The “Elite” Enlightement

I am currently studying for the first revolutions test of the year and I can assume that many others are, so this will be a relatively brief post, however, I hope that it’s length (or lack thereof) does not detract from the point of this post.  As I study I keep coming across the same terms appearing in the same context: elite, upperclass, nobility and wealthy.  All of these terms refer to the people who played an influential role in the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.  Not once does the textbook mention a non-elite figure or even group of people holding an even semi-important role in this monumental change of worldview.  Instead, the textbook reads, the philosophes “believe the the masses had no time or talent for philosophical speculation and that elevating them would be a long, slow, potentially dangerous process.” (607) So to cut to the chase, the hypothetical question which I am pondering –  and would like to hear others’ views on – is: would the ultimate result of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment have been different if the “common people” played a significant role it/could the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment have even occurred if the commoners were included in it?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The “Elite” Enlightement

  1. AlexP says:

    I’d like to think it would have turned out differently because after all, the rich left them for a reason. On page 607, the book explains how many thinkers during the Enlightenment thought that the common people were “deluded by superstitions.” In other words, they thought the people were brainwashed by the church to believe in what was right or wrong, or how the universe worked. This negatively affected Galileo during the scientific revolution. The church, and therefore the peasants, both believed in the geocentric theory, even though it was scientifically disproved. This resulted in Galileo’s imprisonment and him recanting of all of his “Copernicus errors,” and thus, momentarily causing a hiatus in the progress of science. This propensity of the common Europeans to be tricked by the church warned the thinkers/philosophes to avoid directing their teachings toward them. Most of the commoners were poorly/uneducated people. Naturally, this meant that had they been exposed to all of the new ideas spurting out from the philosophes, they would not have been willing to accept them, or for that matter, even understand and comprehend them, as they had no background or knowledge for most of the topics. Thus, none of the common people would have been able to contribute to discussions or debates allowed by many of the social institutions. Most of the commoners probably would have even criticized the thinkers for being wrong because their ideas were not right compared to the church’s “right” beliefs. Not only would this have rendered their exposure to many of the advanced theories useless, but it also would have taken away from the general progress of philosophical thought. Thus, bringing peasants into both the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment periods would have precipitated turmoil, and might have even prevented the progress that was made during the Enlightenment (If society even reached that far).

  2. Wyatt says:

    Its a very interesting question you pose Will. I think that if the commoners had been more involved in the scientific revolution, it would have most likely happened earlier than it did. As we discussed in class the scientific revolution did not come easily, those elite revolutionary minds, of which there were not so many, were met with stiff resistance by the church at first. That being said, if most of the people had been involved it would have been very difficult for the church to try and suppress entire cities or towns of people, rather than just a few wealthy scientists.

  3. cmiller2015 says:

    I think both Wyatt and Alex both raise good points. I personally believe that the common people being involved with the Enlightenment would have helped speed up the process by taking power away from the church. If the church had less power to subjugate the people, the Enlightenment would not have encountered any progress, and would have gone swimmingly. However, they probably would have been reluctant to join this revolution. Most people probably would have had more faith in the church then in some philosopher, because one thing that the church did right and the philosophers did wrong was appealing to the common people. While the philosophers looked down on the common people, the church looked at them as just being children of God, the same as everyone else. It’s hard to feel discriminated against when everyone is just one of God’s flock. The philosophers made the whole Enlightenment harder for themselves by aiming their sights too high. Other successful revolutions included everyone, from the poorest and dumbest to the richest and smartest. Many of the most successful were aimed specifically at the plebeians, like the Communist Revolutions in China and Russia. Those worked because they were the many overthrowing the few. When just a few people try to overthrow a majority, it usually doesn’t work. Even in a non-violent revolution, the masterminds need to have a lot of support in order to get anything accomplished. The concepts of the Enlightenment were too highbrow in order to be successful, at least at that period in time. The common people were too illiterate to be of any help to thinkers. At the time, it was a lot more common to be unable to read then to be able to read, so books weren’t the greatest way to get one’s ideas spread. Unfortunately, philosophers mostly utilized books and the written word to communicate, so they alienated a good portion of the population simply by virtue of writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *