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Imperialism, Slavery and "Enlightenment"

Reader comment on item: Why Do You American Conservatives Keep Losing?
in response to reader comment: The real fruit of the "Age of Enlightenment"

Submitted by Michael S (United States), Nov 30, 2018 at 22:18

Looking over what I wrote above, I am surprized to see how "liberal", "enlightened" ideas seldom produced the intended result, and often produced the opposite. A few examples come to mind:

1. The French Revolution. This began with the collapse of the "old order", the monarchy. It initially produced chaos in France, and conquest in Europe. It then produced, in Napoleon, an empire. This spread "enlightened, liberal" ideas throughout Europe, such as Civil Law (actually a throwback to Roman Law). Eventually, the monarchy was restored in France to take its place in the "New World Order" ruled by the UK, Prussia, Russia, Austria and Russia, enabling the colonial conquest of the world by the major European powers. Interestingly, those colonial powers saw themselves as carrying out the "white man's burden" of civilizing the world. Was colonialism an "Enlightenment" idea? Whether it was or not, it produced it!

2. Poland. Before the Enlightenment, the majority of Europe's Jews lived in the Commonwealth of Poland. I won't pretend to know much about Poland, in the presence of the son of Richard Pipes; but here's what I gleaned. At some time, before the enlightenment, the Poles did something that in Britain had led to the Magna Carta, a founding document of British freedom. What the Poles did, was enact a law requiring all further laws to be approved by ALL the nobles of the land, unanimously. Of course, this very "liberal" idea greatly weakened the country -- to the point that their enemies (Russia, Prussia and Austria) conspired to prevent the Poles from ever getting rid of that suicidal law. Eventually, during the height of the "Enlightenment", Poland was dismembered by those three despotates. This had a profound impact on Jewish history, as well as Polish. As in France, the destruction of the old order led not to freedom, but to more despotism.

3. Eli Whitney. Stepping away from politics for a moment, Let's consider the great scientific inventions which the Enlightenment is sometimes credited with bringing about. Whitney was politically conservative (Federalist); but his principal invention, the cotton gin, revolutionized the American economy. What might at first have been seen as a "labor saving" device made the formerly unprofitable growing of upland cotton into a profitable endeavor. This led to the importation of slave labor on a massive scale.

Is slavery a "liberal" idea? Interestingly, imperialism and slavery also had a heyday centuries ago, in ancient Rome. There, Rome's success as a republic led to the imprisonment and enslavement of countless enemies. These were impressed into slavery, making farmland immensely profitable. The original small farmers were replaced by slaves, and forced to seek a living in the capital city. There, politicians vied with one another to give the people bread and entertainment in order to win their votes. The most successful of the parties was called the "Popularii", or "popular party". It's finest exponent was Julius Caesar, who overthrew the old order and instituted an empire.


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