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new hope Enlightenment Ideas And Politcal Figuers Of The Era

Intro to European History
3-3-99
Enlightenment Ideas and
Political Figures of
The  Enlightenment Era


The Enlightenment of the 18th century was an exciting period of history.  For the first time since ancient Grecian times, reason and logic became center in the thoughts of most of elite society.  The urge to discover and to understand replaced religion as the major motivational ideal of the age, and the upper class social scene all over Europe was alive with livid debate on these new ideas.
A French playwright who went by the pseudonym Voltaire is the most recognized and controversial Enlightenment author.  Because of his trademark acidic wit, he was forced to flee the country after giving offence to a powerful nobleman.  He spent the next two years in England where he came in contact with the pivotal Enlightenment idea of religious freedom and the freedom of the press.  When he returned to France, he had some scathing things to say about the less than enlightened policies followed by the French monarchs, especially concerning religious intolerance.  Because his ideas were generally offensive to the ruler of his country, the need to be able to leave France quickly to avoid prosecution was a consideration when deciding where he should live, which eventually was on the Swiss boarder.  There he continued to treat on society and anything else that caught his imagination.
Along with Voltaire were many other Enlightened thinkers, or philosophes, as they came to be known.  A man by the name of Rousseau was also a very influential personality.  His essays mainly treated on social inequality and education.
An Italian by the name of Cesare Beccaria also discussed society, but more in terms of social control and matters of crime and punishment.  He was an opponent of torture, capital punishment, and of any punishment that was done to excess or didnt fit the crime that warranted it.  He arrived at his conclusions through the logic that was so popular of the day.  An excellent example of this logic is in this phrase concerning capitol punishment:  Is it not absurd, that the laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?  Rational arguments such as these permeated Enlightened conversations and didnt fail to be noticed by many of the great national rulers of the day.
One monarch who seemed to be particularly inclined to the Enlightenment philosophies was Emperor Joseph II of Austria.  After the less enlightened reign of his mother, Empress Maria Theresa, he was able to finally institutionalize many of the ideas he had been mulling over and thinking about for years.  His mother, being a staunch Catholic, saw little use for such trivial issues, but once Joseph finally attainted complete control over the empire, his reforms were widespread.  Possibly to spite his mother, one of the first thing he did as emperor was seize much of the land occupied by various monastic sects, which he accomplished through his Edict of Idle Institutions.  True to his Enlightened nature, he promptly turned the seized lands into schools and other institutions of learning.  He abolished the death penalty, made everybody equal in the eyes of the law, and ratified legislation that called for complete religious toleration.  He even attempted to make the Jews living in Austria more acceptable to society as a whole.  He had only limited success on this front, but the attempt itself was a drastic step for a monarch of any country to date.  He made great progress economically as well.   Joseph II ended the monopolies that had unnaturally influenced his economy for decades and eliminated stifling internal trade barriers.  After all was said and done, he had created around 11,000 laws in an attempt to transform his country into an embodiment of Enlightened ideals.  Has he himself put it once, I have made Philosophy the lawmaker of my empire, her logical applications are going to transform Austria.
Despite his hopes, the reforms set forth by Joseph II were not as successful as he had hoped.  He angered the nobles by releasing the peasants from serfdom, and the peasants were similarly distressed over the newfound freedoms which they had no experience dealing with.  His reforms were simply ... more

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Desert flower

DESERT FLOWER

 Waris Dirie was born into a family of nomads in a Somalian desert.  Growing up, she was privileged to run free with natures most majestic animals, and learned a respect for nature that many of us as Americans could never fathom.  However, these thrills are just on the surface of what life is really like for African women.  She suffered through intense traditional mutilation in her childhood, and endless hours of hard labor in the fields everyday.  At the age of 13, she ran away to escape the marriage that her father had arranged for her to a sixty-year-old man in exchange for five camels.  She left with nothing but the swaddling clothes on her back not even shoes to protect her feet from the scorching African sun.  Her journey on foot went on for weeks, until she found her sister, who had also ran away five years earlier for the same reasons.  After getting reacquainted with an aunt and her ambassador husband, Waris moved to England with them.  When her uncles term was up, she stayed in England where a photographer, who eventually put her on the cover many major magazines, discovered her.  In describing her remarkable journey through life, Waris demonstrates examples of a masculine culture with elements high uncertainty-avoidance, and her own individualism amongst such a  collectivistic society.
Wariss description of life in Africa is a perfect definition for a masculine culture.  She explains, Women are the backbone of Africa; they do most of the work.  Yet women are powerless to make decisions. She recalls a story of how her loving mother permitted her to be butchered, because of a traditional African ritual to please African men.  When she was five years old, her mother made her an appointment to meet with the gypsy women.  Waris didnt know exactly what this meant, but it was supposedly an exciting moment in the lives of young African girls, and when they returned, they were considered women.  Waris recalls in graphic detail being bound and blind-folded by her mother while the gypsy women sliced between her legs repeatedly, then sewed her up, leaving a whole the size of a match-head.  She was then drug off to a shelter under a bush where she spent weeks alone to recuperate. Sadly, this is not an isolated case, millions of nomadic cultures still perform the ritual, and many young girls do not survive the surgery.  All this is done to ensure that African women will not be promiscuous, for after the surgery, sex is extremely painful for them.  African men want a wife who has had the surgery because the tiny whole brings more pleasure to them, and so the women suffer through this to please the men.  African mothers do what they can to ensure a wedding for their daughters, because there is no place in society for an unmarried woman.
 The Somalian culture in which Waris was raised showed many aspects of a high-uncertainty avoidance culture.  The world today contains incredible technology, yet her people still live in the same manner as their ancestors thousands of years ago.  Their society has stayed virtually unchanged, and not because of chance, but choice. This avoidance is demonstrated by Wariss translator at one point in her life.  After finally coming clean with her doctor about the reason she had such intolerable periods in which she could not function for seven days, he insisted that she get the circumcision from her childhood reversed as soon as possible.  To discuss the details of the operation, the doctor hired a translator, for her English was not yet fluent. To her dismay, the translator was a Somalian male who scorned her about going against their custom.   He was offended that Waris would deviate from the tradition, regardless of the pain that she experienced because of it.   He didnt question that the procedure was inappropriate, just accepted it as culture.  This is why the rules and rituals in that society have remained the same for so many years; they are not questioned, just followed.  The people have faith that these practices are right under God, and therefor they continue.
Regardless of her strictly collectivistic upbringing, Waris throughout ... more

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