Nick Spencer challenges the idea that nothing much happened before Voltaire or Kant.
The problem with the idea that everything we enjoy today comes from the Enlightenment is that it treats the Enlightenment as if it was ex nihilo, it came from nothing – nothing really happened before Voltaire was born, or maybe before Kant was born. And then they created rights and democracy, or at least democratic sentiment, freedom, rule of law, from nothing. Now, great advances and transformations did occur in the 18th and obviously 19th century, but the idea that they weren’t in some way parasitic on the culture – the Christian culture – in which the Enlightenment happened is a bit of a nonsense, really. A great deal of what we owe to the Enlightenment is in some ways owed to the culture which bred the Enlightenment.