How did the enlightenment lead to the challenges directed against absolutist/mercantilist systems both in Europe and its New World colonies?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Enlightenment was a time in European history when people became much more interested than they had once been in trying to understand the world through rational thought and scientific observation.  In other words, this was a time when some people started to demand that the world should make sense to their rational minds.  They were no longer willing to accept ideas because those ideas were propounded by the Church or by ancient authorities such as Aristotle.  Instead, they wanted scientific proof of (or at least logical and rational support for) the rightness of various institutions in their society.

This desire for more rationality in society led to attacks on absolutism and mercantilism.  The thinkers of the Enlightenment could not find any scientific proof that monarchs were superior to other people.  In addition, they could not see any logic to the idea that people from one family were set by God to rule over all the other people in a country.  The thinkers of the Enlightenment wanted proof that mercantilism was economically beneficial.  When they could not find it, they were more likely to adhere to Adam Smith’s well thought-out arguments in favor of free trade.

Thus, the Enlightenment encouraged people on both sides of the Atlantic to rethink the rightness of absolutism and mercantilism.  When they did, they typically rebelled against those ideas because the ideas did not seem logical and could not be supported by scientific proof.


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