Exam preparation materials


Old Stuff: Approximately 1450 to Around 1750


By 1450 C.E., global interaction really got cranking. That’s why this chapter only covers about 300 years, whereas the previous chapter covered nearly 800 years, and the first chapter covered an astonishing 8,000 years. Since the time period covered in this chapter is narrower, the amount of detail provided is greater. The rise of Europe as a major player on the world scene was very important during this time period, and because the AP focuses so much on the interaction among cultures, most of the regions of the world in this chapter are discussed in terms of their relation to Europe.

As with previous chapters, we suggest that you read through this chapter once, and then go back and focus on the things that you’re not entirely clear about. To help you do that, here’s the chapter outline.

   I.  Chapter Overview
You’re reading it now.

  II.  Stay Focused on the Big Picture
Organize the huge social, political, and economic changes that occurred during this time period into some big-picture concepts.

 III.  Major European Developments 1450 to 1750
This section focuses on developments that influenced all of Europe, as opposed to more localized developments that affected particular countries or empires. Of course, the developments discussed in this section had an impact beyond the borders of Europe, which is why they’re so important to the study of world history. We’ve organized the major developments into two main groups.

  A.  Revolutions in European Thought and Expression

  B.  European Exploration and Expansion: Empires of the Wind

  IV. Developments in Specific Countries and Empires 1450 to 1750
After you’ve studied the major social, religious, economic, and political developments that swept through Europe and beyond, you should be able to put developments in individual countries and empires in the proper context. In addition to reviewing developments that occurred within the individual European powers, we’ll help you review the unique civilizations that existed elsewhere on the globe, particularly the Ottoman Empire, India, China, and Japan. Developments in the Americas, of course, are covered in the previous section under European Exploration and Expansion. In the next chapter, we’ll review the impact of European expansionism on Africa and Asia in the nineteenth century. Here’s how we’ve organized this section.

  A.  The European Rivals

   1.  Spain and Portugal

   2.  England

   3.  France

   4.  German Areas (The Holy Roman Empire, Sort Of)

  B.  Russia Out of Isolation

  C.  Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal

  D.  Africa

  E.  Isolated Asia

   V. Technology and Innovations 1450–1750
Europe gets guns, builds big ships, and explores the world

  VI. Changes and Continuities in the Role of Women
Concubines, queens, and business women

 VII. Pulling It All Together
Refocus on the big-picture concepts now that you’ve reviewed the details.

VIII. Timeline of Major Developments 1450–1750
Major developments organized by time and place


As you review the details of the developments in this chapter, stay focused on some big-picture concepts. As you read, keep in mind the following questions:

1. Why did Europe become a dominant power during this time period? Was it because European nations vied for world dominance while other civilizations didn’t, or because of technological superiority? Was it for some other reason? Why did some of the European nation-states develop vast empires while others did not? There are lots of legitimate answers to these questions, and the content of this chapter will help you think about some of them.

2. What were some of the differences among the ways in which non-European cultures interacted with Europe? What influences contributed to these differences? What were the consequences? You’ll notice that European powers penetrated different parts of the globe to different degrees. Pay attention to why this was true—it will not only tell you a lot about Europe, but also about those individual non-European cultures as well.

3. How did the global economy change during this time period? What was the impact on the world’s civilizations? As you read, notice how economic considerations drove much of the world’s interactions. Pay attention to how the larger global economy impacted the various regions of the globe.

4. What were the impacts of global interaction on the environment? Conversely, what were the impacts of the environment on human societies? What ideas, diseases, plants, and animals traveled the globe along with human settlement? The need for new resources brought massive changes, but at the same time, the environment acted on human societies, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Pay attention to the effects of the 500 year period of global cooling that began around 1500 and resulted in shortages of crops, famines, and susceptibility to diseases.


During the three centuries covered in this chapter, profound changes occurred on the European continent. These changes affected life on all levels: the way people viewed themselves (their past, their present, and their future potential), the way governments viewed their authority, the way religion intersected with politics and individuality, and the way Europeans thought about and interacted with the rest of the world.

By the end of these 300 years, the European countries will have used their new technologies, new ideas of governing, and new forms economic organization to become the dominant world powers. Much of their success was based on competition and rivalry as they raced to secure faster trade routes, new colonial possessions, and attempted to gain control of key resources. And much of their success came at the expense of the land-based empires of Asia and the declining empires in the Americas.

So while the previous chapter was all about interactions, this one covers the period of European maritime empire-building that resulted from those initial interactions across Asia and the Indian Ocean As you review the enormous developments in Parts A and B below, think about how they were linked together and impacted each other.


By the 1300s, much of Europe had been Christian for a thousand years. The feudal system had dominated the political and social structures for five hundred years, and the ancient classical civilizations of Greece and Rome had been almost entirely forgotten.

Life in the Middle Ages was dominated by local issues, concern for salvation, territorial disputes, the Black Death, a lack of education outside monasteries, and small-scale trade. As you read in the last chapter, near the end of the Middle Ages, countries began to unify under centralized rule. The Crusades exposed Christians to the advanced Islamic civilizations, increased trade fueled contact with other parts of the world, and universities became great centers of learning. This increased contact with foreign powers, and scholasticism exposed Europeans not only to developments in the rest of the world but also to history. Recall that the Byzantine and Islamic Empires had preserved much of the heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, even as they built unique civilizations of their own and made huge contributions to ancient texts, especially in the areas of mathematics and science. As Europe expanded its worldview and interacted more frequently with these two empires, it rediscovered its own past.

The combination of a rediscovered past and a productive present led to major changes in the way Europeans viewed the world and themselves. These new perspectives led to four massive cultural movements: the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. These revolutions in expression and thought changed the world. In a span of just a few hundred years, Europe went from being a backward, isolated, self-involved outpost on the perimeter of the major civilizations to the east to the dominant civilization in the world.

We’ll talk about the details of European global exploration and expansion later in this chapter. In the meantime, you should understand that this exploration and expansion were partly causing—and partly caused by—the major developments in thought and expression that are listed below.

1. The Renaissance: Classical Civilization Part II

After the Black Death abated and the population of Europe once again began to swell, the demand for goods and services began to increase rapidly. Individuals moved to the cities. A middle class made up of bankers, merchants, and traders emerged due to increased global trade. In short, Europe experienced an influx of money to go along with its newfound sense of history. It shouldn’t be too surprising that a sizeable chunk of this money was spent on recapturing and studying the past.

Humanism: A Bit More Focus on the Here and Now

In medieval Europe, thoughts of salvation and the afterlife so dominated personal priorities that life on Earth was, for many, something to be suffered through on the way to heaven rather than lived through as a pursuit of its own. As Europeans rediscovered ancient texts, they were struck with the degree that humanity—personal accomplishment and personal happiness—formed the central core of so much of the literature and philosophy of the ancient writers. The emphasis began to shift from fulfillment in the afterlife to participating in the here-and-now.

This is not to say that Europeans suddenly became hedonistic, focused only on worldly pleasures. To the contrary, the Catholic Church and a focus on the afterlife remained dominant. However, Europeans were fascinated with the ancient Greek and Roman concepts of beauty and citizenship, and as a consequence they began to shift their focus to life on Earth and to celebrating human achievements in the scholarly, artistic, and political realms. This focus on human endeavors became known as humanism. Its impact was far-reaching because a focus on present-day life leads to a focus on individuals, and a focus on individuality inevitably leads to a reduction in the authority of institutions.

The Arts Stage a Comeback

The Renaissance literally means “rebirth,” and this was nowhere more apparent than in the arts. In Italy, where powerful families in city-states such as Florence, Venice, and Milan became rich on trade, art was financed on a scale not seen since the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. The Medici family in Florence, for example, not only ruled the great city and beyond (several family members not coincidentally became popes!), but turned it into a showcase of architecture and beauty by acting as patron for some of the greatest artists of the time, including Michelangeloand Brunelleschi.

Unlike medieval paintings, which depicted humans as flat, stiff, and out of proportion with their surroundings, paintings of the Renaissance demonstrated the application of humanistic ideals learned from the ancients. Painters and sculptors such as Leonardo da Vinci and Donatellodepicted the human figure as realistically as possible. Careful use of light and shadow made figures appear full and real. Many artists were so committed to this realism that they viewed and participated in autopsies to fully understand the structure of the human body.

Artists also employed a technique known as linear perspective, developed by Tommaso Masaccio and Fillipo Brunelleschi, in which nearby objects were drawn bigger while far objects were drawn smaller; the lines of perspective merged into a distant focal point, giving the painting a three- dimensional quality. This use of perspective was a huge development toward realism.

The Catholic Church noticed the developments in artistic techniques, and soon the greatest artists were hard at work adorning the great palaces and cathedrals of Italy. For four years, 1508 to 1512 C.E., Michelangelo painted the now-famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back on scaffolding. Meanwhile, Renaissance architects borrowed heavily from the Greek and Roman traditions to build huge domes on cathedrals in Florence and Rome.

The artistic movement that engulfed the Italian city-states also spread northward and westward through much of western Europe, although it was generally more subdued and often more religious there than it was on the Italian peninsula. Still, even in northern Europe, especially in artistic centers such as Flanders, the influences of the resurgent Western heritage could be felt. For example, the Dutch Van Eyck brothers and the German painter Albrecht Dürer adopted the naturalism of the Italian painters and gained fame as portraitists. While highly realistic in style, most northern paintings were religiously motivated, and therefore even secular paintings or portraits were filled with religiously symbolic objects and color choices that resonated with the Christian faithful.

Still, while the northern painters and sculptors were quite talented, they were outnumbered and in many cases outdone by their Italian counterparts. The bigger contribution of the northern Renaissance came not from the visual arts, but from literature.

Contrast Them: Art in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Medieval art was almost entirely religious; Renaissance art was religious and secular, combining both Christian and humanist elements. Medieval art existed mostly in cathedrals; Renaissance art was commissioned by both religious and secular leaders, and adorned public plazas and homes. Medieval art was flat and stiff; Renaissance art was realistic, softer, and more human. In short, Medieval art didn’t try to be worldly; Renaissance art tried very much to be of this world.

Western Writers Finally Get Readers

Although printing was developed in China centuries earlier (remember which dynasty? The Song), moveable type wasn’t invented in Europe until the mid-1400s, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Prior to Gutenberg’s invention, the creation of books was such a long and laborious task that few were made. Those that were made were usually printed in Latin, the language of scholars and the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the typical person didn’t read.

With the invention of the printing press, all that changed. Books became easy to produce and thus were far more affordable. The growing middle class fueled demand for books on a variety of subjects that were written in their own vernacular, or native language, such as German or French. The book industry flourished, as did related industries such as papermaking, a craft that was learned from the Arabs (who learned it from the Chinese—gotta love those trade routes!). More books led to more literate and educated people. The newly literate people desired more books, which continued to make them more educated, which again increased their desire for books, and so on.

Many of the first books and pamphlets that were published were practical or political in nature. In 1517 C.E.Machiavelli, for example, published The Prince, a how-to book for monarchs who wanted to maintain their power. The work had a profound impact because it suggested that monarchy should be distinct from the church and that a leader should act purely in self-interest of the state rather than on the basis of vague moral tenets (since then, the term Machiavellian often has a negative connotation, implying a ruler who is ruthlessly selfish, scheming, and manipulative). But the printed word extended well beyond the courts of nobles. It changed life for the developing middle class because reading became a casual endeavor. Books were printed for no purpose other than entertainment or diversion, and this led to literature that increasingly focused on the daily lives of regular people, and humanized traditional institutions such as the military or the nobility.

Literature blossomed in the Renaissance of northern Europe, especially in the Low Countries (today known as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium) and in England. In the early sixteenth century, Erasmus, one of the most well-known learned men of the time, counseled kings and popes. He wrote In Praise of Folly, which satirized what he thought were the most foolish political moves to date. At around the same time, Sir Thomas More of England wrote Utopia, which described an ideal society, in which everyone shared the wealth, and everyone’s needs were met. More and Erasmus were Christian humanists, meaning that they expressed moral guidelines in the Christian tradition, which they believed people should follow as they pursued their personal goals. The Renaissance also produced William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous European writer from this time. Shakespeare’s works reflected the period well because they not only exemplified humanism in its extreme—focusing on character strengths and flaws, comedy and tragedy—but also illustrated the era’s obsession with the politics and mythology of classical civilization. His play Julius Caesar and his poem Venus and Adonis are among his many works that explored the Classical world.

2. The Protestant Reformation: Streamlining Salvation

You might recall from the previous chapter that during the Middle Ages (600–1450), the Roman Catholic Church was an extremely powerful force in Europe. While political power was diffused under the feudal system, and while the various European princes and political powers frequently clashed with the pope, emperors and princes knew that their power increased if the church blessed their reign. As a consequence, the pope wielded considerable political power.

The church was the one institution that the people of western Europe had in common. It was a unifying force, an institution believed to be sanctioned by God. With such widely accepted credentials, the church held itself out as not only the undisputed authority on all things otherworldly, but also the ultimate endorsement on all things worldly. With one foot on Earth and the other in heaven, the pope—and with him the hierarchy of the Catholic Church—acted as the intermediary between man and God. Nearly everyone in Europe understood this clearly: To get to heaven, you had to proceed by way of the Catholic Church.

The church understood the power it had over the faithful. When it needed to finance its immense building projects plus pay for the huge number of Renaissance artists it kept in its employ, it began to sell indulgences. An indulgence was a piece of paper that the faithful could purchase to reduce time in purgatory (the place Roman Catholics believed they would go after death). There, they would expiate (look it up!) their sins and then be allowed to enter heaven. Because purgatory was not a happy place to go, people greatly valued the concept of reducing their time there. Selling indulgences was not only a means of generating income but also a way for the church to maintain power over the masses.

During this time, land-owning nobles grew increasingly resentful of the church, which had amassed an enormous amount of power and wealth and exploited a huge number of resources at the expense of the nobles. This resentment and mistrust fueled anti-church sentiments. The selling of indulgences propelled the frustration into the ranks of the peasant class and helped set the stage for confrontation. The selling of indulgences also confirmed to many the corrupt nature of the church.

Martin Luther: Monk on a Mission

In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther supposedly nailed a list of 95 theses on a church door—a list that was distributed quickly and widely by aid of the new-fangled printing press. His list outlined his frustrations with current church practices, including the church’s practice of selling indulgences, which he said amounted to selling salvation for profit. Luther’s frustrations had been building for some time. He had traveled to Rome, and was unnerved by the worldly nature of the city and the Vatican (the seat of the Catholic Church), which was in the midst of getting a Renaissance makeover—upgrades that were clearly paid for with money from churchgoers in far-away places.

Among Luther’s many complaints was his insistence that church services should be conducted in the local languages of the people, not in Latin, a language that the German people didn’t understand. To help in this effort, he translated the Bible into German so that it could be read and interpreted by everyone, as opposed to making people dependent on the church for biblical understanding. Luther’s most significant claim was that salvation was given directly by God through grace, not through indulgences, and not through the authorization of the church. In other words, Luther suggested that the Bible teaches that people could appeal directly to God for forgiveness for sins and salvation. This revolutionary concept significantly reduced the role of the church as the exclusive middleman between God and man. In essence, the church was marginalized to an aid for salvation as opposed to the grantor of salvation.

Pope Leo X was outraged, and ordered Luther to recant, or formally retract, his theses. Meanwhile, Luther’s ideas were spreading through much of northern Europe as the printing presses continued to roll. When Luther refused to recant, he was excommunicated. When he was allowed to address church leaders and princes at an assembly in Worms (1521), he refused to abandon his convictions. The pope called for his arrest, but a nobleman from Luther’s hometown protected him, and Luther continued to write and spread his ideas.

Christianity Splits Again

The consequences of Luther’s actions were enormous. Luther’s followers began to refer to themselves as Lutherans, and began to separate themselves from the Catholic Church. What’s more, other theologians began to assert their own biblical interpretations, some of which were consistent with Luther’s; others were wildly different. Once the floodgates were opened, Luther had no control over the consequences.

John Calvin from France led a powerful Protestant group by preaching an ideology of predestination. Calvinist doctrine stated that God had predetermined an ultimate destiny for all people, most of whom God had already damned. Only a few, he preached, would be saved, and those people were known as the Elect. In the 1530s, the city of Geneva in Switzerland invited Calvin to construct a Protestant theocracy in their city, which was centrally located and near France. From there, Calvinist teachings spread, and were as influential to successive Protestant Reformations as were the doctrines of Luther. Calvinism, for example, greatly influenced religious development in Scotland under John Knox, and in France with the growth of the Huguenots.

In time, the Reformation spread to England, motivated by political as well as religious reasons. King Henry VIII did not have a son as heir to his throne and sought to abandon his wife, Catherine of Aragon, because of it. When the pope denied an annulment of the marriage, Henry VIII renounced Rome and declared himself the head of religious affairs in England. This sat well with those in England who already were becoming Protestants, but much of England remained Catholic. Nevertheless, Henry pushed forward and presided over what was called the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. Henry VIII went on to marry five more wives and to father a son, who died young. His daughter Elizabeth, also a Protestant, rose to the throne, but more on that later when we discuss political developments in England.

Focus On: Independent Thinking

The Protestant Reformation was a huge deal in world history. Its significance went well beyond the religious arena. While previous skirmishes between the pope and the nobles had been about papal political authority, Luther’s challenges were theologically based and directed at the pope’s religious role. Luther asserted that the people did not need the Catholic Church, or its priests, in order to interact with God; they only needed their Bibles. If the religious authority of the pope could be so openly and brazenly challenged, and commonly accepted understandings of God’s relationship to man could be re-evaluated and rearticulated, then people’s understanding of other concepts might need to be re-evaluated as well. Put simply, by challenging the pope, Luther made it acceptable to question the conventional wisdom of the church. With newly printed Bibles available in their own languages, lay people could learn how to read and form their own relationships with God. As the common masses became literate and better educated, more and more Europeans began to question both the world around them and the authority of the church. Europeans desired to search for their own answers to the questions of the universe. In short, the Protestant Reformation paved the way for revolutions in education, politics, and science.

The Counter-Reformation: The Pope Reasserts His Authority

During the Catholic Reformation (also known as the counter-reformation) of the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church itself reformed, while also succeeding in winning back some of the souls it had lost to the fledgling Protestant denominations.

At first, the Catholic Church responded ineffectively to the new religious trends. But when Luther refused to recant and German princes started to convert to Lutheranism, the Catholic Church began to institute reforms, which were led by Spain, a dedicated Catholic country. By banning the sale of indulgences, consulting more frequently with bishops and parishes, and training its priests to live the Catholic life instead of merely preaching it, the Catholic Church regained some of its lost credibility. However, make no mistake, the counter-reformation was as much about reaffirming as it was about reforming, and the church made it clear that it was not bowing to Protestant demands, but rather clarifying its position. Weekly mass became obligatory, and the supreme authority of the pope was re-established. During this time, a former Spanish soldier and intellectual, Ignatius Loyola, founded the society of Jesuits, which was influential in restoring faith in the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by the Catholic Church. The Jesuitspracticed self-control and moderation, believing that prayer and good works led to salvation. The pious example of the Jesuits led to a stricter training system and higher expectations of morality for the clergy. Because of their oratorical and political skills, many Jesuits were appointed by kings to high palace positions.

A group of church officials held a series of meetings known as the Council of Trent to direct the counter-reformation period from 1545 to 1563, dictating and defining the Catholic interpretation of religious doctrine and clarifying the Catholic Church’s position on important religious questions, such as the nature of salvation. During this period, “heretics” were once again tried and punished, and the Catholic Church re-established Latin as the language to be used in worship.

The result? The Catholic Church staged an amazing comeback. The counter-reformation proved successful in containing the southward spread of Protestantism. By 1600, southern Europe (especially Italy, Spain, and Portugal), France, and southern Germany were heavily Catholic. Northern Germany and Scandinavia were mostly Lutheran. Scotland was Calvinist, as were pockets within central Europe and France. And England, as mentioned previously, was Anglican.

The result of the result? Wars, of course. But more on that when we discuss developments in individual countries.

3. The Scientific Revolution: Prove It or Lose It

Prior to the Scientific Revolution, Europe and most of the world believed, as Aristotle asserted, that Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, stars, and planets revolved around the earth. There certainly were numerous inconsistencies observed by scientists with regard to this theory, but most scientists continued to attempt explaining the inconsistency rather than investigating the theory itself.

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church and the political structure reinforced the lack of scientific investigation. The church focused everyone’s attention on salvation, while the feudal system focused everyone’s attention on mundane, local concerns. In other words, the lives of the vast majority of Europeans, including the nobility, were not engaged in big-picture concepts beyond military conquest and eternal salvation.

But as Europe changed dramatically due to the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, and as the growth of universities gave structure to burgeoning questions about the world, educated Europeans began to examine the world around them with new vigor. The results were revolutionary.

The Copernican Revolution: A Revolution About Revolutions

Just as the counter-reformation was gaining momentum, Nicolaus Copernicus developed a mathematical theory that asserted that the earth and the other celestial bodies revolved around the sun and that the earth also rotated on its axis daily. This was pretty shocking stuff to many in the “establishment.” Although most educated people had accepted the world was a sphere for centuries, even well before Columbus’s voyage in 1492, the earth’s position at the center of the universe was widely accepted. Copernicus’s heliocentric theory of the solar system brought about much debate, and much skepticism. In 1543, Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres to prove his points, but it wasn’t until Galileo—who discovered the moons of Jupiter with his telescope—that the Copernican model really took off.

In 1632, Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World. He wrote the work in Italian in order to reach a wide audience and hopefully defeat the defenders of Ptolemy (the scientist who promoted the earth as the center of the universe). He showed how the rotation of the earth on its axis produced the apparent rotation of the heavens, and how the stars’ great distance from the earth prevented man from being able to see their changed position as the earth moved around the sun. His proofs made it difficult to continue accepting the Ptolemaic model, which just so happened to be the model sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. The church put Galileo on trial before the Inquisition in Rome for heresy and he was forced to recant. His book was placed on The Index, a list of banned heretical works (where, astonishingly, it remained until 1822!). Nevertheless, while under house arrest, Galileo continued to research and document his findings.

The Scientific Method: In Search of Truth

Recall that during the High Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the scholastic method of reasoning was deemed the most reliable means of determining scientific meaning. Scholasticism was based on Aristotelianism and therefore used reason as the chief method of determining truth. Sometimes reason led to heresies, other times reason was used to explain and complement faith, as was the case with Thomas Aquinas.

The scientific method was born out of the scholastic tradition, but it took it to considerable new levels. Reason alone wasn’t good enough. Under the scientific method, one had to prove what the mind concluded, document it, repeat it for others, and open it up to experimentation. At its highest stage, the scientific method required that any underlying principles be proven with mathematical precision.

Copernicus and Galileo, of course, were two fathers of the scientific method, but it took more than a century for the method to be widely used. There were many contributors. Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) built an observatory and recorded his observations, andFrancis Bacon (1561–1626) published works on inductive logic. Both asserted that scientists should amass all the data possible through experimentation and observation and that the proper conclusions would come from these data. Then, Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) developed laws of planetary motion based on observation and mathematics. Sir Isaac Newton took it one step further. In The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1697), he invented calculus to help prove the theories of Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, and others. He also developed the law of gravity.

Together, these men and others developed a widely used system of observation, reason, experiment, and mathematical proof that could be applied to every conceivable scientific inquiry. With precise scientific instruments, like the microscope and the telescope, a scientist could retest what another scientist had originally tested. Many scientific inquires were conducted with practical goals in mind, such as the creation of labor-saving machines or the development of power sources from water and wind. Francis Bacon, for example, argued that science was pursued not for science’s sake but as a way to improve the human condition.

All of this led to the Industrial Revolution, which will be discussed in the next chapter. In the meantime, however, you need to understand that the Scientific Revolution led to a major rift in society. While many Christians were able to hold on to their beliefs even as they studied science, many also began to reject the church’s rigid pronouncements that conflicted with scientific findings. Many of these people either became atheists (who believe that no god exists) or deists (who believe that God exists but plays a passive role in life).

Deism: God as a Watchmaker

The Scientific Revolution contributed to a belief system known as deism, which became popular in the 1700s. The deists believed in a powerful god who created and presided over an orderly realm but who did not interfere in its workings. The deists viewed God as a watchmaker, one who set up the world, gave it natural laws by which to operate, and then let it run by itself (under natural laws that could be proved mathematically). Such a theory had little place in organized religion.

Focus On: The Church Defends Itself on Two Fronts

Both the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution challenged the absolute authority of the pope. The Reformation challenged the pope’s authority on theological grounds; the Scientific Revolution challenged his authority on scientific and mathematical grounds. Don’t presume that the Protestant Revolution was the main instigator of religious change during this time period. The religious implications of the Scientific Revolution were just as huge.

4. The Enlightenment: Out of Darkness, Into the Light

While the scientists put forth revolutionary ideas, the philosophers and social critics had a revolution of their own. The Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries focused on the role of mankind in relation to government, ideas which greatly influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Because the U.S. Constitution has since been a model for so many others across the globe, so for this reason alone, it’s safe to say that the writers of the Enlightenment period changed the world. Keep this in mind when you move on to Chapter 9 and the Atlantic Revolutions.

First a Little Background: Divine Right

During the High Middle Ages and through the Renaissance and counter-reformation, the church allied itself with strong monarchs. These monarchs came to power by centralizing authority, uniting people under a common banner of nationalism, forming empires by promoting exploration and colonization (much more on this later), and ruling with absolute authority. Because the vast majority of their populations were Christian, the best way to rule was to align oneself with God. Monarchs became convinced that God had ordained their right to govern, and that meant that people had a moral and religious obligation to obey them. This concept was known as the divine right of monarchs. James I of England, who ruled from 1603 to 1625, summed it up this way: “The king is from God and the law is from the King.” His statement made it pretty clear that an illegal act was an ungodly act.

Because the pope also claimed to be ordained by God, the question of ultimate authority became very confusing indeed. During the Reformation, monarchs who resented the power of the church supported the reformists (Luther, Calvin, and others). Other monarchs, particularly in Spain and France, allied themselves with the church during the counter-reformation. In both cases, monarchs claimed to have divine right. Divine right could be used to support either position because the bottom line was that God supported whatever the monarchs chose.

Contrast Them: Divine Right and Mandate of Heaven

Recall that under the Chou Dynasty in China, the emperor ruled under what became known as a Mandate of Heaven, which sounds a whole lot like Divine Right, and it was except for an important difference. Under the Mandate of Heaven, the emperors believed they were divinely chosen, but would only be given authority to rule so long as they pleased heaven. If they didn’t rule justly and live up to their responsibility, heaven would ensure their fall. Divine Right, on the other hand, was used to justify absolute rule without any corresponding responsibilities. Monarchs who ruled under a strict theory of Divine Right saw themselves as God’s personal representatives, chosen specifically for the task of ruling. In other words, Divine Right was a privilege without any corresponding responsibilities, whereas the Mandate of Heaven was upheld only so long as rulers acted justly.

The Social Contract: Power to the People

During the seventeenth century, philosophers and intellectuals began to grapple with the nature of social and political structures, and the idea of the social contract emerged. The social contract held that governments were formed not by divine decree, but to meet the social and economic needs of the people being governed. Philosophers who supported the social contract theory reasoned that because individuals existed before governments did, governments arose to meet the needs of the people, not the other way around. Still, because different philosophers looked at human nature differently, they disagreed about the role of government in the social contract.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), who wrote Leviathan, thought that people by nature were greedy and prone to violent warfare. Accordingly, he believed the role of the government under the social contract should be to preserve peace and stability at all costs. Hobbes therefore advocated an all-powerful ruler, or Leviathan, who would rule in such a heavy-handed way as to suppress the natural war-like tendencies of the people.

John Locke (1632–1704), who wrote Two Treatises on Government, had a more optimistic view of human nature, believing that mankind, for the most part, was good. Locke also believed that all men were born equal to one another and had natural and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. Since mankind was good and rational, and thus capable of self-rule, Locke believed the primary responsibility of the government under the social contract was to secure and guarantee these natural rights. If, however, the government ever violated this trust, thus breaking the social contract, the people were justified in revolting and replacing the government.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) took the social contract theory to its furthest extreme, arguing that all men were equal and that society should be organized according to the general will, or majority rule, of the people, an idea he outlined in his famous workThe Social Contract(1762). In a rational society, he argued, each individual should subject himself to this general will, which serves as the sovereign or ruling lawmaker. Under this philosophy, the individual is protected by the community, but is also free to (or as free as one can be in organized society). He argues the essence of freedom is to obey laws that people prescribe for themselves. Needless to say, Rousseau’s beliefs not only had a tremendous effect on revolutionary movements in the colonies of the European empires, but also inspired the anti-slavery movement.

In addition to philosophers, there were many Enlightenment writers. Voltaire espoused the idea of religious toleration. Montesquieu argued for separation of powers among branches of government. In all cases, Enlightenment writers didn’t presume that government had divine authority, but instead worked backward from the individual and proposed governmental systems that would best serve the interest of the people by protecting individual rights and liberties.

While the real fruits of the Enlightenment were the revolutionary movements in the colonies and later in Europe, the new political ideas also affected the leadership of some eighteenth-century European monarchs. The ideals of tolerance, justice, and improvement of people’s lifestyle became guidelines for rulers known as Enlightened Monarchs, such as Joseph II of Austria and Frederick II of Prussia. To be sure, they still ruled absolutely, but they internalized the Enlightenment philosophy and made attempts to tolerate diversity, increase opportunities for serfs, and take on the responsibilities that their rule required.

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