Enlightement And Romantic Thinkers Essay.
Despite sharing some similarities, the Enlightenment and Romantic movements differed sharply in terms of their character and values. While the former movement embraced a balanced, sober mindset oriented toward harmony and productivity, the latter reacted by espousing the dramatic, exotic, unconventional, and uncultivated.
The Enlightenment, which dominated the eighteenth century, embraced a logical, rational world view based on the classical notions of harmony and balance, in terms of both temperament and intellect. Enlightenment thinkers tended to idealize utility and productivity, taking a distinctly materialistic view of the world.
They approached most things from a political and economic standpoint; for example, nature was meant to be controlled, cultivated, and harnessed for political and economic ends. Partly to accomplish this, they valued science and rigorous, methodical thinking
Their approach toward economics and politics reflect this. Their prevalent thinkers included economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo, considered the founders of capitalist thought, and they advocated free trade, commerce, and manufacturing, laying the foundations for modern-day capitalism.
In politics, they embraced the republican ideal (based on Greek and Roman models), believing it morally superior to monarchy; in this regard, Thomas Jefferson is one of the model Enlightenment thinkers in a group that also includes Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Locke, and Paine. The Enlightenment inspired both the American and French revolutions; while the first succeeded, the latter arguably failed, leading to the reign of terror and demonstrating the excesses of rational thought.
Its art was oriented toward the realities of contemporary life. Enlightenment painters depicted the times’ important figures but also painted how ordinary people actually looked, lived, and worked, as well as how capitalism was changing European society. (In a sense, it was the forerunner of modern realism.)
Its most important thinkers were not artists who conveyed passion, drama, and wildness. Instead, they were involved in rational, productive pursuits, guided by their own emphasis on empirical, logical thought. Smith and Ricardo were its guiding economic thinkers, while Thomas Jefferson borrowed from classicism to frame his vision of the ideal republic; Locke and Paine emphasized human liberty and argued against the divine right of kings; and Malthus’ evolutionary system influenced both economics and demographics. Enlightenment thinkers were creative, but in a sense different from the Romantics; they were fundamentally builders, inventors, and producers.
On the other hand, the Romantics were far less restrained in both life and imagination. Defying the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the balanced, rational, and orderly, they frequently shunned convention, cultivating odd appearances, living emotionally turbulent lives, favoring the emotional and transcendent over the rational, and being unrelentingly individualistic. Byron is perhaps the most infamous example, with a controversial private life full of sexual indiscretions, travels, and a sense of being an outcast; in addition, he died an early death while serving as part of what he considered a noble cause (fighting in Greece’s war for independence).
Rising around 1815, in reaction to what they considered the Enlightenment’s confining mentality, the Romantics embraced feeling, intuition, and the intangible. They found inspiration in nature rather than science, preferring to depict its wild, uncultivated state (where Enlightenment thinkers wanted to harness nature and make it serve mankind). Romantic visual art is dramatic and passionate; Goya’s paintings expressed passion and outrage at Spain’s royal family, while Constable painted wild, uncultivated landscapes not yet spoiled by industry, and Delacroix presented images of the Greeks fighting for liberty.
This affinity for the untamed also manifested in their approach to the arts. They revered “the folk” and native cultures, frequently borrowing from historical lore and art forms in their own art. Romantic-era authors were generally fascinated with their own national heritage (Scott with Scotland, Pushkin with Russia, and Hugo with France), and their view of history embraced grand narratives of national evolution, rather than simply a series of events. Romantic literature is commonly heroic and dramatic, involving a quest for truth and salvation.
Byron’s life influenced his poetry, as did that of his friend Shelley, who embraced despair and died prematurely. In music, they emphasized emotion and grandeur, as best exemplified by Beethoven’s dramatic, passionate symphonies. In addition, Romantic composers drew from folk traditions to evoke the past; Chopin, for example, drew freely from his own Polish heritage.
Politically, they occupied the extremes (where the Enlightenment figures favored the center) and fervently embraced nationalism, believing that each culture had a distinctive history and deserved liberty. Though disenchanted with the French revolution’s bloody excesses (which gave rise to Napoleon), they were nonetheless taken with the notion of revolution and supported wars for national liberation.
Enlightenment and Romantic intellectuals had some common ground, though their approach radically differed. The Enlightenment throve on logic and helped lay the political, economic, and scientific foundations for the modern world, while the Romantics tried to curb their predecessors’ excesses and retain some of the emotional, intuitive, and uncultivated in their works. In a sense, they were opposite sides of the same proverbial coin, complimenting each other’s differences and approaching the same things in distinctive ways.