The Enlightenment occupies a central role in the justification for the movement known as modernism . The neo-classicizing trend in modernism came to see itself as being a period of rationality which was overturning foolishly established traditions, and therefore analogized itself to the Encyclopedists and other philosophes. A variety of twentieth century movements, including liberalism and neo-classicism traced their intellectual heritage back to the Enlightenment, and away from the purported emotionalism of the nineteenth century. Geometric order, rigor, and reductionism were seen as virtues of the Enlightenment. The modern movement points to reductionism and rationality as crucial aspects of Enlightenment thinking, of which it is the inheritor, as opposed to irrationality and emotionalism. One notable school in this connection is positivism , which Auguste Comte (1798-1857) started in the empiricist tradition, a segment of the Enlightenment.
As the eighteenth century drew to its inevitable close, the passionate calls for social reform and a utopian, egalitarian society quieted down substantially. If nothing else, people were simply tired. The bloodshed in France and a variety of other upheavals had seemed to demonstrate that Enlightenment principles were not practical, or at least not yet. The atmosphere that permeated early nineteenth century Europe was one of relative tranquility. Granted, there had been substantial gains made in nearly all walks of life thanks to the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment. Science had been propelled forward, such that the traditional authority of the Church was in real jeopardy. Monarchs no longer ruled by Divine Right, and citizens had frank conversations about their nation’s policies and the course of world events. The literary world, too, had to catch its breath. No one yet knew how to deal with a suddenly literate public, clamoring for reading material. The next several decades would be spent figuring that out. Despite its apparent failures and setbacks, the Enlightenment paved the way for the modern world.