Philosophes’ views on society often led to trouble. For example, it was illegal to make negative comments about the church or government in France. A lot of the philosophes were either imprisoned or exiled. The philosophe Voltaire was sentenced to both. Even so, Enlightenment ideas still spread with the help of the printing press (books, magazines, word of mouth). These ideas soon began to influence all aspects of life from the arts to the courts.

  • A World of Ideas

    Paris was the cultural center of Europe in the 1700s. Many people came to study, philosophize, and learn from the culture. Many brilliant minds came and spread their ideas. Women also got involved, hosting salons. These events would allow all sorts of intellects to meet and discuss.

    • Diderot’s Encyclopedia
      • Marie-Therese Geoffrin was one of the most prominent hostesses of salons. She was the financer of Diderot’s encyclopedia project. This set of books contained articles and essays from many leading scholars in Europe.
      • The new ideas written about in these essays made the French Government and Catholic Church mad. They started to ban the work, claiming it was undermining authority, inspiring revolt, and fostering corruption. Even so, Diderot continued publishing the Encyclopedia
      • The salons and Encyclopedia
        combined allowed ideas to spread across Europe. These ideas soon entered newspapers, pamphlets, and songs. Middle class people soon became attracted by Enlightenment ideas about government and equality.
  • New Artistic Styles

    The Enlightenment ideas also spread to the arts: music, literature painting and art.

    • Neoclassical Style Emerges
      • Prior to the Enlightenment, European art was mainly baroque. Baroque art was grand and ornate.
      • During the Enlightenment, styles changed as artists began to use an simple and elegant style, taking ideas from classical Greece/Rome. The styles are called neoclassical.
    • Changes in Music and Literature
      • Musical styles also adapted to Enlightenment ideals. For example, artists began to write lighter styles of music, known as classical. These composers were Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
      • Writers also started new styles including novels (long works of fiction with plots, suspense, complex characters)
      • 2 such novels are Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (slave girl refuses advances of her master) and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (travel over England to win hand of lady)
  • Enlightenment and Monarchy

    Enlightenment ideas did not just affect the middle class, they also spread through the royal courts. The philosophes tried to talk monarchs into ruling justly- some monarchs agreed (enlightened despots – enlightened absolute rulers).

    These enlightened despots agreed with enlightenment ideas but did not give up power. Their goals were to make their country stronger and their rule last longer.

    These enlightened despots were Frederick II of Prussia, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria, and Catherine the Great of Russia.

    • Frederick the Great
      • The king of Prussia, Frederick II, ruled from 1740 to 1786 and devoted himself to reforms. He accepted enlightenment ideas such as religious freedom, limited censorship, and more education. However, Frederick did not change everything. Despite his belief that serfdom was immoral, he did not do anything about it so he would not lose the support of the wealthy upper class.
      • Frederick’s greatest contribution was his role as the “servant of the state”. The purpose of his rule was to serve and make stronger the country. This attitude was consistent with the philosophes’.
    • Joseph II
      • Joseph II of Austria was the most radical reformer. He ruled from 1780 – 1790. He introduced many reforms such as legal reforms, freedom of press, religious freedom, and abolishment of serfdom. Because of this, many upper class nobles resisted and undid his work after he died.
    • Catherine the Great
      • Catherine II was the most respected ruler. She read the philosophe’s work, exchanged mail, and also tried to reform Russia.
      • Catherine formed a reform commission in 1767 to change Russia. She wanted to allow religious toleration, abolish torture and abolish capital punishment. However, her commission failed at all of these goals.
      • She passed limited reforms but did nothing to help peasants. Her enlightened ideas changed when the serfs started an uprising (1773). Catherine used her army to crush the rebellion. After this, Catherine went back against enlightenment ideas and gave the nobles complete power over the serfs. She felt she needed the nobles support to maintain her throne.
    • Catherine Expands Russia
      • Peter the Great ruled Russia before Catherine. They both tried to expand to the Black Sea. Catherine won control of the northern black Sea.
      • As her empire expanded westward, she took over Poland and fought with Prussia and Austria.
      • Catherine enlarged the empire and made Russia one of the great powers. As this was happening, Britain began to fight with the American colonies. The colonies decided to break away from their ruling country and become a republic.