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Monday, February 02, 2015

The Yin and Yang of the Elegant Eighteenth

         The two threads that wrap through the thought of the eighteenth century are enlightenment, as represented by such luminaries as Isaac Newton and John Locke, and Romanticism, represented in the thought of Sir Walter Scott and Oliver Goldsmith.
           Enlightenment thinkers emphasized reason.  They also tended to be egalitarian, though the egalitarianism of a John Locke had definite limits, and never intended towards the empowerment of the uneducated or poor.  The Romanticism of a Sir Walter Scott or a Goldsmith emphasized the importance of heroic people.  Scott and Goldsmith also recognized the nobility as the conservers of the state and its traditions.  
           Enlightenment called for a broadening of political representation.  The common man's voice was now heard as never before, reinforced by the popular culture of Daniel Defoe, which honored the tradesman and shopkeeper.   At the same time, Romanticism curbed the desire to reconstitute society entirely.  Never could England forget her monarchy and nobles.
             Some thinkers represented a synthesis of Enlightenment and Romanticism.  Edmund Burke offered a modified Lockean doctrine.  Burke respected tradition while extolling Parliament's role as voice of the nation.   Thomas Jefferson also took Enlightenment ideas, softening their potentially corrosive potential towards established authority.

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