How did the Enlightenment lead to revolutions both in Europe and its new world colonies?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The teachings and precepts of the Enlightenment helped to foster revolutions in Europe and its colonies in a couple of ways.  The most elemental way was the Enlightenment's praising of individual freedom.  The stress on rationality and the idea that individual freedom is the location and source of all greatness helped to construct a situation where people began to question authority structures and their place within it.  The assertion of human freedom and the ability to define freedom in terms of political autonomy caused many to demand change in their structures of governance.  At the same time, the Enlightenment thinkers constructed government as an agreement, a contract, between those in the position of political power and those for whom government was meant to serve.  As rational beings, individuals had a right to break this contract if government was not following the consent of the governed.  This helped to foster revolutionary sentiments amongst individuals when such Enlightenment lessons were absorbed.

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