and monarchs could do to their citizens and created tangible boundaries for action. As a result, a new form of absolutism came about, the concept of "enlightened absolutism." This concept changed the role of the absolute monarchy from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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