Which has contributed more to the beneficial development of mankind?
thThe 18 century age of Reason or the Romantic Movement?
ththThe Enlightenment – a European intellectual movement of the late 17 and 18 centuries
emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition.
thThe Romantic Movement – a movement in the arts and literature which originated in the late 18
century, emphasizing artistic inspiration, imagination and the primacy of the individual.
——Oxford Dictionary of English
As we can see from the exact definitions of the two movements from Oxford Dictionary, both their
occurrence time and emphasis are different from each other. It’s probably very hard for us to make judgment of which has done more contribution to the favorable development of humanity unless we put them particularly back into history and make sure what necessarily historical significance each had devoted to human Social Change.
Rejecting the doctrine of Original Sin and praising a rationalistic doctrine of Natural Rights formed the core of the Enlightenment. Before it, the whole Europe had shrouded in the Christian Middle Ages for nearly one thousand years. Only by 1700 it had been reflected the Power of Science, the light of Reason. Through observation, experiment and inductive method man had built the confidence that science could truly explain many of the incomprehensible things and bring advances in human society. On contrary, the benevolent God was called in question about his omnipotence after the horrible Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
In the same time, a group of the theoretical leading French philosophers had set up to believe that all people were essentially equal, in that all possessed reason. Some, like the atheist Diderot, proclaimed that man remained sociable and responsible and had to use reason to tell the right and wrong. He viewed the Church as a source of superstition, ignorance, and subservience and strictly censured that they had fabricate something frightening to strengthen its domination. Besides he had devoted much in Encyclopedia that stood for atheism.
Philosopher Voltaire thought that since not being created by God but the creature of Reason, very man was considered to own the right to life, liberty and freedom. He felt that their society could and should be changed and progress must be made through education. But probably because of the greater power of the Church which was to say that the old structure could not be destroyed sharply and immediately, or probably on account of his personal experience in England where took place the Glorious Revolution, Voltaire, pioneer as he was, had to hold tolerance for the Protestant. Montesquieu, who had tremendous impact on the conception of the United States Constitution, developed a theory of Separation of Powers among legislative, executive and judicial agency which prevented the concentration of power and established ―checks and balances‖. In The Spirit of the
Laws, he argued that not only should government be according to law but also that laws should be adapted to suit each group of people.
Saving the above theorists, Rousseau stood out to put forward practical political proposals. Just as
other well-known philosophers in the history, Rousseau looked to a hypothetical State of Nature as a normative guide. He claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, in which man lived happily, satisfying his instinctive needs and desires. As we all know, during society development division of labor and private property required the people to adopt system of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with others while also becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together into civil society through the Social Contract, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. He does not accept that people can give up their sovereignty by means of the contrast.
The notion of the General Will is wholly central to his political theory and he sees it as a sort of active ethical source of laws and of justice. He additionally emphasized that the General Will exists to protect individuals against the mass, while not to require them to be sacrificed to it; in other words, he does not believe that therefore the majority will be infallible.
The Romantic Movement
Romanticism is generally considered as a separate entity of Classicism. It did inherit the high seriousness of Classicism and its revulsion against frivolous or merely over-decorative art (i.e. Baroque and Rococo). The main differences between them are that the Romantic artist highlighted emotion, broke the constraints given by artistic form, and gave a new emphasis on spontaneity and inspiration and imagination.
The Romantic era of art was a response to the impact of the age of Enlightenment and the Revolutions. But surprisingly, the earliest example of romanticism was first found in Germany while not in France. Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther came to be a landmark, which spoke
highly of sentiment and even justified suicide for unrequited love. Poet like Goethe, Schiller went
thagainst 18 century convention by describing a young aristocrat falling in love with a girl from a humble background.
There were factors relating to Romantic poets’ lives which reflected their art content and style.
Examples like English poets Byron and Shelley both defied social convention in their many love affairs and supported the cause of Greek freedom.
Beethoven developed his nine symphonies from a style that was close to the classical symphony of Haydn and Mozart to the extraordinary grandeur of the Nine Symphonies; playwrights were willing to break the convention that each play have to observe the three unities of time, place and action.; experimental meters and a return to the use of blank verse renewed the poetry; painters turned to the dramatic events…all these proved the romantics had spread to every region of art of that time.
The subsequent development of landscape painting indeed represented some of the artists’ inner voice.
The artistic movement that we call Romantics was divergent and yet shared some common characteristics with the Enlightenment that both of them praised personal feelings rather than search from some kind of abstract ―truth‖ and that both of them attracted to the fantastic, exotic, worlds
remote in time. Special regard for nature with the understanding that humans had very little to do with it, champions of the fight for freedom, emphasis on emotion rather than the intellect, creating subjective works of art, rather than objective, all compose the similarities.
What was different between their contributions to mankind was that to a large extent the Romantic Movement was the stretch of the Enlightenment while the Enlightenment successfully shook the domination of the Church, from which time the Europe Began to recover from the one-thousand-year Dark Ages. And this might be the most important historical significance. Therefore, we could give our vote to the Enlightenment on account that it has done more contribution to the beneficial development of mankind.