CHAPTER SIX: THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Louis Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
checks and balances
Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire)
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Marquis de Condorcet
What were some of the main ideas commonly held by Enlightenment philosophes?
Who were some of the major figures of the Enlightenment, and what idea(s) did they espouse? Which statement is not true?
What were some of the Enlightenment’s blind spots? Who did not see as much (or any) benefits from the Enlightenment?
Scientific Revolution – Continued?
We have already examined the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries, which itself can be considered an outgrowth of the Renaissance in some ways, and a product of the Protestant Reformation in others. The Scientific Revolution itself cleared the way for subsequent (additional) “intellectual revolutions” of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Most notable is the Enlightenment, which was an intellectual movement in Europe which promoted the use of rational thought to improve the status of mankind.
The Enlightenment was confined mainly to the 18th century but was, in many ways, a sort of culmination of the Renaissance. The Enlightenment was promoted by philosophers of the day, who were known as philosophes, which meant “independent thinker,” and was centered in Paris, although its impact was felt across Europe. As an intellectual movement, the Enlightenment was intimately bound up with the written word and the increasing circulation of printed materials. At the same time, however, the Enlightenment did provide openings to semi-literate or non-literate audiences, through the public readings and/or discussions of books and their ideas, in places like coffee shops and salons. Salons were social clubs that were held by wealthy upper-class women (mostly in France) in their parlors where philosophes and others would come together and discuss the issues of the day. Coffee shops were more important in Germany and England but both venues provided spaces for semi-private, semi-public discussion of new ideas, where asking questions and skepticism of accepted wisdom were prized.
The Enlightenment can be summed up in one word: reason.
What is reason? We can define “reason” as the ability to think in a logical and rational manner. That is, to look for truth, as a product of evidence and logic, instead of suspicion, prejudice, assumption, or superstition. The main emphasis of the Enlightenment was on rational thinking. If you do not remember anything else about the Enlightenment, you should think of REASON.
The philosophes of the Enlightenment were very influenced by the Scientific Revolution. They believed that reason and Bacon’s scientific method could be applied to solve the problems of European society. They believed that if Newton could unlock the secrets of the universe using rational thought, then rational thought could also be used to correct the evils of human society, whether it was the government, religion, morality, economics, whatever, rational thought could be used to create a rational society. Enlightened thought also drew heavily on Descartes’s skepticism. Philosophes refused to believe anything that could be doubted. That is, they did not want to take for certain everything that had been taught for centuries as being the truth. Rather, philosophes wanted to question everything. All accepted wisdom and accepted ideas were called into question by the Enlightenment.
The philosophes of the Enlightenment were often at odds with one another over their different beliefs. However, there were several general beliefs that were pretty much held by all Philosophes:
First, was a firm belief in the power of human intelligence and the ability of the human mind to reason. Humans could use their incredible intelligence to learn about the world around them and understand it better, and then solve its problems.
Second, was a belief in the goodness of human nature. Most philosophes felt that people were inherently good, and that humans would normally do the morally right thing.
Third, was a belief in the power of education. The university system as we knew it grew out of the Enlightenment. The philosophes believed that if you allow each person to have the same education then no matter what their class or socio-economic background, they could the same great things. Basically, they felt that people are all the same and can achieve the same if they are given the same opportunities and education.
Fourth, they shared a belief that there were natural rights that governments should not violate. John Locke, whom we met in the chapter on Constitutionalism, famously asserted that all human beings were endowed by their creator with the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” (Thomas Jefferson borrowed this formula for the American Declaration of Independence but substituted “happiness” for “property.”)
Fifth, they all were believers in secularism – the separation of Church and State. They felt that only in a society where church and state were separate could you have true freedom of thought and freedom of religion. In a sense, they are taking a cue from Galileo’s experience but also his Letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. This does not mean all philosophes were atheists – most were not, most considered themselves Christians (although many subscribed to deism). But most philosophes recognized that arguments over religion had been boiling over into violence for the past hundred years or more, and that the secret to peace and order was wide-ranging religious tolerance (which was really only practical if government was separate from religion).
Enlightenment philosophes believed in subjecting all forms of knowledge and authority (whether intellectual authority, political authority, religious authority) to relentless questioning. So, it is unsurprising that the enemies of the Enlightenment were those traditional sources of authority, whether it was the Roman Catholic Church or the Absolute monarchies. Why would the church and the absolutist monarchies oppose the Enlightenment? Just as the Roman Catholic church opposed the Scientific Revolution, the church opposed the Enlightenment because it was a challenge to their authority.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz Question 1: What were some of the main ideas commonly held by Enlightenment philosophes? Which statement is not true?
Most philosophes believed in the power of human intelligence to learn about the world and understand it better.
Most philosophes believed in the goodness of human nature, that people tended to the morally right thing.
Most philosophes believed that humans were either born intelligent or not, and that those who were not born intelligent were destined for a life of low social status.
Most philosophes believed in the separation of government power from religious power.
Major Topics and Figures of the Enlightenment
Now, where are going to look at some of the major issues of the Enlightenment and the people whose work played a big part in the conduct of the Enlightenment.
One of the biggest issues of the Enlightenment was political reform. In general, the philosophes called for secularism -- meaning a separation of church and state – and that the church should not have control over the state. They also called for an end to the theory of divine right monarchy, the elimination of the privileges of nobles and priests, so that everyone should be equal, and political liberty be based on a constitution like England. One European who had a big impact on political reform in the Enlightenment with his writings was Englishman John Locke (1632-1704), who we have already talked about.
John Locke (1632-1704)
Locke’s most famous work was the Two Treatises on Government (1690).
Technically, Locke preceded the Enlightenment, but his theories made a big impact on Enlightenment political thought. Locke, as we have seen, believed that people were good by nature and that people were born with natural rights to life, liberty, and property. People only create governments to protect these basic rights from the chaos of the “state of nature.” Thus, said Locke, no form of government should be able to take these rights away from people, if the government’s raison d’être was to preserve them. However, if that government did infringe upon its citizens’ rights, then the government had broken its contract with the people and could justifiably be overthrown. Of course, Locke was justifying the Glorious Revolution in England (see Chapter Five).
Locke called for Constitutional government, which was strong enough to protect natural rights and still be limited enough not to violate these rights.
His theories on natural rights, the contract between government and the people, and the right to rebellion greatly affected later thinkers and revolutionaries in both America and France.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
The best example of a revolutionary who was influenced by Locke was American Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence (1776):
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundations on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Can you see the influence of Locke in this document?
Louis Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
Another European who was very influential in the field of political reform was Frenchman Louis Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), who was a French aristocrat. In The Spirit of the Laws (1748), he wrote that no absolute set of laws governed all of humanity. Basically, the same type of government did not work for everybody. It all depended on the circumstances of each country (geography, climate, religion, national traditions, etc.) as to what type of government worked best for the country. For a small country, he thought that a government set up as a republic worked well. The key for republics was to involve all the citizens in the legislative process. For medium sized states, like England and France, he thought that a limited monarchy was best in which the nobility actively participated in the government alongside the monarch.
Montesquieu is significant because he advocated a separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers and a system of checks and balances so that no one part of the government could become too powerful. Only through such measures could liberty be insured. Constitutional monarchy was Montesquieu’s favorite form of government. He hated the absolutist/divine right monarchy that Louis XIV had created in France. Montesquieu’s work, especially his avocation of a system of checks and balances, also made an impact on the drafters of the US Constitution who set up a government with three branches, the executive, legislative and judicial, all of which had checks on the other’s power.
For France, because he was a nobleman, Montesquieu was interested in increasing the power of the nobility at the expense of the crown. He was part of the aristocratic movement in France against the government centralization of Louis XIV. Montesquieu and others like him did not like Louis centralizing all the power in his own hands and excluding the nobility from any real role in the government. This revival of the nobility contributed to the financial and political crisis that led straight to the French Revolution. The initial phase of the great uprising has been referred to as the “aristocratic revolution.” Montesquieu unwittingly encouraged the French Revolution.
It is notable that, for extremely large countries (like Russia or China), Montesquieu thought that despotism was best. In a despotic government, the ruler governed through fear. He felt that only a despot could hold these countries together.
Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778)
Another philosophe who had an influence on political reform was Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his penname of Voltaire. Voltaire was a French philosophe from a middle-class family, a famous playwright and probably the best known of the philosophes. When people think of the Enlightenment- they usually think of Voltaire. It is safe to say he was the leading philosophe of the Enlightenment.
In his Letters on the English Nation (1734), which he wrote while he was in exile in England, he praised the English constitution and England’s Constitutional Monarchy. What he was really doing, though, in writing this work was to criticize the absolutism of his home country-France. For Voltaire as well as the other Enlightenment thinkers, England was the ideal country- at least politically. They liked the English government and the fact that England had freedom of thought. Voltaire had been greatly influenced by English 17th century thinkers. His self-described “Holy Trinity” were Locke, Newton, and Bacon. He wrote a work on the discoveries of Isaac Newton.
We should note that Voltaire did not advocate getting rid of monarchies and setting up republics, and he certainly did not call for the creation of a democracy. Rather, he believed in monarchies, but felt that they needed to be enlightened in their thinking to take better care of their subjects. He thought that if you educated the monarch then everything would improve.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Another prominent philosophe who wrote about political reform was Jean Jacques Rousseau. His most famous work was The Social Contract (1762). Rousseau was the “angry young man of the Enlightenment.” He lived in poverty, had an unhappy marriage, abandoned his children and was angry with almost everyone. He was something of an outlier from the rest of the philosophes, as he did not believe that European civilization was progressing upwards, as did most.
Rather, he thought the modern civilization, was dangerous because it distorted human nature, violated natural laws, and repressed liberty. In Western states, the wealthy and powerful dominated the poor and weak, which was totally unjust. As Rousseau put it, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”
In the Social Contract (1762), he agreed with Locke and Hobbes that people invented government to protect their rights. The important part for Rousseau was that this government, a contract between the ruler and the ruled, produced or expressed a general will. The general will is what people would do if they knew what was best for them, but this did not mean that the general will was what the majority of the people wanted, because people did not know what was best for them.
The general will was what was good for the community. According to Rousseau, it was the job of the government to determine what the general will was and to enforce it. In a way, he was promoting absolutism/despotism. Rousseau felt that if someone were not obeying the general will, then the community should compel them to do so. This is the idea of forcing men to be free. These ideas had an enormous impact upon later totalitarian dictatorships. For example, Robespierre during the French Revolution was highly influenced by Rousseau’s line of reasoning.
Another realm that Enlightenment philosophes targeted for reform was education.
John Locke was also active in this realm, which is not surprising since he was a schoolteacher by training. In 1690, the same year that his Two Treatises on Government was written, he also wrote Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In this work, Locke proposed his theory of knowledge, arguing that at birth, the human mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa), and people learn by experience. He argued that all that was required for anyone to become good, intelligent, and productive citizens was a proper education, the idea that anybody could become anything with the proper education and opportunities.
Locke argued that humans have no innate ideas, but that reason and experience lead to ideas which lead to an education. In his 1693 work, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Locke opposed the education technique of rote learning- making students memorize names, dates, etc. He preferred teaching by example. He also opposed excessive corporal punishment among children.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Jean Jacques Rousseau also entered the discussion of educational reform in his 1762 book, Emile. In this work, Rousseau, like Locke, opposed rote learning. He was against treating children like small adults, which was the norm in those days. He favored treating them like children and utilizing a hands-on approach to education in which children learned about the things in which they became interested. Learning directly from nature. This kind of education would produce citizens who were well-educated, self-assured, and productive.
Religious reform was another realm of the philosophes. The philosophes were very critical of Christianity for promoting fanaticism, persecution, superstition, and irrational beliefs. They were not against God- just organized religion. They blamed Christianity itself for the horrors that had accompanied the Reformation and the Wars of Religion. They detested all the killing that had taken place in the name of God.
Many philosophes denied the existence of angels, devils, miracles, and the divinity of Christ, and attacked organized religion. Some philosophes turned to atheism, but many more adopted deism. They believed that the earth and the universe had been too well made to have happened by accident. They saw God as the divine watchmaker who had set the universe in motion and the left it alone to let it run its course. This is the religious belief that had been held by Isaac Newton as well as Thomas Jefferson and Voltaire.
Voltaire wrote his Treatise on Tolerance (1763) as a call for religious reform. Voltaire was a well-known for his biting satire and his cynical view of human affairs. He addressed many areas in need of reform. His main concern was that society needed freedom of thought and religious toleration, neither of which was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church of the time. Voltaire’s famous quote, “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it,” speaks to his advocacy of freedom of thought.
Voltaire had been exiled from France several times for his criticisms of the monarchy, so he knew first-hand the costs and necessities of freedom of expression. Voltaire used his own freedom of expression to frequently speak out against religious fanaticism and cruel punishment. What Voltaire hated and ridiculed was religious dogma- the rigid doctrine of the church- most of which is not scripture based. These were the beliefs of the church that had been formulated by the church over the centuries. A lot of the church dogma had very little to do with Jesus Christ or his teachings. Voltaire felt that church dogma stifled the freedom of expression. He also hated superstition in religion, which caused people to burn their fellow humans at the stake as witches.
In Candide (1759), a satire, he spoke out against the cruelties and stupidity of warfare, especially wars inspired by religious disagreements and religious fanaticism. Religious skepticism was a common feature of the Enlightenment. It had not been a common part of the Scientific Revolution. Although the Scientific Revolution was a challenge to the authority of the Church- the Scientists never came out openly and directly challenged the church or its doctrines.
Reform of Prisons and Slavery
Other areas that the philosophes challenged were prison reform and the abolition of slavery.
Caesare Beccaria (1738-1794)
Caesare Beccaria was an Italian economist and criminologist and he wrote a book called On Crime and Punishment in 1764. In this work, Beccaria spoke out against the use of torture to obtain confessions because the “confessions” thus obtained were surely inaccurate. The weak and innocent could be condemned while the strong and guilty would get away. He was also opposed to capital punishment as an effective deterrent to crime.
John Howard (1726-1790)
John Howard was a British philanthropist and a leading advocate of prison reform in England, who wrote the State of the Prisons in England and Wales (1777). He decried the horrible living conditions, the lack of proper sanitation, the inadequacy of the food given to prisoners, and the confining of all types of prisoners together (debtors along with hardened criminal, women and children along with men, and the mentally ill along with everyone else. This resulted in the corruption of morals). In 1774, Parliament adopted a program of reforms.
Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794)
The Marquis de Condorcet attacked another type of injustice, slavery, in his 1781 work Pamphlet of the Evils of Slavery (1781). Condorcet was a French nobleman who regarded slavery as a crime that had to be abolished without compensation to owners, since slavery was essentially the theft of a person’s liberty. He argued that the abolition of slavery would not hurt agricultural productivity. Other philosophes like Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine also condemned slavery.
Economic reform was another issue tacked by some of the Philosophes, the main one being Adam Smith.
Adam Smith (1723-1790)
Adam Smith was a Scottish Enlightenment thinker who wrote Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), which is generally referred to by the abbreviated title, The Wealth of Nations. (This is the basis on which the economic system of the United States of America was built.) Smith Advocated laissez-faire economics. “Laissez-faire” is French for “hands off,” meaning “hands off by the government.” What Smith meant was that economics worked best, to produce the most wealth for the most people when governments let human nature take its course in commerce, without governmental interference.
It is interesting to note that, although many Americans are probably taught that the USA has a “laissez-faire” economy, this is not entirely the case. This is because, ever since the Great Depression and the New Deal, the US federal government has had at least some role to play in regulating a certain amount of economic activity.1 Of course, there have been periods of more intense and periods of less intense economic regulation, and Franklin Roosevelt was not the first US President to try to manage the economy through government action. Since the 1980s, broadly speaking, the federal government’s power of economic regulation has generally been in the decline, with the exception of laws passed to deal with the Great Recession of 2008, and (perhaps) what measures the Congress may take in the near future to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
General Collection of Enlightenment Knowledge
Really the culmination of the Enlightenment came with the publication by French philosophe Denis Diderot (1713-1784) of the Encyclopedia (1740s-1772). The Encyclopedia was published starting in the 1740’s, finishing in 1772 and it contained 17 volumes. Diderot’s goal in the Encyclopedia was to collect all human knowledge.
The Encyclopedia was written by over 150 Enlightened thinkers and was based on enlightenment principles. The authors stated that their purpose in writing the Encyclopedia was to “change the general way of thinking.” The Encyclopedia focused on science, technology, and politics. The Encyclopedia championed modern science and political liberty. There were several articles in the Encyclopedia which condemned slavery. The Encyclopedia was difficult to publish because of opposition from the French government and Catholic Church. However, the Encyclopedia did a lot to spread Enlightenment ideals, and solidified the idea of garnering knowledge from non-religious sources.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #2: Who were some of the major figures of the Enlightenment, and what idea(s) did they espouse? Which statement is not true?
Locke promoted Constitutional government and the idea of tabula rasa
Rousseau promoted rote learning in education and checks and balances in government
Voltaire promoted religious toleration criticized Absolutism
Smith promoted laissez-faire economics
Effects of the Enlightenment
Great Beliefs of the Era
One of the great beliefs coming out of the Enlightenment was people are inherently good and that they should be happy. Another great belief was in the power of education- which they felt was a great equalizing force. No matter what your class or economic background, if you received a quality education there was no limit to what you could achieve. The idea of all citizens of nations have certain natural rights also came out of the Enlightenment.
A new type of government also came out of the Enlightenment, called Enlightened despotism. Enlightened despotism was still a form of absolutism. Ideally kings or queens would rule despotically but base their actions on enlightenment principles and rule in the best interests of their subjects, although this was not often the case. So enlightened despotism was more of an ideal than a reality.
Enlightened Despotism was found in Central and Eastern European countries. A few so-called Enlightened Despots were Joseph II of Austria (r. 1780-1790), Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740-1786), and Catherine the Great of Russia (r. 1762-1796). Frederick encouraged the Enlightenment in Berlin but continued to emphasize militarism and the serfdom of the peasantry- so this was a contradiction of his supposed “Enlightened” ideas. Catherine
corresponded with the French philosophes, especially Voltaire, but she also extended serfdom in the Ukraine. This was another contradiction of her supposed “Enlightened Ideas.”
Enlightened Despotism was a good idea but, it was an aberration of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, as we shall see, did pave the way for the French Revolution. It also paved the way for modern liberalism in Europe and the United States with an emphasis on natural rights, equality under the law, and constitutional government.
It is important that we do not see the Enlightenment as purely a success story, since the reality is more complicated than such an interpretation would suggest.
While we have mentioned slavery above, and the fact that some Enlightenment philosophes criticized the practice of race-based, chattel slavery that was booming in the Atlantic World at this time, there was no wide-ranging, prolonged campaign to abolish slavery until the 19th century, well after the Enlightenment had ended. So, while questioning the wisdom or justness of slavery was congruent with the Enlightenment’s overall goal of questioning authority and encouraging the use of reason, the Enlightenment did not make ending slavery a major goal.
We did not detail this extensively above, but the Enlightenment was an intellectual movement, largely carried out by educated elites. That is, few illiterate, less-educated people actively played a role in the Enlightenment, even though there were many more of those people than elites in Europe at this time. As explained above, the Enlightenment sought to encourage the use of reason and the questioning of authority, but it did not seek so radical a set of reforms as to enact democratic governance. Indeed, the wealthy, educated elites taking part in the Enlightenment wanted to break down the barriers between themselves and members of the nobility and the monarchy. At the same time, however, Enlightenment philosophes did not want everybody to be “Enlightened,” because they still wanted (poorer) people to shine their shoes and drive their carriages. So, if attacking slavery can be counted as a moderate success, a lack of attention given to counteracting social inequality would have to be a failure on the part of the Enlightenment.
A final shortcoming of the Enlightenment would have to be philosophes’ relative inattention to women and the inequalities facing women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. You may have noticed a pattern here: the absence of women from public debate and the omission of women from Enlightenment philosophes’ notions of using reason and knowledge to reform society. This is not an accident. Although some (male) philosophes, such as Condorcet (chiefly) and Montesquieu (to a lesser extent), were passionate about liberating women, most were luke-warm to the idea. On the one hand, relatively few writers launched passionate defenses of keeping women in their historically assigned roles in the private sphere, as home-makes and child-rearers (although Rousseau LOVED this idea). On the other hand, most (male) philosophes were simply interested in other questions and neglected to spend much time dealing with the question of whether women should be let out of the home and allowed to pursue lives in the public sphere.
The major exceptions are Condorcet and Montesquieu (mentioned above) and English writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), who used the Enlightenment’s favorite weapon (reason) to attack traditional, patriarchal assumptions about how European society should operate. Wollstonecraft wrote that,
[i]f women are to be excluded, without having a voice from participation of the natural rights of mankind, prove first to ward off the charge of injustice and inconsistency, that they lack reason – else this flaw in your new Constitutions will ever shew that man must in some shape, act like a tyrant and a tyrant, in whatever part of society it rears its brazen front will ever undermine morality.
Besides arguing in favor of women’s deserving of civil rights, Wollstonecraft also wrote about the need to educate women (not just men), as a means of emancipating women and opening avenues into public life for them. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment project of examining all areas of European life and subjecting them to rational inquiry and reasoning, to overturn unquestioned assumptions and injustice, did not really extend to women’s experience in a patriarchal culture.
The big impact of the Enlightenment was that Westerners began to question authority and tradition (a continuation of what had begun with the Scientific Revolution). While European intellectuals began to value technology and science, turn away from superstition, and turn toward “rationalism” and secularism, these changed did not benefit all peoples living in Europe (or outside of Europe) evenly. Eventually, however, Western Europeans did away with torture and slavery, and they made freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press standard parts of their society. They also adopted market capitalism as their economic system, and they set out on an unprecedented wave of industrial and economic expansion. By the twentieth century, under-represented and marginalized groups of people in Europe began to launch campaigns for equal treatment, justice, and participation in society, politics, and the economy, often framing their arguments in the language of the Enlightenment. So, you could say that, in the end, the Enlightenment won out.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #3: What were some of the Enlightenment’s blind spots? Who did not see as much (or any) benefits from the Enlightenment? Which statement is true?
The Enlightenment mainly sought to liberate women from centuries of patriarchy.
The Enlightenment did not really seek to liberate women from centuries of patriarchy.
The Enlightenment made no moves to criticize slavery in the Atlantic World.
The Enlightenment mainly sought to redistribute wealth from the nobility to the poor peasants.
Key for 60-second Quizzes:
C. Most philosophes believed that humans were malleable, and with education and training they could improve their status in life.
B. Rousseau disagreed with rote learning (as did Locke) and promoted the idea of the General Will, which might allow a dictator to enforce rules on the people, as long as such rules were in the peoples’ best interest. (So, no regard for checks and balances.)
B. The Enlightenment was not interested in democracy or socialism, it was only moderately interested in ending slavery, and it was not really interested in women.
Primary Source Exercise
After you have read the primary source listed above (as well as Chapter 6), answer the following questions, based on what you have learned so far:
What do you think is important to know about the author of this text? What can you learn from the words he wrote on the page? What can you infer or piece together from the background information in the textbook chapter? Why is this important?
What are the author’s goals in writing this text? To whom did he address it? What purpose did it serve? Can you point to one or more examples to support this analysis?
What, if any, hidden assumptions can you detect in this text? That is, can you find word choices, phrasing, innuendo, or other examples of the author’s (explicit or implicit) bias with regard to the subject matter? Does this bias (or these assumptions) affect how you understand and react to the authors’ words? Why or why not?
Heather Cox Richardson, “Letters From an American,” February 8, 2020. https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/february-8-2020 (Accessed August 4, 2020).↩