The last 230 years is sometimes referred to as the “Era of Global Individual Rights. ” Since 1750, various individuals and movements have launched political and social revolutions that toppled despotic regimes and even liberated entire nations. At the core of these phenomena is the Enlightenment – a period in Western philosophy wherein reason was regarded as the primary source of knowledge and legitimacy was considered as the basis for authority. The Enlightenment inspired many thinkers and leaders to create a society that was ruled by individual rights, reason and liberty.
Although there is no specific date as to when the Enlightenment started, most historians believe that it began in the mid-1600s. During this period, philosophers such as Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke questioned prevailing notions about government and authority. For them, the concept of the “divine right” of kings was false – a leader derived his right to rule from his constituents. New scientific discoveries by intellectuals like Galileo and Nicolas Copernicus, meanwhile, discredited theocracy (MSN Encarta n.
pag. ). The Enlightenment’s emphasis on self-governance, individual rights, reason and liberty inspired many people to overthrow despotic reigns. In France, popular discontent against the monarchy has been brewing since the mid-1700s. While the French nobility lived luxuriously and supported various wars abroad, the hoi polloi were mired in extreme penury. By the late 1780s, the people could no longer stand the corruption and wasteful lifestyle of the monarchy.
They stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, marking the beginning of the French Revolution (MSN Encarta n. pag. ). The French Revolution, which lasted for ten years, eventually led to the transformation of France from an absolute monarchy to a republic of theoretically free and equal citizens. Many nobles, including King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, were executed by beheading. The French government was transformed into a body that was composed of orderly representative assemblies (SparkNotes n. pag. ).
Several bills of rights and constitutions that were intended to promote legal equality among citizens, representative democracy and the incorporation of church into the state were likewise drafted (MSN Encarta n. pag. ). The American Revolution was another event that was attributed to the Enlightenment. Although the United States was an English colony, long-term social, economic and political changes before 1850 provided it with a representative political institution. Repressive measures that the British government imposed on the colonists, such as the Stamp Act crisis in 1765, threatened this privilege.
The numerous appeals of colonists for reform were met with violence. This left them with no other recourse but through armed struggle (MSN Encarta n. pag. ). The American War of Independence, which occurred from 1775 to 1783, eventually liberated the United States from British colonial rule. The colonists proceeded to establish a republican form of government, wherein a leader’s power was directly derived from the people (MSN Encarta n. pag. ). The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were also created with the objective of protecting individual rights and liberties.
It would be fair to say that the last 230 years is the “Era of Global Individual Rights. ” During this period, the individual rights of all human beings were recognized and upheld. The first step towards attaining this goal was the acknowledgement of the fact that government was not a celestial body but an earthly institution that derived its power directly from the people. Thus, it is just proper that the rights of the people are prioritized over the interests of the government. Works Cited “American Revolution.
” 2009. MSN Encarta. 7 June 2009 <http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761569964/American_Revolution. html>. “Enlightenment. ” 2009. MSN Encarta. 7 June 2009 <http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761571679/Age_of_Enlightenment. html>. “French Revolution. ” 2009. MSN Encarta. 7 June 2009 <http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761557826/French_Revolution. html>. “The Enlightenment (1650-1800): Summary of Events. ” 2009. SparkNotes. 6 June 2009 <http://www. sparknotes. com/history/european/enlightenment/summary. html>.