The Enlightenment and its Impact: A Comprehensive Guide

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The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emerged in France in the 18th century. The most important ideas were:

  • Confidence in reason
  • Faith in human progress through science
  • Criticism of the Old Regime

Old Regime

The Old Regime refers to the political, economic, and social system in Europe from the 15th century to the 18th century. It was characterized by:

  • Political: Absolute monarchy
  • Economic: An economy based on agriculture
  • Social: A stratified society


Salons were meetings in private homes where intellectuals discussed politics, culture, and other topics. These gatherings contributed to the spread of Enlightenment ideas.


The Encyclopaedia was a 28-volume work that summarized the knowledge of its time and included some Enlightenment ideas.

Absolute Monarchy

Absolute monarchy was a political system where the king held all the power as a divine right.

Parliamentary Political Systems

Parliamentary political systems were systems where the power of the king was limited by a Parliament.

Enlightened Despotism

Enlightened despotism attempted to reconcile absolutism with the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment. Some kings carried out reforms to improve the lives of the people while maintaining their absolute power. It can be summarized as: “All for the people, without the people.”

Balance of Powers

The balance of powers principle maintained that European powers had to maintain a balance of power to prevent wars.


Mercantilism was an economic policy that considered the wealth of a nation to come from accumulating precious metals through trade. To achieve this, the state had to control the economy.


Physiocracy, an economic theory supported by F. Quesnay, believed that the wealth of nations was based on agriculture. Physiocrats defended economic freedom.

Economic Liberalism

Economic liberalism, advocated by Adam Smith, posited that the economy is regulated only by the laws of the market and that the state should not intervene.

Third Estate

The Third Estate comprised the unprivileged tiers of society, including peasants and urban groups. They worked, paid taxes, and did not have privileges.

Nueva Planta Decrees

The Nueva Planta Decrees were laws imposed by Philip V of Spain to achieve political and administrative centralization.

Family Compact

The Family Compact was an alliance between the French and Spanish Bourbons to recover their lost territories in Europe and conserve their American colonies.

Rococo Art

Rococo art emerged in France in the first half of the 18th century. It was an aristocratic, refined, and frivolous style.

Neoclassical Art

Neoclassical art emerged in France in the second half of the 18th century. It was a rational style inspired by Greek and Roman models.

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