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"The Essence of the 18th Century." Topic

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nemopholist07 Jun 2006 7:53 a.m. PST

On the Renaissance Boards, Rich Knapton started a thread on "How do Renaissance battles differ." It is of course a vast and highly discussable subject with no real conclusion possible. This topic is much the same thing as I do not feel we 18th century persons should be left out. It's an old discussion and one we've done in many ways before, but like a fine work of art you don't look at just onece, it's worth going back to just to think and rething out positions.

My aim in doing this is NOT AT ALL to arrive at a definitive answer or a finite set of criteria. I do not believe that is possible with any historical period let alone any set of historical rules (or rules for that matter- what exactly IS "Sci-Fi" or "Pulp." Games to me are individual expressions of person view and hence individualistic in the extreme and there really can be no right or wrong in an absolute sense. Granted one would use Porsche Elephants in a modern game, not Alexandrine Elephants, but when "our fanices fly" who knows what will land? The aim of this thread is merely to have a showcase or emporium of opinions on the 18th century and what it means to the individual gamer so that we all can have the benefit of the wide range of viewpoint and imagination that various people approach the hobby from. Once again I don't see this as a debate but hopefulla "tour de force" of perceptions and imagination.

I will offer the first.

For me the 18th is the "Long 18th century of the Historians (the accession of Louis XIV to his majority to the French Revolution) but I go back further to the Peace of Westphalia and forward a little to the fall of the Bastille. (which may or may not be the start of the French Revolution to you). But it is not dominated by these dates or the practices, techniques, technology or military instruments in between, it is in fact the whole culture of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, the characteristic art, culture, literature, philosophy, architecture and music, espeically music of the period. If one was to epitomize the age it would be in Haydn's Symphony "The Clock." Militarily FOR ME, the period is characterized by a basic idea, an idea often given more lip service to than real adherenece, that was a revulsion from the "locust-like" behaviour of armies in the Thrity-Years War, devouring the countryside and destroying what they could not devour. It was a war of maneuver and sieges, a war where armies like huge anacondas coiled and uncoiled themselves from one mountain-top position to another and sought to outmaneuver and almost make war incognito. Battle at the pace of a Contra-Tanz, Maneuver by minuet. Granted it was horrific enough, but the horrors of Malplaquet, Kunersdorf of Torgau hold little appeal for me, where the half-mythological impossible bravado of Fontenoy and "Gentlemen of France You may Fire First!" does. Granted this image is as overblown, refined, and perhaps overdrawn as the delicate and absurd roccoco decoration the period was so noted for, but on the whole it seems to me an absolutly admirable way to wage war. Only with the coming of the Napoleonic wars, led by the man "who needed an income of 10,000 lives per month) did Europe degenerate a long way back to those bad old days of the 30 years war.

Yes, I'd much rather have Soubise's 40 cooks and one spy to Frederick's 40 spies and 1 cook.

I'd certainly also rather have Augustus the Strongs "battalion" of mistress' than all of Fredericks battalions.

PeteMurray07 Jun 2006 8:06 a.m. PST

I would have to agree with you. A good 18th Century game of smaller combats would have to capture something of the grandeur of the individual officers and personages. To that end, I consider the Renaissance over with Louis XIV taking the throne. It's arbitrary, but it seems to work for me.

I think one of the things that appeals to me most about this period is that it seems so foreign from the notions of what constitutes a well-waged war these days. One could win, but one must be majestic in the process above all things. Again, as you said, this was probably given more lip service than practice, but the words carry a certain compelling appeal.

RockyRusso07 Jun 2006 9:21 a.m. PST


Hmmm. I vaguely remember a campaign someone was playing 35 years ago that emphasized the LOGISTICS of the 18th, rather than the field fighting. But we are GAMERS, wanna' KILL things. Break things…grin.

I dunno, the point of view I have here is that in Europe, the drill and weapons become uniform across this tiny continent. The uniforms are the practical gamer differnece (well except how some of these troops morph in the third world, like America!). Essentially, you have infantry with musket and bayonet, in thin lines with "column line and square". Cav that shoot guns but only close with broken infantry! The spanish still have lancers as an effective arm in the Americas but only against indians, who also have lancers!

I find writing rules for this period far easier than with the chaos of european drill prior to this.


Personal logo brass1 Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2006 9:22 a.m. PST

Michael Howard once characterized 18th Century warfare as "wars of pure policy, waged by dispassionate professionals." I'm not sure I entirely agree but this does seem pretty close to me.


50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick07 Jun 2006 9:57 a.m. PST

For me it begins with Newton and ends with Robespierre.

But I always have to remind myself that the Enlightenment was a very top-down movement. Unlike some other historical trends, the Enlightenment originated in, and never really left, the already-ruling classes of the Aristocracy and the High Bourgeoisie. When you add up all the great thinkers, artists, and composers, their world is actually pretty small, and for all their brave talk about new social models, what many of them really wanted was promotion within the status-quo (a purchased title of nobility, for instance.)

The rest of the people (probably… 95%?) only ever experienced the Enlightenment as a result of policies taken by those "enlightened" leaders. Frederick abolishes torture, for instance, or the Hanse cities emancipate the Jews, or Maria Theresa declares religious tolerance, etc, etc.

That's all well and good, except that enlightened leaders could be very particular regarding how they carved out exceptions in order to fit their own advantages (the Americans founders declaring a republic dedicated to freedom, while simultaneously enshrining slavery in the constitution, for instance, or Frederick's burning of Voltaire's "Docteur Akakia," because it parodied both him and Maupertius.)

So while my gut instincts always incline me favorably toward the Enlightenment and a life of Reason over religion or superstition, I nonetheless arrogantly place myself, in my imagination, in that tiny upper crust that really enjoyed and made the enlightenment, and not among the great unwashed, whose lives for the most part went on much as they had before. Did those soldiers killed in war after war after war even know that there *was* an Enlightenment?

I keep thinking of Carl Becker's famous quip about the American ruling Bourgeoisie who led the Revolution and shaped the Republic: "They brave discussed atheism… But never in front of the servants!"

JeffsaysHi07 Jun 2006 10:42 a.m. PST

Oh dear.
Better not read about laying waste to the countryside around Quebec then.
Or about the exploits of pandours, croats, and the shortly after copied petite guerre Prussian and French units; twill drain the colour from thou cheeks of enlightenment.

PeteMurray07 Jun 2006 11:12 a.m. PST

I don't think anyone here has denied that the language of the Enlightenment differed significantly from the practice. I think what everyone here has in common is that they enjoy something about the attitudes of the ruling class of the period, particularly as pertains to warfare. Nobody here wholly endorsed the Divine Right of Kings.

Nemopholist said he was not keen on Malaplaquet as much as Augustus' battalions of mistresses.

I said I thought the ideals of the Enlightenment were often only given lip service.

RockyRusso talked about how games set in this period are played.

Brass1 brought up a quote which struck him as interesting but not entirely accurate.

Sam Mustafa pointed out it was only the Enlightenment if you happened to be on top of the heap anyway.

Nobody here is assuming that the period was bloodless, or some sort of acme of civilization, or that all the wars were carried out in perfectly rational, perfectly gentle practice. Like everything else with wargaming, specific attributes (period attitudes among the ruling class) are being emphasized. Everyone is well aware of the incongruity between speech and practice.

nemopholist07 Jun 2006 11:13 a.m. PST

Dear Sam

I agree to all that you say about the Enlightment/Age of Reason. I also like very much your "From Newton to Robespierre" boundaries. it's both useful, evocative, and rather dynamic in a "baroque" sort of way with regard to outlandish contrast. One can make all sorts of moral points about that dichotomy.

You are of course, I believe, absolutely correct about the permeation (trickle down theory?) of the Enlightment and Absolutism, enlightened or otherwise. Atheists, Deists, Agnostics, skeptics etc., are all fine shadings of belief in this period and a great gulf exists between the "high culutre" or "persons of condition" and "the people" with Methodism, and many of the more "traditional" confessions of the time. Schapins "A History of Truth" comes to mind in this case. One also must be very careful of the where here. Not much enlightment in Spain, or in Poland or Russia, for example, and for every Frederick of Prussia there were the Dukes of Wurttemberg who behaved like absolute medieval swine. (There is an excellent book, long out of Print. "The small German Courts of Europe in the 18th Century" or something like that, which gives quite a different picture.

And again, as I said here and elsewhere, it's an idea of and paradigm of the 18th century which again is highly individualistic and idiosyncratic, and admittedly overdrawn and attenuated. I offered it merely as an example that there are available in gaming many paradigms to base the game upon, and not all of them have to strive for absolute veracity in all things.

Finally— OF COURSE we want to arrogate unto ourselves the conceit of being in the top 5% of society and of course being of the better more enlightened source. After all it's ourgaming world.

If we wanted to be running around in the mud and doing the manual of arms and actually stopping bullets— we'd be re-enactors.

We all know about the depredations and tragedies perpetrated by war upon innocents who get in its way, but we're not here to game that.

This is one of the reasons I don't game in the American Revolution. I don't want to shiver and starve and have dysentary at Valley Forge, once All souls day comes I'm off to the capital for the holiday season, Carnical, the operas, banquets, and after lent, a few fettes, festivals, and a dalliance or two.

What's the point of being in the upper class if you have to live like the lower class.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick07 Jun 2006 11:31 a.m. PST

For me, Wesley and Methodism seems almost to pre-figure the American "Great Awakening." I can't otherwise place it within the Enlightenment, ideologically. Deism, on the other hand, strikes me as quintessentially enlightened, both because of its sharp skepticism, and also because of its snobbish elitism.

Lee Brilleaux Fezian07 Jun 2006 6:43 p.m. PST

I'd comment but I am trying to get my periwig on straight. I'm also a little concerned that my urine seems to be pure brandy. I shall have to play ecarte until dawn. Damn your eyes, all of you!

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2006 7:59 p.m. PST

The Wesleys were a bit of a bridge — a relatively minor one, actually — between the First and Second Great Awakenings. John was briefly in American as the Revolution was starting, but his Loyalism (naturally he would be, he was a Brit) reduced his appeal.

The first thrived in the 1740's and 50's and "disappeared" (I think morphed into political agitation) with the coming of the Revolutionary era after 1763. Then, about the minute that political stability was achieved, the second GA was launched, running for several decades well into the 1800's.

The first GA split the established denominations, particularly the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists, while the Baptists made a small beginning, bothering the Anglicans in the south.

The second GA saw the massive growth of two new denominations, the Baptists and Wesley's Methodists, who became the "mainline" churches until knocked from that position by today's Pentacostals and evangelicals.

Historians note the suggestive significance of the above timing: religious turmoil, political turmoil, then religious turmoil again. I haven't seen a really good analysis of the relationship, though.

The relationship between the Enlightenment and the Great Awakenings and the Revolution is fascinating and complex. Most of the Revolutionary leaders were devout Christians; the deists were few but prominant. There's no doubt that Enlightenment ideas were priminant in the Amer Rev, but they were MORE prominant in the French Rev — and the American Rev was a success where the French Rev was in comparison a failure. (See Irving Kristol's great essay "The American revolution as a Successful Revolution")

I suspect (but it would take a long essay to prove)that the Awakening not only provided the popular oomph behind the Amer Rev — Sam is correct to emphasize the Enlightenment's elitism — but also acted as a check on the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism.

The pile of bodies from enlightened rationalist rulers far exceeds in height that produced by religious fanatics — Voltaire to the contrary.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick07 Jun 2006 8:55 p.m. PST

[The pile of bodies from enlightened rationalist rulers far exceeds in height that produced by religious fanatics Voltaire to the contrary.]

I rather think not, as the religious fanatics got a head-start by a couple of millennia, and have been hard at work ever since.

Midway Monster08 Jun 2006 12:33 a.m. PST

The eighteenth century was a period when gentlemen would go to war and learn their craft with future enemies. It was not thought dishonourable to attend a battle or siege with the French or Swedes, Russians, Imperialists or even the Spanish. Indeed it seemed to go well for you the more you saw of the way in which warfare was managed by other countries.

It was an age when countries would send contingents to fight in other countries for money and this was seen as a good thing. An age of mercenaries where armies couldn't wage war without them.

The century opens with gentlemen and the nobility conducting battles in a state of incredible politeness and ends with that nobility on a scaffold, their heads in baskets. Well in France certainly.

Armies take the field in lines and colourful uniforms and nobody brings any tactical innovation to the field for fifty years.

An age when science was on an equal footing with religion for the first time.

advocate08 Jun 2006 1:10 a.m. PST

The essence of the 18th C is the tricorne.
"My hat it has three corners
Three corners has my hat
If it did not have thre corners
It would not be the 18th Century"

Supercilius Maximus08 Jun 2006 2:12 a.m. PST


Not sure you're right there. Supposedly there are more people alive today than all the humans born and died before the 21st Century. Granted religion has several millenia of human sacrifice, god-driven wars and, of course, massacres of unbelievers. But whilst one can only admire the more personal touch of the Inquisition, "rationality" (eg Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc) thought big – we're talking industrial-scale, indeed industrial-driven, atrocity here.

Bluebear Jeff08 Jun 2006 3:51 a.m. PST


Many fine answers . . . but I'm a gamer; not a philosopher. For myself, I can sum up the the "essence" of the 18th Century as far as I am concerned in just one word . . .


It is silly, I know. But Advocate suggests, the look of the tricorn sets the century apart.

Sure, not everyone wore one . . . but enough did that that is how we picture all of them.

I actually like the simple uniforms of the early century better than those of the later century . . . but adding the tricorn to either just makes them "cool".

It's the tricorn, gentlemen. That lovely three-cornered hat!

— Jeff

nemopholist08 Jun 2006 4:18 a.m. PST

[The pile of bodies from enlightened rationalist rulers far exceeds in height that produced by religious fanatics Voltaire to the contrary.]

Ummm I think not also. 6 million in Nazi Germany, 20 million in Soviet Russia just to name two and those are civilian deaths which far outweigh the military. I don't see the monarchs of the 18th century being able to match that pile.

Further, even if we were to grant equality, none of the monarchs of the century would have bragged about it or thought it was the thing one should do which the fanatics (religious or otherwise) take pride in.

Make no mistake about it. I rather like living in a liberal representative democracy and have no desire to bring back the kings, or live in even a rationalist absolutism. But as Sam says, if we're going to fancy ourselves generals well then we can "fancy" what ever else we wish as well.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 4:59 a.m. PST

But Nemopholist, the 20th century piles you mention ARE part of the rationalists' body count. When you separate policy from morality anything goes.

The first large scale political murder of a group AS A GROUP was the Reign of Terror in France. (I concede the activities of, say, the Spanish Inquisition amounted to judicial murder, and no doubt included politcial and social as well as religious elements — such things are always complex; but the body count was immensely smaller.)

It was the Jacobins who abandoned the idea of personal guilt or innocence in the Law of Suspects. Aristos were to be killed irregardless of what they had or had not done individually. It's downhill from there to Holocuasts such as Hitler's and Stalin's and Pol Pot's and Mao's.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 5:00 a.m. PST

Bluebear, don't forget powdered wigs.

nemopholist08 Jun 2006 6:51 a.m. PST

Dut Docmcb

You will notice that BOTH Sam and I place the French Revolution and hence the reign of terror outside the boundaries of the 18th century. Well, Sam may get his fingers nipped as he has it Newton to Robespierre but I suspect he's talking about up to but not including Robespierre. Mine is to the fall of the Bastille, which doe snot inlcude the terror.

I don't think, further that policy was divorced from Morality in the minds of the 18th century monarchs. But this is taking this topic further afield than where it was supposed to go.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Jun 2006 8:05 a.m. PST

I'll grant you Robbespierre, the Jacobins, and even Napoleon, as blood-letting "enlightened rationalists." And for good measure, let's throw in all the wars during the Age of Reason. I'll even grant American massacres of Indians.

But there was nothing rational nor enlightened about the Nazis, Stalin's Cult of Personality, the Khmers Rouges, Mao's cultural revolution, etc, etc. Those movements totally rejected Enlightenment rationality, in fact, in the loudest possible ways. Hitler & Co were anti-rationalists of the First Order: Blood, Nation, Volk, etc. They just replaced traditional religion with blind worship of an ideology or an individual. Stalin and Mao were totally opposed to objective science, and demanded that all scientific canon be restricted to only those views which furthered the aims of their own vision of Socialism.

Nothing could be further removed from the Enlightenment, which placed very little emphasis on nationality, race, or even religious affiliation, and which held objective scientific inquiry as the most important component of intellectualism.

(Hell, the Nazis even rejected Intellectualism! As did Mao and Pol Pot, and to a lesser degree, Stalin. They were opposed to whole concept of an educated elite. Mao and Pol Pot went so far as to kill people for wearing glasses!)

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 8:11 a.m. PST

Hmmm. Sam, would you agree that Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot (and even Hitler, though I grant you there's a powerful element of essentially irrational Romanticism in him)at least appealed to Enlightenment rationality (I'm thinking of the emphasis on Planning)as a justification for what they did? Whewther they really believed in Enlightenment ideals, they used it as a theoretical support for their programs.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Jun 2006 8:19 a.m. PST

No, they had (in their minds) a better and totally superseding doctrine that explained all human history for them.

A couple of years ago I did a project at the Georg Eckart Institute for School Research, in Germany. They have a repository of school texts from all the western countries, dating back to the early 19th century. (I was looking at the ways in which the Napoleonic Wars had been represented during the different regimes in German history.)

When I got to the Communist DDR, the schoolbooks were standardized with Soviet books, and they all – for 40 years – preached the same doctrine about the Enlightenment: namely, that it was an elitist, bourgeois phenomenon which did little to emancipate humanity, aside from a valuable critique of religion. For the communists, what really mattered was the French Revolution, because there they believed they could see Marx's theories at work: an economically-oppressed underclass rises up and replaces the old system with a more egalitarian one (or at least tries to.)

So for the Communists, the only good thing about the Enlightenment was that it ended in a bloody, transformative revolution.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 8:58 a.m. PST

Okay, yes — but that's a very big thing. I've always thought that Marx was a pretty good historian, just a terrible economist. His explanation of the French Revolution makes as much sense as anyone's. OTOH, the real proof of a theory is its predictive power, and there Marx falls flat, as demonstrated by Lenin's need to correct and update him. Historians such as A.T. Mahan, with his concept of seapower, at least are sometimes able to anticipate what is going to happen as well as explain the past.

But Sam, isn't the very idea of "a better and totally superseding doctrine that explained all human history for them" essentially an Enlightenment one, akin to the arrogance that produced the Encyclopedia? ("We can write down everything that Man knows.")

RockyRusso08 Jun 2006 9:17 a.m. PST


Lets see, I would argue that no one lives up to the ideals of the period. "Chivalry"? nope. "Enlightenment", nope.

Oh, and a real surprise is that the upper classes tell their story about their ideas as if they are the 'good guys'…there's a shocker.

From the standpoint of fighting a war, things do change. The system of war and the equipment makes it easier and cheaper ever larger armies. 20years to grow a longbowman(not counting the Yew!), a season to train a decent musketeer.

The "question" of Infantry as "the Queen of Battles" becomes entirely settled. Well, in europe. And this always can be considered at applyin to Europe only…including such silly terms as "enlightenment".

We can get pedantinc on the label OR, this being a wargaming board, we might discuss the wars!


50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Jun 2006 9:24 a.m. PST

[But Sam, isn't the very idea of "a better and totally superseding doctrine that explained all human history for them" essentially an Enlightenment one, akin to the arrogance that produced the Encyclopedia?]

I think it dates to Aristotle, at least.

But they're not going to force it on you at gunpoint, or shove you into a gas chamber or torturer's rack. That's the key difference.

All these modern ideologies that you're talking about have far more in common with religious fanaticism than they do with enlightened rationalism, for the simple reason that they all believe that the world is caught in a great, existential struggle of Good vs. Evil, and they have set out to do something about it. The Nazis saw humanity caught in a struggle between pure-blooded people and "mixed-breed" people and that races had to save themselves or face annihilation. The Communists saw a world-historical process at work, with one global class needing to be mobilized everywhere to overthrow another global class. Much like religious fanatics, they believed they had access to Pure Truth and all the morality that flowed from it justified killing by the millions.

Enlightenment thinkers, by marked contrast, thought about Good and Evil with a sort of snarky sarcasam, making fun of people who spoke in such naive, simplistic terms. For them, morality was expedient, usually fancy language that translated as: "I wanna get mine." Thus Frederick could rationalize his pouncing on Silesia (despite having just written his "Anti-Macchiavel" !), or the American founders could list their grievances in the Declaration, and so on. But "I wanna get mine" – while it's not a great, moral stance – nonetheless is a very different proposition from "We Must Remake the Whole World! And Only Force Will Do!" That is the ideology of a fanatic – religious or otherwise.

And before we are too hasty at condemning the indifferent or selfish impulses of Enlightenment morality, don't forget that Adam Smith was an enlightenment thinker, and he saw in the selfish, amoral impulses of individuals the true path to happiness: a self-regulating marketplace!

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 9:55 a.m. PST

Well, the modern totalitarian ideologies are "religious" if that term is stretched to include atheism. I think Paul Johnson is correct that intellectuals are suckers for various forms of gnosticism — your "better and totally superseding doctrine that explained all human history for them" — of which Marxism and Freudianism and Rousseauean "general will" (a major basis of Hitler's doctrine) and such are all examples. Of course, religions often tend to gnosticism too; Christianity has had to combat the tendency and has largely done so successfully.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 11:05 a.m. PST

Sam, would you agree that Romanticism was a by-product (in the sense of an reaction against)the Enlightenment? For me, that tends to confirm Chesterton's dictum that when men cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything. (Or in the case of the Romantics, in Everything.)

And would you agree that there's a powerful current of Romanticism in some modern totalitarianism? Particularly the Nazi brand.

nemopholist08 Jun 2006 12:35 p.m. PST

I'm looking for some 15mm peasants with farm implements in European style clothing. Can anyone suggest a manufacturer or maybe has a dozen or so they are willing to part with? I'll be using the for a sci-fi scenario (heresy, I know).

nemopholist08 Jun 2006 12:36 p.m. PST

Sigh. The bug struck again. I didn't write that, and I'm too tired to reconstruct it.

I'll reply later.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Jun 2006 12:59 p.m. PST

[Sam, would you agree that Romanticism was a by-product (in the sense of an reaction against)the Enlightenment?]

I think it was a reaction to the *end* of the enlightenment: specifically to the French revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

[For me, that tends to confirm Chesterton's dictum that when men cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything. (Or in the case of the Romantics, in Everything.)]

I just don't agree that having a religious morality is any sort of guarantee for any sort of moral behavior. History is full of bloodthirsty religious murderers, just as it full of selfless religious humanitarians. Ditto for atheists. I don't see any connection. It seems to me that 99% of the time, whatever a person is doing, or wants to do, he regards that as morally right. So he does it, assuming that he is in the Right, and anyone who opposes him is in the wrong, or perhaps even Evil. Some people need to reinforce their claims by saying that God sanctions them. Other people don't require that reassurance.

[And would you agree that there's a powerful current of Romanticism in some modern totalitarianism? Particularly the Nazi brand.]


50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick08 Jun 2006 1:03 p.m. PST

PS- I'm surprised you haven't hit me with Thomas Paine's famous quip in 1776 about making the whole world over again…. He doesn't fit my argument about enlightenment values, yet he's my favorite philosophe, by a long mile.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2006 3:37 p.m. PST

Since I can no longer spend my whole day reading and sniping on TMP, I just stumbled on this now.
In my opinion, during the Enlightenment, the ruling class dressed gorgeously, reasoned sublimely, and smelled atrociously.

The careful restraint in waging war was also easily ignored, and easily abandoned.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP09 Jun 2006 3:18 p.m. PST

I'm using "Enlightenment" fora set of ideas rather than an era with a definite end-date; for me the French Revolution (including the Terror) was the natural and predictable culmination of the Age of Reason.

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick10 Jun 2006 5:43 a.m. PST

[the French Revolution (including the Terror) was the natural and predictable culmination of the Age of Reason.]

Yet you could also say the same thing about the American Revolution: a liberated bourgeois merchant class deciding that they are capable of republican self-rule. How much more "enlightenment" can you get?

That outcome was just as unthinkable to Europeans as was Louis getting his head lopped. I love Frederick's quip to Thulemeier in 1783: "This so-called independence of the American states will not amount to much…."

Supercilius Maximus10 Jun 2006 11:49 a.m. PST


Didn't they ask his younger brother to be their King?

nemopholist12 Jun 2006 9:55 a.m. PST

Dear Doc and Sam,

I think you guys are giving Naziism and Leninist-Stanlinism (and by extension Marxism) far more credit than they deserve. Once you strip away the surface patter there's not much more to the former than Hitler and of the latter more than Lenin and Stalin. Likewise Marx. Once you get o the cult of personality where the whill or whim of the individual is the essence of all law" you are at the ultimate repudiation of the Enlightenment, and by the way- at the point where anything goes. The mind of Hitler, Lenin and Stalin, could change from moment to moment and did, and we have the results as the historical record.

All three leaders and especially Marx believed they were the font, source, genius and driving force of history, and I might add, the end and goal of history.

Far from this is the Enlightenment view of history and the world, or more properly "Providence" or "Nature and Nature's God that permeates Enlightenment thought. If the Deists and rationalists of the 18th century saw God more as a "celestial clockmaker" who simply wound the mechanism from time to time, they also accepted that the "dictates of the clock" which was the product of the celestial clock-maker ran by its own rules and laws which were PERHAPS apprehendable to man, but certainly NOT controllable or governable by him. We could not kick the celestial watchmaker out of his work plce and proceed to trash the shop, which is precisely what Naziism, Lenenist-Stalinism, and Marx purport to do. Further, even these refined deists admitted the possiblity that the "divine clockmaker" could from time to time reset the clock or "jiggle the gears" for the benefit of man, but again man was never going to get the key to open up the clock, least of all- run it.

While Louis XIV sought to limit and restrain the nobility of France, it never occurred to him, or to his successors to purge them outright ala the Great Terror of the 1930's. The Kings of Prussia and Austria might be monarchs who were able to rule with little interference from their provincial estates and assemblies, but they were not able to dispense with them altogether. All the monarchs had to accept society as it was, and work with it, and with the prevailing institutions of the time. All of the monarchs, and most of the thinkers of the time understood that flights of fancy were fine, for the salon or the drawing room, but completely unworkable in the real world.

Only in France, with the "philosophes" and only at the very end of the period do these grand utopian schemes come to the fore, and all of them are propounded NOT by people who are experts in government, war, finance, or administration, but essentially by talented dilletantes, mere hangers on, – persons who for all their brilliance are no more knowledgeable about the real world than the other performers the noble "Salonistes" brought in to entertain at their balls, festivals, and fettes. Only with the French Revolution in the complete collapse of power and the central nerve of the government, are these crack-pot ideas given a chance— with the predictable and inevitable result.

How far these "philosophes" had strayed from the origins of the enlightenment can be gleaned by a simple reading of Descarte, who notes that while it might be nice to develop a scheme for the ordering of a state from blank paper, or simply by the dictates of logic, the real world is not so ordered, and that the institutions we have now once served, and may still serve a usefull purpose and were not put into place by mere whim— which the dictates of our vision and logic indeed are.

Besides, I rather think that Marx is by now almost completely discredited no? If you claim to have the knowledge of the real driving force of history, and also the means to manipulate and direct that force of history, and that there can be no other, which is what Marx said, and now a mere 80 years the most powerful force to bring that about voluntarily destroyed itself and overturned the system, then what credibility has Marxist analysis left.

I remember once listening to several members of the Russian Parliament talking and they said of their reasons for doing away with the Soviet State— "We're tired of being guinea pigs!" Referring to the endless new plans and projects and failed policies of the ideologues in power.

The Monarchs of the Enlightment for the most part might have seen their peoples as children, or as minors, or as subjects, but they never thought of them as gunea pigs. It was left to the "Philosophes" to do that.

I remember, just having read Schama's "Citizens" the endless infatuation with experiment, temporary measure, and grandiose new schemes, all put out by the "Philosophes" and the "New Men" in France, and contrasted it with the skinflinty-father of Frederick the Great who pffinched his pffennigs and pared his cheeses and instituted sound economy, land reform, and industrial development the old fashioned way, with the institutions he had.


I didn't start this thread as a debate on the logic or philosopy of the 18th century. I did it as a means of showcasing the various approaches and dynamics gamers in the period envision it as operating under.

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