Lecture on Modernism and the Enlightenment: The emergence of the General Man who
through his common sense can govern himself politically.
1637-1787--and beyond even to this day.
1. This period saw the triumph of science and reason over tradition and religion.
2. The world changes from mercantile to commercial capitalism where fixed wealth changed to fluid capital, revolutionizing the capitalist mode of production.
3. The dynastic states become expansionist, nationalistic states with imperialist designs to build empires. Parliamentary democracy becomes a factor in world politics.
4. It was an age of popular sovereignty where there was a limited electorate that was expanding, meaning that white men of property and literacy can vote and choose representation, particularly in the Netherlands, France, England, and America, and to a lesser extent in Switzerland. Russia the major exception.
5. The rule of law emerged where codified norms instruct people universally on what is right and what is wrong behavior. An emphasis on individual rights emerges based on deductions made from natural law.
6. Imperialism leads to global warfare.
a) France and England have a world rivalry.
b) England and Spain, likewise.
c) Russia under Peter the Great and Catherine expands Russian interests to the Pacific Ocean. It becomes a transcontinental empire.
7. In the West, the bourgeois class triumphs and replaces feudal lords, who
become marginalized. Factories replace guild production and home production.
There is the mass production of commodities where people sell their labor power which
itself is a commodity for sale.
a) Slaves, women, children, and indentured servants become commodities in the new world order, with slavery the "peculiar institution", based on racism; otherwise, blacks would have to be emancipated.
b) Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations (1776) and Thomas Malthus wrote On Population (1798): in the former instance concerning the revolutionary character of capitalist marketplaces with the social and technical division of labor and in the latter case vividly describing the devastating consequences of laissez-faire capitalism in creating conditions of war, famine, and disease with the invocation for the state not to intervene and allow natural processes to weed out the unfit that is the powerless.
8. Modern ideas of natural law subvert religious authority. Each man through his reason can become morally autonomous. There is a law above the written law of men which can be seen in nature and it is accessible to reason and the scientific method. Deism is the doctrine of a naturalized God and deified nature accessible to the common man through his understanding the workings of natural laws.
9. People concentrate in cities where urbanization begins. Agriculture is revolutionized and people are dispossessed from the lands with improvements in agricultural techniques and the institutions of primogeniture and entail. In the colonies, this process was just beginning. Philadelphia was the biggest, city; however, it was provincial in nature with only ten thousand people. London had one million.
10. There is a perpetual struggle between the centers of power and local interests. The thirteen colonies were much like thirteen nations, where initially power resided in the separate states and therewith sovereignty. The Age of Enlightenment sees the concentration of power increasingly in the center. There is the rise of professional bureaucrats. The concept of federalism emerges out of the necessity for a strong state, particularly for conducting foreign affairs and building a banking system with international credit. A strong state means a country can engage in Realpolitik. Might makes right. Politics becomes consequently amoral, scientific, and expansionist, although there is in America an ideology of equality and republican virtue in the civil society. The Federalist Papers (1788) by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay argued for a strong state and the Constitution.
11. The signers of the Declaration of Independence claim to be disinterested, speaking for mankind or a General Interest; in fact, they were either landed property owners with slaves or wealthy merchants, that is traders. Too, there are many lawyers. Citizens, however, are vocally irreverent in local politics. The common man believes that all men are equal before a deified nature, and God is actually naturalized through the praxis of science. This doctrine is called Deism.
12. The Cromwellian and Glorious Revolutions in seventeenth century England established the dominance of Parliament in politics. There is a concept of the right to revolt against arbitrary authority--universal right of each man. France followed the colonies in revolting, but there was a social revolution in which a bourgeois revolution was made. Antecedent to the American and French revolutions, there was the revolution in England in the seventeenth century, which did have an affect on the American revolution. These rights are in "nature" and can be deduced by reasoned, hence educated men. These laws are transcendent to man, not man-made but writ large in nature. Some even argued that it was reflective of God's will Himself (Deism). The average citizen was aware of his rights and interests, that is, economically he is very commercially and money-oriented. This cultural trait is true to this day. The Protestant ethic is based on a chosen and elect people who are deemed "saved" if they can accumulate wealth. It is a sign of God's Providence. This fusion of religion and money-making has consummated itself today in Christian fundamentalism. Too, multinational corporations have changed the definition of state sovereignty.
13. In the colonies, people hold up for esteem a natural elite of character who felt themselves the only ones fit to govern. These were men of substance, that is, property. There was prevalent the concept of "gentleman" to describe this category/class of disinterested rulers who governed for the sake of duty and patriotism rather than for personal gain or profit. Of course, this notion was more myth than reality. Americans have always been money and achievement-oriented to fashion a very materialistic society. Too, the worker began to sell his labor power for a subsistence wage in what is called the capitalist mode of production. Americans have a tradition of not wanting to pay taxes, which was the paramount issue in the colonial assemblies before the 1776 revolution. The assemblies exercised veto power over the budget and the salaries of the executive. Taxation without representation became the battle cry of the War of Independence.
14. There was an international division of labor in which the colonies supplied England with raw materials for finished products. It was called the Manchester System. Americans resented being kept backward and not allowed to develop their manufacturing capabilities. The impetus toward self-sufficiency economically impelled revolutionary change. The colonies were developing an American identity. England was too far away to have an impact on day to day life. When England started to tax the colonies arbitrarily without the balancing of such actions by representation, a revolutionary movement developed and eventually nationhood. Too, England employed a double standard in the application of the laws that violated the colonies' sense of fairness or an innate intuition of justice. The colonists believed that the contract with England was solely through the king. He held a revocable trusteeship. John Locke and subsequently Thomas Jefferson propounded the idea of a social contract rooted in nature.
15. Equality versus freedom. Equality is a substantive, social issue and freedom a formal, political standing in civil society. You can be free before the eyes of the law or God but not equal because you do not have the means for human self-realization. Obviously, we can not say all people enjoy the empirical manifestations of equality. The real issue is that of equality of opportunity in contrast to equality of outcome. That distinction has defined the politics of affirmative action.
16. Representative democracy became a revolutionary notion in which the basic tenet is that the rulers need the consent of the governed to exercise power. There was a natural right to revolution based on the insights of reason and common sense.