History Answers: Enlightment, Communism, Marxism and New Economical Order, American Revolution, Social Darwinism, Modern Medicine
Perhaps, every historical event has an ideological basis that became an inspiration for social and economical change. The age of Enlightenment became a turning point in further development of European and American countries. The entire set of values underwent significant reforms from 1685 till 1815, which mark the beginning and the end of the Enlightenment period.
It was also called the Age of Reason, which emphasized the priority logic and reason gained comparing to the dominant religious thought of the previous centuries. In fact, it was the return to the classical Antique view upon the surrounding reality, its Renaissance. The approach that was actively applied by the ideologists of the 18th century reformed the society in many aspects. It is possible to state that these changes soon led to the series of revolutions in Europe (the French revolution) and in America (Zinn, pp.45-47).
The concepts introduced during the Enlightenment period challenged the authority and doubted whether someone has a natural right to rule the others. After that the notion of equality became an essential part in the political discourse of the time. In addition, the idea of pre-destination, that everything has already been planned by God, was changed by the idea that a human being has all possibilities to make his/her life better. Everything was considered to be in the hands of people, who can achieve the heights that were previously impossible even to imagine. The progress depends mainly on the development of reason and education, that has to be available for people from all levels of society.
In my opinion, the progress was inevitable. It is impossible to live for many centuries under the oppression of religion. No matter how positive are the moral lessons the religion gives, it stops the scientific progress and makes the society even more traditional and opposed even to minor changes. It is really strange nowadays to think about the times when people had to fight for equal education for all people and it was not a fact that all people were born with the same rights. It required much time and effort to understand these issues. Some countries went through this difficult period of changes without bloodshed revolutions, the others had to die for liberty, equality, and fraternity, like the French revolutionaries.
In fact, not only the philosophical thought developed actively during the Enlightenment period. It changed the human world view in the way that industry started to rise. Manual work was partly automatized and the overall productivity increased greatly. People had hope that soon everything would be changed for the better, and their future generations would live in a new industrialized era. The science would be the guide that would show people where to go, and this direction would be better than the way of religion.
A peculiar thing is that even though the humankind followed the route that was shown by the science, it did not found absolute happiness. Progress created electricity that is available for everyone, but it also created nuclear weapons that can destroy the entire planet. Christians do not start military campaigns against Muslims like the Crusades of the Middle Ages. Though, nowadays Muslims do the same against the traditionally Christian world. In fact we are living in the 21st century, when the reason, introduced by the philosophers of Enlightenment, is an absolute. Though I fear to think about the negative achievements of the centuries of reason. There are now numerous ways how to kill people en masse and the world seems to be very cruel. History makes me think whether such negative side is indispensable in progress and whether it is possible to judge the way humans develop.
The American Revolution
America was a comparatively liberal and free country, comparing to the states of old Europe. The taxes were definitely lower than in other countries an there were more possibilities to find work. Though, the major businessmen of America were not content with the fact that they had to send something to Great Britain and to ask the Parliament, that is thousand of miles away from them, how they should live and trade. In fact, the Revolution started from the boycotts of import to Great Britain and from defying taxes.
Though, there might have not been precedents in the world history that the entire nation would participate in mass slaughter to guard the economical interests of serious businessmen. That is why “the legend”, the ideologically right background was created and popularized through mass media of that time. People started to fight for their equal rights, for sovereign state, that might definitely be more just and will give them the possibility for self-determination (Headrick, pp. 65-71).
When I read about it, I thought about the importance of the press in the war campaign. It has definitely enormous powers and those who control the mass media control the minds of the entire population. It is impossible to imagine that people will participate in the war when no one tries to ruin their own house. The abstract ideas about liberty, equality or a free sovereign state are too abstract for a person who is living in comparatively normal conditions. The press has to show them, that the notion of a sovereign state is something that is extremely important for every person. Usually the mass media copes with this task professionally and still continues to improve its skills.
Every time I read or watch the news, I think about my total disorientation in the informational chaos. Nowadays there are too many sources of information, and I assume that nearly 90 percent of it is false. It is the white noise, that gives me too much ad in reality gives nothing, because free press is nothing but a means of giving the right information controlled by the most influential groups of people. Such ideas make me feel paranoid and the lessons from the past like the example of how the press made the Americans think that they have to kill the other people for abstract ideas makes me shudder.
It is necessary to mention that not all people were fighting for the ghost of abstraction during the American Revolution. Certain groups of people were really searching for freedom, because they were not even treated like humans. The African Americans are the most well-known example of such fight. It is ideologically right and quite banal to mention that the African slaves fought for their rights and freedom during the American Revolution, and after that the United States became the realm of democracy and equal rights. Though, every time when someone mentions about the results of the abolitionist movement, I recall that approximately 50 years ago the black Americans were still not treated as equal humans. In theory, they were claimed to e free people and had the right to live just like the white Americans. In reality the social segregation and the decreased life opportunities made their lives only slightly better that the destinies of slaves. It was only several decades ago, and people who remember these days are still alive.
Such issues make me doubt the positive results of the American revolution and its effect on building the liberal state. In addition, the causes and the effects of the American revolution provoke many questions when the details are mentioned.
Communism, Marxism and New Economical Order
In 1846 Marx and Engels published their work Communist Manifesto and it changed economical and political course of European countries for the next century. After the beginning of the industrialization era that started during the Enlightenment period the conditions of work did not undergo significant changes. Working people were still poor, as they were when they were servants, and the ruling elite was becoming even more rich. The aristocracy was still the dominant social class and the workers were exploited in nonhuman conditions (Judge, p. 80).
According to Marxist structuralism the society is divided into the classes and the crucial impact of economic development throughout history on the present state of things. According to Marxism, each epoch creates a dominant economic class that rules the other layers of the society. The liberal and the realist ideas were created by ruling elite to justify and explain why other people are poor and unequal. That is why all the international organizations were created by the wealthiest people in the world to control the natural resources, the money and the power.
Marx and Engels proclaimed the idea of the never ending revolution that will change the ruling elite every time they start to forget that all the wealth is produced by workers. The working class, in its turn, had nothing to lose but the chains (Zinn, p.75).
These ideas can be easily applied to modern politics and situation on the international arena. According to the Marxist theory, the countries of the “third world” were not always that poor. They had the wealth before the capitalists came and took everything away from them. This idea sounds quite strange, because it gives people a false explanation of who is to blame in their problems. It often leads to the aggression towards the countries that are wealthier and can be an explanation of the terroristic phenomenon. The level of welfare in the countries of the Middle East is generally not very high. Many countries are poor and destroyed by civil wars. The external enemy can become for a reason of pessimistic economic situation in their native state and it might cause aggression. For example, an outburst of terrorism.
Marxist approach is oriented towards globalization and creating one powerful international system. The ideological component that needs to be used in attracting people to Marxism is supposed to be very important. The idea that everybody will be equal, and there will be no rich and poor people in the world is quite attractive for the majority of people who are far from being wealthy.
Thus, the ideas taken from the Communist Manifesto led to a series of communistic revolutions. In some countries like the Soviet Union communism became the dominant ideology. In European countries it led to the appearance of the middle class and to the improvement of working conditions of people. In fact, the Communist Manifesto set the new economic and social order in the world.
The ideas of Darwinism and Social Darwinism became a scientific and philosophical basis for labor exploitation of black Americans by rising industrialists in the United States after the Civil War. It became a convenient explanation of the racist ideas that were popular in the second half of the 19th century and it seems to be really horrible to me.
According to Darwinist ideas, natural selection is the main issue that determines evolution. That means that only the strongest has the right to survive. Darwinism does not consider a human being to be a creation of God and does not take into account the inner desire of the person to grow. Social Darwinism takes the ideas of Darwinism about humans and animals in the wild nature, and apply them to specific social context. According to it, white Americans had a hereditary superiority over former black slaves, that is why they have the right to rule in the United States. In addition, Social Darwinist theories supposed that if there would become too many people in the world and there would not be enough food for them, the poor will have to die, because they are worse than the rich. The capitalistic reality that was actively developing in the late 19th century became a bright example that supported the idea that people are living in the tough wild world.
After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, approximately 6 million of black Americans started moving from the South of the country to the North. The Northern states were more urbanized, comparing to the rural Southern part of the US, and the attitude to colored minorities was better there in the beginning of the Great Migration.
However, with the time the situation became more difficult in industrialized North. The economical rise attracted not only the blacks, but also the immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland. This led to the severe rivalry between the ethnic groups and the “native” white Americans preferred to give a work place for white immigrants rather that to African Americans. The black people were not allowed to participate in the working unions, that guaranteed the legal side of their employment. That is why they could be fired without any explanations.
The African Americans were not educated, because they have been living for all their lives in the rural South, working on plantations. This issue decreased their humble possibilities for employment and as the result many of the blacks were working as servants and household personnel. Their children had no possibility for growth in the city. They were placed in all-black schools, where they were taught to read, write and work with their hands. The educational schedule of white children was not for their black peers. African Americans were considered inapt for learning a foreign language, literature or mathematics (Judge, pp.146-153).
These issues were extremely humiliating. They all emphasized the racist ideas that the black color of skin automatically leads to low intellect and inability to study. They were not considered to be the human beings like the whites were, and that is why it was normal to pay them less, not to allow their children to study and to make the whole ethnic group live in a reservation. The prejudice was easily explained by popular scientific ideas of Darwinism and Social Darwinism. From one point of view, it was a new word in science, but from another it was the way to preserve racist tradition.
Rise of Modern Medicine
The past of the humankind is full of wars and deaths. People were risking to die mostly from everything. Giving birth was risky, everyone died from pneumonia and the overall anti hygiene conditions of living condemned people to fall morbidly ill. The 19th century became a turning point in contemporary medicine. The practical medicine underwent significant influence from the side of the actively developing science. Anesthesia was introduced and from that time surgery became less painful and the fatal results became less rare, because the patients did not die from the shock. Until the middle of the 19th century hygiene was considered to be unnecessary during surgery. As the result the patients often lost the wounded parts of their bodies because of gangrene or even died from it. The miasma in the air caused such disease.
Microbiology also developed in that period of time. Louis Pasteur found that the products can be spoiled because of the microbes that live there. To prevent it from spoiling and to kill microbes he proposed to boil it. The method of pasteurizing was applied not only to products, but also to the instrument of surgery, which made them sterile (Judge, pp.210-213).
All these things seem to be usual nowadays and it is difficult to imagine that slightly more that a century ago it was the revolution in the medicine. Such insight into the details of history gives me an opportunity to understand better the context of the historical evens and to understand better their causes and their effects. The reaction with which the revolutions in thought were accepted or not accepted is also crucial to understand, because it gives an insight into the deep levels of human nature, that try to oppose changes in general.
This history course helped me to improve my critical thinking skills. I tried to question the reasons and the possible effects of the historical events that I read about. In addition, I made an attempt to evaluate them from the moral point of view and to apply them to our contemporary reality. As the result, I understood that it is impossible to give the only answer whether something was positive or negative. Every event and detail in history had both advantages and disadvantages. This subjective factor is crucial to remember in order to avoid biased estimates.
Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.