The Eighteenth Century.
Every century has one hundred years but historians often try to mark centuries by major events. In this narrower sense, the eighteenth century could be defined by the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715 and the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. This would make it a very short century of only 74 years. During those 74 years, the French philosophes and the Enlightenment dominated the cultural life of Europe.
The Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century popularized the ideas of the Age of Reason. Even kings and despots wanted to be called "enlightened." For one of the first times in human history, secular thought predominated and liberated itself from religious belief. Voltaire embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment particularly with regard to his attitudes toward organized religion.
The modern state system is generally considered to have started in 1648. This emerging system of sovereign states had been threatened by the rise of France and the aggressive policies of Louis XIV. The containment of France as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession, the Treaty of Utrecht, and the death of Louis XIV brought an end to this second great challenge to the system. By 1715, there had formed a system of self-conscious states ruled by statesmen who practiced the diplomatic art of balancing power with power. The strongest state must be kept under control through alliances against it. Aggressive behavior, like that of Louis XIV, generated alliances to contain such behavior. War was still considered to be the sport of kings; but like other sports, there were rules of the game. These rules of state behavior made up the Law of Nations, later called International Law. There were wars during the eighteenth century but these wars were fought for limited ends and with rules of engagement.
The wars of the 18th century included the Great Northern War (1700 - 1721), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), and the Seven Years War (1757-1763). The Great Northern War at the beginning of the century was waged by Peter the Great of Russia against Sweden and saw the establishment of Russia as a Great Power in Europe.
The War of the Austrian Succession and the following Seven Years War were largely between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria. Prussia successfully seized the province of Silesia from Austria in the first and successfully defended its possession in the second thereby confirming Prussia as a Great Power. They are also wars between France and England over colonial dominance. France was allied to Prussia in the first and to Austria in the second. The reverse was true of Great Britain. This great reversal of alliances is called the Diplomatic Revolution of the 18th century. By 1763, the end of the Seven Years War, Britain had triumphed over France in North America and India. Britain had become the largest naval empire in the world. A significant setback for Britain was the American Revolution (1775-1783), which led to the independence of the thirteen British North American Colonies as the United States of America.
In 1789, the French Revolution erupted. The Third Estate began its march toward liberty, equality, and fraternity. The French king was guillotined and the nobility lost its privileged status. The French Revolution underwent a number of phases from moderate to radical. The radical revolution with its reign of terror led ultimately to a reaction and the rise of Napoleon, the man on horseback. Napoleon represented the first modern military dictatorship with populist trappings. Napoleons desire for military conquest and domination of Europe, if not the world, led to his ultimate defeat in 1815 by a Great Alliance led by Great Britain, the traditional enemy of France. The balance of power system had prevailed again. But despite the defeat of Napoleon, the ideas of the French Revolution and of the Enlightenment could not be suppressed forever.
Week 3. The Formation of the Modern Value System.
Modern Astronomy and Physics
Modern Philosophy and Social Science
Constitutional and Democratic Thought
The Enlightenment (Kehoe: 51 - 59; 63 - 72: Kagan: 588 - 610)
European Colonization of the World
The American Revolution
The French Revolution
Week 5: French Revolution
Week 6: Napoleon
Updated April 29, 2003