Economic Ideas Of The Enlightenment Essay

The Enlightenment is the name given to the intellectual movement that was centered in the Western World, mainly Europe, during the 18th century. The rise of modern science greatly influenced the enlightenment. It was also the aftermath of the long religious conflict that followed the Reformation. The thinkers of the Enlightenment were dedicated to secular views based on reason of human understanding, which they hoped would provide a basis for beneficial changes affecting every area of life and thought.

There were many people during the Enlightenment that made an impact on the world. Many people had different opinions about what was happening and how to fix the problems facing the world at that time. One man started this change with his Encyclopedia. This man was Diderot; it was called the great work of his life. This book was a major weapon against the old French society. His book made a great impact on the people because it was so cheap that everyone could obtain a copy.

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With the printing of this book a new group emerged from the populace. This group, named the Physiocrats, has been viewed as the founders of the modern discipline of economics. A well-known member of this party is known for his thoughts on the old economic ideas. His name was Adam Smith and he had many economic ideas of the enlightenment. Adam Smith wrote the book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This book had three basic principles of economics.
The first principle was the condemning of mercantilist use of protective tariffs to protect home industries. A tailor does not try to make his own shoes, nor does a shoemaker try to make his own clothes. (Western Civilization pg. 493) With this line of reasoning Adam Smith was saying that a country should not try to make their own products when another country can supply them for cheaper than the one country can make it. A nation should make what it can for the least amount of money, without the tariff, then trade it with other countries. The free trade principle was a fundamental economic principle to most people.

The second principle that Smith proposed was about labor. Unlike most of the Physiocrates he thought that labor was a countries true wealth. Labor was the only part of the country that could change the wealth, not gold or silver.

Finally Smith believed that the government only existed for three of the peoples basic needs. He thought that the government should be a passive policemen. The three needs that Adam Smith theorized were the fact that the people need some protection against another country in the case of an invasion. The next need was for justice and peace in the cities. To do this there had to be police. The very last need was maintenance. There were many roads and bridges that needed to be kept in working order and the citizens were too busy to do it themselves.

Many of the ideas that Smith proposed were then incorporated into everyday living. This made the enlightenment a new place for people to live. The enlightenment brought a new life for the poor. They soon got jobs and many other benefits for these poor people.

The Enlightenment brought more trade to the people. They felt that, along with Adam Smith, countries should only make items that they can do for the cheapest amount. This spread trade to many different countries that had items others needed. Distributing trade made work available for a greater number of people.

Government members wanted to help their country have a greater economy. With this idea in mind they started to make jobs open to more people. With more members in the working society the country would have more benefits. There would be a larger food supply and more money going back into the economy. The government supported the people by making new positions for the needy. They did this by developing new jobs to fit the three needs for the people according to Smith’s theories. The people needed to have maintenance around to fix the roads and bridges. These made many new jobs for handymen. The next need was the need for security and justice. The government had to structure an office for this, which supplied many new jobs and made people feel safer so they came to the country.

The new theories of the Enlightenment are still around this very day. It has an effect on almost everyone that works or lives today. There are still many different places in the government that have the same ideas that were used back then. The United States government trades with many other countries. It trades with the Middle East countries for oil when we have a small stock of our own. In trade we give them, something that we grow a large amount of that few countries do, corn. The government also supplies a large amount of jobs to maintain the roads, bridges, get others jobs, and to supply safety to the citizens.
The Enlightenment came to an end in Western Europe after the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era revealed the costs of its political program and the lack of commitment in those whose rhetoric was often more liberal than their actions. Nationalism undercut its cosmopolitan values and assumptions about human nature, and the romantics attacked its belief that clear intelligible answers could be found to every question asked by people who sought to be free and happy. The skepticism of the philosophes was swept away in the religious revival of the 1790s and early 1800s. The cultural leadership of the landed aristocracy and professional men who had supported the Enlightenment was eroded by the growth of a new wealthy educated class of businessmen, products of the industrial revolution. Only in North and South America, where industry came later and revolution had not led to reaction, did the Enlightenment linger into the 19th century. Its lasting heritage has been its contribution to the literature of human freedom and some institutions in which its values have been embodied.

Over the years there have been many eras that have effected the way we live now. In the Enlightenment Adam Smith had many theories about the economy. These ideas had a grand effect on the people of the time and the people that live today. The Enlightenment and its ideas help bring along many ideas and many other eras in the process.

The Enlightenment Paul Brians 1999
Bjorn Christensson – Philosophers Guide 1997
Political Movers and Shakers of the Enlightenment, Mike Hodges, 1996
Western Civilization Volume II, Hughes Annual Edition, 1982
An Inquiry into the nature and Cause, Adam Smith, William Benton Publishing, 1952
Intro into the Enlightenment, Lloyd Spencer, Totem Publishing, 1997
Western Civilization Volume Four, Jackson J. Spielvogel, Wadsworth, 1999
European History


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