How did the Enlightenment affect people's ideas about government?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Enlightenment led to rational ideas about government. Kings no longer ruled by divine right; rather, government was to be rational. For some people, this meant a rise in republican thought—because it was thought that the people could best govern themselves according to what they needed. Critics of republicanism thought that the people were too fickle and selfish in their wants and that they looked to enlightened monarchs or small ruling groups.

The Enlightenment also led to the concept of natural law. These are laws that exist in the absence of government and are considered universal. From natural law one gets natural rights that cannot be given by government; rather, these are inherent in human nature. According to Locke, these natural rights are life, liberty, and property.

Governments using Enlightenment ideals have interpreted these differently. Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, modified the last point from "property" to "the pursuit of happiness." The...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 876 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team