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Baron de Montesquieu was a famous Enlightenment thinker who believed in limiting the powers of the government.

What was Montesquieu’s suggested strategy for limited the powers of a government?


Baron de Montesquieu was a French philosopher who believed that the powers of government should be separated and not in the hands of one ruler. Montesquieu believed that the powers should be separated into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Separating the powers into three branches would prevent tyranny by creating a system of checks and balances. Each branch could keep the other two from gaining too much power.

This idea of separation of powers has influenced many modern governments including the United States.


William and Mary signed the Bill of Rights in 1689. What did the bill establish?


The English Bill of Rights confirmed the existence of an English constitutional monarchy.

The bill required the regular meetings of Parliament, limited the power of the Crown, and guaranteed freedom of speech in Parliament without fear of retribution.


What Russian Tsarina is considered Russia’s only Enlightened Despot?


Catherine the Great (1729-1796) allowed some religious freedom and limited adoption of printing presses.

She corresponded with Voltaire and is considered Russia’s only Enlightened Despot. After a peasant rebellion, her reforms ceased.



Enlightened Despots


An Enlightened Despot was an absolute monarch who nevertheless subscribed to the principles of the Enlightenment.

Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, and Prussian King Frederick II were all considered Enlightened Despots.

For instance, Joseph II used his absolute power to end forced labor, ban torture, abolish serfdom, and reform the judiciary. Catherine the Great asked the advice of commoners when making some governmental decisions.


What was the Glorious Revolution?


In 1688, Parliament deposed Catholic monarch James II and replaced him with the Protestant Prince William of Orange without using violent means.

William and his wife Mary would rule as constitutional monarchs, meaning that their power was limited by law. In this case, the law was a bill of rights that they signed in 1689.

This was one of the first peaceful transitions of power, hence the nickname “Glorious Revolution” since it occurred without bloodshed.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau a French philosopher in the 1700s published a book titled the “Social Contract.”

What was the main idea of Rosseau’s book?


Rosseau wrote his “Social Contract” in order to express his thoughts that people are born good, but become corrupted by the evils of society.

Rosseau states that by agreeing to form a government, people choose to give up their own interests for the common good. He believed in the will of the majority, and that the majority should always work for the common good.


In the wake of the Glorious Revolution, John Locke published his Second Treatise of Government, endorsing a limited government.

Why did Locke view a limited government as ideal?


Locke argued that mankind was not selfish nor prone to violence, but rather that mankind was a product of reason and his environment.

Holding that man was born with natural rights, such as a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Locke believed these rights were superior to the laws of man.

The protection of these natural rights was the primary role of government, and any government who failed to protect these rights deserved to be replaced, even if by violent means.


Which Enlightened Despot is known for modernizing Austria’s government by hiring officials based on their talents rather than their social status?


Joseph the II of Austria helped modernize Austria and hired officials based on talent, rather than by heritage, which helped to implement legal reforms.

Joseph also practiced religious tolerance, ended censorship, and abolished serfdom.


The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 by King John of England.

Why is the Magna Carta significant?


On June 15, 1215, English nobles forced King John to agree to a Magna Carta (Great Charter). The 63-clause document guaranteed certain political rights such as no taxation without representation and trial by jury.

The nobles wanted to protect their feudal rights and also to limit the powers of the king. The Magna Carta took the first steps towards limiting the English Monarch.


Who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?


Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

In it, Wollstonecraft argued that all humans (not just men) were capable of reason and that the traditional, unequal treatment of women was old-fashioned and irrational.


The Enlightened Philosophers emphasized “natural law.”

What did they mean by the term?


Natural law refers to laws that govern both human society and the universe as a whole. Natural law is discoverable by reason and determined by nature. The Enlightened Philosophers viewed natural law as superior to man-made law.

John Locke was the first philosopher to fully explain natural law. He claimed that merely by his existence, man was endowed with rights, which could not be taken by the government.


In relation to taxes, how did the English Parliament differ from the French Estates-General?


Unlike the Estates-General, the English Parliament never handed over the power to tax to the King. As a consequence, English kings were forced to work along with Parliament for funds, and Parliament exercised some control over the King’s activities.


Who were the Enlightened Philosophers?


The philosophes were Enlightenment thinkers and writers who were dedicated to discovering social problems and developing resolutions by the implementation of natural law.

Most philosophers were French, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu.


Describe the importance of the Enlightenment period to history.


The Enlightenment period was a result of a new way of thinking inspired by the Scientific Revolution.

People begin to question the role of government, and people began to argue that the government’s power should come from the people. The Enlightenment introduced new ways of viewing authority, power, government, and law.

A major point of the Enlightenment was the idea of democracy and Natural rights (rights you are born with).


Which French writer do historians consider the most influential of the Enlightenment Philosophers?


Most historians argue that Voltaire, who lived from 1694-1778, is the most influential of the Philosophers.

While most philosophers advanced their arguments through reason, Voltaire relied on ridicule to battle bigotry, intolerance, and the Catholic Church.

Voltaire’s Candide, his most famous work, managed to mock the entirety of European culture in less than 200 pages.