Linear Approach to the Enlightenment

OUTRAM 1 – Chapter 9

What does Outram mean by the “linear” approach to the Enlightenment? Do you agree with her that this approach is problematic? Why?

What Outram is referring to when she argues against the “linear” approach to the Enlightenment is the idea that there was one particular result or point to the movement as a whole. Outram argues that part of the problem with certain accounts of the Enlightenment is that “‘the Revolution’ has been seen as the terminus of ‘the Enlightenment’” (133). This position views the Enlightenment as some sort of linear movement that has a defined starting point and a defined ending point. The ending point is the French Revolution. Since the French Revolution is characterized by its brutality and war, the linear approach to the argument then somehow negates or diminishes all of the underlying reasons that led up to the revolution. Outram points out that it is impossible to approach the Enlightenment linearly. It is a movement, and like many movements, is characterized by social pressures, ideas, and historical incidents. As a result, the movement as a whole is too complicated to be analyzed comprehensively using a simple linear approach.

OUTRAM 2 – Chapter 9

What clarifications does she provide about the term “revolution”? Why are these clarifications useful? How did it change your sense of what “revolution” means?

Outram’s analysis of the Enlightenment shows that the movement is more than just something that ended in the French Revolution. Her book shows us that there were in fact many influences and ideas that all came together in a kind of perfect storm that unfortunately resulted in the brutality, which was the French Revolution. Furthermore, she also points out that the term “revolution” also underwent a number of changes, in terms of its meaning, throughout the years. During the 18th century, the term referred to “a change” that brought back “a former state of affairs” (Outram 137). This definition implies that something was going wrong in society when the revolution occurred and the revolution serves the purpose of returning things back to normal. In the 19th century, the word came to mean something slightly different which resulted in a completely different way of looking at revolutions. In the 19th century, the term revolution meant “an upset in the established order,” implying that the revolution is no longer a symptom of what was going on, but the sickness itself (Outram 137). I found these clarifications very useful in that they clarified my feelings of the current revolutions in the Middle East. Unlike most Americans who tend to associate a lot of positive feelings with the notion of revolution, I was born in the Soviet Union (Kiev, Ukraine) and my associations with the word revolution are quite negative. (Like Burke, I often think that things could be worse and that the bloodshed may not be really worth it). I imagine that many people felt the same way in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and that it wasn’t until the consciousness of the western world as a whole moved on and saw the positive in the American Revolution that some of those associations were forgotten.

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