If we mark the beginning of the Middle Ages with Charlemagne appointing himself King of the Franks (768) and mark the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment with Descartes’ philosophy of Cogito, ergo sum (1637) or Isaac Newton’s Mathematica Principia (1687), then the Middle Ages lasted around 900 years—900 years of arbitrary rule by decree and ignorance based in superstition. It was an evil set up, but dangerous to oppose. People died for doing so. It finally became impossible for people of any intelligence to endure. A new approach to life was called for.
The Age of Enlightenment was first a philosophical movement, the aim of which was to eliminate evil and to replace it with good by means of truth. The tool to achieve that end was reason. Isaac Newton made some discoveries that led him to assert that the universe operated under rational natural laws, and that with enough time there was nothing that couldn’t be fully understood. His discoveries became the foundation of the spirit of the Enlightenment philosophers, men like John Locke, David Hume, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, and others. Through their work the modern world arose with its emphasis on individual freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of and freedom from religion, political liberty, equality, private property, private enterprise), the republican form of government, democracy, universal education, secularism, cosmopolitanism, a science-based understanding of the natural world, technological progress, etc. They were extraordinarily successful. Royalty has been reduced to being little more than a tourist attraction or a kind of celebrity status, while the churches are little more than social clubs. Many of the Founding Fathers were students of the Enlightenment ideals, and our constitution was based in them. It’s currently hard for us to imagine any other way of life. Most, but not all, of us are convinced that those ideals are absolutely the correct ones. But I believe that the Age of Enlightenment is at its inevitable end and in a state of collapse. In the next post, I’ll explain why I think so and some of what I see happening.