From the death of Louis XIV in 1715 until the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, there occurred a profound evolution in the thinking of political philosophers, whose epoch is known as The Enlightenment. There were three men whose writings were to be most responsible for this intellectual whirlwind: Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau. And there were to be three rulers whose absorption of this new thinking actually resulted in an attempt to put many of those ideas into practice: Frederick the Great of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria, and Catherine the Great of Russia. Naturally, there were other thinkers, collectively known as the "Philosophes". And there were other, lesser rulers who would also reflect this new intellectual and spiritual glory.
But where did it come from? How, in the middle of one of the most corrupt centuries of all time, could a small group of monarchs suddenly become infatuated with the thinking of an even smaller group of eccentric intellectuals? On the face of it, it seems highly improbable. At the beginning of the 18th century, kings ruled by the divine right of God Almighty, and were answerable only to God. Near the end of the same century, they still ruled by the grace of God...but now they were answerable to the people they ruled. This was the era of the Great Awakening of the common man. The consequences were to be momentous for the world. For it was from the works of the Philosophes that the French Revolution would germinate, and it was from the French Revolution that the ultimate Enlightened Despot would emerge...Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Leaders that could have done better!
- Neil Chisholm