Front Page Titles (by Subject) 110.: On the Characteristics of the Seventeenth Century - Judgments on History and Historians
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110.: On the Characteristics of the Seventeenth Century - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the Characteristics of the Seventeenth Century
Before the War of the Spanish Succession leave must be taken of this seventeenth century with its bad and good points.
In comparison with the sixteenth century, to what extent was it a retrogression politically?
On the basis of the many original minds which it produced we have too splendid a general conception of the sixteenth century and are too quick to believe that the world at that time wanted to merge directly into an age that was completely modern, i.e., in tune with our preconceptions, and that this was prevented only by the Counter Reformation, worldwide monarchism, and other things. The sixteenth century may well have been more “modern,” as compared with the seventeenth.
But the seventeenth century was wholly aristocratic at least. Apart from the two great states in which the aristocracy was in direct control, Holland and England, it was substantially in control in the despotic states as well.
Both centuries have their advantages and disadvantages as regards higher intellectual life. In both periods political and religious conditions are firmly established. At first the Catholic and Protestant churches have almost everywhere established the closest contact with the state and middle-class society. Scholarship is subordinated to the church, research is dependent on its permission. Dissenters must remain silent or leave the country.
But in the seventeenth century individual thinkers gradually collect a following extending into the ranks of the mighty and even influence the theologians. Their influence is European, cosmopolitan, no longer national. There is a regeneration of epistemology in general (Bacon). Philosophy frees itself from religion (Descartes). Necessity is understood as causality (Spinoza). Skepticism becomes universal (Bayle). Reason appears as the mistress of religion (the English freethinkers). Applied to the state, this means that it is no longer founded on divine right, but on reason and expediency and a presumed contract. The groundwork for this way of thinking had been laid by the uprising of the Dutch in the sixteenth century and the English Revolution in the seventeenth. Gradually there comes into being an atmosphere of Western enlightenment.
For the time being, however, the seventeenth century is everywhere a time in which the state’s power over everything individual increases, whether that power be in absolutist hands or may be considered the result of a contract, etc. People begin to dispute the sacred right of the individual ruler or authority without being aware that at the same time they are playing into the hands of a colossal state power.