During the 18th century a fundamental change in the general perception and spiritual culture took place. Until then the interpretation of the Christian beliefs dictated from the clergy were decisive, now however individuality and individual reason acquired importance. The Age of Enlightenment radically changed society and thus challenged the prevailing absolutism.
Theories of the state
During the era of enlightenment philosophers created various new theories of the state which introduced the change to a modern government. MontesquieuMontesquieu was a French political philosopher. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world advocated the idea that a government had to be separated into three different government bodies: executiveThe executive branch executes or enforces the law authorities, judicial powers and the legislatureLegislatures observe and steer governing. The most common names for national legislatures are parliament and congress in order to prohibit absolutism, abuse of power and corruption. RousseauJean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher. He influenced the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought advocated similar ideas with his notion of popular sovereignty: he wanted to abolish the estate-based society and instead establish the whole population as bearer of the state authority. Those impulses incited the French revolution in 1789.
Religion vs. Sciences
New achievements in natural sciences challenged the sovereignty of a monarch, which had previously been legitimised by Christian believes. Popular physicist like Isaac Newton or Galileo Galilee and their experiments helped the breakthrough in natural sciences. It was now obvious that Christianism and sciences would be rather irreconcilable in the long run. The idea of enlightenment was firstly passed in private circles, reading groups and later on at universities and academies.
The new theories of state organisation did lead to altered systems of sovereignty in Western Europe, even though the systems were not unified. Beginning with England new reformations were established in Prussia and Austria. Especially Friedrich the SecondFriedrich II. reigned over the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until 1786. He is best known for his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the Arts and the Enlightenment in Prussia introduced enlightened absolutism in Prussia: he abolished torture, alleviated the death penalty and introduced compulsory education in Prussia. He saw himself as “the first servant to his state“ and this suggested his reign to be subject to laws rather than superior to all laws as it had usually been the case in absolutism.
Adam Smith and economic liberalism
Not only political and social reformations took place during the era of enlightenment, the economy was affected as well. In his book „The wealth of nations“ Adam Smith published a theory according to which economy was supposed to develop without state influence and steer the market itself. This economic liberalism included the right to private property, freedom of trade and free trade. Modern market economy is built on this principle, in which prices are regulated by the system of supply and demand.