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The Age of Reason

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:29 AM
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The Age of Reason was a period in time that took place from the Peace of Utrecht (1713), to the French Revolution of 1789. It was a period when reason basically replaced religion as the guiding principle in art, thought, and the governance of men. Unquestioned acceptance of the old order of society and the old ways of statecraft yielded to a new spirit of critical inquiry which demanded some rational justification for the existing social system.

People thought that the general application of reason would free Europe from the artificialities, restrictions, injustices, and superstitions which that was inherited from the Dark Ages. Reason would create a society of law and order.

The traditions, customs, and autonomous rights of the nobility and the church were essentially alien to the spirit of rationalism and operated to block the establishment of centralized, well ordered states.

In central and eastern Europe and many minor states of the continent, the main contenders against the powers of the nobility and the clergy were the dynastic sovereigns. Competition between the great states was ruthless and the monarchy which failed to overhaul its internal administration, faced dismemberment. Seeking to focus on their own authority, the crowned heads struggled with the separatism of provinces, which their royal houses had inherited through medieval and 17th century wars and marriages. They tried to introduce uniformity in law and administration throughout their realms, and to smash the opposition of nobles and clerics fighting to retain their prerogatives to tax, govern, and dispense justice.

The administrative reforms of the century were promulgated by royal edict without the consent of and often despite such representative diets and assemblies, as had survived from the Middle Ages to become fortresses of aristocratic reaction.

Frederick the II of Prussia, Joseph the II of Austria, and Catherine the II of Russia were for the...


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