Covering the period from the Glorious Revolution to the French Revolution, Kreiger divides the period into the actions of kings and effects of philosophers. Krieger offers neither a summation of subjects nor a temporal unfolding of the century, but rather focuses on the institutions and fields of activity that the inhabitants of the age found important, those that "reflected and molded the character of the age." (xii)
PART ONE: KINGS
Chapter 1: By 1700 Europe was organized into monarchies. Kreiger argues that monarchies were, at that point, the most effective unit of power. The monarch, or sovereign became a power different in kind than in degree (5). Gathering under supreme authority the districts of administration that had inhered in church, nobility or other intermediate organizations (guilds, estates), monarchs were particularly effective in economics and justice, where central authority touched the commoners. Identified with one ruler, by the end of the century states became "a community of subjects equal in their common subjection to the laws of the state." (8) Krieger's argument suggests that the middle levels of authority were weakened, or replaced by more rational systems. [If so, the dissolution of the church as a monolithic power maybe deserves more attention. And possibly the systems of taxation and the new systems for nobility could take closer scrutiny.] He suggests later that the actual state of peasants were not much amended by absolutist rule in any country, enlightenment or not.
Chapter 2: Wars in the East and West obtained throughout the century. The big powers were represented by Louis XVI and his life-long antagonist William III. The War of the League of Augsburg shoved back the French a bit, achieving little else, and ended with the Peace of Ryswick. The War of the Spanish Succession brought to the forefront two very able commanders, Eugene of Savoy, who left the French to gain employment with the Habsburgs, and John Churchill for the English. [Military organization begins to look modern?] Drawn into the conflict were the lesser powers, Charles the XI of Sweden, Leopold I of Habsburg (Holy Roman Emperor), and the Hohenzollern Frederick I of Prussia (also Frederick III of Brandenburg). Ended by the Peace of Utrecht, the War of the Spanish Succession, like the War of the League of Augsburg, maintained balances across the eastern part of Europe. In the North and east, Charles XI of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russion were antagonists, with Peter eventually smashing the Swedish via Treaty of Nystad and establishing the conditions for modern Russia. Throughout the century, the ineffectively organized Ottoman Empire was slowly retreating, collapsing inward. [It would be interesting to learn more than this]. Offering a quick comparison of international peace treaties, Kreiger says that Westphalia (1648), ending the Thirty Year's War, established sovereignty of territories international law; while Utrecht (1713) established that all realms and rulers subject to international law. Essentially, the wars created a balance of power among a few big players.
Chapter 3 and 4: Kreiger steps back from action to survey the kings at home, and divides them into "old powers" and ascending powers. The old powers contain those declining -- Poles, Turks, Dutch, Swedes; those persistent -- the Habsburgs, the Spanish; and France, the crossroads of Europe, and a subject to itself. The ascending powers contain Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain. Mid-century, 1748, is a key date: the peace of Aix -la-Chapelle marks the end of the wars of succession and the beginning of the wars of collective interest. The publication of Baron de Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws, a review of the problems of social and political organization, also occured in 1748.
PART TWO: PHILOSOPHERS
Chapter Five: Before plunging into the philosophers themselves, Krieger takes a quick look at society in general.. Quantitatively, what stands out is the population surge, perhaps caused by the retreat of the black plague and the adoption of crops and agricultural practices that fed more people. Krieger argues that international trade becomes the second most important force, especially those nations with colonies. [Some historians would challenge this notion (Crouzet, O'Brian, Dean)]. International trade did re-organize urban industry, undoing the power of guilds by locating manufacture in rural areas. Especially notable in this century is the development of the water-powered spinning and weaving for cotton. However, the biggest changes -- in power generation and transportation -- lay beyond this century. Societies responded to change as they have always done: some groups mobilized to retain traditional powers -- in this century, nobles; and some mobilized to gain new power -- Kreiger argues for merchants. Note to ask: the French Physiocrats (Quesnay) promoted a policy of agricultural wealth and internal free-trade (laissez faire policies?) together with restrictive mercantilism internationally? (133)
Chapter 6 and 7: Kreiger divides the period and the philosophers into the "Worldly" philosophers (1687-1776) and the "Unworldly Philosophers" (1770-1789). He begins with the fathers of the enlightenment, Newton, who contributed a unified theory of physical and mathematical representation of action; Locke, who asked how we know what we know; and Leibniz, who contributed the idea of monads, the "mutually independent and incomparable basic units of reality." (140) Kreiger traces the cult of sentiment through religious revival, musical forms, and novelistic conventions, and places role of emotion as an important question for philosophers trying to understand the springs of action and how we form judgements. Those members of the early enlightenment, French philosophes Diderot, d'Alembert, and Voltaire, and their Scottish counterparts, Hume and Smith, were known to each other, and their conversations and works ranged across God, economy, history, epistemology, and society. (173) Most struggled with the problem of the mind, and where and when to place the leap of faith: is this sensation, this emotion, this perception the origin of thinking? Most, too, rejected organized Christianity as a form of mental slavery, and looked instead for revelation direct from Nature. Focusing on natural facts, and the accumulation of more technology, Diderot's Encyclopedia was one of the century's big projects. Other landmarks of Enlightenment thinking are Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Vico's New Science. Later enlightenment works, as epitomized by Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism, focused more specifically on the rights of man in society. As the romantics Goethe, and Kant began their careers, the role of the individual -- alone, self-created -- became a central question.
PART THREE: PHILOSOPHER KINGS
Chapter 8-10: Kreiger turns from the republic of letters to the
monarchs of the latter half of the century. He asks what is enlightened
absolutism? Is there an absolutist personality? He suggests
that there is, and that Peter the Great, Frederick William I and Maria
Theresa must be excluded; by contrast Joseph II of Austria , Catherine
the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia are exemplars of
the type. They corresponded with the philosophes, saw themselves
and made themselves the central point in state organization, and acknowledged
the individual rights of their people. In order to organize the state without
the belief in the divine right of kings, individuals must personally will
a sovereign to exist in order to execute their will. The theoretical
reason for power being different, the practice, too might have been different;
however, power and its exercise was perhaps as brutal as ever. Absolutists
abroad made foreign policy a practice based on land expansion and economic
improvement for their people -- not personal or dynastic concerns. So was
Poland partitioned. Absolutists at home made religion a matter of
state, struggled particularly what to do with nobility (organize them in
to a military state? deprive them of tax exemption?) and peasants (given
them rights in court? educate them? free them from which taxes? allow them
to buy land?), Catherine, for instance, took uncertain steps toward
a progressive agrarian policy and trade/urban policy. But none, it
seemed were particularly successful, and by the end of the century...
Chapter 11: there were further popular revolutions. England lost America, and France lost its monarchy. Kreiger argues that the underprivileged in combination with those in the prosperous middling ranks were able to organize against the nobility and kings. Without arguing the general tendencies Kreiger outlines, I would suggest that certain contingencies were also helpful: the presence of a logistically difficult ocean and the French condition (which Kreiger mentions) of a bad harvest and following famine were also significant in the re-organization of society.