The Enlightened Man – A Review of The Enlightenment: Crash Course European History
“The Enlightened Europe: Crash Course European History” by Bernard Lewis is a review of recent events in Europe and the United States. The author, Bernard Lewis, is a professor at the Middle School of London specializing in European history and European intellectual history. The book is part of a series. This particular book looks at the enlightenment in Europe as a historical event.
In the years before the enlightenment, people in Europe were terrified by religious conflicts, rapine, and infanticide. European kings, aristocrats, and the ruling class didn’t want to be thought of for being responsible for any of this. They sought safety and freedom from other people’s think tanks. Religious wars were a part of life during that time. There were conflicts between professed religions and religious hatred. This is part of the enlightenment.
Other things that happened during this period of European history are the French revolution, the rise of merchant capitalism, and the development of the state system in the middle ages. These things also led to development. These developments are part of the enlightenment.
This book is a quick study. It is an overview of how the enlightenment happened in Europe. However, it isn’t a very in-depth study. It only briefly looks at some key events. I felt that there was only enough information provided in this book to give a basic understanding of the enlightenment. I would have liked a more detailed account of what happened during the era of the renaissance, and the rise of the middle classes in Europe.
Bernard Lewis, like most scholars of the era, is known for his work on the rise of liberalism in the western world. His book on the enlightenment also has a great deal to do with liberal thinking in Europe. I also enjoyed his discussions of the rise of Machiavellian rationalism. However, I found much of what he said to be rather banal. I didn’t find anything particularly remarkable, but I am also not a fan of overly simplified general histories.
The remainder of the book traces the evolution of “Western thought through the enlightenment.” It starts out with a broad overview of intellectual development through the ages. Then it goes into the development of “Western civilization” through the European Renaissance. Partly, I think this was done to make the book more appealing to an American audience. The last part traces the development of “secular humanism” during the nineteenth century.
The part on “secular humanism” is probably my least favorite of all the portions of the book
Lewis spends a decent amount of time on criticizing religion, and his overall dismissal of religion is rather disturbing. Religious language is also used to attack those that do not adhere to a particular set of beliefs, something that I personally do not like.
Overall, I am not a big fan of the enlightenment, in part because of the bad history of its arguments. The book does offer some interesting insights into some interesting topics. However, overall the book provides a too simplified view of the development of European history that can leave many people scratching their heads and wondering what the author is getting at. For this reason, I recommend that you avoid reading this book if you are looking for a more detailed study of the history of the enlightenment.
On the other hand, the book provides interesting insight into the period of the French Revolution. This part of the book is an interesting look at how religious intolerance was exacerbated by political situations. There is also a brief discussion of the impact the French revolution had on Europe’s economic growth. Partly in response to the French revolution, England passed a tax on tea which was levied on all tea houses in England. In part because of this tax, English tea became much less popular than it once was.
The final part of the book delves into education as it related to enlightenment
Education is mentioned in passing, but there is very little detail about how or why it was important to the French. The author also makes some broad sweeping generalizations about educational philosophies throughout the period of the French Revolution. The generalizations are actually quite unnecessary, as the education system in Europe was already well developed by the time of the French Revolution. Moreover, the broad sweeping generalizations do not make any especially meaningful comment about the development of European culture.
Overall, this is a good book for those interested in learning about European history and the enlightenment. The author has done a good job of preparing the material for an overview that can be used by students for a variety of classes in history or education. However, I would have liked to have seen more detailed analysis of important topics, such as religion and education during the era of the French Revolution.