|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Philosophers American history American literature|
Over centuries books and pamphlets have served as the avenue through information is passed from generation to the next. Writing played a crucial role in shaping the values of Western societies. The Enlightenment is one of the periods in the history of the West that considerably changed Western nations through the spread of ideas disseminated through writings. During this period, intellectuals and philosophers wrote extensively about their experiences in society. Philosophies' writings and revolutionary documents are some of the leading forms of literature that tell the story of the people who lived in this period. The Social Contract, Treatise on Tolerance, and Common Sense as some of the foremost documents of the period. An examination of these historical documents reveals people's aspirations and conceptualization of issues that affected their lives at the time.
Written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (712-1778) in 1762, the Social Contract delves into political theory where he questions the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. Rousseau conceptualized the concept of a contract between the rulers and the people. In his postulated that there is an unwritten agreement between the government and the people which defines the obligations of each party to one another (Rousseau 1-9). Like his influencers, Rousseau contended that people had to surrender their rights to the rulers in exchange for some obligations on the part of the state. What differentiated from his predecessors, however, was his idea of free will whereby they had to surrender given rights to the collective rules of society (McKee 168). However, the author argued that the power belonged to the people and, therefore, people are sovereign. His argument suggests that the agreement between the state and the people only holds as long as each party honors its obligations as implied in the contract.
The language used in the book is that of exhortation. During this period, people of France experienced many socioeconomic issues that were as a result of the negligence of the state led by the monarch. In the period, France suffered many hardships that resulted from the inability of the monarchy to provide favorable conditions for people to enjoy their rights. Rousseau wondered why people still obeyed that government because it had demonstrated that the failure to honor its obligations to the citizens. He says, "Any service a citizen can give to the state should be performed as soon as the sovereign demands it"(15). In the book, the author wonders why the citizens should obey the state when it has failed in its obligations to the people. It was is a clear urge to the citizens to revolt against the state whenever they consider that the state was violating the terms of the social contract. Thus, Rousseau's work reflects France is situation in the mid 18th century.
Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance is one of the foremost writings of the Enlightenment period. At the onset of the book, the author introduces the audience to the case of Jean Calas, a shopkeeper in Toulouse, who was falsely accused of murdering his son, Marc-Antoine, to prevent him from converting into Catholicism. In a poorly conducted, Calas was executed. Voltaire is quick to dismiss the accusation as a miscarriage of justice by revealing that the son had committed suicide using his shirt and the cause of the young man's decision was not related in any way with the intention to conversion(Voltaire 1-2). Here, the author introduces the theme of religious violence in society and how extremism played a critical role in fanning interdenominational conflicts. The poor trial process also indicates how the legal system was to condemn innocent citizens based on their religion.
What is impressive in Voltaire's work is the use of satire in addressing. The execution of Calas coincided with the celebration of Saint Bartholomew Day Massacre when more thousands of Protestants were slaughtered across France by Catholics. The author appeals for tolerance among religious groups. He quips, "There are in Europe forty million people who are not of the Church of Rome. Shall we say to each of them 'Sir, seeing that you are certainly damned, I will not eat or deal or speak with you?"(45) In posing this question, Voltaire is concerned that people have become extremists and that is dangerous for society. However, what is even more disturbing for the author is that these people are killing each other in the name of religion and how people who claim to love each could mete out violence on one another. He attacks this great hypocrisy brutality. He says, O different worshippers of a peaceful God!, Love God and your neighbor". Here, he reveals a scenario of lack of love among worshippers which brings forth the question as to why they go to church in the first place. As such, his book focuses on persecution people based on religion and the relationship of the church with the state.
Thomas Paine's Common Sense perhaps is the most influential writing to have ever been done about American history. Penned in 1775-76, the pamphlet builds strong advocacy for the thirteen colonies under Great Britain to break away from the crown in England. The author makes a persuasive and compassionate against England. For instance, he makes an evangelical appeal to citizens to promote independence from England on the basis that the colonizer had failed to fulfill its obligations (Mahaffey 488-89). He felt that the government of England had failed in meeting its obligations to the people of the colonies. Like, Rousseau, Paine believed that people should respect the government to the extent that it recognizes the rights of the citizens (Paine 1-2). In arguing his position, Pane asserts that all men were created equal at the time of creation and the distinction that was being created that the monarchy was superior was based on false narrative. He accuses the king of England; his job was to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears"(79). With taxes England imposed on American colonies in the 1760s, Paine felt that the crown had failed to honor its obligations; hence it had forfeited the power to make decisions over the America people. Subsequently, he calls for American independence which, indeed, took palace through the revolution. The document represents the worst part of the colonial society in America and how people suffered under the exploitation from England.
In conclusion, writings of philosophes and revolutionary pamphlets appear to have played an influential part in inspiring calls for regime change and better governance from the rulers. In the three documents examined, the authors seem to underscore the failure of leaders to give society the direction it requires. For them, the leaders only seek personal interests while in leadership thereby violating the obligation the state has on the people. In the case of Voltaire's writing, the author questions godliness of both the clergy and the faithful as most of their actions did not reflect in any way of the teachings of the holy books. In all the writings, the authors sought to challenge some of the notions that were held at the time regarding the role of the state and the church in the welfare of the wider society. Additionally, the authors spoke directly to people concerning what was taking place at the time. Overall, they intended to inspire radical transformation on how society treated the concept of state and the church concerning the overall welfare of the ruled.
Mahaffey, Jerome. "Converting Tories to Whigs: Religion and Imagined Authorship in Thomas Paine's Common Sense." Southern Communication Journal, vol. 75, no. 5, 2010, pp. 488-504, doi.org/10.1080/10417940903045402.
McKee, Martin. "The social contract revisited: Martin McKee." European Journal of Public Health, vol. 25, no. 3, 2015, pp. 168-186, doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckv168.018. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
Paine, Thomas. Thomas Paine on Liberty: Including Common Sense and Other Writings. Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Rousseau: 'The Social Contract' and Other Later Political Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Voltaire. Voltaire - The Philosophical Works: Treatise On Tolerance, Philosophical Dictionary, Candide, Letters on England, Plato's Dream, Dialogues, The Study of Nature, Ancient Faith and Fable, Zadig. e-artnow, 2016.
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