AT&D #26. Global Enlightenments

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Armesto’s first chapter is titled “Global Enlightenments: 1700-1800″. His approach challenges claims that the Age of Enlightenment is a European phenomenon. How successful is the author in this endeavor? How has he attempted to do this?

Armesto’s claim that the Age of Enlightenment is not a European phenomenon is challenged rather weakly, in my opinion. This is firmly supported by various statements made throughout the unit.

In chapter 20, Armesto notes the advantages that the West (Europe) has had in its advancements in science. Regarding this, Armesto points how civilizations such as the Chinese restrained industrial output whereas the Europeans promoted it. As a result, Europe was able to develop more quickly and sophisticatedly than other regions to the point where its advancements made exploration feasible as ever. This it turn would lead the Europeans to focus on imperialism where a world economy would be tied to the several empires that make up Europe (with this, inevitably spreading the idealisms of the European Enlightenment to the conquered foreign areas).

Tying in to the above, in Chapter 21, Armesto dedicates a section of discussion on whether or not Asia was competent in imperialism. Sure enough, in the following sections, Armesto explains how China (the Qing Dynasty), India (the Mughal Empire), and Persia (the Safavid Empire) were experiencing internal problems in their bodies of power (i.e. rebellions) which eventually led to their imminent falls. The Europeans, exploiting these weaknesses, seized and invaded these territories for colonizations.

Lastly, in Chapter 22, Armesto explains how the Chinese example of enlightenment clashed with the European’s example in that the Chinese were seen as arrogant and unaccepting of traditions outside their own. In spite of this, the Europeans (namely groups such as the Jesuits) penetrated through the society and introduced Christianity and other Western concepts (thus undermining the natives ideals of their Age of Enlightenment).

Gathering from all these historical facts, the case in question: is the Age of Enlightenment not strictly a European phenomenon? , I would say that while not the first wave of such, the “modernized” term of Enlightenment would in Armesto’s viewpoint be European. Despite this, Armesto does acknowledge the Age of Enlightenment in other regions of the world but highly emphasizes the displacement of those ideals in favor of Europe’s own.

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