The Value and Benefit of an Enlightened People for the Continuity of Democratic Societies

By Rocco A. Astore
2017, Vol. 9 No. 10 | pg. 2/2 |

Sen’s Appraisal of Freedom’s Role in Economic Development

Like Rousseau (1987, 166-170) and Kant (1970, 55-60) before him, economist Amartya Sen (1999, 14-20) views liberal societies as thriving due to what Kant would call enlightened people or Rousseau’s citizens. First, to Sen (1999, 14-15), political liberties are fundamental to the economic well-being and development of a nation. Accordingly, to him, something such as a centralized economy in which a government ultimately allocates resources as it deems fit, would be detrimental to a population because it obstructs people’s understanding of themselves (Sen, 1999, 14-20). In other words, Sen (1999, 14-120) believes when a population submits to a state that determines all aspects of economic life, that population suffers since it cannot claim that its government recognizes its members’ basic power to conduct business and choose their livelihoods freely.

Consequently, Sen (1999, 14-20, 23-31) would be supportive of economies which acknowledge the power all people share to choose their career path or exercise their right to work voluntarily since only then can free economies claim to represent the enlightened, self-determining, or autonomous aspects fitting of a proper citizenry. Finally, this power to assert one’s freedom, through one’s choice of work, is integral to the formation of a desirable state where everyone's quality of life can flourish (Sen, 1999, 15-16).

Furthermore, Sen (1999, 14-30) would be supportive of a population reflective of Kant’s (1970, 55-60) vision of an enlightened people, or Rousseau’s (1987, 166-170) view of a true citizenry, since he believes it is necessary for people to use their freedoms, to gain more liberties which can sow the seeds for greater economic prosperity. To Sen (1999, 24-31, 38-40), life-chances such as economic, political, and social opportunities tend to trace back to people asserting their freedom, in the past, through politically legitimate means, to help provide oppressed groups with more equitable ways to achieve financial security.

Consequently, one may claim that Rousseau’s (1987, 166-170) vision of a citizen or one who chooses per what would be best for him/her and his/her compatriots is akin to Sen's (1999, 38-40) belief in the power people possess to assert their liberties, legitimately, to assists in making a more financially accessible society for all. That is, when people use their political rights to expand the range of liberty within their nation, more people can enjoy and use their freedoms which, in turn, leads to greater levels of micro-economic exchanges, and thus, macro-economic commerce, at least domestically (Sen, 1999, 21-24, 38-42). Sen (1999, 43-45) believes this due to the notion that a free, or enlightened people, akin to Kant's (1970, 55-60) view of it, is most interactive, productive, and mindful of their duties due to better access to education, health care, and government acknowledgment of their ability to work as theirs.

Moreover, like Rousseau’s (1987, 166-170) view of a real citizen and Kant’s (1970, 55-60) view of an enlightened person, Sen (1999, 21-42) believes economies thrive more easily in nations which feature an air of transparency, or liberality. That is, much like Kant's (1970, 58-60) and Rousseau's (1987, 205-207) stress on the need for people to be aware of their freedom and to decide dutifully, Sen (1999, 21-42) believes that countries which guarantee the means of development, or progressive political liberties, set themselves up for more efficient ways to profit. Sen (1999, 38-42) like Kant (1970, 58-60) and Rousseau (1987, 166-170, 205-207), argues this point since free-thought is the basis for further development or the expansion of freedom as a conduit to achieve a nation’s desire to be at the economic cutting-edge. Thus, by infusing a nation’s people with recognized rights, and the guaranteed protection of them, a country can face the economic realities of the future more readily, since a liberal culture more easily breeds the freedoms that tomorrow’s businesses will use, and need to innovate (Sen, 1999, 14-19, 38-42).

Conversely, Sen (1999, 16-19) believes nations which deny, or fail to recognize the rights and liberties of their populaces, can never expect to reap new freedoms, and thus, they run the risk of facing grave economic hazards in the future. Sen (1999, 16-19), as would Kant (1970, 55-60) and Rousseau (1987, 166-170, 205-207), argues that no government can expect to progress if it obstructs its people’s basic freedoms since civil liberties are integral in advancing the realization of other liberties, which can prove economically fruitful. In other words, because freedom is the most suitable tool for expanding freedom, and since expanded liberties would be more inclusive of people ready to participate in various aspects of a market, it would be only prudent of governments to treat basic rights as inalienable. Therefore, one may argue that Sen (1999, 14-22), Kant (1970, 55-60), and Rousseau (1987, 205-207) would agree that governments which value the rights of their peoples and include more of them into the domain of those who are free, poises itself to avoid economic failure since it allows for more people to contribute to preventing that scenario from occurring.

Enlightened Citizens as Necessary for the Progress of Democratic Nations

To philosopher Immanuel Kant (1970, 54-60), one can assume that an enlightened population is vital to the progress of free-societies. As Kant (1970, 56-60) saw it, if no mindful individuals existed, none would be able to enjoy the political rights that all innately possess. However, since the general framework of the mind houses innate, or natural, rational capacities, which people commonly refer to as their power to think, it would be hard for one to claim that reason is a myth (Kant, 1977, 108-112). Accordingly, this justification is interpretable as grounds for the belief that people cannot dip beneath a certain level of self-awareness because individuals cannot alienate themselves from their powers of consciousness (Kant, 1977, 112-114). Accordingly, since none can divorce themselves from their rational capacities, it follows that it is more logical to believe that Reason is progressive (Kant, 1977, 108-114). Thus, in the case of liberal societies, Kant (1970, 54-56) would argue that governments should protect people’s innate abilities to reason since that is the foundation of their capacity to live as enlightened members of society.

Contrarily, if governments did not protect people’s liberties and instead alienated them from their rights, Kant (1970, 131-138) would argue that those governments are asserting political power illegitimately. In other words, from a Kantian (1970, 135) perspective, if a government barred any civil freedoms from any member, it would be a crude overreach of political authority. Therefore, when governments overextended their power in the realm of rights, society can more easily slip into jeopardy, or regression, or that which ushers it into less enlightened times (Kant, 1970, 131-138). Finally, to curb societal regression, Kant (1970, 56-60) would claim that it is central that an enlightened populace exists since it is truly they who have the strength to move a nation forward and to also prevent it from being inert.

Kant’s predecessor, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1987, 140-149), would also assert that an enlightened population, or a proper citizenry, is necessary for the functionality and progress of democratic institutions. First, Rousseau (1987, 166-170, 205-207) stressed the need for individuals to each be free, while simultaneously keeping the concerns of their compatriots in mind. Accordingly, when a citizenry reflects the needs of each while at the same time of all, Rousseau (1987, 166-170, 205-207) would assert that that population is operating in a way that is fitting for democracy.

One reason why Rousseau (1987, 140-149) would make this claim is that no democratic society features one person. Consequently, because democracies feature many people, it is most just, or fair for citizens to decide political matters in ways which would not trample on other people’s wants and needs (Rousseau, 1987, 140-149). From this, Rousseau (1987,166-170, 205-207) would claim that when a citizenry operates in a way which maintains the rights and liberties of each and all that democracy is functioning suitably. Finally, when a democracy operates appropriately, it is in a better position to progress, since when everyone’s rights remain untouched, there ensues a solidarity between all which eases the struggle of moving into the future successfully (Rousseau, 1987, 166-170).

Moreover, Rousseau (1987, 205-207) would claim that a proper citizenry or enlightened populace is central to moving a liberal society forward. First, if divisiveness reigned over a citizenry, there would be more of a chance some would suffer from underrepresentation (Rousseau, 1987, 205-207). If this predicament unfolded, it would fog the route toward true progress or a future in which everyone could claim that his/her government represents the will of each and all (Rousseau, 1987, 166-170, 205-207). Accordingly, in a state which excludes any individual from the benefits of representation, little progress can ensue because it would encourage selfishness and irrationality (Rousseau, 1987, 166-170, 205-207). That is, a nation which prevents any member from expressing his/her will, has a harder time progressing since unequal rights could make people base, and only concerned with their individual wants and needs (Rousseau, 1987, 166-170, 205-207). As such, no one would politically assert themselves to benefit the common good which is irrational since all people have a stake in it (Rousseau, 1987, 205-207). Lastly, one may argue that an enlightened population or a true citizenry is best for promoting progress since they can combat instances like this from occurring, and thus, protect liberal society from the pitfalls of extreme individualism or blind communalism (Rousseau, 1987, 140-149, 166-170, 205-207).

Akin to the views of Rousseau (1987, 166-170) and Kant (1970, 54-50) economist Amartya Sen (1999, 12-20) would also claim that an enlightened population or an authentic citizenry is a necessary ingredient for the progress of liberal nations. To Sen (1999, 20-28), political liberties function as tools to secure more civic freedoms which all members of a society can come to enjoy. From this, Sen (1999, 20-28) believes that with more freedoms people can enrich an economy in more efficient and ample ways. As such, a prosperous economy has the potential to raise the quality of life which all members of a nation can enjoy (Sen, 1999, 12-20).

To reach this end, Sen stresses that people must assert their rights in ways which preserve individual autonomy, and the autonomy of all so that the common good is a reality for everyone (Sen, 1999, 12-20). Hence, one may claim that Sen (1999, 12-20) would be supportive of enlightened populations, or true citizenries, since reaching economic security and abundance would be easier if those pushing a nation forward were politically aware.

To Sen (1999, 20-28), a politically aware, enlightened, or true citizenry is instrumental in the progress of a nation because when all people aim toward the same goal, or in this case, the economic enrichment of one and all, reaching it becomes less burdensome for each to accomplish. First, Sen (1999, 12-16, 20-28) believes that when an economy faces the least amount of resistance it is in a better position to produce wealth. When tied to a nation where people can enjoy an optimal level of freedom, it is only logical to believe that that country’s economy will progress (Sen, 1999, 20-28). Hence, one would be correct to argue that in Sen’s (1999, 12-16) view civic freedoms can place a nation in a position to achieve economic gains, which, in turn, can serve to progress, or discover new liberties for all to appreciate. Finally, since an enlightened, or true citizenry is most aware, or mature in their handling of freedoms, it is justifiable to assert that it is most safe and prudent for a population to be as such since it is the smoothest way to realize the next stage in that society’s development (Sen, 1999, 20-28).


This article’s purpose was to justify the view that the value and benefit of an enlightened population are immense. First, this piece explicated what an enlightened person was, through the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s political and moral views. Afterward, by equating Kant’s understanding of an enlightened individual with Rousseau’s grasp of a true citizen, this essay attempted to demonstrate how enlightenment can and should translate into political conduct. Next, asserting the views of economist Amartya Sen, helped to provide the reader with a better knowledge of how Kant’s enlightened individual and Rousseau’s view of a proper citizen can translate into a better functioning economy for all in democratic states. Finally, applying the views of Kant, Rousseau, and Sen, to show why political liberties are essential to the progress of free-societies, this article hoped to shed light on the integrality of an autonomous and compassionate people, or enlightened citizens, in liberal cultures today.


Kant, Immanuel. Hans Reiss ed., “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (Oxford: Oxford University Press., 1970)., 54-60.

Kant, Immanuel. Lewis White Beck trans., Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1997)., 3-83.

Kant, Immanuel. James W. Ellington trans., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science (Indianapolis, USA: Hackett Publishing Co., 1977)., 1-122.

Kant, Immanuel. Hans Reiss ed., The Metaphysical Elements of the Theory of Right as found in Kant: The Political Writings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press., 1970)., 131-174.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Donald A. Cress trans., On the Social Contract as found in Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing CO., 1987)., 140-227.

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 1999)., 3-298.

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