AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

What we are not talking about already elsewhere
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

f. Scientific Progress

The Enlightenment enthusiasm for scientific discovery was directly related to the growth of deism and skepticism about received religious doctrine.

Deists engaged in scientific inquiry not only to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, but to respond to a divine calling to expose God’s natural laws.

Advances in scientific knowledge — whether the rejection of the geocentric model of the universe because of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo’s work or the discovery of natural laws such as Newton’s mathematical explanation of gravity — removed the need for a constantly intervening God.

With the release of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia in 1660, faith in scientific progress took institutional form in the Royal Society of England, the Académie des Sciences in France and later the Academy of Sciences in Germany.

In pre-revolutionary America, scientists or natural philosophers belonged to the Royal Society until 1768, when Benjamin Franklin helped create and then served as the first president of the American Philosophical Society.

Franklin became one of the most famous American scientists during the Enlightenment period because of his many practical inventions and his theoretical work on the properties of electricity.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

3. Four American Enlightenment Thinkers

What follows are brief accounts of how four significant thinkers contributed to the eighteenth-century American Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams.

a. Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, the author, printer, scientist and statesman who led America through a tumultuous period of colonial politics, a revolutionary war and its momentous, though no less precarious, founding as a nation.

In his Autobiography, he extolled the virtues of thrift, industry and money-making (or acquisitiveness).

For Franklin, the self-interested pursuit of material wealth is only virtuous when it coincides with the promotion of the public good through philanthropy and voluntarism — what is often called “enlightened self-interest.”

He believed that reason, free trade and a cosmopolitan spirit serve as faithful guides for nation-states to cultivate peaceful relations.


Within nation-states, Franklin thought that “independent entrepreneurs make good citizens” because they pursue “attainable goals” and are “capable of living a useful and dignified life.”

In his autobiography, Franklin claims that the way to “moral perfection” is to cultivate thirteen virtues (temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility) as well as a healthy dose of “cheerful prudence.”

Franklin favored voluntary associations over governmental institutions as mechanisms to channel citizens’ extreme individualism and isolated pursuit of private ends into productive social outlets.

Not only did Franklin advise his fellow citizens to create and join these associations, but he also founded and participated in many himself.

Franklin was a staunch defender of federalism, a critic of narrow parochialism, a visionary leader in world politics and a strong advocate of religious liberty.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

b. Jefferson

A Virginian statesman, scientist and diplomat, Jefferson is probably best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Agreeing with Benjamin Franklin, he substituted “pursuit of happiness” for “property” in Locke’s schedule of natural rights, so that liberty to pursue the widest possible human ends would be accommodated.

Jefferson also exercised immense influence over the creation of the United States’ Constitution through his extended correspondence with James Madison during the 1787 Constitutional Convention (since Jefferson was absent, serving as a diplomat in Paris).

Just as Jefferson saw the Declaration as a test of the colonists’ will to revolt and separate from Britain, he also saw the Convention in Philadelphia, almost eleven years later, as a grand experiment in creating a new constitutional order.

Panel four of the Jefferson Memorial records how Thomas Jefferson viewed constitutions: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind."

"As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

Jefferson’s words capture the spirit of organic constitutionalism, the idea that constitutions are living documents that transform over time in pace with popular thought, imagination and opinion.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

c. Madison

Heralded as the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison was, besides one of the most influential architects of the U.S. Constitution, a man of letters, a politician, a scientist and a diplomat who left an enduring legacy on American philosophical thought.

As a tireless advocate for the ratification of the Constitution, Madison advanced his most groundbreaking ideas in his jointly authoring The Federalist Papers with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton.

Indeed, two of his most enduring ideas — the large republic thesis and the argument for separation-of-powers and checks-and-balances — are contained there.

In the tenth Federalist paper, Madison explains the problem of factions, namely, that the development of groups with shared interests (advocates or interest groups) is inevitable and dangerous to republican government.

If we try to vanquish factions, then we will in turn destroy the liberty upon which their existence and activities are founded.

Baron d’ Montesquieu, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, believed that the only way to have a functioning republic, one that was sufficiently democratic, was for it to be small, both in population and land mass (on the order of Ancient Athens or Sparta).

He then argues that a large and diverse republic will stop the formation of a majority faction; if small groups cannot communicate over long distances and coordinate effectively, the threat will be negated and liberty will be preserved (“you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens”).

When factions formed inside the government, a clever institutional design of checks and balances (first John Adams’s idea, where each branch would have a hand in the others’ domain) would avert excessive harm, so that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition” and, consequently, government will effectively “control itself.”

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

d. Adams

John Adams was also a founder, statesman, diplomat and eventual President who contributed to American Enlightenment thought.

Among his political writings, three stand out: Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1776), A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Against the Attack of M. Turgot (1787-8), and Discourses on Davila (1791).

In the Dissertation, Adams faults Great Britain for deciding to introduce canon and feudal law, “the two greatest systems of tyranny,” to the North American colonies.

Once introduced, elections ceased in the North American colonies, British subjects felt enslaved and revolution became inevitable.

In the Defense, Adams offers an uncompromising defense of republicanism.

He disputes Turgot’s apology for unified and centralized government, arguing that insurance against consolidated state power and support for individual liberty require separating government powers between branches and installing careful checks and balances.

Nevertheless, a strong executive branch is needed to defend the people against “aristocrats” who will attempt to deprive liberty from the mass of people.

Revealing the Enlightenment theme of conservatism, Adams criticized the notion of unrestricted popular rule or pure democracy in the Discourses.

Since humans are always desirous of increasing their personal power and reputation, all the while making invidious comparisons, government must be designed to constrain the effects of these passionate tendencies.


Adams writes: “Consider that government is intended to set bounds to passions which nature has not limited; and to assist reason, conscience, justice, and truth in controlling interests which, without it, would be as unjust as uncontrollable.”

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

4. Contemporary Work

Invocations of universal freedom draw their inspiration from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Jefferson, but come into conflict with contemporary liberal appeals to multiculturalism and pluralism.

Each of these Enlightenment thinkers sought to ground the legitimacy of the state on a theory of rational-moral political order reflecting universal truths about human nature — for instance, that humans are carriers of inalienable rights (Locke), autonomous agents (Kant), or fundamentally equal creations (Jefferson).


However, many contemporary liberals — for instance, Graeme Garrard, John Gray and Richard Rorty — fault Enlightenment liberalism for its failure to acknowledge and accommodate the differences among citizens’ incompatible and equally reasonable religious, moral and philosophical doctrines, especially in multicultural societies.

According to these critics, Enlightenment liberalism, rather than offering a neutral framework, discloses a full-blooded doctrine that competes with alternative views of truth, the good life, and human nature.

This pluralist critique of Enlightenment liberalism’s universalism makes it difficult to harmonize the American Founders’ appeal to universal human rights with their insistence on religious tolerance.


However, as previously noted, evidence of Burkean conservatism offers an alternative to the strong universalism that these recent commentators criticize in American Enlightenment thought.

What in recent times has been characterized as the ‘Enlightenment project’ is the general idea that human rationality can and should be made to serve ethical and humanistic ends.

If human societies are to achieve genuine moral progress, parochialism, dogma and prejudice ought to give way to science and reason in efforts to solve pressing problems.


The American Enlightenment project signifies how America has taken a leading role in promoting Enlightenment ideals during that period of human history commonly referred to as ‘modernity.’

Still, there is no consensus about the exact legacy of American Enlightenment thinkers — for instance, whether republican or liberal ideas are predominant.

Until the publication of J. G. A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment (1975), most scholars agreed that liberal (especially Lockean) ideas were more dominant than republican ones.

Pockock’s work initiated a sea change towards what is now the widely accepted view that liberal and republican ideas had relatively equal sway during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, both in America and Europe.

Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn contend that republicanism was dominant and liberalism recessive in American Enlightenment thought.

Isaac Kramnick still defends the orthodox position that American Enlightenment thinking was exclusively Lockean and liberal, thus explaining the strongly individualistic character of modern American culture.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
Site Admin
Posts: 49623
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p

Re: AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT IN AMERICA

Post by thelivyjr »

5. References and Further Reading

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Ferguson, Robert A. The American Enlightenment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Hampson, Norman. The Enlightenment: An Evaluation of its Assumptions. London: Penguin, 1968.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. The Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments. London: Vintage, 2008.

Israel, Jonathan. A Resolution of the Mind — Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Kramnick, Isaac. Age of Ideology: Political Thought, 1750 to the Present. New York: Prentice Hall, 1979.

May, Henry F. The Enlightenment in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

O’Brien, Conor Cruise. The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800. London: Pimlico, 1998.

O’Hara, Kieron. The Enlightenment: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: OneWorld, 2010.

Pockock, John G. A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the American Republican Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.

Wilson, Ellen J. and Peter H. Reill. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. New York: Book Builders Inc., 2004.

Wood, Gordon. The Creation of the American Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

Author Information

Shane J. Ralston
Email: sjr21@psu.edu
Pennsylvania State University
U. S. A.

https://www.iep.utm.edu/amer-enl/
Post Reply