Of all the eighteenth-century rulers, Frederick II, the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, appeared best attuned to the Enlightenment. As a youth he had rebelled against the drill-sergeant methods of his father, Frederick William I. An attentive reader of the philosophes, he exchanged letters with them and brought Voltaire to live for a time as his pensioner in his palace at Potsdam, near Berlin.
In 1520 Martin Luther wrote On Christian Liberty. Considered to be “the most beautiful” of Luther’s writings, the Treatise on the Liberty of a Christian Man (its correct formal title) was an affirmation rather than a protest. Luther said he was sending his long essay as a gift to Pope Leo X.
The following is an excerpt from a satirical work written in 1515 and titled The Letters of Obscure Men. The two authors were Ulrich von Hutten and Crotus Rubeanus.
For you must know that we were lately sitting in an inn, having our supper, and were eating eggs, when on opening one, I saw that there was a young chicken within.
This I showed to a comrade; whereupon quoth he to me, “Eat it up speedily, before the taverner sees it, for if he mark it, you will have to pay for a fowl.”
In a trice I gulped down the egg, chicken and all. And then I remembered that it was Friday!
A major role in the cultivation of a new scientific attitude was taken by the English thinker and politician Francis Bacon. Though not himself a successful practitioner of science, Bacon was a tireless proponent of the need to observe and to accumulate data. In Novum Organum (1620) he wrote that scientists must think all things possible until all things could be tested. By relying on “the empirical faculty,” which learns from experience, Bacon was promoting what he called induction, which proceeds from the particular observed phenomenon to the general conclusion to be drawn.
The Labour victory in Britain in 1945 made the emancipation of India a certainty. But the deep-seated tensions between Muslims and Hindus had assumed critical importance. When the Hindu Congress party and the All-India Muslim League faced the need to draw up a working constitution for the new India, they found themselves in complete disagreement.
The Muslims had long been working for separate Hindu and Muslim states, which were in the end reluctantly accepted by the Hindus. In 1947 Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan were set up as separate self-governing dominions within the Commonwealth.
The event that defeated Napoleon’s great designs was the French debacle in Russia. French actions after 1807 soon convinced Czar Alexander that Napoleon was not keeping the Tilsit bargain and was intruding on Russia’s sphere in eastern Europe.
This truly worldwide war, fought in the Near East, Africa, and the Far East, as well as in every ocean, made it clear that non-Continental events were no longer mere sideshows. The war in the Near East, in particular, would unleash nationalisms that continue to the present day.
Societies reveal much about themselves in what they choose to take pride in—what they consciously preserve from their past and from their environment. Societies also reveal much about themselves in what they exclude, as when history until recently passed over the underclasses in near-silence or neglected the role of women in national development.
The victories of Ivan the Terrible over the Volga Tatars led to the first major advances, with private enterprise leading the way. By the end of the sixteenth century the Stroganov family had obtained huge concessions in the Ural area, where they made a great fortune in the fur trade and discovered and exploited Russia’s first iron mines.
Although most of the Latin American republics had by 1945 enjoyed political independence for more than a century, they had much in common economically and socially with the emerging nations of Asia and Africa. Like the Asians and Africans, the Latin Americans had been suppliers of foods and raw materials to the rest of the world.