Nationalism: Enlightenment's Deadly Successorby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
How did Enlightenment ideals develop into the Nationalism of the late 19th century?
Thesis: Ideas promoted through Enlightenment of the 18th century directly brought about abuses of 19th century Nationalism.
Summary: The age of enlightenment gave rise to the darkness of ultra-nationalism through the humanistic belief of a culture's ability to rely on the goodness and reason of man to bring an end to the evils of the world. The danger of this philosophy resulted in marxism, fascism, and dictator based personality cults that destroyed the lives of millions.
At first glance, the ideals of the age of Enlightenment appear to be completely different from the values of Nationalism. However, principles popular during the Enlightenment had effects reaching into the nineteenth century and its beliefs, the most dominant of which was Nationalism.
The Enlightenment of the early eighteenth century included ideas ideas such as the equality of all races and faith in the power of science. Thinkers and philosophers during this period actually coined the term “Enlightenment” themselves, believing that they were freeing the European continent from the grasp of ignorance and false belief of the Dark Ages. Many famous philosophers lived during the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and many others. During this time, important discoveries and advancements in science kindled a confident belief in science. Sir Isaac Newton’s theories on gravity encouraged the idea that science would eventually explain everything. Reason was hailed as the only educated way to analyze the natural world and religion became despised as superstitious. Each of these ideas had a common root in the confident power of man’s intellect, and trust in his self reliance.
The Church suffered much during the Enlightenment, but not all philosophers renounced their belief in God. Deism became popular, as it detached God from the daily affairs of man and allowed him to focus on himself and his ability to improve his life. The corruption, wealth, and political power that the Roman Catholic church held made it a target for intellectuals, who accused it of smothering reason.
Although the American Revolution had broken from their mother land of England over religious and economic freedom, it was the bloody revolution in France that was the first major event to take the ideals of the Enlightenment and combined them with another idea: Nationalism. The heart of the French Revolution had its foundations on the ideals of the Enlightenment (and it was revealing that the two main philosophers, Rousseau and Voltaire, were bitter enemies). The living conditions of the French people declined due to suffering defeat in foreign wars and the resulting financial troubles, compounded by the conspicuous consumption demonstrated by the French monarchy. Most of this resentment was directed at the unpopular royalty and the Church. The idea of “Divine Right” (the belief that monarchs were appointed by God to rule their nations) quickly lost its popularity as the rumored incompetence of the King Louis XVI and his wife became increasingly apparent. Corruption within the Church and among its clergy bred bitterness, and the people lost faith in the God because of the conduct of His servants. Replacing the authority that the Church had in France, the leaders of the revolution attempted to install a system based entirely on human rationality. Another endeavor at a replacement was the “Cult of the Supreme Being” promoted by Maximilien Robespierre, a form of Deism. At the root of the French Revolution was an idea that unified the people of France in their quest for the perfect government. This idea of Nationalism drove citizens to accomplish dramatic things in the name of their country and provided a strong sense of identity.
As the nineteenth century progressed, Nationalism steadily gained ascendance. Many moves toward independence began toward the end of the nineteenth century. Italy gained its independence, Germany united under one government, and many other movements occurred across the face of the European continent. Rousseau, whose ideas formed the basis for the French Revolution, was a strong supporter of democratic government. (He also theorized that the rule of the majority may be fundamentally flawed, an apparent contradiction). Democratic government requires a sense of national identity to some extent as a government by the people and for the people must promote the interests of its country. Nationalism provided the necessary glue to rally the country under the government under Napoleon, at least until his defeat of in 1815.
Enlightenment gave birth to the Industrial Revolution that demanded raw materials and trade with foreign sources. After England forced open China as a result of the Opium Wars, the Mandate of Heaven was eventually transferred to Sun Yat Sen's nationalism in 1911. When the United States forced open Japan in 1854, the secular power of the shogun was transferred to the heavenly lineage of the emperor as a result of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In both cases, the events that followed led to enormous bloodshed inflicted by these recently enlightened nation states. In the case of China, it was communism that trusted in the goodness of man led by the personality cult of Chairman Mao. In the case of Japan, the jealous military twisted loyalty to the emperor sun deity to justify the attack and occupation of Formosa (1895), Korea (1905), and Manchuria (1932). The most striking consequence was that the embarrassment suffered by the nation of Russia in 1904-5 led to the eventual overthrow of the Czar and the founding of the USSR.
In conclusion, Nationalism simply came from ideas developed during the Enlightenment a century before. Enlightenment ideas gave credibility to the claim that a utopia of humanistic perfection would evolve. In a frenzy of national identity, the danger of this philosophy resulted in Marxism, Fascism, and cultic ultra-nationalism that destroyed the lives of millions.
Considering Genesis 12:3, it is interesting to note the frequent correlation between the rise and fall of nations and how they treat the Jews. Just prior to the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian government had allowed the murder of about 50,000 Russian Jews in a series of pogroms that began near Moldova. The attacks pushed Jews toward the USA, and increased Zionism to return to their ancient homeland. Those that come against God's chosen people will eventually experience the wrath of God.
Enlightenment philosophers who taught against the Christian faith drowned in their own delusions. According to Matthew 18:6: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Although the Enlightenment set in motion the utopic quest for the perfect nation state apart , perfection was unattainable due to their denial of Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). Since his kingdom is not of this world, we are left with imperfect government for human society. The Americans recognized this inherent flaw of innate evil and put in a system of checks and balances. The French swallowed the deception of perfection and brought on the bloodshed of the Reign of Terror. For more on these differences, see: Reasons for the French, Russian, and American Revolutions.
1. Which two people were philosophers during the Enlightenment?
a. Voltaire and Rousseau
b. Lewis and Clark
c. Marx and Lenin
d. Socrates and Plato
2. What was “Divine Right”?
a. The oldest child's right to have the last cookie instead of a younger sibling.
b. The rights that every human deserves.
c. The idea that kings or queens were appointed by God to rule their countries.
d. Name of the Magna Carta constitution.
3. Which word formed an essential part of Enlightenment philosophy?
4. Which country experienced a spike in Nationalism in the nineteenth century?
a. Papua New Guinea
Answers: 1a, 2c, 3b, 4d
"Enlightenment, Age of," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
“Enlightenment,” Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright
“Nationalism,” WikiPedia ©2004
“Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” WikiPedia ©2004
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