The 18th Century : the Age of Enlightenment photo

The 18th Century : the Age of Enlightenment


The 18th Century can be dubbed “the Age of Enlightenment” as it was marked by French philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau or Diderot (the Encyclopédie was published in 1761).

The Enlightenment is characterized by the belief of natural goodness of man : man is perfectible, it is the idea of progress obtained through the use of reason.

Since man is naturally good, all bad things come from society : if we could fight prejudices and oppressive social institutions, man would be better. It’s a question of education : political and social reforms would bring man happiness. These are the principles of the French Revolution.

The situation is different in the United Kingdom. The revolution has already been made : the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 established a parliamentary monarchy but it was not a democracy since you needed to be rich to go to Parliament.

John Locke, a famous British philosopher, influenced the notion of parliamentary democracy. He was a predecessor of the Enlightenment but his ideas were only applied in America after the War of Independence (1776-1782).

The American Constitution was applied in 1789. In the USA, there is a republican government with a president and a principle of equality in front of the law: “everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. There is a truly optimistic belief in man and happiness, and in progress and reason.

The end of the 18th century saw an evolution : the development of the rational and the irrational. There were general changes in taste in arts in the 1750’s :

  • rococo and its myriad of details
  • primitivism (more simple) and its two sides : neoclassicism and its imitation of Greek and Latin architecture (strict and rational), and the Gothic revival.
reading voltaire s tragedy l orphelin de la chine at madame geoffrin s salon painted in 1812 by gabriel lemonnier 1743 1824 oil on canvas 129 5 x196 162278848 58e6e3323df78c516266d3a6
Reading Voltaire’s tragedy L’Orphelin de la Chine at Madame Geoffrin’s salon, painted in 1812 by Gabriel Lemonnier (1743-1824). DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images


Primitivism is connected to a new vision of nature. Instead of being addicted to laws, nature became a sentimental reference. It helps you meditate, find yourself – it’s a new conception of life.

Nature is not a rational entity any longer but it is sentimentalized. This shift can also be seen in gardening: French gardens were less controlled, more spontaneous than British gardens for example.

Cult of “sensibility”

Feelings were seen as an essential part of human nature, that should be expressed rather than repressed:

  • romanticism is based on the expression of feelings
  • humanitarianism is the sentimental promotion of feelings and asks how feelings affect our minds through compassion for the poor and unhappy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau in La Nouvelle Héloïse glorifies passions and feelings, and as such can be considered a pre-romantic writer.
  • the development of a new type of psychology : our sensations influence our minds.

The Rise of the Novel

During the 18th century, the modern novel came into being and became the most important genre in literature.

The novel is characterized by its realism and simplicity :

  • the characters are not noble but middle-class characters
  • it is often presented as autobiographies, letters or journals : it looks ordinary, the language is not difficult, the style is simple – all that make novels very realistic.

Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Defoe created a new way of thinking. He was Protestant and took side for the Protestant capitalistic values, advocating thrift and perseverance.

Samuel Richardson, who wrote Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748), was a pioneer in the sentimental novel and psychological novel.

Henry Fielding, who wrote Joseph Andrew (1742) and Tom Jones (1749), was a specialist in comedy and parody. His books are anti-sentimental.

Lawrence Sterne, author of Tristan Shandy (1759), showed the artificiality of the novel. He questioned the conventions of the genre through the use of digressions, self-referentiality and puns.

Two traumatic events can explain the context of Gothic and Romanticism : the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.

Sommaire de la série 19th Century Literary Movements

  1. The 18th Century : the Age of Enlightenment
  2. The Gothic and the Fantastic
  3. The 19th Century : Romanticism in Art and Literature
La révolution industrielle photo

La révolution industrielle

I – Qu’est ce que la révolution industrielle ?

La révolution industrielle est l’essor général des méthodes industrielles de production. Elle caractérise le passage plus ou moins rapide de la société traditionnelle pré-capitaliste à la société industrielle capitaliste avec la création de classes sociales.

Transformations caractéristiques :

Technique :

transformations agricoles

innovations techniques fondamentales

machinisme, taylorisme, multiplication des usines

progrès technique continu


capitaux mobilisés en vue du profit

forme capitaliste de production et d’échanges



montée en puissance de la bourgeoisie

création de sociétés de capitaux (Sociétés Anonymes – S. A.)


formation de la classe ouvrière

séparation propriétaire – salariés

Les caractéristiques du mode de production capitaliste sont le progrès technique continu, la mobilisation des capitaux en vue du profit et la séparation entre les propriétaires des moyens de production et les salariés.

La révolution industrielle est une évolution intellectuelle, économique et sociale à long terme. Il y a eu plusieurs r évolutions industrielles mais c’est surtout la première qui a connu des transformations économiques et sociales importantes.

II – La naissance du système capitaliste

La révolution industrielle est l’évènement fondamental pour l’avènement du capitalisme. On passe d’une société traditionnelle pré-capitaliste à une société industrielle capitaliste.

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Les politiques économiques photo

Les politiques économiques

I – Evolution de l’intervention de l’Etat

Le XIXéme siècle est dominé par l’idéologie libérale avec l’influence d’Adam Smith (1723-1790) et de David Ricardo (1772-1823) qui prêchent l’individualisme, la concurrence et la non-intervention de l’Etat.

Ils sont partisans de l’Etat minimal : les fonctions régaliennes (Police, Armée, Justice), la construction d’édifices publics, le respect des règles de la concurrence.

La réalité historique est cependant différente : au cours de la Révolution Industrielle, l’Etat va intervenir pour assurer le “décollage” (take-off) des économies.

En France, l’Etat est intervenu pour le développement des chemins de fer et dans l’agriculture (tarifs Méline vers 1896).

L’Angleterre adopta les Enclosures Act pour les terrains agricoles. Les USA intervinrent dans le développement du chemin de fer.

L’Allemagne mit en place des mesures protectionnistes avec Frederic List (1789-1846).

Au Japon, avec l’ère Meiji (vers 1868), l’Etat créa les premières entreprises pour les revendre ensuite aux familles (les zaïbatsus).

La crise de 1929 : le New Deal eut un impact idéologique important aux Etats-Unis avec un changement considérable dans la conception du rôle de l’Etat : l’Etat devient interventionniste.

Après 1945, l’Etat intervient de plus en plus dans la vie économique et sociale. Selon Keynes (1883-1946), l’Etat doit intervenir lorsque l’économie est défaillante et les moyens d’actions se perfectionnent :

  • politique monétaire
  • politique fiscale
  • politique de planification
  • politique de nationalisation…

La politique d’intervention économique est liée à une politique sociale de réduction des inégalités. On passe d’un Etat-gendarme à un Etat-providence.

Depuis le début des années 1980, on assiste à l’avènement des politiques libérales car les politiques keynésiennes n’ont pas réussi à résoudre le problème de la crise :

  • GB – 1979 : Thatchérisme.
  • USA – 1980 : Reaganomics.
  • France – 1986 : privatisations, liberté des prix, flexibilité du marche du travail (emplois précaires).

Durant les années 1990, les pays n’adoptent pas purement une politique libérale ou une politique keynésienne. Ils cherchent un compromis entre les deux et les débats portent plus sur la nature de l’intervention publique.

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Scottish Home Rule photo

Scottish Home Rule


After the Union of 1707, Scotland started to export goods massively: especially linen, cattle, and tobacco (Glasgow was nicknamed the “tobacco metropolis”).

Gradually the Union came to represent career opportunities for the upper class and middle-class scots: some joined the Army in India, some became merchants in London and some others migrated to North America as settlers.

1760’s: 1st Industrial Revolution in Scotland. Until then, Scotland was a rural country. It became rapidly urbanized.

1760-1830: Scottish economy based on the textile industry (cotton, linen and wool).

After 1830, new industries appeared: the steel industry and the shipbuilding industry.

During Victorian Scotland (1837-1901), all industries were owned by the Scots. They were prosperous and exported their goods all over the world. There was no feeling of discontent for they were pride to be contributing to the Empire, adding up their prosperity.

In the 1880’s, Scottish home rule (more autonomy) emerged as an issue in Scottish politics. It was the result of 3 factors:

1. A growing feeling in Scotland that the Government was not devoting enough time and attention to Scotland

In comparison with time devoted to Ireland, Scotland felt neglected by the Government. The Irish people was rewarded for their violence when non-violent Scotland did not get any attention.

In 1853 was created the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights. It was close to the Conservative Party and complained about the fact that Ireland received more support from the British Government than Scotland and that Westminster lacked of Scottish MPs.

2. The conversion of William Gladstone to Irish Home Rule

In 1886, William Gladstone (a Liberal MP) introduced a Bill before Parliament: the Irish Home Rule Bill. It was due to the pressure of the Home Rule Association created in 1870 in Dublin. The association wanted a Parliament responsible for domestic affairs.

In 1871, in Aberdeen, Gladstone (not converted yet) said that if home rule was granted to Ireland then the same should apply to Scotland. In 1885, the Post of Secretary for Scotland was re-established (it had been abolished after the battle of Culloden in 1745) to promote Scotland’s interests and voice its grievances to the British Parliament.

The Scottish Office was created the same year: it was purely administrative (the Post of Secretary for Scotland led it). When Scots compared what they had (a people in London) to what Ireland had (its own Parliament), anger progressively arose.

In 1886, the Scottish Home Rule Association was set up. It was not a political party but a nationalist organization close to the Liberal Party. They wanted a Parliament responsible for Scottish domestic affairs and did not want to end the Union.

3. A growing nationalist sentiment in Scotland

London was considered as the center of the Empire and this was resented in Scotland. As for Government subsidies, London was getting the lion’s share, especially for galleries and museums. As a consequence: renewed interest for everything Scottish in Scotland, reinforcement of their distinct national identity.

A number of societies were created in Scotland to compete with their rivals in London:

  • 1884: Scottish Geographical Society
  • 1886: Scottish Historical Society

1895-1905: Scottish Home Rule was not on the political agenda of the Conservative Government (they were against it).

1906: the Liberals got the power but the question of Scottish Home Rule did not come immediately.

1910-1914: British politics dominated by:

  • Irish Home Rule: legislation passed in 1912.
  • Scottish Home Rule: Bill debated in 1913 but process interrupted by World War I.

After the war, a 2nd Scottish Home Rule Association was created for the first one became inactive.

The objectives remained the same: more autonomy and not independence. Not a political party and no candidates. Will to remain non-partisan. Means used: putting pressure on the Government and on the MP representing Scotland in Parliament. In spite of this pressure, there was no progress for Scotland at the Parliamentary level.

1921: the Parliament voted the Government of Ireland, creating the Irish Free State.Even after 1921, no results.

1920-1934: Creation of organizations and political parties

1920: Scots National League: much more radical organization: they wanted independence, promoted the Gaelic culture and language. Yet, it did not have a strategy to achieve independence. They lacked unity and split. The result of the split was:

1926: the Scottish National Movement : focused on culture. No strategy to achieve independence.

1927: the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Organization : created by students and members of the Labour Party. John MacCormick was one of the leader and he is still considered today as the father of modern nationalism. He was a moderateand wanted Scotland to stay in the UK. He managed to convince the other nationalist organizations to create a nationalist party.

1928: the National Party of Scotland : left wing party. Objective: not independence but Scotland within the framework of UK. The NPS was a party but his electoral results were poor.

Divisions appeared for the NPS was the sum of different organizations with different opinions (moderates and radicals). The radicals said the poor results were due to the moderates.

1932: the Scottish Party: right-wing party in Glasgow. An embodiment of reasonable nationalism. The press was very favorable to them.

As there was not enough room for 2 nationalist parties a fusion had to be made between the Nationalist Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. They merged in 1934.

1934: the Scottish National Party: born of a left-wing party and of a right-wing party. The SNP is still divided, not homogenous, and has various political affiliations.