The Enlightenment in France

By Frederick B. Artz | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The Philosophes of the Enlightenment in France, as we have seen, either founded or advanced all the social sciences. Also many of the reforms they projected were extremely practical, and a large number of them were later enacted into law or accepted by the mass of men. The whole idea of the Philosophes as being doctrinaire theorists without relation to actual conditions can no longer be held.

"The Philosophes," says one historian, "taught that by reason man may be the master of things, that he can build a society in which all men enjoy freedom and happiness, that he can deliberately create the society he has imagined. They directed their most powerful views against the traditional and clerical view that our lives are in His hands, that man is a creature fallen and perverse who cannot be saved from self‐ destruction except through the gift of grace, and must bow his individual reason before the sublime authority of Church and state."

The influence of the Philosophes on the coming of the French Revolution and on its course of action began to be discussed by Burke as early as 1791, and the discussion has gone on ever since. In general, writers of a Conservative turn of mind have tended to blame the French Revolution on the spread of the Liberal and Radical ideas of the Philosophes. On the other hand, critics of a Liberal or Radical point of view

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