Fostering Enlightenment Coffeehouse Culture in the Present

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McComb, Sofie

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The Enlightenment was a seventeenth and eighteenth century intellectual movement based on the notions of reason and progress that fundamentally altered human society. The unique, intellectual era gave rise to the public sphere, a realm in which individuals could come together to freely identify and discuss social issues and form critical public opinions of civil and political society. Coffeehouses of the Enlightenment were a spatialized version of this public sphere as they housed and promoted the critical and rational debate that formed public opinion. These unique social institutions were highly representative of the intellectual and social culture of the Enlightenment and greatly augmented social interaction and civic engagement. Through examining and comparing the culture found in Enlightenment coffeehouses and the culture found in modern society, we can determine how to foster “coffeehouse culture” in modern times in order to augment social discourse and civic life. Examining modern culture, it can be seen that the reflective and hypercritical culture found in Enlightenment coffeehouses occurs in pockets of society today but has been greatly diminished, due to a lack of civic participation. The public man, well expressed in Enlightenment coffeehouse culture, has been replaced by the isolated, private man with limited leisure time. In order to create a more rational and progressive society, we need to alter the social and economic situations that lead to the degradation of civic engagement. To augment civic participation, we should increase the amount of active leisure time, promote social and metropolitan lifestyles, and increase the funding and support given to creative and interactive education. Fostering Enlightenment coffeehouse culture in the modern era, while difficult and by no means a perfect solution, should hopefully stimulate a more social and rational society that is inherently interested in its own progress and improvement.

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