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"One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can."
William Wordsworth, for team Romanticism

"People aren't going to change, for better or for worse. Technology's going to be so cool. All in all, the future will be okay!"
Randall Munroe, for team Enlightenment

Some Eighteenth century people believed that reason and science are good and things would just go on improving forever, and this optimism characterized a period that came to be known as the Age of Enlightenment. Eventually, though, a sense of disillusionment and alienation from society began to spread, and the Romanticist movement rose up as a backlash. Romanticists believed that the advances made by the Enlightenment were creating an oppressive, conformist, totalitarian society, and that science and rationality could never hope to truly understand the world and the human personality. Though the Enlightenment and Romanticist movements are long gone, the general ideas behind each survive today.

Romantic and Enlightened themes are very common in fiction. For example, Enlightenment-themed science fiction might portray the future as a world of progress, friendship, brotherhood and Crystal Spires and Togas, with barbaric forces threatening the new Utopia (e.g. Star Trek). Romanticist-themed science fiction might portray the future as an unpleasant Crapsack World, with high technology but low social quality, full of depression, dehumanization and alienation (e.g. everything Cyberpunk).

Romanticism and Enlightenment are also tied to the Dionysian (wild, visceral, ornate) and Apollonian (restrained, cerebral, classicist) ideals of aesthetics in the arts. Compare the Apollonian/Enlightenment musical style of Mozart with the Dionysian/Romantic musical style of Wagner, for example, or the Apollonian/Enlightenment style of ancient Roman architecture with the Dionysian/Romantic style of medieval Gothic architecture.

Writers and artists tend to gravitate towards Romanticism; scientists and (in most places) politicians favor the Enlightenment. Seeing as Most Writers Are Writers, Romanticism is generally overrepresented in media, with the exception of Science Fiction writers.

Compare to:

  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Romanticism is aligned with Nature, Enlightenment with Science. Related to this, as the trope suggests Nature is inherently 'feminine' and Science inherently 'masculine'. Depending on how the work treats these dynamics, Closer to Earth may make an appearance.
  • Elves Versus Dwarves: Elves are usually nature loving romanticists, dwarves are often on the verge of an industrial revolution.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Romanticism accepts emotions as the only true way to understand the world, Enlightenment may believe that emotions are an impediment to rationality.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: In general, Romanticism is closer to Harmony and Enlightenment is closer to Discipline, but with notable deviations--each side is much more complex than just Harmony or just Discipline.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Enlightened individuals see progress as a means to maintain order whilst Romanticists openly acknowledge and even embrace the potential chaos
  • Technician Versus Performer: Enlightened are Technicians, Romantics are Performers.
  • Magic Versus Science: If magic and science are both present, magic will be on the side of the Romantics and science will be the tool of the Enlightened. If there's no science to speak of and the conflict is The Magocracy versus the Anti-Magical Faction, magic will swap sides to the Enlightenment and the anti-magic forces will be Romantics. On the other hand, if magic and science are combined into a form of Magitek, Team Enlightenment will see this as valuable and progressive while Team Romanticism will see this as dangerous and soul-destroying.
  • Science Fiction Versus Fantasy: While there are many exceptions, science fiction (glorious future) tends towards Enlightenment, fantasy (glorious past) towards Romanticism. This occasionally leads to some Fandom Rivalry between the two, particularly SF readers (and writers, most notably including David Brin) who perceive fantasy as inherently reactionary.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Romanticism tends towards the cynical, but with a large amount of deviation. The Enlightenment is more complicated:
    • Enlightenment figures from the European continent, particularly (for some reason) Germany, really were idealistic and optimistic (take Kant and Leibniz as examples). Other Continental Enlightenment types (like Voltaire--no, not that one) were willing to admit that most Humans Are Bastards, but trusted in the virtue of some people to keep things improving.
    • Enlightenment figures from the British tradition tend to assume absolute cynicism--Humans Are Bastards and Machiavelli Was Right, in their opinion--and then proceed to create institutions that guide that cynicism to public benefit (think of Hobbes and Lord Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees). In other words, it's a position that transcends the Sliding Scale: They're idealistic about the big picture (society) because they're cynical about the small one (the individual).

Tropes usually associated with Enlightenment:

Tropes usually associated with Romanticism:

Tropes shared between them, but handled in different ways:

  • Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Romanticists believe that Curiosity Killed the Cast, or at least make us Go Mad From the Revelation and turn us into nihilists, the Enlightened do recognize that curiosity does have its flaws, but overall it can be used for further learning and self-improvement.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The English (as in language) Enlightenment agrees wholeheartedly that humans really are incredibly selfish, short-sighted, and otherwise...bastard-y (just see Hobbes Was Right). However, they believe that this nastiness can be harnessed for good if one constructs institutions in such a way that these base impulses are best achieved by serving the common good--this is why they advocate utilitarianism, democracy[1] and to a lesser extent industrial capitalism.[2] Romanticists generally agree with the bastardy, but not the rest.
  • Inherent in the System: The Enlightened response is to say, "And so, we should make a better system," and then start squabbling about what "better" means. The Romantic response is more variable, but very often tends to be "And so, we should destroy the system."
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: Enlightenment tries its best to combine the two, Romanticists say the Enlightenment basically went He Who Fights Monsters and is slowly sacrificing Liberty for Prosperity (See the bit about World Half Empty below).
  • Post Modernism: Both the Postmodern and Romantic movements basically emerged as a backlash against modernity and the Enlightenment. However, Postmodernism registers about equal scepticism towards both Romanticism and the Enlightenment, questioning the reality of Romantic concepts like originality, naturalness, and truth, while also questioning the usefulness of Enlightened concepts like progress, value, and objectivity. Postmodernism is thus viewed unfavourably by both, while it in turn views each as interesting and useful when taken with a grain of salt.[3] For an example of how this works, consider the famous proto-postmodern text Dialectic of Enlightenment, which critiqued modernism and Enlightenment as being nothing other than an extended, totalitarian form of the same (Romantic) primitive world-mythology that grips all people.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Romanticists see the Enlightenment as turning humanity into a race of nihilists, thus in Romanticist works such nihilists are usually portrayed as Enlightened people who failed to find an objective proof for a "meaning in life." The Enlightened probably see Romanticists as already this, with romanticism's inherent cynicism and overt embracing of chaos, although Romanticists might actually lean to a more Existentialist perspective.
  • Society Is to Blame: The Enlightened response is to say, "And so, we should change society," and then start squabbling about how to do it. The Romantic response is more varied.
  • World Half Empty/Dystopia: Enlightenment advocates will usually believe that "widespread ignorance causes Dystopia" (sometimes bringing up the era that they called the "Dark Ages") and squabble about how education will save us all from it. Romanticists, on the other hand, while having almost no visions for a Utopia, love deconstructing Enlightenment dreams into Dystopias themselves. For example, in Romanticist works, a Dystopia will usually be portrayed as an Enlightenment society that went He Who Fights Monsters and became the same dystopia that it was trying to solve. Romanticists are also more likely to point out that "it is not too much ignorance, but too much conformity, that causes Dystopia." (sometimes bringing up various totalitarian governments inspired by Enlightened ideas, such as Communism).
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Romanticism believes that Measuring the Marigolds too much decreases the awe, Enlightenment believes that a deeper scientific understanding of the workings of the world can actually increase the awe.
Examples of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment include:


  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is heavily, heavily, heavily Romanticist compared to other Super Robot works out there.
  • Macross straddles the gap between Real Robot and Super Robot, but slams the dial hard towards Enlightenment.
  • The Gundam franchise in general is actually heavily Enlightened and idealistic at its very core — even in the worst of times. Sometimes it is deconstructed, but generally, humanity growing to live in space in a new age of science is the end result, and all other things are just consequences of it. The actual events are rather pessimistic though, ironically enough.
  • In Princess Mononoke, the forest gods and animals are Romanticist, and the humans living in Iron Town are Enlightened (especially in their industrial ambitions and egalitarian treatment of downtrodden types like lepers and ex-prostitutes). In the end, peace is achieved on Romanticist terms, with the surviving villagers deciding to work in harmony with the forest.
    • The Romantic figures are destroyed entirely, and while Iron Town may be destroyed, it will be rebuilt better than before since its residents better understand their relationship to the natural world. The ending is more a Hegelian synthesis, where the Enlightenment side accepts the Romantic critique and moves forward with a better understanding. That ending is actually very pro-Enlightenment, as a core value of the Enlightenment is rejecting dogmatism in favor or better ideas when one has more knowledge - which can include swallowing the Romantic critique in its entirety. In other words, an Enlightenment figure can evaluate a Romantic critique, say, "You're right!", and still remain entirely an Enlightenment figure. Confused yet?
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes is based on a conflict between the Romanticist-based Galactic Empire and the more Enlightenment-based Free Planets' Alliance. Neither of these are treated as a particularly ideal society.
  • Origin: Spirits of the Past is complicated, on the one hand you have the Forest versus the industrialized nation of Ragna, on the other hand the Forest is anything but natural and destroyed the old civilization that Ragna (or at least Shunack) is obsessed with recreating.
  • One Piece is this, though it's more idealism vs. cynicism. One of the strongest themes running through the show is the power of dreams, and the ability to do anything if you want it hard enough, opposed by characters (especially Bellamy, in the Jaya sub-arc) who don't believe in the power of dreams or True Companions.
  • The Magical Girl genre generally tends toward Romanticism.


  • Star Wars is a thoroughly romanticist work: While nominally a science fiction story, it is heavily inspired by high fantasy. The Wagner-flavored music highlights this.
  • Jurassic Park. The owner was a believer in Enlightenment reason with the cloned dinos, while the Romantic heroes sensibly pointed out the various flaws in his park.
  • Fight Club is Romanticist, as befits anything based on the heavily Nietzschean-influenced work of Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk's novels often uses a Crapsack World to show the flaws of Team Enlightenment, have some Team Romantic protagonists show up and reject it, then break the protagonists into bits by the end of the novel. This certainly happened to the narrator of Fight Club, everyone in Haunted 2005, and the protagonists of Choke and Invisible Monsters. In both the film and book of Fight Club, the narrator ultimately rejects Tyler Durden's hyper-romantic goals, though the denouement in is radically different in the film and movie.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai features this clash, although it is thoroughly subverted: Colonel Nicholson of Team Enlightenment believes so passionately in law and order that he ends up turning to Honor Before Reason, and collaborating with his Japanese captors in order to stay in command of his men. The wild, defiant Warden, representing Romanticism, ultimately behaves more rationally. At least compared to the Colonel.
  • The Sherlock Holmes movie in 2009 has Sherlock being pro-Enlightenment, and the movie's villain, Lord Blackwood, being pro-Romanticism. Seeing that Holmes is a hero protagonist, it's safe to say that the movie is pro-Enlightenment.
  • True Grit is a movie about the End of the West, and Mattie firmly takes the side of Enlightenment. Rooster Cogburn is very Romanticist, as are most of the Ned Pepper gang, and La Boeuf is somewhere in the middle, trying to be Enlightenment but with a few Romanticist hang-ups.
  • Equilibrium is a clearly Romanticist work, as it is about an evil futuristic society where emotion is outlawed, and the extreme Enlightenment idea of suppressing all emotion is definitely shown as wrong.


  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about classicism (enlightenment) vs romanticism.
  • Lord of the Rings is often read as a pro-Romanticist parable on the evils of industrialization.
    • Which is what it is...except when it's not. J.R.R.T. was a much more subtle and sophisticated thinker than that, and his view was that both 'Reformers' (liberals, social planners, industrialists, Progress, Enlightenment) and 'Embalmers' (reactionaries, clinging to the past for its own sake, close minded, Romantics) were flip sides of the same bad thing, and both tendencies could be and were used by Melkor (the master of Evil) and his servant Sauron in their plots. The creation of the Rings of Power, for example, combined a Romantic desire to preserve the past and stop change with an Enlightenment faith in the power of Reason and Science and Logic to make the progression of time stop. Sauron played the Elves like a piano using both tropes, and thus brought about the creation of the Rings. Likewise, there was good in both the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and this too was shown to be true among those characters in the story who remained at least partly uncorrupted and loyal to God.
  • Rudyard Kipling is an example of both the good and bad sides of Enlightenment-- he genuinely thought Western imperialism was helping the non-Western "savages", but tended to express that in a way we now perceive as condescending at best and racist at worst.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is distinctly Romanticist-- it treats society (in the form of the Combine) as a corrupting force, suppressing and perverting emotion, and using technology to achieve its nefarious ends.
  • CS Lewis:
    • Tended to be suspicious of Enlightenment and more Romanticist in taste. Which is interesting as Lewis had a personality closer to The Spock than The McCoy. Though in The Four Loves Lewis once snarked that no one could really learn good and evil from "a vernal wood" unless they had an idea of it before hand and that someone could draw a lesson Wordsworth would not approve of as creatures in vernal woods spend a lot of time eating each other.
    • Lewis is on record, though, as saying, with regard to human relations (as contrasted to relations with other classes of being, such as beasts or God), he is a democrat because Humans Are Bastards and no individual or clique can be trusted with too much authority over their fellows. However, democracy has its own corruptions, notably "Demonic Democracy," described by Screwtape in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," as social pressure that demands no one be excellent, since this would violate "equality."
      • Screwtape, a senior devil, continually advises Wormwood to rely on deception, jargon, and emotion to keep his human from acting morally and ethically. He wants the human thinking about "That was a phase," "This makes me happy," or "That idea is courageous," rather than the more banal questions, "Is this true?" or "Is this just?" Awakening the "patient's" reason would be a terrible idea according to Screwtape, as many of the decisions of the Hell-ward road have no rational justification at all. That's as enlightenment as it can get.
    • In his little-read "Pilgrim's Regress," Lewis had two allegorical characters named "Mr. Enlightenment." They were father and son, both negative figures. The father was a cocksure "village atheist" who dismissed philosophy, religion, and romanticism without looking into them, assuming we've Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. The son was a pathological Freudian who claimed every disagreement with his position was a self-serving rationalization. "Pilgrim's Regress" is subtitled as a "defense of romanticism" (among other things). Later editions include a long postscript in which Lewis, a literature professor by trade, dissects about a dozen different meanings of "romanticism" and discusses each one.
  • Dune is a peculiar take on this, viewing a society that is decidedly Romanticist from a lens that could be either Romantic or Enlightened depending on how one chooses to see Frank Herbert. On one hand, Herbert deconstructs the Robot War in the series' Backstory (the Butlerian Jihad), treating its effects realistically, but he doesn't seem to criticize the (Romanticist) premise of the trope. On the other hand, although he used--nay, made and codified--the (Romanticist) Feudal Future trope (which he presents as the logical conclusion of the changes wrought by a realistic Robot War), he does not present the Imperium as a particularly nice place to live for most people (regardless of whether a Corrino or Atreides is on the Golden Lion Throne), and is said to have commented that (Kevin J. Anderson's so-called prequels notwithstanding) the series is supposed to end with the establishment of a real democracy (in other words, Good Republic, Evil Empire=Enlightened). On the whole, Herbert tended to warn against the excesses of science, but on the other hand, he never rejected it as a force for good; being that his fundamental philosophy was "environmentalism," which seeks to protect nature (Romanticism) from the excesses of industry (Enlightenment) but often uses rationalistic justifications (Enlightenment) and the tools of science (Enlightenment) to do so. The only character in his oeuvre who might be seen as an Author Avatar is Liet-Kynes (and his father Pardot), who are decidedly Enlightened in outlook (their dream is to terraform Arrakis from a desert planet into a verdant, more ordinary planet, with oceans and plants and everything).
    • Herbert's wiser characters in Dune recognize that the Universe is too big, complex, mutable, and powerful for Englightenment logic to ever entirely encompass: in that it's Romantic. Yet science and logic and politics and reason are not bad, as long as those using them remember that they have limits that they can not escape, and they can never entirely escape the tendency of the Universe to surprise them.
  • The Baroque Cycle portrays some Enlightenment figures as almost latter-day superheroes.
  • Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time can have multiple interpretations but no matter how you cut it, comes off on the side of Romanticism.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, pioneer of the extremely cynical, Romanticist and Gothic Horror-laden Cosmic Horror Story genre, was supposedly inspired by modern astronomy, and took a stance that's closer to Enlightenment (not the idealistic kind, but more similar to the British tradition that tended towards the Humans Are Bastards perspective). This is in contrast to fellow Weird Tales contributor Robert E. Howard was certainly a diehard Romantic who believed civilization was an aberration; obviously, this discussion came up often in their correspondence.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire might initially seem to be romantic, as the protagonists are mostly feuding nobles, but then it makes it pretty clear exactly how much life sucks under absolute monarchy.
  • Shadows of the Apt has the magical and highly traditional Inapt races (Romantic) and the forward-minded, technologically-oriented Apt races (Enlightenment).
  • The Uplift series is an unusual example, essentially every alien race in the series is more technologically advanced than Earthclan, but they are utterly stagnant due to all their technology coming from the Library handed down from their ancestral species. Whereas humans prefer to use as much technology that they developed themselves as possible and have often used their interest in scientific advancement to their advantage.
  • Chuck Palahniuk's novels, mentioned under Film, usually feature a strong criticism of the Enlightenment with their Crapsack World settings. The protagonists then wind up to be strongly Romantic individuals who are terribly messed up, often as a result of their Romanticist views. For example, Fight Club may be taken as a testosterone-fueled criticism of modern life, but the protagonist winds up rejecting everything his Sensei for Scoundrels hoped to do, shoots himself in the face to try to undo his plans to shake modern society, and winds up committed to an asylum. Haunted is a set of short stories critical of the world of Enlightenment interlaced with the Romantic-heavy physical and moral breakdown of the jerkasses and complete monsters who wrote them. Diary features a protagonist whose Romanticism essentially makes her powerless while the Enlightenment world around her wrecks her life and Romantic forces push her towards a supernatural disaster her Enlightenment intellect can't save her from and haven't been able to save her from for two previous cycles of reincarnation. Phew.
  • William Morris, with his utter disdain for nineteenth century industrialism and visions of rural idylls based on simple craftsmen making beautiful things, falls firmly into the Romantic camp. News From Nowhere can be seen as a Romantic response to Edward Bellamy's pro-Enlightenment Looking Backward.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek:
    • Very Enlightened, particularly with the Vulcans. Who were, in turn, occasionally proven wrong by more romantic types. Which conveys, if clumsily, the idea that both are right in the right place and wrong in the wrong and the problem is deciding which is which.
    • Klingons and Romulans in some interpretations (as edgy-but-not-necessarily-evil Proud Warrior Race s rather than Always Chaotic Evil races) are more romantic whereas Vulcans are more enlightenment. Vulcans have some surprising romantic traits like mysticism and dark tribal traditions as was shown in the episode Amok Time. The humans may actually be the best examples of enlightenment in the Trek verse.
    • The Borg are a heavily dystopic take on Enlightenment, speedily adapting to every new technology they see and subsuming individuals to make their race stronger. Of course, they're the bad guys, so Romanticism gets its turn in the sun whenever the Borg are the Monster of the Week.
    • If Michael Eddington is anything to go by, the Maquis breakaway from the Federation has elements of Romanticism in conflict with the prevailing Enlightenment ideology of the Federation. Though their initial grievance was the handover of their colonies to the Cardassians, they also value the rugged frontier lifestyle above the utopian society of the Federation.

 Eddington:Why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation.

  • The X-Files: Mulder is on the Romantic side (being willing to forget Ockham razor in many circumstances) and Scully is on the Enlightened one (always searching for a scientific explanation). However, they swap roles when it comes to religion, since Mulder is agnostic while Scully is Catholic.
  • Firefly is a deconstruction of this entire trope, with Enlightenment being the major driving force of the 'verse, but Romanticism being an ever present part of the less developed worlds, like the ones the main characters find themselves on. Overall, the works of Joss Whedon strike a happy medium between the two. The episode Safe, though, is almost a Take That to romanticism. One of Simon's insults to the crowd that wanted to Burn the Witch was "ignorance". Simon himself, being a doctor who went to the best Alliance-sanctioned schools, leans hard toward Enlightenment. His (eventual) love interest Kaylee leans very Romantic, which complicates their relationship.
  • The Doctor was always classically Romanticist. In fact, most if not all of his chronic enemies were Enlightenment thinkers. The Daleks and the Cybermen had a sort of "Utopian" goal of destroying everything not Dalek or Cyber. Yet, in ways, it sort of switched. On occasion the Doctor displayed both ideals simultaneously while the villains of the week always overprofessed one or the other.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Romantic in spirit, with high pitched Melodrama, fantastic scale, prophesies, fate, and Good Old Ways. Moreover Delenn who was one of the most central characters was The McCoy and she didn't really have The Spock to balance her (Franklin was the closest thing to a Spock and he didn't interact with Delenn much).
    • On the other hand, B5 also presents a struggle for a better, more rational future, and emphasizes the importance both of backward-looking rootedness (in the Minbari) and of forward-looking independence (in the humans). In the other words, a happy marriage of Romanticism and Enlightenment, embodied in the similarly happy marriage of John Sheridan and Delenn.
    • And finally, from a Doylist perspective, J. Michael Straczynski is an emphatic liberal, a deep-seated believer in science, and a thoughtful atheist (i.e. all Enlightenment) who nevertheless clearly has deep respect for people of faith even as he criticizes the excesses of religion. In other words, Enlightenment respecting Romanticism and giving it its due--and given that much of B5 is at least partly an Author Tract, this comes the closest to expressing the show's overall tone.
  • Numb3rs might be a poster boy show for Enlightenment but Larry Flinhardt is a romantic and often has friendly tension with Charlie about this.
  • Lost has this as a central conflict with Jack representing the Enlightenment and Locke (ironically!) representing Romanticism. Ultimately Romanticism wins, as Locke turns out to have been right about everything, as Jack admits.


  • In addition to Apollo and Dionysus cited above, a famous rivalry that perfectly encapsulates this debate is Athena versus Poseidon. Poseidon is the older god, ruler of the sea and storms, famous for being moody and passionate. Athena, however, is the goddess of strategy, wisdom, justice and peaceful arts, who is perfectly at home in the cultured city of Athens.

Tabletop Games

  • Traveller hit both, depending. But it was probably more enlightenment.
    • The Forever War between the Sword Worlders and the Darrians is a war of hats of Romanticism versus Enlightenment, as the Sword Worlders are a Proud Warrior Race and the Darrians are For Science!. Each thinks the other barely sane. The Third Imperium is more enlightened in it's ideology on the whole. Individual factions within it have a more romantic outlook.
    • Aslan, though are more Romanticist than the Imperium.
    • In the Intersteller Wars the Terrans are mostly Enlightenment being For Science! and thinking Good Republic, Evil Empire. They do have some romantic traits like glory seeking and Space Cossacks. Vilani are harder to place; they are closer to strains of thought that existed long before either romanticism or enlightenment, resembling Confucianism in some ways.
  • The World of Darkness, especially the original Gothic-Punk setting, is heavily Romantic. Civilization is essentially decadent and corrupt and just a tool for this or that Ancient Conspiracy of supernatural beings to manipulate or feed upon Apathetic Citizens. Elder vampires use their awesome power to maintain their autocratic authority against their rebellious younger childer. Brutal Noble Savage werewolves rage against evil corporations in league with Eldritch Abominations trying to pollute and destroy Mother Earth. Mages engage in a centuries old battle of Magic Versus Science with the heroic player characters losing against the Science Is Bad villains. Changelings long to return to Arcadia but never can and must face dying out from the lack of belief in the supernatural among the humans. The Fallen have broken out of Hell only to find a world (which they helped to Create) utterly devoid of faith, God, and Her angels.
  • The old Planescape Dungeons and Dragons setting had the Blood War, a genocidal conflict between two different races of demonic beings. One side supported tyranny, order, infernal justice, conformity, and iron discipline. The other were Axe Crazy maniacs who believed individuality was so important that letting hordes of their own die trying to prove individual worth was better than forcing them to actually act like their more disciplined enemies. Given one side would remake the cosmos into the fantasy version of Dante's Inferno, and the other into Milton's Hell, neither is right. Then, on top of that, there are philosophic "guilds" players can join which grants them power and access, provided they believe as the group does. These groups range from the far-Enlightenment Fraternity of Order to the completely Romantic Society of Sensation. Not only is no one portrayed as right, but even allegiances frequently transcend the conflict. The Athar are Deists in the Jefferson/Locke vein, and their greatest allies are the thoroughly Romantic Believers of the Source - who worry about past lives and ascension.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect portrays an Enlightenment-based future, with benign technological advances and an orderly galactic government. The outlook of your crew varies-- they include Romanticists like the Whitman-spouting Ashley and Enlightened like Mordin Solus who justifies aiding in the Krogan sterility plague with utilitarian logic. Paragon Shep's egalitarian views and support for the Citadel hint at an Enlightened streak.
  • Halo: Oddly enough. This whole spectrum of thought is speculated on and brought out in the story in the hidden Terminals throughout the game. In the story, it presents the struggle between the Flood and the Forerunners, with the Flood presenting it's invasion as necessary for life's eventual evolution as a ultimate species and as a stage in evolution for the universe as a whole eventually. On the other side, the Forerunners keep the stand that they are guardians for the genetic diversity in the galaxy and should impend any step in evolution if necessary to keep that diversity, even if flawed and eventually self-destructive at times.
  • Fallout: New Vegas features Caesar's Legion as the Romantics, and NCR and Mr. House as the Enlightenment. You, as the Wild Card possible fourth endgame victor, can go either way as fitting your Wildcard nature.
  • Touhou is weird about this. The Youkai that make up the vast majority of the cast literally depend on romanticism to survive, needing to be believed in and gaining power from the natural order being observed. But there's a general trend of an ordered society forming, and one of the major factions is working to increase the technological level.
  • Planescape: Torment includes a conversation between a demon (chaotic evil) and a devil (lawful evil) about which is the right way to spread evil. The parallel to this trope is conspicuous, with the demon giving the romanticist argument that evil is worthless if it stripped of passion, and the devil making the enlightened argument that evil is just a mob's rioting if it is not ordered.
  • R-Type, in spite of being a simple shoot 'em up genre, bears a hint of Romanticism, which the Bydo embed themselves in, against the Enlightened background of advanced technologies the R-Fighters represent.
  • Pokémon Black and White has Opelucid City as well as their exlusive location based on either, depending on the version; Black has Black City with Opelucid City being high-tech (Enlightenment) while White version has White Forest with Opelucid City being eco-friendly (Romanticism).
  • Pathologic has The Bachelor (Enlightenment) and The Haruspex (Romanticism) against each other to save the Polyhedron or the town at the end.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, one of the books in the Shadow Library says the telescope was forbidden by the Church of Seiros because it would "lessen the mystery of the Goddess".

Web Comics

  • Xkcd is Enlightened. As the Existentialist says, "The future's pretty cool!"
  • Gunnerkrigg Court. The Court is Enlightened; Gillitie Woods is Romantic.
  • Girl Genius is a strange hybrid. It's about science fiction and solving problems with machinery, which is sort of Enlightenment ... but it's "adventure, romance, and mad science!, with tones of gothic, Frankenstein, and Lovecraftian mythos ... but all the Sparks have a strong manic streak, so they're happy and cheerful amid the doom, destruction, and tentacled horrors. It's just that kind of a story.

Western Animation

  • The Legend of Korra touches on this theme with Tradition vs. modernity
  • Sonic satAM is Romantic with the villain's industrialized city and roboticised minions while the heroes live in the forest and are led by royalty.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants episode Spongebob B.C. (Before Comedy) uses this trope as part of its Cavemen vs. Astronauts Debate. Patchy is team Romanticism with his idealized view of the stone age, and Potty is team Enlightment with his high-tech futuristic gadgets. They debate over which Spongebob would prefer, and then Potty brings in a robot and Patchy defrosts a cavemen. The Caveman and Robot get into a fight Fortunately, the Robot and Caveman become friends and sing a song together.

Real Life

  • The Romantic movement produced a lot of good poets. Like, a lot of them.
  • On the other side of the coin, the early Enlightenment, contrary to the above, tended towards the Humans Are Bastards perspective, which led to a fair number of good satirists, such as Voltaire (no not that one) and Benjamin Franklin.
  • The Enlightenment also produced a few poets, the most notable of whom were Germans: Friedrich von Schiller is more or less entirely Enlightenment, while Goethe's work has shades of both.
  • Soren Kierkegaard, considered the first existentialist philosopher, was overwhelmingly romanticist in outlook, going so far as to openly scorn Enlightenment philosophy.
  • The late 18th century saw two major Enlightenment-inspired revolutions, The American Revolution and French Revolution, both resulting in experimental republics showcasing Enlightenment ideas on governance. It worked in America. In France... not so much.
  • World War II-- fascism, Nazism and nationalism have roots in Romanticism and an emphasis on the past, while democracy and communism have been supported by Rationalism and other Enlightenment ideas, making the conflict a case of Romanticism versus Enlightenment.
    • Ironically, the technological advance was the exact inverse - the Nazis explored ever newer technology and systems to kill while the Allies and Soviets mostly expanded on what they had, leading to the situation of Nazi Germany being outnumbered by stuff that actually worked.
    • You can twist that around to be the opposite too. the Nazis wanted the world to conform to their rules and be under their rule for (what the party thought) was the best future for humanity which is pretty firmly on the enlightenment side. On the other hand the allies could be seen as people who were defending their individualism from an expanding empire, defending diversity is firmly romantic, for example.
  • In a similar sense, the Spanish Civil War between the Republicans (liberals/anarchists/socialists) and the Nationalists (conservatives/monarchists/fascists) could be considered a conflict of Romanticism versus Enlightenment.
  • Both Representative Democracy and Communism are different spins on the same Enlightenment ideas, equality for the masses. The result being that the Cold War was an uncommon case of Enlightenment vs. Enlightenment.
  • Winston Churchill was closer to being a romantic while Roosevelt was more enlightenment.
  • Organic Farming (Romanticism) vs GM Farming (Enlightenment)
  • Nuclear Energy (Enlightenment) vs Renewable Energy (Romanticism)
    • This one's a bit more complicated. While hostility to nuclear energy can be motivated by Romantic ideals, there are also perfectly Enlightened reasons to support renewable energy.
  • Traditional Architecture: Neoclassical (Enlightenment) vs Gothic (Romanticism).
    • This even had political overtones: do you ever wonder why the US Capitol and White House look like Greek and Roman temples while the British Houses of Parliament and Canadian Parliament Hill look like medieval cathedrals? Because in the first half of the 19th century, the Neoclassical style was associated with Enlightenment republicanism, while the Gothic style was, being Romanticist, associated with monarchism. Indeed, Neoclassical designs were seriously considered for both Westminster and Ottawa, but then dismissed on the grounds that they were too republican.
      • On the other hand, both Parliament Hill and Westminster, while Gothic in style, have balanced, Neoclassical-style floor plans and other elements of Neoclassical design (e.g. an emphasis on symmetry). This rather annoyed Augustus W. N. Pugin, a devoted Romanticist Gothic architect brought in to assist the more classicist Charles Barry in building the Palace of Westminster (he famously commented of the structure, "All Grecian, sir; Tudor details on a classic body"). However, it arguably presents, in architectural form, the character of liberal-democratic constitutional monarchy: traditional trappings on an emphatically modern form.
  • 20th-century Architecture: Modernism (Enlightenment) vs Post-Modernism (Romanticism)
  • Psychology had this trope. Sigmund Freud's structural-psychoanalytical studies of the subconscious mind, its exploration on how past subconscious memories are influential in the development of a human being, and other psychological theories inspired by it, were dismissed as obsolete and unscientific (modern psychology nowadays is based on behaviourism, cognitive science and neuroscience, all of which are based on the scientific method being applied to the study of the human brain, in the manner of how Enlightenment philosophies like to apply the scientific method on pretty much anything), but instead of being banished into obscurity, it won and still stands strong in the more Romantic and artistic fields of philosophy such as the Post Modern Literary Criticism crowd, where tropes are more important than sanity, hence why in fiction, All Psychology Is Freudian. Thus, Psychoanalysis = Romanticism, Behaviourism = Enlightenment. Freud himself, however, was a strong proponent of the Enlightenment, which contrasts him to his more spiritual rival Carl Jung.
  • Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces about comparative mythical traditions is naturally more romanticism given it's subject.
  • Richard Dawkins' book Unweaving The Rainbow is a detailed and staunch defense of the Enlightenment position; not only because Enlightenment positions happen to be true (in the provable, testable sense that Romantic positions... tend not to be, and with the Enlightenment's emphasis on the scientific method), but also because - in Dawkins' opinion - it is beautiful. It was written as an answer to those who suggest that True Art Is Incomprehensible and science drains the wonder from the world by explaining its mysteries.
  • Carl Sagan often referred to science as being 'romantic' (as in the title of one of his books, Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science), but not in the actual Romanticist sense - his philosophy was, like Dawkins after him and many other scientists and popularizers of science, heavily towards the side of Enlightenment. On the other hand, he believed that Measuring the Marigolds could lead you to conclude that The World Is Just Awesome, in both the Romanticist and Enlightenment senses. Subversion?
  • Analytic Philosophy (Enlightenment) and Continental Philosophy (Romanticism). Although, early Continental Philosophy tended towards Enlightenment (take Kant and Leibniz as examples).
  • Confucianism (Enlightenment) vs Taoism (Romanticism) in pre-Modern China. While Confucianism stressed the virtues of a harmonious society, Taoism supported individual freedom and the spontaneousness of nature. As one might expect, most Chinese Emperors supported Confucianism in the end.
  1. Individuals ambitious for political power must serve the people and compete with other similarly-ambitious people, thus keeping them relatively honest
  2. Individuals ambitious for wealth must provide something that the public values in order to gain it, and the competition is, again, supposed to keep them relatively honest. Many debates about capitalism center on how to make the second half of that work.
  3. The famous Postmodern infatuation with Irony is this.