The Situation in France in the Enlightenment. The historian of the French Enlightenment has to take account of the reign of two kings; that of Louis XIV (16431715); and that of Louis XV (17151774). Together they cover the long period of one hundred and thirty-one years. The reign of Louis XV marks the actual development of the Enlightenment, while that of Louis XIV contains the causes. The long reign of seventy-two years of Louis XIV had been an absolute, arbitrary, and personal government. It had been an age unsurpassed in literature and eloquence, but also an age in which all those subjects that did not redound to the glory of the church were suppressed. It had been the age of Molière, Corneille, Racine, La Fontaine, and Fénelon; an age when art was encouraged, but also an age in which political and philosophical originality would not presume to breathe. Between Descartes’ death in 1650 and the death of Louis XIV in 1715, one finds a single philosopher, Pierre Bayle, and he had to leave France. The Newtonian physics was not accepted in France until 1732—forty-five years after its publication in England. Upon the death of Louis XIV the artistic glories of his reign lost all their value for the nation. In their place was set the problem of the material misery of the nation, which had been caused by the long wars and the extravagance of paternal government.

The reign of Louis XV seethes with the struggle of social forces. It is a period in which the individual is striving to gain his rights under the institutions that have so long repressed him. The development of the French Enlightenment is identical with the struggle for political liberty. In no other period of history—except perhaps the Age of Pericles—is the history of philosophic thought so intimately connected with political history. The fifty-nine years of the reign of Louis XV are filled with exciting events which interest both the philosopher and the historian. The French Enlightenment is the “reaction against that protective and interfering spirit which reached its zenith under Louis XIV.” With Louis XV the magnificence and the utility of ecclesiastical and political absolutism could not be maintained. For the hierarchy of the church was unable longer to keep up its claim of independence and morality; and the State was rapidly exhausting its power by exhausting its financial resources. Each event in the history of France in the eighteenth century had therefore two aspects—each led to the Revolution, and each was a step in the development of the Enlightenment of the individual. The pioneers in the movement could not have been conscious of the end to which their criticism would lead; but to us looking back upon the century the result seems inevitable. A comparison with the situation in England is interesting. While in England the political and ecclesiastical institutions were so elastic that they could without disintegrating absorb the movement of the Enlightenment, and while they were so little bound to traditional institutions that the growth in individualism would be constitutional, the situation in France was exactly opposite. (1) In France the church and the political institutions had become inelastic bodies under Louis XIV. They had reached the limit of their development. So deeply rooted in absolutism and special privileges were they that they were not open to innovation or reform. During the reign of Louis XV the only question was, which would be crushed—the new individualism or the old institutions. No compromise was possible. The institutions, having survived their usefulness, gave way. (2) In the next place the French church and state had for many years been identified with oppression and tyranny, while the English people had within a century gained many needed reforms by beheading one king and forcing out another. Consequently the English government of the eighteenth century was identified with the liberty of the individual. In England political and religious speculation followed and did not precede political reforms. In France the opposite was true. To the mind of the French people the church represented only superstition, and the state only profligacy and tyranny. The more they seemed to support each other in one social structure, the more rapid, virulent, and excessive would naturally be the reaction against both when once individualism got a footing.

The result was that while in England the Enlightenment always remained critical and negative, in France it became an obstinate and positive dogmatism. Behind French criticism was developing a philosophical creed. The French Enlightenment was a social cause and a self-sustaining idea. The French philosophers of the eighteenth century, on the whole, were not superior men intellectually, for they were inclined to make the small look large and the large great. But although their perspective was inaccurate, they had an enthusiastic faith in progress and humanity.

The English Influence in France. Louis XIV and his two predecessors had made Paris the intellectual centre of Europe, and up to 1690 it had no rival. The French language had taken its place beside the Latin as the language of science. The circle of scientists existing just before and at the beginning of Louis XIV’s reign had its equal nowhere in Europe. We remember how Hobbes found Euclid in Paris, Locke spent four years at or near Paris, Leibnitz gained there all his mathematical erudition and training. During the seventeenth century Paris was the centre of scholastic influence, and this is seen directly or indirectly in the writings of all seventeenth century philosophers. The English had taken their cue from the French; but on the other hand, it is doubtful if as late as the death of Louis there were a half dozen Frenchmen that knew the English language.

About the time of the publication of Locke’s Essay the intellectual centre of gravity began to move from Paris to London. The founding of the Royal Society in Oxford in 1660 was the beginning of the organization of British scientific influence. Newton’s physics (1687) then began to supplant the Cartesian physics, and Locke’s psychological doctrines the dogmatism of the Rationalists, among the thinkers of western Europe. Newtonian physics and English empiricism became the scientific watchwords of the eighteenth century; and although the French were late in accepting them, it is said that at the end of the Enlightenment there was no cultured Frenchman who could not read English. We find that such notable Frenchmen as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Buffon, Brissot, Helvetius, Gournay, Jussieu, Lafayette, Maupertuis, Mirabeau, Roland, and Rousseau visited England during the period from the death of Louis XIV to the Revolution. Poets, mathematicians, historians, naturalists, philologists, philosophers, and essayists all agreed to the necessity of studying the language and people on whom their fathers had not deigned to waste thought except in contempt.

But perhaps the political motive was quite as strong as the scientific in turning the French of the eighteenth century toward England. The English government was the example of political liberty of that time. The rising inquisitive thinkers of France had no alternative but to turn to free England for spiritual support against their own decrepit tyranny. The first French visitors were amazed at English prosperity, even though the crown had decreased in power—amazed at the liberty of the press and Parliament, amazed at the control of the revenues by the representative body. England thus became the school for all the thinkers of Europe, and through her literature taught the lesson of political liberty first to France, and then to all Europe.

The Two Periods of the French Enlightenment. The eighteenth century divides itself in France much the same as it does in England. There are two periods: the first extending to the middle of the century, when the Enlightenment of the individual is thought to lie in intellectual cultivation; the second, when his salvation becomes social and practical. The first period is dominated by Voltaire, and advanced by Montesquieu and the Encyclopædists; the second is dominated by Rousseau, and results in the Revolution.

The two periods have a common fundamental motive, although the means used are radically different. Both represent a gradual progression toward the elevation of the individual in his reaction against the institutions of the seventeenth century. But the first was an intellectual Enlightenment and all that this means, while the second was emotional and social. The first was aristocratic, while the second was democratic. Yet the whole movement was a gradual filtering of the doctrine of individualism from the upper to the lower classes. It naturally took the form, first, of intellectual culture, and then of an appeal to spontaneity. The intellectual theories of the first period were bound to find practical expression in the second. In the first period the champions of the ancient monarchy were forced to defend it on their opponents’ own ground—that of rationality. In the second period, the monarchists had to change their battleground and make some practical reforms. In the first, the attack was made principally on the church, in the second on society. While the attack on the state began early, it attained significance not until the middle of the century.

The Intellectual Enlightenment (17291762). Voltaire, Montesquieu, and the Encyclopædists. The first representatives of the French Enlightenment were Voltaire and Montesquieu. Voltaire went to England in 1726, and Montesquieu in 1728, and they both returned to France in 1729. Voltaire published his Letters on the English in 1734 and his Elements of the Philosophy of Newton in 1738.47 Montesquieu had published a fierce invective against the political institutions of France in 1721, a discussion of the decadence of the Romans in 1734, and his famous Spirit of the Laws in 1748, selling twenty-two editions in eighteen months. Voltaire introduced and espoused the religious theory of Locke in deistic form, and Montesquieu expounded Locke’s theory of government. Their writings were widely read by the upper classes, and this theoretical revolutionary movement against all existing institutions got momentum about 1735.

The aim of this movement was entirely aristocratic. The solution of the existing predicament in France lay for them in the greater care of the masses by an enlightened tyranny. The dualism of the classes was always assumed. The few are to be cultured; for them reason is to take the place of dogma. The masses are not amenable to reason, have no capacity for education, and for them religion suffices. To free the individual from terror of the supernatural, to release his morality from Jesuitical dominance, to give him intellectual independence of state and church—this was the working idea of the intellectual Enlightenment. Thought should be free, and the conscience of the individual should be untrammeled, because the reason is a sufficient guide. Being thus rationalistic, the movement was aristocratic. A new aristocracy should be substituted for the old—an aristocracy of the cultured instead of the corrupt and ignorant, who were then the dominant French classes in church and state. The illuminati should participate in the existing political privileges.

Voltaire (16941778).48 Voltaire was a deist when he went to England, and he was therefore very much impressed by the prevalent English deism. Among the English deists, Bolingbroke had the greatest influence over him, and he was the “direct progenitor of Voltaire’s religious opinions.” Bolingbroke’s light and supercilious infidelity of the man of the world was suited to Voltaire. A universal genius, Voltaire wrote on every subject; but “not one of his books but bears marks of his sojourn in England.” He read with familiarity all the English philosophers,—Hobbes, Berkeley, Cudworth, Locke; but always returning to Locke. “Harassed, wearied, ashamed of having sought so many truths and found so many chimeras, I returned like a prodigal son to his father and threw myself into the arms of that modest man who never pretends to know what he does not know; who in truth has no enormous possessions, but whose substance is well assured.”

In his Philosophical Letters Voltaire makes invidious comparisons between Locke’s Empiricism and Descartes’ Rationalism, between English Deism and French Catholicism, and between the English government and the French government. Toward Christianity, as he saw it in his own country, his hatred amounted to fanaticism. His strictures were so scathing that Christians have looked upon him as an atheist. He was, however, a deist, who believed that, while we can know God’s existence, we cannot know his nature. He was fond of bringing all dogma under criticism, and “while he denied nothing, he cast suspicion upon everything.” He called himself the “ignorant philosopher.” To him atheism was preferable to dogma and superstition. His passion for invective against the French clergy was so great that his constructive statements about God and immortality were cold and impersonal.

The Encyclopædists.49 In modern times the French have been unequaled in their encyclopædias and dictionaries. The famous Encyclopédie or Dictionnaire Raisonné was what its name implies. It was published in seventeen volumes during the years from 1751 to 1766, and had an addition of eleven volumes of plates (17661772). Thirty thousand copies were printed in the first instance, and in 1774 it was translated into four foreign languages. The moving spirit and editor-in-chief was Diderot (17131784) and his chief assistant d’Alembert. They were assisted by many notable French writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Grimm, von Holbach, etc., who wrote separate articles. There was a host of unsolicited contributors. Two years before the Encyclopædia, Buffon had begun to publish his Natural History in forty-three volumes, the last volume appearing in 1789. The Encyclopædia had two predecessors,—Bacon’s chapter on Experimental History and Chambers’s Encyclopædia. The articles in the Encyclopædia were presumably scientific explanations alphabetically arranged, such as would appear in any work of the sort. Frequently they were disguised attacks upon existing French institutions. Often a detailed description, as on the subject “Taxes” or “God,” would reveal existing French conditions. As Comte says, “The Encyclopædia furnished a rallying ground for the most divergent efforts without any sacrifice of essential independence, and made a mass of incoherent speculation appear like a coherent system.” The two successive periods of the movement of the Enlightenment unite in the Encyclopædia against the common enemy of authority.

There are two things to be noticed in connection with the Encyclopædia: the men who wrote it went much further toward individualism and skepticism than did Voltaire; and the Encyclopædia reached a wider circle and different classes than did the works of Voltaire. Instead of the deism of Voltaire we find contributions from skeptics, atheists, and materialists,—men who are becoming more negative in their opinions as the century advances. The thorough-going agnosticism of the Encyclopædist group reached a point where it ceased to be a philosophy. Diderot had said that the first step in philosophy is unbelief, and his associates went so far as to think that unbelief is all of philosophy. Their extreme sensationalism, naturalism, and materialism sometimes appeared in disguised form in the Encyclopædia, but more often in independent writings. The Encyclopædia became the source of information for everybody. It spread information among all classes and undermined their reverence for French institutions. The result was that what had been sacred to the court and the laborer because it was traditional, now became the object of scorn to all.

The most profound of the sensationalists of this time was Condillac (17151780),50 who does not, however, appear to be connected with the Encyclopædia. He published his Treatise on Sensations in 1754, which reduced Locke’s psychological analysis to a pure sensationalism. The well-known figurative statue endowed only with the sense of smell was conceived by him. He introduced Locke’s psychology into France, whence it was carried into Germany.

The Social Enlightenment (17621789). The second period of the French Enlightenment begins with the publication of Rousseau’s Contrat Social in 1762 and culminates in the Revolution. The influence of Rousseau dominates the second period as that of Voltaire dominated the first. Voltaire had never aimed at a social revolution. His objective point was to reinstate the understanding, to emancipate the individual by self-culture and by freedom of thought. He was not historian enough to see that he could not revolutionize intellectual France without pulling down the social structure. He did not realize that in striking at the tyranny of the church he was dealing a fatal blow at the structure of French society. The literary fencing between Voltaire and the adroit churchmen might have been amusing, had the issue not been so serious. But although superficial and vain, Voltaire was downright in earnest. At one time it seemed as if the intellectual Enlightenment would work itself out in the church. But the causes of the revolt were too deeply social, the malady against which Voltaire was aiming was too vital; and besides, at that moment attention was being directed to the character of the State itself.

Rousseau (17121778).51 Rousseau began at the point where Voltaire left off. He was under the influence of Voltaire at the first and received from Voltaire his original productive impulse. But the concrete right of individuals, and not their abstract intellectual freedom, was what appealed to Rousseau. Strict moderation and literary freedom were too negative, half-hearted, for a reformer of Rousseau’s type. Public opinion was not to be found in Versailles, as Voltaire thought, but in the streets of Paris. The Revolution then came to a head, and we find the schools of Voltaire and Rousseau locking horns. Voltaire’s theory of moderation was represented in the Constituent Assembly and the upper and middle classes, while Rousseau’s radicalism was introduced in the Convention and fully expounded in the sections of the Commune of Paris which attacked the Convention. History shows how impossible the aim of each school was, and how the contest had to be fought over again in the nineteenth century.

Rousseau lived a wandering and adventurous life, full of hallucinations and self-created trouble. He made many friends, only to quarrel with them. He was half insane, and his career inspires both disgust and admiration. His numerous works fill twenty-two volumes, the most important ones being two prize essays published in 1750 and 1773, which represent the negative side of his doctrine; Héloïse, 1761; Emile, 1762; Le Contrat Social, 1762; and his Confessions, which contain his constructive thought.

Rousseau was at first a contributor to the Encyclopædia, but at heart he cared nothing for the diffusion of knowledge and art. He did not understand the comprehensive intellectual ambition of Diderot; he resented the utilitarianism of Helvetius and the materialism of Holbach. When he wrote his prize essay in 1750, he suddenly perceived how absurd the intellectual Enlightenment was amid the distressing social state of France. He turned against both the existing order and the would-be intellectual reformers. The temporal order of things was to him awry. Study, knowledge, and cultivation were to him only a gloss over the deep-lying degradation. Society, as it is constructed, is artificial, and all organization is a tyranny. God exists, and He is good. Man was good until civilization and art invaded his simplicity, corrupted his virtues, and transformed him into a suffering and a sinful being. Rousseau’s call was that of anarchism. It was a condemnation of the entire past. Sweep all the so-called civilization away, and level inequalities. Go back to nature; and in the simplicity of that idyllic state let children grow up undirected except by their own uncorrupted instinct,—that “immortal and celestial voice.”

In an age tired of oppression and corruption Rousseau struck a sympathetic chord which made the intellectual Enlightenment sound false. His contemporaries did not inquire into the motives of the mean lunatic. They did not then see that he was a doctrinaire holding up an unpractical ideal in contrast with their present state. He alone in all France was the one to appeal to man’s self-respect. He alone appealed to the only motives that will result in action,—the human emotions. His plea was for every Frenchman, and his words for the unfortunate were given with such eloquence that the fortunate were compelled to listen. They were a majestic language of wide compassion and sympathy. He saw in the French monarchy the greatest misery for the greatest number, and no one of its supporters appeared to the people so generous and true as he. His influence not only upon his own time but upon the nineteenth century was extraordinary, and some have said that he is the greatest modern. At all events he sounded the keynote of our own civilization, especially in art, literature, and education; for he showed the fundamental correlation between Nature and the passions. Rousseau taught a sentimental deism, in which sentiment is the essential part.

The Revolution was the natural consummation of the Enlightenment in France. The immediate issues out of which it grew were the practical ones of finance, legislation, economics, and policy. The growth in the physical sciences (beginning 1760), in the study of political science, in the theory of government, as well as the financial distress of the French government, the success of the American Revolution, the advance of the French middle class to a position of power, the foolish and half-hearted measures of the French statesmen—all these were factors that at the end brought on the crisis. Yet the words of Rousseau, falling on fruitful soil, were the real cause. In the years immediately preceding the Revolution there was a world-wide agitation, an enthusiasm for nature, an exaltation of man, and a contempt for the age and for the society then existing. There was a vague presentiment of impending change, which most people were prepared to welcome. Thinkers were full of illusions. Even such despots as Frederick the Great, Catherine of Russia, and Joseph of Austria affected a radicalism, and Spain, Portugal, and Tuscany, as well as England, France, and Germany, were moved with great humanitarian sentiments. The debate was universal as to the condition of the human race. Rousseau was the eloquent expression of this world-wide movement.

The German Enlightenment (17401781). As the Enlightenment in France, so the Enlightenment in Germany had its introductory period. The history of Germany from the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1648) to the publication of Kant’s Critique (1781), or 133 years, is divided into two periods at the year 1740, when Frederick the Great was crowned. The period from 1740 to 1781, or forty-one years, is the German Enlightenment. The period from 1648 to 1740, or ninety-two years, is introductory to the Enlightenment, and, as in France, a period of absolutism.

The Introductory Period (16481740). Absolutism. The spirit of absolutism, both politically and intellectually, dominated Germany from the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1648) to the crowning of Frederick the Great (1740). Absolutism dominated Germany and France a full one hundred years. There are some differences between the two countries, however. It began and ended in Germany about thirty-five years later than in France. Again, in France it grew in splendor from the efforts of Richelieu and Louis XIII (1610) to the great protective idea of Louis XIV, who for seventy-two years ruled as absolute political and intellectual dictator. In Germany, on the other hand, it was a spectre hovering over a disintegrating and decaying nation once known as the Holy Roman Empire, but since the Thirty Years’ War only a collection of states under a nominal central government. The idea of absolutism prevailed none the less, for within the several states each monarch was dictator as to the religious, intellectual, and political opinions of his subjects.

Politically and socially the Holy Roman Empire was in striking contrast to the power and splendor of contemporaneous France. The Thirty Years’ War had left the empire absolutely desolate. The land was impoverished, the nation disrupted, and the population reduced from seventeen millions before the war to five millions after the war. The war had been a generation long and it had degraded the nation. It had settled nothing. It left the people poor and the princes absolute within their respective states. The upper classes everywhere, except at Weimar, had become profligate. The universities were reduced to a position below what they were in the Renaissance. The prince of each state established the religion for his state, so that practically no religious liberty had been gained. Lutherans, Calvinists, and Catholics were exhausted, but were still antagonistic. There was no moral activity among the Orthodox; often they set their own immorality up to prove the absolutism of their respective dogma. The war left Germany politically prostrate and intellectually stagnant.

In the years that follow the Thirty Years’ War it is possible to detect movements that are the beginnings of the Enlightenment. It is an important point that Germany was resuscitated from sources that lay within her own civilization. The French Enlightenment and the intellectual freedom of modern France were due largely to the influence of foreign ideas from England. The seeds of the German intellectual revival were developed on her own soil. Those beginnings are (1) the rise of Prussia; (2) the early German literature; (3) the Pietistic movement; (4) the transformation of Leibnitz’s rationalism.

1. The rise of the little electorate of Brandenburg to the powerful kingdom of Prussia in 1740 was the political basis of the Enlightenment that followed. No state had suffered more during the Thirty Years’ War. The entire population was reduced to less than a million, and Berlin, the capital, had only three hundred citizens. The government was as harshly absolute as elsewhere. The rights of the citizens were entirely taken away by the three princes who ruled over Prussia between 1648 and 1740. But a powerful kingdom was built up, with a strong and patriotic army. It extended its dominions and was a refuge for Protestants, who fled to it in large numbers. It came to be feared by all the German states, and in the latter part of this period it had to be reckoned with in the councils of Europe. Itself an absolutism, it was the vigorous political body that alone could destroy the traditional absolutism of the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire. Puffendorf declared that the old Empire with its feeble sovereignties was a monster. It was a monster spectre—a stubborn political idea that hovered over Europe. Frederick the Great’s mission in the next period was to destroy it.

2. The meagre German literature of this early period was also an important factor in the development of the Enlightenment. Poor, indeed, it was. Never was German literary production so low. Before the war the Germans had taken Greek as their model; after the war they copied the language, manners, and methods of the French of Louis XIV. The early literature was ruled in the same spirit of absolutism by Opitz until 1700, and after him by Gottsched, especially in the years from 1730 to 1740. It was for only a small fraction of the people, and was in the interests of the depraved aristocrats of the courts. Such pedantic absolutism was the basis of the reaction in the next period of the literary Enlightenment, which proved the redemption of Germany.

3. The Pietistic movement was the third factor that went to make up the German Enlightenment. It was a positive expression of religious individualism, similar in its position to the Prussian state in its independent growth in politics. It was a religious movement outside the church. Its two leaders were Spener (16351705) and Francke (16631727). The movement entered Germany from the Netherlands; and the members were devout and holy men consecrated to good deeds. The Pietists were not heroic figures like the early Lutherans, but they stood for what Luther had in his early period taught. They opposed ecclesiastical formalism, and they proclaimed the need of personal regeneration and of the universal priesthood. They stood for religious freedom. They made no onslaught upon the church, but they were content with saving individuals. Pietism united at first with Rationalism—of which we shall next speak—against orthodoxy, but when the two had won their victory they quarreled. Although the Pietistic movement later became itself conventional, it furnished the ground for the religious freedom of the Enlightenment. During these hundred years of German religious absolutism, the Pietists represent the moral activity among religious bodies.

4. The chief source of the Enlightenment was the philosophy of Leibnitz. In turning back to the life of this distinguished German the reader will remember that he was the “first scientist in two hundred years,” and that he was the Rationalist who presaged the Enlightenment. Leibnitz was born in 1646, just two years before the war closed, and he died in 1716, one year after the death of Louis XIV. He lived during those unfruitful years after the war and before the Enlightenment; and his philosophy stands out prominently from the low plane of the intellectual activity of that time. In 1686 he completed the construction of his philosophy by introducing the conception of the individual as a dynamic centre.

Many German philosophers, about the time of Leibnitz, had later tried to free philosophy from its technical difficulties and make it readable for the people as the French Encyclopædia was for the French people. Among these were Tschirnhausen (16511708), Mendelssohn (17291786), and Tetens (17361805), but the German Enlightenment for many reasons did not come about like the French in the popularizing of philosophy. The philosophy of Leibnitz did reach the people directly, but the people were stirred through the medium of literature rather than of philosophy. Leibnitz’s philosophy became the dominant thought only in the universities and academic circles, and remained so until the publication of Kant’s Critique in 1781. The Halle professor, Wolff (16791754), developed and transformed it, not to its advantage, into an absolutism, and under the name of the Leibnitz-Wolffian philosophy it was the canon for the German schools. Once established in the universities it remained unchanged there even by the invasion of French thought that penetrated other German circles. Even Voltaire’s residence at the court at Berlin (1750) had no influence upon the Leibnitz-Wolffian philosophy of the Berlin Academy. The dogmatic absolutism of this philosophy remained impregnable in academic circles and was the last to be dislodged—and then only by a German. There was little progress among these Rationalists, once their doctrine had been cast, except in incorporating in an eclectic fashion the doctrine of others.

Wolff systematized the unordered and desultory doctrines of Leibnitz for the purpose of teaching them logically. This was in 1706, when by the aid of Leibnitz he obtained the professorship of mathematics at Halle. He met with instant success. The rationalism of his doctrine is seen from the title of many of his works, which are Reasonable Thoughts on GodReasonable Thoughts on the Powers of the Human Understandingetc. He lectured at Halle until 1723, when he was expelled by the theological influence. His return to Halle in 1740 was coincident with the crowning of Frederick the Great and the beginning of the German Enlightenment. We can note a few general aspects of his teaching. He employed the German language in his lectures, following Thomasius, who was the first to do it. Leibnitz had written in letters and treatises for the few, and had used either Latin or French. Wolff expanded Leibnitz’s doctrine, broadly and superficially, for a larger public, in the German tongue. He systematized Leibnitz’s teaching, and thereby could disseminate it. But in doing this he so toned down Leibnitz’s leading ideas that they lost all their peculiar force. For instance, he taught that only the human mind has the power of representation; and again, that preëstablished harmony applies only to the relation of the soul and body of the human monad. In general, he so extended the Leibnitz principle of sufficient reason that it applied to all departments, and was reduced to the principle of identity. The world is a huge mechanism designed for divine ends. Rationality is assumed to be everywhere, and knowledge of its existence is to be obtained only by deduction from evident principles. The result was that the philosophy of Leibnitz was reduced to a commonplace and empty rationalism—a purely deductive affair. Wolff undertook to demonstrate everything, and to make intelligible what is above reason. The Wolffian philosophy was a reversion to mediæval scholasticism, since it solved all problems by proof through the cogency of mathematical and logical processes. Truth is a matter of definition and classification. Thus Wolff produced a philosophy that was pedantic and formal, clear but shallow. It was Leibnitzian with Leibnitz omitted; it was a thorough-going dogmatism, because no problem was difficult to it; it was a rationalism, because to it all truth is the deliverance of the reason and none is derived from experience.

The Wolffian Rationalism became a factor in the German Enlightenment on the one hand by combining with Pietism, and on the other through its translation into the new German literature. In itself the Wolffian Rationalism was a dogmatism that merely supplanted the dogmatic scholasticism of Melanchthon and Luther. It lost its absolutism in its combination with Pietism, and became a personal and individualistic religion. It also lost its absolutism and became more like the philosophy of Leibnitz through its translation into the literary writings of Lessing and Herder; and thus was subordinated to an incident in individual culture.

Summary of the Literary Enlightenment of Germany (17401781). The German Enlightenment was thus made possible by the political growth of Prussia, by the development of a meagre literature, by the rise of Pietism, and by the Wolffian interpretation of Leibnitz’s philosophy. All these were important features of the century following the Thirty Years’ War. The year 1740 is the beginning of the German Enlightenment. It marks the crowning of Frederick the Great, the decline of the influence of Gottsched in literature, and Wolff’s return to Halle. The arrival of Voltaire in Berlin (1750) is an important factor in the rise of the German Enlightenment. The spirit of the Enlightenment was at its height twenty years later (1760), contemporaneous with the Seven Years’ War (17561763) and with the publication by Lessing in 1759 of his Letters concerning the most Modern Literature. In these Letters Lessing gave the death-blow to Gottschedism, and established the Enlightenment on a firm basis. This was followed by the Storm and Stress movement (17731787), which brought the Enlightenment proper to an end.

17301750 Period of Experimentation—Gottsched, the Swiss, the Anacreonticists, etc.

1740 The Enlightenment inaugurated—the crowning of Frederick the Great, the decline of Gottschedism, the return of Wolff to Halle.

1750 The coming of Voltaire to Berlin.

17511780 Lessing and the Enlightenment.

17731787 Storm and Stress Period.—The Enlightenment proper at an end.52

17871805 Classicism. (Schiller d. 1805).

17951850 (approximately) The Romantic Movement.

1850   The Realistic Movement.

The Political Enlightenment of Germany—Frederick the Great. Political changes preceded and did not follow philosophical theories in the German Enlightenment. Germany was therefore like England and unlike France in this respect. The coming of Frederick to the throne of the now powerful Prussia, the reforms that he inaugurated, the religious toleration that he granted, his recall of Wolff to Halle, his avowed support of intellectual things, and especially the Seven Years’ War (17561763) were the political groundwork that made possible the Enlightenment in Germany. Frederick himself is the great figure in the German Enlightenment, just as Voltaire is in the French. Frederick accomplished in concrete acts for political Europe what Voltaire accomplished for ecclesiastical Europe. Voltaire destroyed the ecclesiastical absolutism of the spiritual power, while Frederick destroyed the absolutism so long connected with the name of the Holy Roman Empire and the House of Hapsburg. Before he died, he had freed the German states from the dominance of Austria, and had given to the Empire its death-blow. In the Seven Years’ War he had given to modern Europe an example of a new political ideal in an autocrat who professed to be the servant of the State. His whole thought was upon the advancement of his State. He set up the principle of the equality of his subjects before the law, and the principle of religious and philosophical liberty. In his external struggles with Austria and in the internal construction of his kingdom Frederick is the protest of the Enlightenment against the arbitrary despotism of political Europe. The example of Frederick was an inspiration to all Germany. Kant calls the eighteenth century the Age of Frederick the Great. Frederick had made his subjects feel that they were Prussians, or, as Goethe puts it, “Fritzche” (Fritz’s men); that the great foe of the German people was the German Empire as personified by the Austrians and Saxons. When he had conducted to a successful issue a deadly war of seven years single handed against the combined force of more than half of Europe,—Austria, Russia, and France, all representing political absolutism,—he inspired patriotism not only in his own subjects, but in the people of many other German states. Reforms were undertaken in Bavaria, Baden, Saxony, Brunswick, etc., and by Catherine of Russia and Joseph of Austria.

Furthermore, Frederick himself was personally enlightened; he looked upon himself as the greatest among those of enlightened intellects. He had become denationalized by his early training. His father was fond of what was German, his mother of what was English, and he himself of what was French. He had studied Bayle, read French philosophy, and become acquainted with the rationalism of Wolff and the empiricism of Locke. He was at one time an atheist and materialist; but deism was his natural attitude of mind, for he emphasized morality above speculation. Conceiving himself, as the most enlightened, to be the great servant of the State, he undertook the enlightenment of his people. All Prussia must be enlightened by him, and therefore no restrictive institutions, such as guilds and corporations, could be permitted. The best man should rule, and he was the best man. Since the people are incapable of looking after themselves, they must be compelled under his benevolent autocracy to be enlightened, rational, and happy.

The Course of the German Enlightenment. Why did not the movement become as in France a political revolution? There are three reasons why it did not: (1) the reforms that the German princes adopted were wise; (2) Germany was composed of segregated states in which concerted action was difficult; (3) a new intellectual and æsthetic current was begun by Lessing, of whom we shall speak. There is no doubt that the Enlightenment in Germany pointed to the same result as in France. From 1760 to 1780 it looked as if Germany as well as France would witness a tremendous social upheaval. From 1773 to 1787, Germany was stirred by the Storm and Stress movement. Frederick himself had pointed to the English parliamentary government as the “model for our days.” The most of the German thinkers were at heart republicans,—Klopstock, Schiller, Kant. Every man in Germany became a little Frederick, and tried to enlighten those who were inferior to him. The movement extended to the schoolroom. Secret societies were formed of kindred enlightened souls to enlighten the world. The most important of these societies was the Illuminati. The aim of these was to free men from national and civil ties, from pedantry, intolerance, political and theological slavery. The human heart is the basis of society, and the only worthy object of study. The Illuminati included even princes among its members. It was established in 1776 and prohibited in 1786. There was a distinctive Storm and Stress literature. This was set in motion by Rousseau’s Héloïse and Emile, which were widely read in Germany. Writers glorified the individual, called men back to primitive and uncorrupted nature, denounced civilization, and for twenty years it almost seemed as if the German Enlightenment had turned from the intellectual achievements of Lessing, and would follow the sentimental appeal of Rousseau. Herder was particularly prominent in this movement, also Goethe and Schiller in their early writings.

Of the three factors that saved Germany from a political revolution, perhaps the most potent was the new, fresh, literary ideas of Lessing. If Frederick is the originator of the German Enlightenment, Lessing is the savior of it. The Enlightenment in England stopped with the phenomenalism of Hume, in France with the Revolution, but in Germany it has in a sense continued even to the present day. The classic period of Goethe and Schiller, the modern scientific achievements of the Germans, have their perpetual source in Lessing. He not only gave the death-blow to the pedantic absolutism of the intellectual past, but he set the movement upon a permanent intellectual basis, upon which it has stood against the assaults of sentimentalism for a hundred and fifty years.

Lessing. G. E. Lessing (17291781) was not only a sound scholar, but a polished man of the social world. He was a writer of epigrams, fables, and comedies, a dramatic and literary critic, a translator and essayist, a student of philosophy and ecclesiastical history, and a writer upon art. His Nathan the Wise is, after Goethe’s Faust, the greatest literary production of German thought. With him German literature begins. He rejected the French models accepted by Gottsched; he introduced Shakespeare to the Germans; and he surpassed all his contemporaries in literary and artistic reform, social enlightenment, and religious emancipation. Lessing and Winckelmann were the first to spread a love for the past by a critical study of it. Lessing was not a violent iconoclast like Voltaire, but a discriminating critic. He said that if Leibnitz had wished for an interpreter, he would not have chosen Wolff. The new literary writers, Lessing and Herder, in their insistence upon subjectivity and intuition, rather than Wolff, were the true interpreters of Leibnitz. Lessing differed from the Enlightenment in his conception of the present in its continuity with the past. Herder, too, was interested in development. Lessing pointed to the perfect models in the past; Herder to the origins of things. Both believed in an immanent God and the harmony of the universe. At this time the problems in æsthetics came to light, and with them the creation of “world literature,” which drew from all historical thought—from antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. The Pietists, the Wolffians, and the literary writers agreed in taking the subjective point for their view of life. Thus Leibnitz appears through Lessing as a motive power in the German Enlightenment. Lessing’s doctrine of individuality so transcended that of the Storm and Stress Period that he was not understood by it. His enlightened individual suppresses his individuality. But his principles were so fundamental that the Storm and Stress Period proved to be only an interruption, and the German Enlightenment was perpetuated. He thus projected himself beyond the eighteenth century by the instruments of that century.


Write Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts