Those Wiesner-Hanks as the combination of both the
Those ideals spread among the European Elites, by the intermediary of Salons or arts, helped questioning the already existing customs of thoughts. This emergence led to the embodiment of the thinkers’ hopes and dreams, up to a certain limit.
The use of such salons, literary journals or learned society was not just to help the propagation of the Enlightenment’s ideal and raise more awareness to people’s state of being. They became embodied practices of it.
Kant’s view on the Enlightenment was that it would be brought by mankind itself: if they used reason as freely as possible, this is what Haberman called “Public sphere” and defined by Kant as “(…) enjoys in this public use of reason an unrestricted freedom to use his own rational capacities, and to speak his own mind” . The public sphere is hence metaphorically an environment where people can be exempt from the obligation of their ranks, where men are allowed to write and criticize without fearing consequences. The public sphere was composed of all the institutions that enable freedom of speech and thoughts, and engaging in the establishment of what today can be called “public opinion” and defined by Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks as the combination of both the elite and ordinary people deciding what is acceptable or not. As said previously, the Salons, Academies, literary journals and arts, were means to spread the ideals of the thinkers, but there were also embodied practices on a small level of these thoughts. As a matter of fact, if the example of Salon is taken for examination, they were the perfect exempt from how the Enlightenment ideas were embodied. This gathering of men and women of the French “bourgeoisie” were the place of discussion and debate on a particular subject. No censorship or limits were enforced during the conversation, and that is what Haberman and Kant meant when they talked about “Public sphere”. They had the freedom to be and to express themselves, without any constraints or fear. Obviously, this freedom was not guaranteed in all environment ( journals or books are often censored) but still, this use of reason and speech to raise more awareness to the enlightenment thinkers ideals was already an improvement for the time.
As argued by Dorinda Outram, “one could even say that the enlightenment began with Revolution, that which occurred in England in 1688, which created the condition for the emergence of the philosophy with which John Locke discussed new thinking about the relationship between ruler and ruled”. A close link exists between the Enlightenment culture and Revolution as if one could not have existed without the other. The revolution is mostly a political shift, a desire for something new, from where experimental ideas emerge. The Enlightenment arose out of the British revolution. But is it fair to say that the XVIII century Revolution was the ultimate application of the philosophes hopes? As a general observation, both the American and French revolution (which occurred for the former in 1765 and the latter 1789) are the proof that some key figures of History (such as Thomas Jefferson or Robespierre for the French Revolution) applied the thinkers’ ideas in a concrete manner. To look at the result of the American revolution (which happen before the French one, as a wake up call to the people of France to rise up against the Monarchy that strangled them, something that can be seen as ironical, knowing that Louis XVI, King of France at the time, send troops to support the American revolution against the British monarch) to see a concrete application of the Enlightenment ideas, one must look at the Declaration of Independence, the final touch to the creation of the land of Freedom. In the declaration of independence signed in 1776, it is written under the supervision Thomas Jefferson and is echoing Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, where he explains the manner of establishing a State of law and equality, but also signaled how, if the government fails to protect his citizen’s rights, it was necessary for men to revolt. It appears that in theory the Enlightenment ideals are put in concrete application, aspiring to create a nation based on social equality, no sovereign power, just men organizing themselves. Just like the American independence document, the French Revolutionary national assembly came up with a lookalike Bill of right, called ” Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen ” (declaration of human rights and citizens). This declaration resembles the American one in term of inalienable rights, freedom of speech, religion. However, in practice, there are some flaws that can be perceived, particularly concerning the “equality among men”. Indeed, whether it be in the United-states with slavery or in France with the colonies, these principles were not as respected as expected.