Western Civilization to modern day
The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the influence of the western civilization on the modern age. It started in the western European nations whose culture changed gradually influencing other nations to follow suit. This civilization is known to be the best because of its imminent inspirations and influence on the modern day life. This paper will only discuss one inspiration of the western civilization; the philosophies of the age of enlightenment.
The age of enlightenment has many influences on modern day life. This was an intellectual movement in Western Europe in the eighteenth century in which people changed their views on the society and the world at large. The age was characterized by imminent changes especially in France and Great Britain. The change in culture and perception of the people in Europe had a lot of influence on the American colonies. People in these colonies were inspired to change their perception about the society and the world. This helped them to think critically about their rights and freedom which led to the American Revolution. Enlighten principles also played a pivotal role in realization of Democracy in America.
In fact, realization of democracy in the USA could not have happened were not for the age of enlightenment. Charles de Secondat and Baron de Montesquieu from France and John Locke from Britain are some of the most influential philosophers on the American democracy. The French philosophers made sharp criticism on the French society and the rulers of the time. They did this without fear as they were susceptible to punishment because of criticizing the king. Their publications and letters helped in ushering the age of enlightenment because people would be able to think of themselves individually.
Western Civilization to modern day
As stated above, the Western Civilization has a lot of influence on the modern day society. This paper is limited to the age of enlightenment philosophies which have a lot of influence of the American democracy.
Democracy is a political government in which the people rule by granting the governing power to some representatives. The American democracy got its cornerstones from the age of enlightenment. For the better time of the eighteenth century, America was a colony. The nation had been divided into many colonies under different colonial powers. American people lived the normal way with their colonizers as the masters. At the time, it was like they did not know of their natural rights or knew very little about it. As America was being colonized, European culture was evolving and changing gradually. This was with the influence and inspiration from philosophers of the eighteenth century. They changed people’s perception on the society and the world in general. The philosophers wrote letters and books which got to America and changed their perceptions on the society especially their rights, science, knowledge and religion.
Americans used to preach sovereignty of all citizens. Though they were inspired by some of the most philosophers of the time, Americans struggled to come up with a democracy basing their ideas on these influential philosophers. Some of Americans were for Plato’s idea against democracy while some were for the idea of democracy and direct rule. The way forward seemed uncertain as they tried to balance between the majority and the less. Constitution experimentation during the two decades of revolution was inevitable as a perfect solution and balance had to be achieved. Influence of Rousseau was seen at this trying moment when the Americans decided to embrace direct rule by the power of the majority (net industries, 2009).
Enlightenment was for sure inspiration to the colonial America. This led to the American Revolution which later formed the foundation of American independence and the constitution. Locke’s principle of natural rights was the most notable inspiration during colonial America. His principles indicated that mankind had natural rights; right to own property, to life and liberty. Basing on these enlightenment principles by Locke, the Americans stood up against oppression from their colonizers. Unfair taxes especially the tax stamp and taxes on tea were seen as unnecessary by these people. They wished they had their own government which would be based on the enlightenment principles. (Nicole, 2009).
One of the core and first step in the realization of democracy in the United States was declaration of independence. This would ensure that all citizens were free to whatever they wanted because their rights were respected. Independence of the nation promised personal freedom for all citizens. A declaration for independence was formed and stated:
- Government is formed to protect people’s natural rights.
- Government should have limited power.
- The type of government should be accepted by all citizens.
- Rejected absolute monarchy and thereby sides with Parliament against the Stuart Kings.
- Government has an obligation to those it governs.
- People have the right to overthrow government if it fails its obligations or takes away natural rights (revolution).
The spirit of the law by Montesquieu influenced many people like Catherine the great and the founding fathers of the American Constitution. This helped the Americans in making their own government as per these laws. According to this letter, the checks and balances of the government should always be balanced. This can only be done by dividing the power among different branches of the government in a bid to protect liberty. The American government is divided in to three branches basing on Montesquieu ideas. Constitution of the United States clearly shows that the power is divided among the legislature, executive and the judiciary branches (Annette, 2001).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau social principles had a great influence on American democracy. He believed that the power of authority lies in the general public. He stated that giving up personal interest was for common good. Rousseau lamented that man was born free and that control by a freely formed government was good. Rousseau’s faith in the majority of the people and the believe that people retain their rights when the government consents from the governed influenced the formation of the constitution in America. His impact is still felt more than two hundred years as a constitution cannot be viable without utilizing Rousseau principles. He advocated for a direct democracy and not a representation form of government. Direct democracy is practiced in the USA as per Rousseau ideas (Annette, 2001).
Other influential philosophies included the reform of the justice system and freedom of speech. Cesare Bonesana Beccaria advocated for a change in the way criminals were treated. He proposed that criminals were humans as well and they had rights like the other people. Cesare believed that governments should seek consent from the majority of the people for the common good and torture of criminals be abolished. He believed that the government did not have power to take lives and that each criminal activity was to have a punishment equitable to it. His principles were embraced in the American constitution as criminals were punished according to the criminal activity they did. This is embraced by the U.S judicial system in the modern era as well (absolute astronomy, 2008).
Voltaire believed that all humans had the right to express themselves through speech. He was inspired by Locke’s, the philosopher from England. He had expressed his feelings about colonialism in America which inspired many Americans in expressing themselves. His philosophies formed the cornerstones for the bill of rights in which people are allowed to express themselves as they wish. Though he might not have influenced America much, his ideas and principles were important in the realization of the U.S constitution after the revolution.
Democracy in America would not have been achieved without the great inspiration for the age of enlightenment philosophies. Philosophers of the time influenced Americans to fight for their natural rights leading to the American Revolution. It was during this period that America got its independence after which a suitable declaration was formed. This declaration was based on enlightenment principles which are embraced more than two hundred years after this era. The big question is, would there be democracy in America without the age of enlightenment?
Nicole, S. The Enlightenment and the Formation of The United States: How Enlightenment Ideals Shaped Policy, Culture, and American Life. 2009. 10 December 2009. http://www.articlemyriad.com/enlightenment_america.htm
Annette, N. Could the American Revolution Have Happened Without the Age of Enlightenment?. 10 December 2009. http://www.three-peaks.net/annette/Enlightment.htm
Democracy: Age of enlightenment and Revolution. 2009. I0 December 2009. http://science.jrank.org/pages/8957/Democracy-Age-Enlightenment-Revolution.html
Cesare Marquis of Beccaria. 2008. 10 December 2009. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Cesare,_Marquis_of_Beccaria