Milan – During a debate on the works of Immanuel Kant, two historians discussed the validity of his thought. The philosopher Kant supported Enlightenment ideas, which spread throughout Europe during the 18th century.
Was this a period that helped the development of society as we know it today? The Enlightenment was certainly a significant stage in the development of modern society, as this current of thought questioned many of the strong points of eighteenth-century society, creating a new way of seeing things, similar to the modern one.
First of all, the Enlightenment did not share the idea of an absolutist power, as the people had to hold the sovereignty and political power of a state, rebelling against power itself, if it became authoritarian or oppressive. The famous philosopher Montesquieu affirmed the idea of a state in which the three main powers (executive, judicial, legislative) were divided, since, based on how a government managed these three powers, citizens had different levels of political freedom. The lowest level of this freedom was recorded precisely in the absolutist state. And since the man with Enlightenment thought had to rely exclusively on reason, using the intellect to help do the common good, freedom was what he most sought. This reaffirms the validity of the Enlightenment and its exponents in going against an absolutist system of government.
From the previous affirmations arise two other causes for which the Enlightenment fought to try to lay the foundations for a more just society: the defense of the principles of equality of citizens, and correlated, the criticism of the noble privileges of the time.
As regards the first cause, it is closely linked to the principle of political freedom affirmed by Montesquieu. The latter argued the importance of such freedom, while other Enlighteners, such as Rousseau, instead fought for equality and justice in society. Consequently, no one was to boast class privileges, and everyone could participate in any political activity, so as not to meet the natural rights of every man.
The second cause is in turn related to the first, as an affirmation of the superiority of the nobles would be inconsistent with an idea of social equality. A clear example of the implementation of this idea was the imposition of taxes, by some Enlightenment ruler, even on the nobles, a clear sign that the Enlightenment current offered ideas that benefited everyone, both sovereigns and subjects.
Despite this, many argue that the Enlightenment was only a period of transition, yes with its ideas, but without a clear influence in the renewal of society. For example, the Enlightenment thought reduced the concept of man, only to those who used reason. So did this mean that the infants, the insane or the sick elderly were not men? The use of reason only shows a detachment from emotions and feelings, that is, it renders a man devoid of his soul; and what is a man without a soul? Nothing.
Furthermore, the Enlighteners made a promise, without keeping it, of a better society, based on new principles and methods of government open to human rights. This did not happen, because the situation of man has not changed and the absolutist governments have continued to exercise their power.
The fact that Enlightenment thought reduced men to reason alone is not unfounded. The Enlightenment tried to develop that desire for knowledge and freedom in the mind of man, so that they could get out of the state of ignorance and superstition in which they previously lived.
With regard, however, to the promise made of a more just society, with the advent of the Enlightenment, as already mentioned in part, the governments of many states implemented reforms that reduced the differences between the classes and invested capital in improving social structures.
Surely, man has drawn a lot of good from the Enlightenment period, also drawing benefits for society, and concepts that we find at the basis of modern social and political thought.