Enlightenment, movement in intellectual history which arose in the 17th century in Europe and had practical effects in the 18th century in Austria and continued to be effective in the 19th century. The basis of Enlightenment was the view that people could be motivated to act in a better way by reason. The Enlightenment promoted the idea that all people were equal, but they had to free themselves of constraints. In Austria, the ideas of the Enlightenment were propagated less by philosophy than by cameralistics, jurisprudence, medicine and natural sciences; these ideas were especially welcomed by public servants and among the upper bourgeoisie. The Enlightenment had particularly practical effects in the fields of law and political science, in which K. Martini and J. von Sonnenfels were the main representatives of the Enlightenment and had a strong influence on the following generation of public servants. These legal principles were used to justify the reforms carried out under Maria Theresa and Joseph II. Maria Theresa was not strongly affected by the Enlightenment, whereas her son Joseph II and several of her advisors, such as Count W. Kaunitz, Count F. W. Haugwitz and G. van Swieten, were under the spell of the Enlightenment; the canon law scholar P. J. Riegger also had considerable influence. They were of the opinion that the state was supposed to be tolerant of other religions, and witch trials, torture, and capital punishment should be done away with. Joseph II introduced these ideas in numerous areas of government (Enlightened Absolutism). The Enlightenment had effects which can still be seen today in the Allgemeines Buergerliches Gesetzbuch.
Education was one of the main concerns of the Enlightenment, and the reform of primary schools in 1774 was a product of Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment also had a strong influence on literature, which mainly aimed at being educational and instructive as well as critical. Authors such as C. von Ayrenhoff, A. Blumauer, J. B. Alxinger and L. L. Haschka were proponents of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Free Masonry, to which many members of the leading classed belonged, made an essential contribution to the spreading of Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment had a decisive influence on the state in many areas in the 2nd half of the 18th century but was suppressed in Austria because of the effects of the French Revolution.
Further reading#E. Winter, Barock, Absolutismus und Aufklaerung in der Donaumonarchie, 1971; L. Bodi, Tauwetter in Wien, Zur Prosa der oesterreichischen Aufklaerung 1781-95, 1977; E. Kovacs, Katholische Aufklaerung und Josephinismus, 1979; Oesterreich im Europa der Aufklaerung, International Symposium 1980, 2 vols., 1985.